Jarvi In Concert Estonian NSO CHAN20262

Neeme Järvi (conductor)
In Concert
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Polonia Overture (1836)
Max Reger (1873-1916)
Serenade for Orchestra, Op 95 (1905-06)
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Schicksalslied, Op 54 (1868-71)*
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Ave verum corpus, KV 618 (1791)*
*State Choir Latvija
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra
rec. 2019, Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn
Chandos CHAN20262 [73]

The album’s title suggests a major event, but the booklet doesn’t mention any significant commemoration, or any at all, and the performances were recorded months apart. Ultimately, it’s just another day-in-the-life assemblage, and poorly engineered at that: the Chandos team reverts to its former default, an overresonant ambience that thickens the fuller textures. And it’s certainly an odd collection of works.

The sonic bloat effectively sabotages Wagner’s youthful Polonia Overture and the Reger Serenade, though both are relative novelties. Like Wagner’s other early symphonic forays, Polonia betrays a mild jumble of influences, although the opening string unison is pure Wagner. The ensuing theme-group offers us a sort of pumped-up Weber, and the main Allegro is, of all things, a Verdian marziale – think I Vespri Siciliani – with nothing Polish in sight. And there are just too many endings: even when you think you’ve finally reached a definitive cadence, one more shoe drops.

The Serenade is a most un-serenadelike piece – notably in the finale’s massive opening gesture – and malproportioned at that: a three-minute scherzo surrounded by three other movements of ten minutes’ duration or longer. lyric episodes are lovely: the first movement’s second theme breathes beautifully, with a nice repose, and the choralelike Andante semplice sings, well, simply. Elsewhere, however, laissez-faire coördination produces approximate string attacks and, in that scherzo, woozy sectional ritards.

For the two choral works, Järvi has borrowed a choir from the next-door neighbors in Latvia, as one borrows a cup of sugar. (Was no Estonian ensemble available?) The Schicksalslied provides some of the album’s finest moments. In the serenely rocking opening, pleasingly lean, tapered choral strands gradually fuse into a single transparent sonority. The hurtling violin tremolos that launch the turbulent central Allegro are taut and crisp, but the sound in tutti again thickens, beclouding the choral sound.

The Ave verum corpus ­– sung twice around in this particular rendering – is pleasant enough as a quasi-encore, but the strings’ opening bars have trouble settling into a tempo, and the restricted, “devotional” choral sound suffers soft-edged attacks.

I’m afraid this will only please Järvi’s most devoted followers.

Stephen Francis Vasta


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