IVES: Symphony No. 1. Symphony No. 2.
Melbourne Symphony Orch/Sir Andrew Davis, cond.

WALTON: Improvisations On an Impromptu by Benjamin Britten. Concerto for Cello and Orchestra. Symphony No. 2.
Paul Watkins, cello. BBC Symphony Orch/Edward Gardner, cond.

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64. Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.
San Francisco Symphony Orch/Michael Tilson Thomas, cond.
SAN FRANCISCO SO SACD 821936-0062 TT: 70:58

Chandos is beginning a series of orchestral music of Charles Ives, and here is an auspicious start, a disk containing the first two symphonies, with the Melbourne Symphony under its music director, Sir Andrew Davis. Both symphonies are quite lengthy (39:45 - 37:15). No. 1was composed in 1898 when, after studying with Horatio Parker at Yale, Ives submitted the score as his graduation project. Symphony No. 2 didn't have its premiered until April 1953 when Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic played a somewhat truncated version; since then the score is presented as written. Both of these early symphonies show the important American composer in a remarkably docile mood. We do have folk tunes and conflicting themes, but the craggy energy, emphasis on discords and conflicting rhythms didn't happen until later. Both symphonies are beautifully played, and the Chandos audio presents them in crystal-clear, if not particularly "surround," sound.

Three of Sir William Walton's later works are featured on another new Chandos disk, the second in their series of orchestral works o the composer. In 1967 Walton wrote to his friend, Benjamin Britten, asking for permission to use a theme of his (the Impromptu from his Piano Concerto) for a brief set of improvisations variations to be performed by the San Francisco Symphony in memory of Dr Ralph Dorfman in memory of his first wife, Adeline Smith. After many delays the premiere finally took place in January 1970 with Josef Krips, then music director of the orchestra, on the podium. It hardly is a major work of the composer. The Cello concerto is giving a glowing performance by Paul Watkins. Collectors are fortunate to have this lovely concerto in performances by Gregor Piatigorsky (who commissioned the premiered the work), Paul Tortelier, Zara Nelsova and Yo-Yo Ma. The incredible success of Walton's Symphony No. 1 was a hard act to follow, but the composer strived valiantly. Although Symphony N. 2 doesn't match the passion ad grandeur of its predecessor, it is a commanding work that soon was taken up by George Szell who made a famous recording of it in Cleveland. This Chandos issue is magnificent in every way. Performances are polished, audio wide-range and rich, if not particularly "surround." Highly recommended!!

This site has enthusiastically endorsed the Mahler symphony series with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra directed by Michael Tilson Thomas (see REVIEWS). Here is their latest release, a coupling of Tchaikovsk's Symphony No. 5 with Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture both recorded during concerts in September 2014 in Davies Concert Hall. It is difficult to understand what MTT was trying to do in his interpretation of these popular favorites. He dissects them with odd fluctuations of tempo and phrasing. But there is little excitement, even in the finale. The drama and excitement found in best competing versions is absent here. Other SFSO SACDs have been sonic showpieces; this is not up to that level. Skip this one.

R.E.B. (APRIL 2015)