BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 36. Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 "Pastorale."
London Symphony Orch/Bernard Haitink, cond.
LSO LIVE SACD LSO 0582 TT: 76:02

RESPIGHI: La Sensitiva. La Pentola Magica. Aretusa.
Damiana Pinti, mezzo-soprano; Orchestra of the Massimo Theater of Palermo/Marzio Conti, cond.
cpo SACD 777 071 TT: 69:40

WALTON: Symphony No. 1
London Symphony Orch/Sir Colin Davis, cond.
LSO LIVE SACD LSO 0576 TT: 46:01

With the plethora of recordings of Beethoven's symphonies by just about every conductor you can think of, it seems odd that the LSO Live series would focus on yet another new set, even with as distinguished a conductor as Bernard Haitink. The Dutch conductor recorded all nine with the Concertgebouw for Philips from 1985-1987, no longer in the catalog. These new versions are energetic to the extreme, beautifully played, and recorded by producer John Mallinson with clarity, impact, and considerable resonance, the latter not to be found in Mallinson's engineering of the Walton symphony mentioned below.

Those who know Ottorino Respighi (1875-1935) only through his large-scale symphonie poems should investigate La Sensitiva and Aretusa, two enchanting poems for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, both vocal settings of texts by Shelley, composed before Respighi's first major symphonic success, Fountains of Rome. La Sensitiva is about the life cycle of the mimosa plant, Aretusa tells of the river god falling in love with Aretusa, a nymph who bathes in the waters, who eventually, pursued by the god, is transformed into the famous spring which remains to this day. Both of these works contain some exquisite music, beautifully sung by young mezzo Damiana Pinti. She also sings very briefly in La Pentola Magica ("The Magic Pot") which was commissioned by Russian dancer Ileana Leonidov and first performed in 1920. Don't expect the inspiration or magic of La Boutique fantasque of a year earlier; Respighi seemed to take this commission rather lightly and produced orchestrations of works by Arensky, Grechaninov, Pachulski, Rebikov and Rubinstein, along with several rather unexceptional dances he wrote himself. It's still pleasant to hear and very played by the Palermo orchestra under Marzio Conti's direction. The young Italian conductor already has recorded two CDs of music of Nino Rota for Chandos and Rossini's Turk in Italy for Naxos. Doubtless we will be hearing much more from him. Sonic quality of this recording is superb, with performers in front, ambient sound from the rear.

One would expect Sir Colin Davis to be a perfect conductor of Walton's first symphony, and, indeed, he is. This recording was taken from concerts in September and October 2005 at the Barbican in London and, unfortunately, disappoints sonically. Produced by James Mallinson, the SACD doesn't conquer the dry acoustics of the venue, which gives the listener remarkable clarity, but little richness and bass impact, so essential in this music, particularly the final pages. André Previn's 1966 RCA recording with the same orchestra, about three minutes faster than Davis's, has sound superior to the new LSO release. And the finest performance I've ever heard of this work is Previn's LSO performance from the BBC Proms, spectacularly recorded by the BBC, which perhaps will be issued on BBC Legends. We can hope! One also might question why the new LSO disk doesn't contain more music: 46:01 isn't much playing time for a full-price CD.

R.E.B. (August 2006)