Michael Gielen Edition, Volume 4 (1968-2014) – Orchestral works by Berlioz, Dvořák, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninov, Schumann, Smetana, Johann Strauss II, Suk, Tchaikovsky, Wagner and Weber

Reviewed on Fri 12 May, 2017

There isn't a single dull bar or the merest whiff of dutiful routine across these nine well-filled CDs.

There are riches galore in this fourth volume from SWR Music devoted to the recorded legacy of Michael Gielen (who turns 90 this September). The focus is on Romantic repertoire in technically excellent recordings featuring three admirable German radio orchestras dating from 1968 to 2014. Two-large-scale choral masterpieces, Berlioz's Requiem and Schumann's Scenes from Faust, receive marvellously committed renderings, full of absorbing insight and abundant musicality. We're also treated to subtly voiced, consistently nourishing interpretations of Dvořák's towering Seventh Symphony and his concertos for violin and cello (with the great Josef Suk and much-missed Heinrich Schiff respectively), Weber's Second Piano Concerto (with Ludwig Hoffmann), Schumann's Spring Symphony, Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique and Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony (these last two will really make you sit up and listen). Elsewhere, Gielen and company have a ball in Weber's overture to Die Freischütz and Johann Strauss II's Emperor Waltz (both recorded live at the 1990 Minnesota Music Festival), and there are scrupulously prepared yet memorably newly-minted readings of Liszt's Mephisto Waltz No 1 and assorted overtures by Schumann (Manfred and The Bride of Messina), Mendelssohn (A Midsummer Night's Dream), Smetana (The Bartered Bride) and Berlioz (Roman Carnival). That just leaves Tchaikovsky's Pathétique, orchestral excerpts from Wagner's Lohengrin, Die Meistersinger and Tristan und Isolde, Suk's A Summer Tale and Rachmaninov's The Isle of Dead – already familiar to Gielen acolytes and all sounding thrillingly eloquent under his lucid baton. Take it from me, there isn't a single dull bar or the merest whiff of dutiful routine across these nine well-filled CDs. A true connoisseur's collection, this, and simply unmissable.
–Andrew Achenbach