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I used the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons to compare the modern approach to that of Jos van Immerseel and the Anima Eterna. Differences in instrument sounds are subtle for civilian listeners. Horns are a shade rougher, woodwinds a bit warmer. The most apparent differences are in size. Jansons leads the usual hundred or so musicians, Immerseel fifty eight. Much of the reduction is in the strings. Richard Strauss, as a conductor, was concerned that brass can swamp the rest of the orchestra. He once said, 'Don't look at the trombones, you'll only encourage them.' For quite some time now, I've felt conductors and orchestrators have over-reacted to his advice. I've always preferred Schumann's supposedly clumsy, brass-heavy orchestrations for example, to Mahler's revisions. Sections of the Rhenish Symphony are eviscerated when strings overwhelm brass in music demanding heroic horn calls.

So it will come as no surprise that I often prefer Anima Eterna's smaller string section. Many portions of Tchaikovsky's Fourth benefit from a lighter sound and more balance among sections. The waltz of the first movement dances even though Immerseel's tempo is slower than Jansons' [listen -- track 1, 5:13-6:29]. The pizzicato third movement is more delicate and playful [listen -- track 3, 2:56-4:01]. The finale sounds more joyful [listen -- track 4, 0:00-1:34]. I'll guess Immerseel's performance is closer to what Tchaikovsky had in mind. And yet.

Jansons does generate more of the devastating pathos modern audiences expect, and the climaxes are more likely to pull you up out of your chair with an urgent need to co-conduct. It is a terrific performance, though I could do with a less cavernous auditorium.

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Copyright © 21 May 2003 Ron Bierman, San Diego, USA


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