Mariss Jansons – The Oslo Years – A Personal Assessment Part Three

Warner Classics release of all twenty one EMI Jansons/Oslo recordings plus five DVDS of selected NRK TV concert broadcast concerts

Music of Respighi, Ravel and Dukas

Respighi, Ravel and Dukas 1989


We are now up to recording number seven in this personal assessment of “Mariss Jansons – The Oslo Years.” This next recording is one which I call a “hodge-podge” recording – music by three different composers – Ottorino Repighi, Maurice Ravel and Paul Dukas – one Italian and two French. The first piece on the recording is by Respighi – his Feste Romanae. This is followed by Ravel’s Second Suite from Daphnis et Chloe, and by Dukas’ L’Aprenti sorcier. At the time we recorded these items, I was excited to take part in the recordings and was happy to participate in any recording session. With the passage of time and the fact that we recorded the other two parts of the Roman Trilogy some six years later and re-released the Feste Romanae with that 1995 disc, I wish we had waited to do all three parts of the trilogy at the same time – namely 1995. While I enjoy all of these works and was glad that we had recorded them at the time, I am not sure that this particular collection is the most logical as far as programming, and the sound is variable. The Respighi, while well played, is dry in many places, and due to the abominable acoustics of the recording venue, the bass response is lacking in punch.
While we as an orchestra certainly played it “pedal to the metal” in concert and recording sessions, it come off slightly adulterated. As I noted, this largely the fault of the venue, which has almost no bass response. Treble and mid-range come off fine, but bass is week, and the bass drum is entirely too secco for my taste.
The Ravel fares somewhat better as the opening of Suite has real atmosphere. This was piece that Mariss always did well and despite the questionable acoustics comes off well here. The concluding Danse Generale while good, could have used more punch in my book. Good, clean, but missing that last ten percent of energy. The same could be said of the Dukas, which is very difficult work to bring off. It is a good performance, but…..and there’s the rub. It could have been better, if done live or coupled with something else.
Interestingly enough, this disc was recorded in 1989 and released in 1990, and it didn’t last long in the catalogue. Need I say more?

Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra – Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta

Bartok

The thinking behind scheduling these two masterpieces was that they would make an attractive coupling, and for the most part that was pretty close to the mark. This recording was made in January of 1990, with John Fraser as producer and Mark Vigars as sound engineer, replacing Mike Clements. With regards to the sound, this is much better than the previous Respighi/Ravel/ Dukas potpouri. There is more low end and there is more bloom to the sound than on the previous recording. With regard to the performance itself, Bartok is another composer that Mariss Jansons did well. His attention to detail stood him in good stead in just about everything he undertook, and it does so in these performances. The orchestra performed the Concerto for Orchestra in concert during the week of the recording sessions, whereas the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta had been performed several times the previous season. Both receive good performances here, and I enjoy going back to them from time to time. I love both works equally, but to be honest I like the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta a bit better as a recording as I feel that it was better miked and the atmosphere – particularly in the first and third movements – was captured beautifully. The Concerto for Orchestra was recorded well enough, but as we recorded the first movement at least twice, they chose to use the one version that had some small inaccuracies. They were minor to be sure, but they remain a small annoyance in an otherwise excellent performance of the first movement. The rest of the work is well played and edited and the finale has a lot of brio, which makes up for the missed edit in the first movement. All in all, considering the difficulty of these works, a good job!

Dvorak: Symphony No. 5 – Scherzo Capriccioso – Othello Overture

Dvorak_5

This recording, although numbered ninth in the Warner re-release, is actually the eighth as it was recorded in September of 1989 – before the Bartok recording which was recorded in January of 1990. John Fraser and Mike Clements made up the recording team as on previous recordings. To my mind, this is an excellent disc for several reasons. First, Jansons had a natural affinity for Dvorak’s music and his ability to sort out the details and present them in a persuasive and logical form stands all of the music on this recording in good stead. Second, the recorded sound was much better than on the aforementioned Respighi/Ravel/Dukas disc and last but not least, all three works are of interest each and of themselves. This is the sort of disc that we as an orchestra should have been doing more of, rather than recording some repertoire that put us squarely in the “also-ran” class.
The fifth symphony is not played as often as the last three symphonies -which makes for very interesting listening . Our orchestra had played it once before – under Mark Elder back in March 1985, so there was some familiarity with the music. If memory serves me, all of these works were rehearsed for the recording, which means that they were not “played in” during a normal concert series. Despite this, they come off very well, with a freshness and vivacity that the music deserves. I particularly like the finale which has all the energy required, and the opening of the Othello Overture is appropriately solemn and dignified. The orchestra was at the top of its game here, and as we had recorded Dvorak’ s New World about a year earlier, we were hoping this would be part of a complete Dvorak cycle. Alas, this was not to be. More later on that point in my summation in a later post.