The third and final volume brings the documentation to the present, and celebrates some fine contemporary conductors of the London Philharmonic, with a disc devoted to each of its four recent conductors. Taken from a number of live performances, the recordings represent well the quality of the performances in the vividness of the concert hall. Reaching back a quarter century to 1983, the choice of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony under the direction of the late Klaus Tennstedt not only pays tribute to that conductor’s exemplary leadership and also demonstrates the caliber of soloists involved, with the late Lucia Popp, soprano, Ann Murray, mezzo soprano, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor, and René Pape, bass. The performance of the “Choral” Symphony stems from a concert on 8 October 1983 at Royal Festival Hall. While it is difficult to recommend a limited number of recordings of this iconic work of nineteenth-century symphonic literature, this particular release conveys a dynamic tension that is not always possible in various fine studio recordings. This performance captures Lucia Popp at an excellent time in her career and, at the same time, includes the young René Pape, a bass who has since achieved an international reputation. The addition of Ann Murray and Anthony Rolfe Johnson make this a festival-level cast for this intensive reading of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Dating from the later 1980s through the 1990s, the tenure of Franz Welser-Most includes music from several concerts and is denoted by several representative works for voices and orchestra. The disc includes five selections: Mozart’s Mass in C minor, K. 427, recorded at Walthamstow Assembly Hall in February 1987; Mozart’s Requiem, recorded at St. Augustine’s Church, London, in 1989; the final scene from Richard Strauss’s opera Capriccio, with soprano Dame Felicity Lott and bass Michael Georg from a concert on 25 February 1992; Schubert’s Stabat Mater, D. 175, from a concert at Royal Festival Hall, on 26 October 1992; and Bruckner’s Te Deum, recorded in October 1995 at All Saints’ Church, London. While most of the works are well-known, Schubert’s Stabat Mater is, perhaps, less familiar than the others and nonetheless of interest because of Welser-Most’s exemplary attention to the choral textures of this work. As one of the finest contemporary interpreters of Bruckner, the recording of the Te Deum brings together a remarkable cast, which includes soprano Jane Eaglen; contralto Brigit Remmert; the late tenor Deon van der Walt, and bass Alfred Muff. It is an exciting performance that stands well with other releases of the work. The relatively large amount of choral music on this disc does not need an explanation, but the inclusion of the scene from Strauss’s Capriccio remains a kind of commentary. With the nature of musical composition at the core of the libretto for Strauss’s opera, the final scene in this famed “conversation” about music contains the unresolved argument as to whether the text of the music should be foremost. It remains for the listener to decide, but the works chosen make a strong case for the place of choral music in the tradition of the London Philharmonic.
Moving to the early twentieth century, Kurt Masur, familiar to American audiences for his fine work with the New York Philharmonic is represented here with two critical works by Dmitri Shostakovich, the composer’s First and Fifth Symphonies. The recordings of those two symphonies are taken from performances given in the relatively short time between 31 January and 3 February 2004. Masur’s lively interpretation of Shostakovich’s First Symphony bears hearing for its fine sonics that make bring a nice clarity to the solo lines and thinner textures that are characteristic of the work. With the Fifth, Masur strikes a fine balance between the range of moods and textures that are part of the score. The slow movement, the penultimate band on the recording, is seamless, with a welcome spaciousness to its elegiac quality. The ensemble required for a successful execution is present in this masterful performance, which demonstrates the quality of playing that has been part of the London Philharmonic since its founding. The culmination of the movement, with the percussive line with xylophone and piano leads to a moving conclusion under Masur’s direction.
The final disc of the set is an opportunity to hear the young conductor Vladimir Jurowski, whose recorded legacy is not yet as extensive as those of his predecessors. Jurowski brings his own intensive musicality to the London Philharmonic in a performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 14, a work that brings together settings of poetry by Lorca, Apollinaire, Küchelbecker, and Rilke, in a symphonic song cycle that stands well alongside other such twentieth-century works as Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and Britten’s Les Illuminations. With soloists Tatiana Monogarova and Sergei Leiferkus, this recording from February 2006 is an excellent introduction to Jurowski’s work.
As part of the anniversary celebration of the London Philharmonic, this last installment stands well with the other two. The sound is consistently fine, and audience noise, minimal. Not only do these recordings serve well in documenting the recent years of the London Philharmonic, but they represent well the conductors involved, each a major figure at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first.