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Dante Symphony (sound recording)

af Franz Liszt

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Franz Liszt (1811–1886)

Dante Symphony


[1] Inferno [21’03]
[2] Purgatorio – Magnificat [29’51]*

*Choeur de Concert de Helmond

Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
James Conlon


Recorded in De Doelen, 1985?

Warner Classics, 2003. 50’56. Liner notes by James Conlon.

==========================================

This recording is unjustly forgotten by everyone – including myself.

Jimmy Conlon is a member of one very elitist club among conductors. He is one of the very few who have recorded both the Faust and the Dante Symphonies. I can think of only two others who have accomplished this feat: Barenboim and Sinopoli. Fascinatingly enough, Conlon is the most consistent. He is equally fine in both works, while both Barenboim and Sinopoli are exciting in Dante and dull in Faust (although, truth to tell, Barenboim’s Faust is a lot better than Sinopoli’s.)

It is a pity Jimmy Conlon didn’t have a better orchestra than the Rotterdam Philharmonic. But a few instances of sloppy woodwinds and brass are not such a big price to pay. The real problem is the dismal sound offered by Erato, a fabulously – but justly – forgotten label. For a digital recording presumably made in 1985, the sound is a total disappointment: muffled, flat, badly balanced and thoroughly lacking in sonority and dynamic range. For the most part the orchestra sounds as if it were recorded from a mile away. I have no idea how this sonic mess was approved for release.

Conlon’s interpretation, however, is quite another story. It is Romantic with a capital “R”. Admittedly, it does lack subtlety on several occasions, and Jimmy’s tempo fluctuations are not always entirely successful. Yet his approach suits the music to perfection and his musicianship is far superior to that of, say, López-Cobos (who has DECCA’s outstanding sound behind his back, but that’s not enough). In our times of orchestral timidity and fear of passion, Conlon’s unbridled and full-blooded approach is a most welcome scent of high Romanticism. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the striking orchestral effect or a touch of rhetorical excess now and then if the conductor is sensible enough not to overdo either, and if he has the temperament to bring the work in question successfully to life. Jimmy Conlon is, and does.

Despite the wretched sound – for which alone do I give four stars – this recording is well worth the time and the attention of anybody seriously interested in Liszt’s orchestral music in general and his Dante Symphony in particular. To say nothing of the price of this Warner reissue which is almost like getting the CD for free. Had he had the Berliner Philharmoniker and TELDEC or the Staatskapelle Dresden and DG at his disposal, today Jimmy Conlon’s Dante Symphony would have stood together with Barenboim’s and Sinopoli’s as one of the finest available on record. Just another artistic loss because of purely commercial reasons. What a pity indeed!

By the way, Jimmy Conlon is a member of another highly elitist club of conductors, too. Actually, he is in class by himself here, for I can’t think of any other conductor who has written his own liner notes. This is no joke. The booklet contains a short essay by Conlon himself in which, with a writing style as appealingly florid as his conducting, he gives an excellent overview how the symphony was born and what is the programmatic significance of its three parts.

It must always be remembered that Liszt had no intention to depict Dante’s work in detail – something quite impossible anyway – but, rather, he was concerned with expressing its emotional depth. Jimmy Conlon knows that only too well. And his memorable rendition of the Symphony is there to prove it. This recording was made, he tells us, following a series of performances as a multi-media project in which the Symphony was played together with a slideshow of scenes from Divine Comedy by the German painter Bonaventura Genelli (1798–1868). The idea goes back to Liszt’s lifetime, but it was not realised until Conlon and the Rotterdam Philharmonic gave its world premiere in Brussels in 1984. ( )
1 stem Waldstein | Feb 1, 2018 |
Ferenc Liszt (1811–1886)

Dante Symphony

I. Inferno
[21’53’’]
[1] Lento
[2] Allegro frenetico (Quasi doppio movimento)
[3] Lento
[4] Quasi Andante, ma sempre un poco mosso
[5] Andante amoroso (Tempo rubato)
[6] Tempo primo (Allegro, Alla breve)

II. Purgatorio [18’21’’]
[7] Andante con moto quasi allegretto. Tranquillo assai
[8] Piú lento – Un poco meno mosso
[9] Lamentoso
[10] Poco a poco piú di moto

Magnificat [7’45’’]
[11] L’istesso tempo
[12] Un poco piú lento

Veronica Kincses, soprano
Ladies of the Hungarian Radio and Television Chorus
Budapest Symphony Orchestra
György Lehel


Recorded in 1977.

Hungaroton, 1996. 47’59’’. Liner notes by Antal Boronkay.

========================================

The Dante Symphony is hardly the most over-recorded work out there. If you are strenuous enough in your Web browsing, you can find about a dozen recordings. This may not sound too bad by the high standards of Lisztian neglect (many of his works have one or two recordings, if that!), but this is an illusion. Ironically enough, and Liszt would have appreciated the irony, the shoddiest performances (Masur, Haenchen) are those most widely available. Both must be avoided at all costs. Both, incidentally, are in subpar sound. Fine sound alone is not enough, however, as amply demonstrated by Lopez-Cobos (Decca) and Noseda (Chandos). Looking on the bright side, we are fortunate that at least twice (Sinopoli, Barenboim) the Dante Symphony has been done full justice on record. At least once (Conlon) an otherwise excellent performance was compromised only by indifferent sound.

This all-Hungarian recording, not to be confused with the 1961 account by the same conductor*, is neither among the best interpretations nor among the finest sonic achievements out there. Lehel conducts with a certain dramatic flair in the outer sections of “Inferno”, but without much subtlety in the rest, mostly lyrical, of the work. The Paolo-and-Francesca episode, sandwiched between the hellish sections of the first movement, is almost entirely lacking in sensuality. The Magnificat, however, is indeed magnificent. Beautifully sung throughout, it is taken rather slowly and sounds all the more beautiful for that.

To be fair, Lehel is not helped by the crude and brassy sound. But with all due respect to our Hungarian brothers and sisters, whose effort to keep Liszt on record is priceless, this recording can be recommended only to rather fanatical Lisztians. Then again, you could do worse for an introduction. The liner notes to this CD edition are indifferent, but the splitting of the movements to separate tracks is helpful if you would like to investigate their structure in detail.

______________________________________________________________
*The earlier recording was released by His Master’s Voice and Westminster on LP. I doubt it has ever been available on CD at all. It is easily distinguished by the orchestra (Budapest Philharmonic) and the soprano (Margit László). ( )
  Waldstein | Mar 8, 2017 |
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Franz Lisztprimær forfatteralle udgaverberegnet
Barenboim, Danielconductorhovedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Conlon, Jamesconductorhovedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Sinopoli, Giuseppeconductorhovedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Philharmoniker, Berlinerorchestramedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestramedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Staatskapelle Dresdenorchestramedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
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