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Which performance(s) do you prefer (up to 2 choices)

  • A

    Votes: 2 28.6%
  • B

    Votes: 2 28.6%
  • C

    Votes: 3 42.9%
  • D

    Votes: 1 14.3%
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299 Posts
:: Serge Koussevitzky/BSO [1947 radio broadcast/Guild]

I’ve been too lazy to take part in the blind comparison (aside from conducting a few spot checks here and there), but I’m unashamed enough to saunter in after the fact and put in a word for my favorite recording of the Fifth …

Koussevitzky’s big, undaunted, scarcely pastoral approach to the Fifth tends to underscore the Modern in Vaughan Williams’s Romantic-yet-Modern sensibility—he brings a Samuel Barber-like quality to many of the themes and episodes, especially in the Romanza—yet it all sounds somehow natural if not necessarily all that idiomatic or “British.” The scherzo begins rather gruffly and heavily here, but it insidiously morphs into something resembling Boris Blacher’s Concertante Musik (1937) by movement’s end. The BSO plays with sovereign command and eloquence throughout, soothing the savage beast in some sections (the final minutes of the Romanza have never sounded so ethereally beautiful) while evoking the power of the sea in others (certain passages of the final movement have a Tintagel-like Baxian quality about them), with teeming molecular energy and inner intensity underlying the beautiful sheen of the strings.

The 1947 broadcast sound is no great shakes, with a woolly, generalized bottom end and not much top end, but the middle end is good enough to carry the sonic load and put the performance across. Solos are variously spotlit as they often are in old radio broadcasts, but they often come across like concertino members in a concerto grosso and add to the atmosphere rather than detract from it; besides, the solos are so well and so characterfully played that it’s seems churlish to complain about them being a bit too prominent. Not a performance/recording for everyone, then … indeed, I seem to be its only known fan.
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