By JOHN FLEMING
Published July 17, 2005
LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA: THE CENTENNIAL SET (ANDANTE) The London Symphony Orchestra is winding up its 100th anniversary season this month with its biennial residency at the Florida International Festival in Daytona Beach. To commemorate the anniversary, Andante has put out a splendid four-CD set of performances from throughout the orchestra's history. Selections range from Weber's Oberon overture under the legendary Arthur Nikisch in a 1914 recording, whose primitive sound is surprisingly communicative in a remarkable remastering, to Colin Davis, the current principal conductor, in one of his specialties, Berlioz, with excerpts from the rarely performed opera Benvenuto Cellini in a 1999 concert.
The LSO is the world's most-recorded orchestra, but Andante unearthed some interesting performances from concerts and radio broadcasts, including a smashing program from the 1994 Salzburg Festival, with Georg Solti on the podium for pungent renditions of Stravinsky's Petrouchka and the Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony.
Naturally, the set has a work by Elgar, the quintessential English composer who was closely associated with the LSO in its early days; his Cockaigne overture is given a glorious performance in a 1975 Salzburg broadcast under Andre Previn. There's a sublime treatment of Debussy's tennis court romance Jeux conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas for a 1997 BBC broadcast. Claudio Abbado leads a crystalline version of Weber's Three Pieces for Orchestra, part of an innovative festival in 1985, called "Mahler, Vienna and the 20th Century," a themed approach to programming that was widely imitated.
In some ways, the LSO is an unlikely contender for ranking among the top orchestras in the world. Its musicians make less money than counterparts in the major U.S. orchestras, and the LSO doesn't have the government financial support that orchestras in Berlin, Vienna and other European capitals enjoy. Yet it has established a vivid style best described by Davis: "How to be casually virtuosic seems to be their forte!"
The LSO plays five classical concerts Friday through July 29 at Daytona's 2,500-seat Peabody Auditorium; for information call 386 257-7790 or see www.fif-lso.org The centennial boxed set, with a 144-page book that includes photos and essays, is $53 at www.andante.com