This England / Kalmar, Oregon Symphony Orchestra

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ELGAR Cockaigne, Op.40. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphony No.5. BRITTEN Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes, Op. 33a and b Carlos Kalmar, cond: The Oregon Symphony PENTATONE 5186 471 (SACD: 77:29)

Carlos Kalmar and his Oregon Symphony continue to make valuable inroads into the British repertoire. Their previous disc presented “Music For A Time of War” (5186393) and included Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem and Vaughan Williams’s Fourth Symphony as well as John Adams’s The Wound-Dresser and Ives’s The Unanswered Question . This latest one takes an overture, a symphony, and an orchestral suite and passacaglia. Elgar’s Cockaigne is an overture in many ways as difficult successfully to bring off as his concert overture In the South . The question of tempo adjustment and relationships, extended incidents, and a binding together of the fabric of the music invariably recur in both, but the profuse episodes in Cockaigne can lead to a degree of sectionality if sufficient structural control is not exercised. Fortunately Kalmar has architecture in sight, though he also seems keen to wring every last drop of sentiment from it too, as he lingers over the music’s most luscious and lyrically inspired section with great fervor. He, like almost everyone—even Adrian Boult—is significantly slower than the composer himself, who left behind two recordings. The first was an early electric of 1926, followed in 1933 by one of his last recordings. Barbirolli’s EMI classic is no less idiomatic than Boult’s—doubtless as a Londoner (as Boult was not) Barbirolli felt an added kinship. But where Kalmar scores is in the vivid SACD sound where one finds, in particular, and spectacularly, that the bass drum really thumps and throbs.

Invariably the names of those two British conductors recur in a program of this sort. But Kalmar is very much his own man and I have a hunch, from the tempo relationships and shaping of the music, that he has listened to Vaughan Williams’s own off-air 1952 performance of the Fifth Symphony, preserved by Somm on CD 071. This invaluable document stands, with the composer’s visceral recording of the Fourth Symphony, as evidence of his conducting abilities in his own music. It’s only in the Romanza that Kalmar relaxes a shade more than the composer, thus vesting the music with an even greater sense of repose, and yet he’s careful not to relax as much as Vernon Handley with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic on EMI or Bryden Thomson with the London Symphony on Chandos, to cite just two of the other available performances. Mono sound apart, Boult’s first recording of the Fifth is unequalled in its sense of expressive balance but for outstanding sonics and a thoughtful and intelligent traversal of the score, Kalmar can be recommended. The Elgar and Vaughan Williams works were recorded on consecutive days during February 2012 while Britten’s Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes were taped over three consecutive days in May of the same year. These are projected with clarity and an evocative tension that suits the music very well. The Passacaglia is placed immediately before the Storm, thus allowing the program to end on a Presto con fuoco . The live recording is very fine though there are the inevitable corollaries, such as coughs and one very brief but unfortunate contribution via what I think is a cell phone. It’s a minor point. The performances themselves are very fine.

FANFARE: Jonathan Woolf

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: PTC5186471

  • UPC: 827949047169

  • Label: Pentatone

  • Composer: Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Sir Edward Elgar

  • Conductor: Carlos Kalmar

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Oregon Symphony Orchestra