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Halstead tickles ear with witty Weber interpretation


Works by Weber and Haydn.

Venetian oboe concertos.


NIMBUS RECORDS HAS RECENTLY been showering me with a plethora of promotional CDs, but it's not just out of guilt -- but pleasure -- that I feel compelled to write about a number of releases that would probably otherwise have escaped my attention. Let's start with the new Weber CD, with the Hanover Band conducted by Roy Goodman. My favorite track on this is the remarkable Horn Concertino, adeptly played by Anthony Halstead.

Halstead literally tickles your ear with his charming, witty interpretation of this work. Yes, it may sound a bit silly at times, but the performance is not just lively and humorous -- it has a poignant side as well. There are a couple of wonderfully aspirated notes, sounding like some giant collapsing on his death bed.

Halstead's virtuosity is astonishing, but more important is his ability to color little turns, and add the sort of subtle nuance that spells big revelations. Roy Goodman produces an alert but smooth sound from the original instruments Hanover Band.

The recording, in common with many other Nimbus releases, is rather reverberant; this may not be to everyone's taste, but I happen to like it: it contributes to the human scale of the performance, as well as adding to the ambience.

The disc also contains Weber's Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2, both played with aplomb.

Cut to the Haydnsaal of the Esterh'azy Palace in Eisenstadt, thirty miles south of Vienna, for taut and smiling accounts of three Haydn Symphonies by the Austro-Hungarian Orchestra conducted by Adam Fischer. The Austro-Hungarian Orchestra has members from both Austria and Hungary, and performs Haydn's works in the places where he lived and worked. The summer and winter palaces of the Esterh'azys are separated by the international border, but the orchestra is able to perform at both, and citizens of both countries can attend concerts on either side of the frontier.

The Symphony No. 24 which opens the CD is delivered with great energy, but is touched by pathos too, a result of sensitive string playing as well as a beautiful flute solo by B'ela Dr'ahos in the Adagio. There is a great feeling of suspense to the Finale.

The opening to Haydn's Symphony No. 22, "The Philosopher," is nicely paced, the clarity of the recording adding to the enjoyment of the individuated instrumental voices coming together to form a closely-knit ensemble sound. The Presto is very jolly, the Menuet gracious, and the Finale-Presto an exuberant race home. The "Farewell" Symphony, No. 45, which brings the disc to a conclusion, is done with equal flair.

A CD entitled "Venetian Oboe Concertos" will also give a good deal of pleasure, even if it is a bit much to take in one sitting. Not all of the six concertos performed here are of equal quality, but the scope of invention encompassed between them is extraordinary, and oboeist John Anderson's playing is fluent and sometimes illuminating. Can I admit that my favorite is the popular Cimarosa/Benjamin Concerto for Oboe in C minor? Anderson gives a warm and soulful account, while the Philharmonia Orchestra under Simon Wright provides a sensitive accompaniment.

Also recently arrived in the mail is a sampler from EMI, with 28 tracks of their upcoming issues on display. The second track -- an extract from the first movement of Mozart's Symphony No. 29 -- made me shudder. It's played by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, conducted by Neville Marriner, and is it ugly. It takes off at a furious pace, quite unconnected with the heartbeat of the music. Marriner is, of course, being quite trendy in taking his Mozart fast, but the result for the listener is that he reproduces the notes but not the music.

The definitive recording of this work to this ear remains the one by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Karl B"ohm on DG. This is a slow-paced account, but one which goes at the pace of life and reaches the heavens, too. It is graced by idyllic phrasing, and tempi which respond to every contour of the musical form. It is an interpretation which asks plaintive questions, but supplies responses which are soothing and life-affirming. If ever there were a musical recipe for happiness, this is it. Please leave Neville Marriner on the shelf.