Sir Neville Marriner (conductor)
The Complete Warner Classics Recordings
Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden,  London Symphony Orchestra, Northern Sinfonia, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra
rec. 1970-2000
Warner Classics 5419776276 [80 CDs]

I think we all know the cartoon. A man is in his sitting room, a parrot in its cage, listening to the radio as the announcer says ‘…played by the orchestra of the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields…’  and the parrot adds ‘Neville Marriner conducting’. That’s how I feel reviewing this box: I feel like the parrot.

The Complete Warner Classics Recordings (80 CDs) brings together all the recordings that Marriner made for EMI Classics (75 CDs), Erato (3 CDs), Virgin Classics (1 CD) and Teldec (1 CD) over the years between 1970 and 2000, though all except the last disc, of Oscar Wilde fairy stories with music by Debbie Wiseman, date from 1970-1992. It’s released this year – 2024, just in case you’re reading this in 2090 – to mark the centenary of Marriner’s birth. Collectors will know that a 60-CD box set of the Academy’s Decca legacy – which included therefore Argo and Philips as well as Sony Classical, Pentatone and Onyx – marked its 60th birthday and as well as Marriner recordings included those directed by Iona Brown and the knee-bending, facial-twitching Joshua Bell.

By and large, Marriner and the Academy didn’t much intrude on the repertoire of its leading chamber rival, I Musici, directed from the violin by Felix Ayo. Marriner directed the Academy in similar fashion, freed from the capricious demands of conductors he’d played under during his long stint in London orchestras – he played under Toscanini in the Philharmonia and then for over a decade in the London Symphony as principal second violin.

In addition to the ASMF recordings we also get some of those he made with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Staatskapelle Dresden, his old band the London Symphony Orchestra, the Northern Sinfonia, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra.   

Marriner/ASMF box sets have proliferated, and you can find all sorts of things, whether by composer, or period, or by label. There are boxes or downloads of Handel, Mozart and Haydn and his Haydn symphonies – which are really outstanding – have been reissued in a 15-CD set by Eloquence. There’s also a 14-CD Capriccio box, for example, that collects recordings made between 1990-95 and includes all the Tchaikovsky symphonies, including Manfred: I’ve no idea who thought that would be a good idea.

The 80 CDs are broadly clumped by composer and in rough chronological order of composition, not by recording date, until one arrives at the miscellaneous collection at the back. I am not pretending I’ve listened to everything on every disc – if I were to have done that I’d never have written this review – but I will point to some elements of Marriner’s discography that might have been overlooked. The booklet has a six-page essay by Tully Potter, translated into French and German, and a check-list of composers and their works with the relevant CD number alongside. It’s on the frugal side for a project of this size but par for the course, I suppose.

The first disc presents Charpentier, a rare example of French repertoire from Marriner and one that finds him stepping into Jean-François Paillard’s territory, one feels, or, more latterly, William Christie. Marriner has fine singers though they’re too opulent. Bach occupies the next ten discs, as you’d expect. There are two Cantatas from Elly Ameling, always a delight, with perky instrumental obbligatos and accompaniments from William Bennett, Neil Black et al. Bach’s Magnificat is good but Vivaldi’s Gloria in D major is better, vibrant and alive. Unfortunately, my copy has a mistracking Cum sancto Spiritu (track 24). Janet Baker’s album of various and varied Arias occupies disc four. The 1985 recordings of the Brandenburg Concertos are well-sprung, agile, and buoyant. John Constable plays the harpsichord continuo in No.4 but George Malcolm was enlisted for the virtuosic No.5 where he joins Iona Brown and William Bennett. The Orchestral Suites were recorded the previous year. When was the last time you heard either of these sets played by a ‘proper’ non-HIP orchestra in concert? Andrei Gavrilov plays the Concertos 1-7 with colour-conscious ears. He’s rather too prominent in the balance for my tastes but as he showed with his shared set of the Handel Suites (shared with Richter, no less), he’s an incisive, lively exponent of the repertoire.

Handel’s Messiah comes from Stuttgart. It’s sung in German (with the original Handel orchestration) and the woman are superior to the men; Lucia Popp (splendid) and Fassbaender as against Gambill and Holl (a bit woolly). Marriner’s earlier recording of the 1743 edition is superior to this – it had Ameling, Reynolds, Langridge, and Howell – but in turn the Stuttgart is superior to his 1992 Philips recording. I’m not a fan of Kathleen Battle’s Handel arias disc. Her Acis and Galatea aria, for example, is littered with self-congratulatory swoops and other off-putting elements and the whole album wears a rag-bag look. How many recordings of The Water Music did Marriner make? I think it was four – 1971, 1979, 1988 – this one – and 1993. You can’t go far wrong really though I prefer the newly-minted and zesty 1971 best of all. Two Concerto a due cori, recorded in 1975, seem not to have been reissued since and occupy CD 14. They’ve been remastered by Art & Son. I don’t have the original LP for comparison, and therefore I’m going out on a limb, but these remasterings sounds a bit blowsy and over-scaled to me.

CDs 15-17 find Marriner on accompanist duties for Maurice André in Baroque concertos (you’ll find these have been reissued in Erato’s boxes devoted to the trumpeter) though you’ll also hear Helen Donath here in Bach and Scarlatti. The disc in which Marriner accompanies David Munrow in Telemann, Sammartini and Handel is making its first CD appearance and has been remastered by Art & Son. The Handel in this disc is a treble recorder concerto reconstructed by Christopher Hogwood. Again, as in CD 14, I’m not a fan of the remastering, for the same reason.  

Marriner had led the ASMF for George Guest’s recordings of Haydn Masses, which can now be found in a compendious Decca box. For his own recordings of the Masses, Marriner went to Dresden. These are rather more robust and bigger-boned readings than Guest’s and with the Staatskapelle he had a first-rate ensemble. The singers included those with whom he worked often – Barbara Hendricks, Ann Murray, Margaret Marshall, Carolyn Watkinson, Keith Lewis, Robert Holl amongst them. The results are Haydn School of 1985 – robust, buoyant, middle-of-the-road. Rather less recommendable is his Stuttgart Die Schöpfung as his earlier recording is more consistently cast and more dramatic. Lynn Harrell is excellent in the Haydn concertos – deft and athletic, not least in his own cadenzas. The orchestral version of the Seven Last Words has been remastered. In the welter of Maurice André recordings, Marriner’s collaboration with the equally great John Wilbraham might have been overlooked and CD 27 is making its first CD appearance, remastered by Art & Son. Hear Wilbraham’s effortlessly stylish dispatch of two concertos by Viviani, for example. Barry Tuckwell plays four horn concertos by Giovanni Punto – or Jan Václav Stich, if you’re Czech. 

Mozart was a central component of Marriner’s recorded repertoire. His Les Petits Riens occupies CD 29 with some overtures but the more obvious overtures turn up in the following disc, all finely played, as you’d expect. Marriner was tremendously consistent throughout his career and if one prefers this or that recording it’s really because of an extra quotient of incision, not because of any ensemble limitations or slovenliness. The Mozart Symphonies here were recorded between 1984 and 1989, a re-recording of symphonies he had recorded the previous decade. Back in 1972 he’d recorded the ‘complete’ symphony cycle – which included the so-called Symphonies 42-52 and 55 – with players such as Colin Tilney, Nicholas Kraemer, Trevor Pinnock and Christopher Hogwood making contributions. Whether you see Marriner as offering them an incubatory opportunity or not, he was always keen to employ the best, most progressive talents without allowing them to compromise his own strong sense of sonority or his own conception of the music. In 1979 he recorded Symphonies Nos. 21-41 interspersed with some Piano Concerto recordings with Alfred Brendel (for another label, and so not included here). Like his Haydn symphonies on Eloquence, the Mozart recordings are admirably direct, sympathetically shaped and beautifully executed.

He recorded seven Mozart Piano Concertos in Stuttgart between 1988-90 with Christian Zacharias. Two of the more ‘serious’ concertos were made soon after the last of the Zacharias sessions, with Rudolf Buchbinder, back with the ASMF (Nos 22 and 27). The following year he taped Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.1 – one of the two that no one cares about – with Anne Sophie Mutter, adding the Sinfonia concertante in which she was joined by Bruno Giuranna. Marriner ensures stylistic decorum whereas when she was to re-record it, self-directing, with Yuri Bashmet the result was grisly in the extreme. Tuckwell returns for the Horn Concertos, a 1971 recording, followed by the 1996 re-make with David Pyatt taking Tuckwell’s place. Barbara Hendricks sings, sensitively this time, a Mozart sacred arias album.

Admirers of Josef Suk will note that CD 47 offers first CD status to Mozart’s Rondo, K373, the Adagio, K261 and Schubert’s Rondo, K438, recordings made in March 1970. The two Beethoven Romances have been reissued before – I have them on an Encore CD coupled with Suk’s recording with Boult of the Violin Concerto, made later, in September 1970. I assume that the photograph on p.43 of the booklet is from these March sessions; it shows Marriner and Brown playing but watching Suk very closely.

Till Fellner plays Beethoven’s Second and Third Piano Concertos on an Erato recording. A boomy recording lessens the pleasures of the youthful Fellner’s playing, and he’s not always the most subtle of practitioners. Dmitry Sitkovetsky plays the Concerto twenty odd years after Marriner had recorded the Romances with Suk which Sitkovetsky also plays. The violinist was signed to Virgin so this LP was released on that label, and the results are standard; not the fieriest or most searching but neat, stylish, musical. Back comes Tuckwell in CD 51 for a Horn Concerto album – Telemann, Cherubini, Weber etc.

Marriner embarked on albums of Italian overtures, starting with a standard Rossini selection and including a good Cherubini album. Interspersed between them is CD 52, Music for Double Bass, played by Rodney Slatford in 1975 and making its first CD appearance: Keyper, Michael Haydn, von Dittersdorf and Rossini. A couple of these were double concertos where Slatford was joined by violist Stephen Shingles and cellist Kenneth Heath. Suppé overtures are spick and span but lacking in Beechamesque brio. Grieg was something of a minor preoccupation for a while. There’s a good Concerto with Cécile Ousset, who also plays the Mendelssohn No.1, and an even better Peer Gynt with the luxury casting of Lucia Popp, one of Slovakia’s greatest artists and a favourite of the conductor’s, in three songs. Marriner and the Academy play 12 of the 23 numbers.

The recording of the two Vieuxtemps Cello concertos was, apparently, a world première. Heinrich Schiff does the honours in some style, differentiating their very different moods with clarity. Marriner’s Bizet is youthful, breezy, zestful and full of fun – distinctive and alive. A saxophone album features John Harle in Ibert, Debussy, Villa-Lobos, Glazunov and Richard Rodney Bennett with a Gil Evans-inspired envoi from Ted Heath – the bandleader not the Prime Minister.  There’s an album of rather inconsequential Elgar sweetmeats with the Northern Sinfonia.

His Falla The Three-Cornered Hat is a touch too soft-edged, perhaps, but the Nights in the Gardens of Spain is bolstered by a young Tzimon Barto who, Tully Potter’s notes alert us, was also an enthusiastic bodybuilder. Respighi’s The Birds is delightful, and so too is Trittico botticelliano. The Wolf-Ferrari orchestral music CD – which includes the overture and intermezzo from Il segreto di Susanna – reminds one of the Rossini and Cherubini discs. Sterner music comes in CD 64, a creative coupling of Frank Martin’s Petite symphonie concertante and Bloch’s Concerto grosso No.1. With Osian Ellis, Simon Preston and Philip Ledger, Marriner had a first-rate team for the former and pianist Francis Grier for the latter. This is the kind of splendidly authoritative disc that has one wondering about Marriner and Martinů. I suspect it wasn’t coincidence that his younger confrere, Christopher Hogwood, distinguished himself in the Martinů discography. Why didn’t anyone suggest it to Marriner?

There are two discs of his Stravinsky, though. The earlier is from 1974 and is his Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra recordings of Dumbarton Oaks, the Concerto in D major and Danses concertantes. This is the first CD appearance of the first two but they’ve all been remastered for this box.Years later he recorded Pulcinella, the ballet and the two suites for a LP with the ASMF – finely characterised and very recommendable.   

CD 67 is an ‘English String Music’ album, and perfectly fine as far as it goes but scatter-shot – Purcell alongside Walton’s Henry V and all that. It’s followed by Heather Harper, splendid in Les Illuminations and Robert Tear, adequate (only) in the Serenade, with Alan Civil. Marriner directs the Northern Sinfonia. The Young Person’s Guide was recorded in Minnesota and it’s nothing to get excited about. Whilst there he also recorded some Copland. Appalachian Spring is so-so. He was good at certain Copland as his Quiet City (not here) was excellent. A happier recording was Walton’s Façade with Michael Flanders (accents and all, but just right nonetheless) and the deliciously haughty Fenella Fielding. The roll-call of Marriner’s instrumental soloists is mouth-watering: Bennett, Brymer, Stephen Trier, Wilbraham, Fry, and cellists Kenneth Heath and Ross Pople (called ‘People’ in the track listing; that should amuse him). There’s also a fine Tippett album leading with the Divertimento on ‘Sellinger’s Round’, adding Little Music and the Concerto for double string orchestra (excellent) adding the Sonata for four horns, played by the Michael Thompson Horn Quartet.

For lovers of such things – and I’m happy to say that I do like such things, as we all need to escape from the rigours, length and sonorous brutality of, say, Bruckner and Mahler for a while, don’t we? – there are some ‘Academy’ albums. These offer Baroque and Classical faves, Albinoni, Pachelbel, Gluck and Handel. There are also favourite orchestral pieces – Bizet’s Carmen amidst little pieces by Mozart, Handel and Ludwig van – the 12 Contredanses. Note that CD 73contains CD premieres – Handel’s Berenice Minuet, that old 78rpm favourite, Mozart’s March, K335 Bach’s Sinfonia, BWV248, those Beethoven pieces and Handel’s Pastoral Symphony.

CD 76 offers an operatically-inclined smorgasbord (Nicolai, Rimsky, Mussorgsky amongst them) but including Suppé’s Light Cavalry overture which he was to re-record a few years later for that all-Suppé disc; perhaps this one gave him the idea for it? The Italian ‘opera’ album is pleasing but is wholly outdone by Lucia Popp in Viennese operetta; unforgettably focused and beautiful. A standard-sounding orchestral disc gives us Wagner (Siegried Idyll), Dvořák – the Nocturne but Marriner was an excellent Dvořák conductor – Fauré’s Pavane and other light pieces. The final disc is an Oscar Wilde album with music by Debbie Wiseman, recorded in 2000, much the most recent thing to have been recorded. It features long solos from violinist Jack Liebeck, cellist Louisa Tuck, flautist Juliette Bausor and pianist Sally Wei. The narrators are Stephen Fry in The Nightingale and the Rose and Vanessa Redgrave in The Selfish Giant. Wiseman’s music offers romantic reverie and I have to admit I found The Nightingale and the Rose very moving.   

That’s it. Well done for sticking with me – unless you’ve just scrolled down to the final paragraph in which case, shame on you. I think by now you know what’s here but as for a cost/benefit analysis, well, I’m afraid that’s down to you.

Jonathan Woolf

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Presto Music

Art & Son remasterings
CD 14 Handel Concerto a due cori from 1975 (first CD appearance)
CD 18 David Munrow playing Telemann, Sammartini and Handel (first CD appearance)
CD 26 Haydn’s Seven Last Words (though not, I think, the first CD appearance)
CD 27 John Wilbraham’s Trumpet album
CD 47 Josef Suk – all but the Beethoven Romances appearing for the first time on CD
CD 52 Music for Double Bass by Rodney Slatford (first CD appearance)
CD 65 Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks and the Concerto in D major make their first CD appearance.  Everything on this disc has been remastered by Art & Son
CD 73 Everything is a CD premiere except Albinoni, Mendelssohn, Pachelbel, Bach’s Air and Mozart’s Dance. However, everything has been remastered by Art & Son
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Brandenburg Concertos nos 1-6, BWV1046-51 (complete)
Cantata BWV51 ‘Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen’
Cantata BWV202 ‘Weichet nur, betrubte schatten’ (Wedding Cantata)
Cantata BWV209 ‘Non sa che sia dolore’
Keyboard Concertos, BWV1052-1058 (complete)
Magnificat in D major, BWV243
Orchestral Suites nos.1-4 BWV1066-1069

Beethoven, Ludwig van
Piano Concerto no.2 in B flat major, op.19
Piano Concerto no.3 in C minor, op.37
Romance no.1 in G major for violin and orchestra, op.40
Romance no.2 in F major for violin and orchestra, op.50
Violin Concerto in D major, op.61

Bizet, Georges
L’Arlesienne Suite no.1
L’Arlesienne Suite no.2
Symphony in C major

Bloch, Ernest
Concerto Grosso no.1

Britten, Benjamin
Les Illuminations, op.18
Men of Goodwill: Variations on a Christmas carol
Sea Interludes (4), op.33a
Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, op.31
The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, op.34

Charpentier, Marc-Antoine
Magnificat a 8: motet for 8 voices, chorus, instruments & continuo, H74 ‘Grand’
Te Deum, H146

Copland, Aaron
Appalachian Spring: Suite
El Salon Mexico
Rodeo (Four Dance Episodes)

Falla, Manuel de
El sombrero de tres picos (The three-cornered hat)
Noches en los Jardines de Espana (Nights in the Gardens of Spain)

Grieg, Edvard
Peer Gynt, op.23
Piano Concerto in A minor, op.16

Handel, George Frideric
Concerto a due cori no.1
Concerto a due cori no.3 in F major, HWV334
Messiah, HWV56
Water Music

Haydn, Franz Joseph
Cello Concerto in C major, Hob.VIIb:1
Cello Concerto in D major, Hob.VIIb:2 (op.101)
Mass in B flat major, Hob.XXII:7, ‘Kleine Orgelmesse’
Mass in B flat major, Hob.XXII:10 ‘Missa Sancti Bernardi von Offida’, ‘Heiligmesse’
Mass in B flat major, Hob.XXII:12, ‘Theresienmesse’
Mass in B flat major, Hob.XXII:13 ‘Schopfungmesse’ (Creation Mass)
Mass in C major, Hob.XXII:9 ‘Missa in tempore belli’, ‘Paukenmesse’
Mass in D minor, Hob.XXII:11 ‘Nelson Mass’ (Missa in angustiis)
The Creation (Die Schopfung), Hob.XXI:2
The Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross, op.51

Martin, Frank
Petite Symphonie concertante, op.54

Mendelssohn, Felix
Piano Concerto no.1 in G minor, op.25

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus
Horn Concertos nos.1-4 (complete)
Horn Quintet in E flat major, K407
Les Petits Riens, K299b
Piano Concerto no.5 in D major, K175
Piano Concerto no.6 in B flat major, K238
Piano Concerto no.11 in F major, K413
Piano Concerto no.16 in D major, K451
Piano Concerto no.17 in G major, K453
Piano Concerto no.18 in B flat major, K456
Piano Concerto no.19 in F major, K459
Piano Concerto no.22 in E flat major, K482
Piano Concerto no.27 in B flat major, K595
Rondo for horn and orchestra in E flat major, K371
Sinfonia concertante for violin and viola in E flat major, K364
Symphony no.24 in B flat major, K182
Symphony no.25 in G minor, K183
Symphony no.26 in E flat major, K184
Symphony no.27 in G major, K199
Symphony no.28 in C major, K200
Symphony no.29 in A major, K201
Symphony no.30 in D major, K202
Symphony no.31 in D minor, K297 ‘Paris’
Symphony no.32 in G major, K318 ‘Overture in the Italian Style’
Symphony no.33 in B flat major, K319
Symphony no.34 in C major, K338
Symphony no.35 in D major, K385 ‘Haffner’
Symphony no.36 in C major, K425 ‘Linz’
Symphony no.38 in D major, K504 ‘Prague’
Symphony no.39 in E flat major, K543
Symphony no.40 in G minor, K550
Symphony no.41 in C major, K551 ‘Jupiter’
Violin Concerto no.1 in B flat major, K207

Punto, Giovanni
Horn Concerto no.5
Horn Concerto no.6
Horn Concerto no.10
Horn Concerto no.11

Respighi, Ottorino
Gli uccelli (The Birds), P154
Trittico Botticelliano, P151

Scarlatti, Alessandro
Su le sponde del Tebro

Stravinsky, Igor
Concerto in D major for strings, ‘Basler’
Concerto in E flat major ‘Dumbarton Oaks’
Danses concertantes
Suite no.1
Suite no.2

Tippett, Michael
Concerto for Double String Orchestra
Divertimento on Sellinger’s Round
Little Music for String Orchestra
Sonata for 4 horns

Vieuxtemps, Henri
Cello Concerto no.1 in A minor, op.46
Cello Concerto no.2 in B minor, op.50

Vivaldi, Antonio
Gloria in D major, RV589

Wagner, Richard
Siegfried Idyll, WWV103

Walton, William