Friday, February 25, 2011

Recordings: Symphony No. 3

Symphony No. 3
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken (now Deutsche Radio Philharmonie?)
Alun Francis
CPO 999 223-2 

Symphony No. 3
Norrköping Symphony Orchestra
Leif Segerstam

If I were to broadly generalize the differences between these two recordings, I would say that Segerstam favors a “clean and lean” (I could put in a bad joke here, if you know what Segerstam looks like) approach, while Francis is weightier and richer. Overall, Segerstam is quite a bit swifter, taking about 37 minutes with this piece compared to Francis’ 40. In the opening movement, Segerstam is about one minute faster than Francis, which is a plus considering how this movement can get a bit long. At this tempo, Segerstam’s opening motive has a stabbing, incisive quality, while Francis sounds a bit like stomping heavy boots. Likewise, when the violins come in, Segerstam favors crisp articulation while Francis is more legato (I wish I had the score!).

Segerstam also tends to bring out or exaggerate orchestrational details, and without the score I cannot be sure if he is following Pettersson’s intentions or simply bringing out extra color. For example, listen to how Segerstam swells the violin’s dynamic in both the openings of the first and second movements, and then drops back to subito piano.

Segerstam’s approach can seem a bit distant at times. In the militaristic climax of the third movement, Francis’ bigger and fuller sound adds the necessary punch which is somewhat missing with Segerstam. Francis’ slightly slower tempo here also allows the downward runs to register more clearly in the transition between the third and fourth movements, while Segerstam, despite being “cleaner and leaner” overall, is a bit muddier here.

I do want to give special mention to the tuba playing in the Francis recording, particularly in the first movement. For example, at 5:02, listen to how the tuba really digs into those low F naturals. Or at 9:51, where that mid-range Eb holds dominance over the orchestra.

In the final analysis, I can recommend both versions here as viable representations of this work, while being sufficiently different from each other to offer distinct interpretations. 

1 comment:

  1. Your entries inspire me to reconcern myself with the recordings you mention. Now I have listened to Symphony No. 3 (RSO Saarbrücken/Alun Francis) after some years of disregard. And I have to say, the more I listen to this composition the more I appreciate it. Maybe it doesn't possess the greatness of the later Pettersson symphonies, however it has its artistic value und its authenticity.