Sounds Magnificent: The Story of the Symphony
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Written, Produced and Directed by Herbert Chappell.
A BBC TV Production in association wth RM Arts
The format here is rather simple: Previn presents historical and biographical information surrounding a particular symphony, with excerpts from the work to illustrate certain points, and then leads a complete performance of it. All performances are presented live, apparently in a BBC studio. What sets this effort apart from most other similar issues is the commentary by Andre Previn. It is enlightening, priceless really. He offers insights into the music in great detail ear- and mind-opening detail in fact and explains the frame of mind of the various composers involved. He delves into their lives, into their triumphs and sufferings, their loves and neuroses. In short, he draws you into the world of the music presented here. That said, composer Herbert Chappell must be given some, maybe a great part, of the credit here, as he was the writer and director of the project.
The Haydn Symphony No. 87 is given a solid reading, well performed by the Royal Philharmonic. The Mozart 39th is also quite compelling; Previn and the RPO also deliver a solid reading of the first movement of the Beethoven 5th. The Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique is spirited and obsessive (as it should be) in its focus on the composer's love Harriet Smithson, the inspiration for the work. The opening and closing panels storm the heights, while the inner three movements are given splendid readings, especially the March to the Scaffold.
The Brahms 4th Symphony comes next. Previn quotes many detractors of the composer, including George Bernard Shaw, who could be quite scathing in his judgments. But I'm glad that Previn presents all sides, and much else as well. The performance of the Brahms 4th is effective in capturing that complex mixture of serenity, passion, joyful vigor and glorious triumph. Another detractor of Brahms, as Previn notes, was Tchaikovsky, whose tortured life he documents to lay the groundwork for the great 6th Symphony. The performance of the 6th Symphony is warm and lush, not high on passion. That said, there are plenty of moments - the first movement development section, for one - where the music turns fiery and impassioned. The livelier middle movements come across with spirit and commitment, and overall the performance of the symphony is quite convincing. This Shostakovich 5th is also a fine performance, with many of the same qualities of the 1965 effort: the second movement here has plenty of bite and the finale's triumph comes across with a sense of ambivalence, as it should.
The third movement of the Vaughan Williams 5th Symphony is also presented, and is among the finest performances here, making you wish the whole work had been presented.
There are 525 minutes spread over the three discs, which includes Previn's lectures, musical examples and the performances themselves. This can be an excellent learning tool, especially for music appreciation courses, but can also be enjoyed simply for the generally fine performances and the many insights in Previn's commentary. --CLASSICAL NET. --Classical Net
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