Magazine article Gramophone

Constantin Silvestri: The Centenary of the Romanian Conductor's Birth Falls in May. Jon Tolansky Sums Up the Career of an Inspirational Fanatic Who Worked Wonders with the Bournemouth SO

Magazine article Gramophone

Constantin Silvestri: The Centenary of the Romanian Conductor's Birth Falls in May. Jon Tolansky Sums Up the Career of an Inspirational Fanatic Who Worked Wonders with the Bournemouth SO

Article excerpt

'I believe it will be one of the worst concerts of my life as there is only enough time to explain a quarter of what I want to.' When Constantin Silvestri wrote these words in a letter to a friend in January 1957, he had just conducted his first concert in London and was fearful of the next one a few days later. The London Philharmonic Orchestra had, as was its custom, allocated two rehearsals for their new guest--twice the amount available for many other conductors of their concerts. Economic conditions limited rehearsal time; but apart from that, the LPO, like most orchestras, found conductors who speak a great deal at rehearsals stultifying and an inhibition on the final performance. Even in his home country of Romania, Silvestri could never be given enough rehearsal opportunity to satisfy his requirements. Such a disparity of attitude augured ominously for the rehearsals and concert at the Royal Festival Hall, but everyone was in for a surprise. The LPO found their fanatically demanding conductor inspirational and, despite his misgivings and frustrations, the results he obtained made an electrifying impression. Several reviews praised the concert as 'one of

the most memorable heard in London since the war', with a' a musician of exceptional gifts, especially in a spectacular performance of Scriabin's Poeme de l'extase', and, referring to Debussy's Nocrurnes, 'seldom has the LPO achieved so much imaginatively nuanced tone and shading'.

The conductor and musicologist Bernard Keeffe attended one of the rehearsals for the BBC and he recalls how in the Nocturnes, 'despite the lack of rehearsal time, he took individual passages in great detail and spent a lot of time asking for character and expression ... When the cor anglais played his solo in "Nuages", he stopped and, although his English wasn't good, he made it very clear that he wanted much more interpretation and greater expressiveness. He almost took him through bar by bar in this way, always asking for expressive phrasing and demonstrating what he wanted.

Soon, Silvestri was making recordings for EMI, and the qualities that Keeffe and the critic Neville Cardus heard in the Nocturnes were vividly present when he recorded this music with the Orchestre de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire and the Choeur Elisabeth Brasseur in March 1958. They can be appreciated again now, along with the strikingly vibrant sonorities, prodigious range of dynamic shades and brilliant virtuosity that Silvestri attained in nearly all the other orchestral recordings he made for EMI, in a newly compiled centenary box-set issue of 15 CDs that EMI Classics is releasing in its Icon series. This is an invaluable legacy of a conductor who was greatly admired in his lifetime and yet today is less widely known than some of his eminent contemporaries. Maybe his sometimes eccentric and unorthodox interpreting of the great European symphonic repertoire explains this; and perhaps that is why EMI did not renew his contract in 1961. Ironically, it was in that year that he began his music directorship of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and so transformed them that the partnership made world headlines and brought the orchestra unprecedented kudos. In due course, EMI signed him up again for recordings made with these players.

At his centenary, courtesy of the EMI Icon issue, we can now assess the entire period of Silvestri's studio recording activity, from February 1957, when he set down Tchaikovsky's last three symphonies, to January 1968, when the repertoire was a group of small pieces (though with large orchestra) that included Dukas' L'apprenti sorcier, Saint-Saens's Danse macabre and Mussorgsky's A Night on the Bare Mountain (in Rimsky-Korsakov's arrangement). …

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