Monday, April 2, 2012

Recordings: Symphony No. 12

Symphony No. 12
Stockholm Philharmonic Choir
Uppsala University Chamber Choir
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Carl Rune Larsson
CAP 21369

Symphony No.12
Swedish Radio Choir
Eric Ericson Chamber Choir
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck, conductor
CPO 777 146-2

Long-time enthusiasts of this work had to wait a very long time (over 20 years) for the second commercially available recording of this symphony. I remember back in 2004 several of my friends and colleagues in a neighboring lab went to Uppsala for a conference during the same week the SRSO performed (and recorded) this work. Needless to say, I was JEALOUS. Fortunately, what must have been a memorable event has been preserved on disc by CPO, and the results are certainly not disappointing.

Even though I have gradually become more “comfortable” with this score I still think it is quite elusive. This might be why I really cannot pick up on any major differences in conception and interpretation between the two recordings. There are some differences in timing between the two performances, namely in movements 2,3, and 5, but they really didn’t make too big a difference for me. Larsson’s choice of a slower tempo for the second movement does create a greater sense of deliberateness and makes the music a bit more imposing, but this doesn’t make Honeck sound any less convincing in comparison either.

The SRSO plays amazingly throughout, which is all the more impressive considering how the CPO recording was put together from a pair of live performances. The 21st century sound is certainly a big plus in trying to put together a reasonably clear sound picture considering how dense Pettersson’s writing is. The RSPO sounds just a hair more insecure compared to their Berwaldhallen counterparts, but given the technical demands of the piece, they do a fine job.

Probably the biggest drawback to the RSPO performance is just simply the difference in recording quality compared to CPO performance. The Caprice recording sounds harsh and sharp in places; the dense tutti passages played f or ff really sound quite strained, any details (such as upper strings and middle voices) are often lost in the sound picture. However, I do find Larsson’s concluding measures to be much more satisfying, with a noticeably greater sense of rage and defiance in comparison (listen to how he draws out the allargando).  

If I had to pick one recording of this work I would have to say CPO, with better playing and much better sound, but performance-wise the Caprice is definitely more than serviceable.

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