The compact collection

Constantin Silvestri: The collection

Rob Cowan
Friday 23 August 2002 00:00
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There aren't many success stories in British musical life that can match the thorny but ultimately victorious growth of Bournemouth's Symphony Orchestra under Romanian-born conductor Constantin Silvestri. It was an unforgettable era, which spanned the Sixties and bore a small legacy of recordings, most of them included in Disky's newly imported 10-CD Constantin Silvestri: The Collection. Not that there's any booklet to explain how this naturalised Brit had started his career as a pianist, led the Bucharest Opera and Philharmonic, toured, taught and composed. But then, at just £25-30 (the approximate asking price), you can hardly expect chapter and verse as well.

Wading through this collection has been a qualified delight. A fine orchestral trainer, Silvestri could inspire less-than-world-class orchestras to surpass themselves. His Bournemouth sojourn proved that beyond doubt, with red-blooded traversals of Vaughan Williams's Tallis Fantasia and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade.

Silvestri made his London Philharmonic debut in the late Fifties and a finely tooled LPO Dvorak Eighth Symphony harbours many piquant details. Dvorak's Seventh with the Vienna Philharmonic is very different in mood: mellow, restless and impulsive.

The Philharmonia sessions are full of surprises. Franck's D minor Symphony receives one of the most imaginative interpretations of the period, while Stravinsky's "Song of the Nightingale" and Symphony in Three Movements, although awash with colour, are often messy. Few conductors have drawn more affectionate playing in Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel Overture or made a more humdrum job of Glinka's Russlan and Ludmila Overture. Liszt's Tasso and Les Préludes ride high on the Silvestri temperament (albeit in mono); Hindemith's Mathis der Mahler Symphony climaxes to some handsomely protracted brass declamations, and Bartok's Divertimento is packed with character but heavy-handed.

Other works include Tchaikovsky's 1812 and Capriccio Italien (Bournemouth), Ravel's Boléro (very broad), Debussy's Nocturnes and La Mer (all three from Paris), Rimsky-Korsakov's May Night Overture and Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream Overture (London, Philharmonia). And there's more still, all of it tasty food for musical thought.

My advice is to snap the set up. But don't make the mistake of listening to too much at a single sitting. Like his compatriot Sergiu Celibidache, Silvestri fashioned his performances according to some very individual interpretative ideas. It's the sort of collection to have on tap just to prove that breaking the rules can serve great music as truthfully as honouring them.

'Constantin Silvestri: The Collection'. (Disky/ Independent Distributors DB 707 432, 10 CDs)

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