Tudor 7127
Tudor 7127

CD Reviews: Symphonies Nos.8 and 10

Symphony No.8 Frühlingsklänge op.205 and Symphony No.10 Zur Herbstzeit op.213

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Conductor: Hans Stadlmair
Tudor 7127 2005 DDD 69:03

Stadlmair and Tudor have taken five years to reach the end of their survey of Raff's 11 surviving symphonies. This CD and its companion (Tudor 7120 - review) see the cycle completed with new recordings of the four final works in the oeuvre, Raff's depictions of the seasons. Tudor's coupling on each disk is the same as that adopted by cpo (cpo 999 536 - review), but unlike the German company the Swiss have released them separately. They replace in their catalogue serviceable but ageing performances by the Basle Radio Symphony Orchestra under various conductors dating from the 1980s.

Stadlmair's performance of the Symphony No.8 Frühlingsklänge (Sounds of Spring) begins magnificently: Wagnerian murmurings from the strings are echoed by sonorous distant horn calls. The build up to the blazing entry which signals the return of Spring is wonderfully judged to give a great release of tension. Then it all goes wrong. The tempi for the remainder of this fine movement are far too fast. Stadlmair's usual awareness of dynamic contrast and enthusiasm for bringing out the tiniest detail in the orchestration are there, but they are subservient to the driving momentum which he gives the piece. He shaves over two minutes off cpo's Werner Andreas Albert's timing, and it shows. There's no lingering over the more reflective passages, none of the poetry one would expect from a celebration of Spring, not a moment's relaxation. It isn't exciting, it's just too fast. The marvelous fughetto passage and coda at the movement's end are just thrown away because Stadlmair has already ratcheted up the tension so high there's nowhere else to go.

Once it gets going, it's almost the same story with the Walpurgisnacht scherzo. It's breathlessly exciting certainly, but in large degree because you wonder if the Bambergers will keep up with Stadlmair. Although the outer sections can stand the helter skelter pace, the less robust trio needs more delicate handling, although the spooky passage between 4:30 and 5:10 leading to the return of the madcap opening material is very atmospherically done. Full marks to the Bambergers for a stunning display of virtuosity.

Listen to an audio extract
This excerpt is the final third of the second movement In der Walpurgisnacht of the Symphony No.8 Frühlingsklänge [2:58]

The slow movement gets a matter of fact run through. Finely played and nicely detailed though it is, the sweet sentimentality which is so important to its effect is quite lost. The finale is perhaps the most successful of the four movements. Here Raff attempted to portray the feeling of restlessness which the onset of Spring aroused in him and Stadlmair's briskness produces an edgy character to the music which is most appropriate. For the players it's another white knuckle ride at times, although they are allowed to relax much more than they were in the opening Allegro. Albert is only marginally less forced, but his performance lacks that lurking sense of unease which Stadlmair brings out.

To sum up, Stadlmair takes it too quickly. Speed isn't everything, but it is here. The effect is worst in the opening movement where in many places Raff's felicitous details are lost. Stadlmair doesn't allow himself the time to reign back the pace for a few seconds to give the ear some respite. The slow movement is thrown away, the scherzo only works in places, but the finale is fine. As for the competition, Albert's reading suffers from some scrappy playing and, in some pressings, poor recording quality. Schneider is even faster that Stadlmair in the opening movement, woefully inadequate in the finale and dull in the middle movements.The leaden tempi of György Lehel's interpretation on the original Tudor issue are against it, although the Basel orchestra's playing is good. Overall my recommendation, with misgivings, would be for Werner Andreas Albert on cpo.

Happily, the Symphony No.10 Zur Herbstzeit (To the Autumntime) restores one's confidence in Stadlmair's judgment. It's an appropriately mellow rendition, the mood signaled by a lush and expansive opening movement, full of pastoral colouring. The horns are in fine form, matching the standard set by the Basel players in Tudor's original recording. The dynamic contrast made possible by Tudor's fine sound is particularly noticeable in this movement; the golden brass-dominated climaxes erupting with exciting suddenness.

Listen to an audio extarctThis example is from the central section of the Elegie slow movement of the Symphony No.10 Zur Herbstzeit [1:33]. Compare it with the same passage in Albert's cpo performanceListen to an audio extract[2:13]

The ghostly dances of the second movement are put over with humour; there's nothing menacing about these ghouls. Although he takes less time than any of his colleagues, Stadlmair's tempi seem spot on, gradually building the pace so that the movement retains interest and yet stays true to the picture Raff is painting. I'm not fond of Stadlmair's brisk approach to Raff's slow movements, but it works with the delicate Elegie, which he takes at a walking pace and shapes beautifully. Although hardly Raff's fault, the pre-echo of Tchaikovsky's 5th. Symphony can be an intrusive moment, but taken at this tempo it has a quite different character and is much better integrated into the movement as a whole. It's a great success and quite an eye opener despite being around three quarters the length of Albert's and Travis' fine accounts.

The finale of No.10 can seem a pale imitation of the Im Walde Symphony's hunt, but here Stadlmair brings it it's own character. Horn calls naturally predominate, but Raff's programme is more than just the hunt itself. The episodes with their different textures and tempi are well judged here to give variety and retain interest. The return of the hunt is spine-tinglingly electrifying, quite the most successful account of this movement that we have on disk.

So Stadlmair redeems himself totally with the second work on the CD, a better performance of which is hard to imagine. He knocks spots off the competition.

Throughout these recordings, the Bamberg Symphony are generally in top form, although the string tone can sound a little thin at times. The sound is well up to Tudor's usual standard; the climaxes are clear and uncongested even at the highest volumes, whilst the details are clear even in the quietest passages. The booklet notes by Ana von Bülow are lightweight in the extreme, which is a shame.
for Symphony No.10 and for Symphony No.8. Overall:

Mark Thomas
November 2005

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