Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Review: Liszt - Faust Symphony - Sinopoli - DG/Eloquence, 1996

Considerable disappointment

Having been fascinated by Sinopoli's tremendous rendition of Liszt's Dante Symphony, I was naturally excited to find out that he had also recorded the Faust Symphony with the same orchestra, for the same label, and roughly at the same time. Though the competition in this field is considerably more formidable than as regards Liszt's other symphony, which is indeed vastly under-recorded, I venture the suggestion that Sinopoli's nearly complete failure here has nothing to do with that. It is perplexing how the same man conducting the same orchestra in the same period of his life can produce so hugely different results. Sinopoli's Dante remains my absolutely first choice, rivalled but hardly equalled let alone surpassed by Barenboim alone. But Sinopoli's Faust is, if not the last, certainly one of my last choices; and that has nothing to do with the fact that quite a few eminent conductors have recorded it (Muti, Bernstein, Horenstein, Beecham, Barenboim, Rattle, Solti, to name but a few).

It is interesting to observe that Sinopoli's Dante is one of the slowest on record, whereas his Faust is one of the fastest. Indeed, at less than 68 minutes, Sinopoli is almost as fast as the incandescent Jascha Horenstein; but where the latter creates one of the most exciting Faust on record, the former ends up a total mess. To say that Sinopoli's performance is rushed is a gross understatement. The climaxes in the first part, the ''Gretchen'' theme, the final chorus: all of them are taken at ridiculous speed and with hardly any idea of what lies behind the notes. Having a fine orchestra and a superior label at his disposal, Sinopoli is virtually immune to sloppiness of execution or inferior sound quality. All the same, rushing through the score like that cannot be saved by technical perfection. On the top of all that, Sinopoli's shoddy climaxes – shoddy as interpretation, not as performance – are often additionally marred by his bizarre, to say the least, ideas of orchestral colour; one of the most dismaying examples occurs towards the end of the first movement where part of the brass suddenly ''leaps out'' of the orchestra and gives me quite a shock. The best about this recording is Vinson Cole whose tenor is not especially powerful, but its tenderness fits his part here wonderfully. With the exception of Gösta Windbergh on Muti's recording, I cannot recall a more moving rendition of Die Ewig-Weibliche.

I am grateful to Eloquence for having made this recording available at budget price. This is just about all that it is worth. The original DG disc is currently – and thankfully – out of print and second-hand copies are almost indecently expensive. May it remain out of print. I see that the Eloquence re-issue is not available either. So much the better for the Faust Symphony indeed! Such a great music deserves much more than that.

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