Notes and Editorial Reviews
Maag's intelligent balancing of the orchestra and gauging of the music's proportions and rhetoric do not preclude imaginative handling of their illustrative poetry; in other words, he is a superb Mendelssohnian stylist.
For the music critic, the greatest challenge is to find words that adequately express the experience music provides (a challenge rarely properly met, and one can console oneself with Mendelssohn's declaration that music is a language too deep for words). For the record critic there is another challenge: to usefully describe the character of recorded sound where, for the various listeners, there will be no constants in replay equipment, replay levels, room acoustics, expectations or ears. I tried out The
Hebrides on a friend, claiming that there was an intermittent high-pitched whistle, and he was convinced I was suffering from tinnitus. Equally, a fellow reviewer recently commented that the bass was boosted, but I can only report that the bass through my Quad ESLs is ideally present, ample and lively (I confess I have always thrilled to Decca's relative closemiking of string basses).
The Hebrides and the Scottish Symphony offer 'Classic' Decca engineering at its best: airy 1960 Kingsway Hall sound with a real sense of perspective drawing the ear in (woodwind set behind strings but without loss of clarity - how flat is the layout of many a modern recording - compare Harnoncourt in the symphony), pin-point instrumental positioning yet no impression of instruments sealed off from each other (as there is in many of the contemporary, recently reissued, Everest discs), and, for the pre-Dolby period, a remarkable dynamic range, accomplished with low hiss levels and no audible overloading. There is, perhaps, a slight thinness of tone in the middle register, a characteristic that is far more pronounced in the 1957 Midsummer Night's Dream excerpts (calling to mind, if memory serves correctly, one critic's charge, decades ago, that Decca were recording in "zinc tanks"), but the high-key clarity and fizzing presence readily compensate.
At the time, Maag would probably have earned the description of a classically oriented Mendelssohnian, but his intelligent balancing of the orchestra and gauging of the work's proportions and rhetoric do not preclude imaginative handling of their illustrative poetry; in other words, he is a superb Mendelssohnian stylist. Personal rhythmic and dynamic inflexions abound (no doubt eyebrows will rise at such things as his sudden broad delivery of the Mechanicals' clowning in the Midsummer Night's Dream Overture). Singing lines are all beautifully wrought, especially that of the symphony's Adagio (rather more leisurely than we are used to nowadays), and its 'martial' sections benefit from discreetly balanced timpani. In The Hebrides, the balance and range of the sound allow all those swells (superbly observed) to register in proper proportion - here is both delicate impressionism and all the stormy drive and drama that you could want, putting many more recent rivals (for example, Abbado and Flor) in the shade.
At the heart of this disc's success is, of course, the playing of the revitalized LSO, responding to some challenging tempos with mainly knife-edge precision of ensemble and superb attack, producing heart-easing warmth in the symphony's Adagio, and shining in all solo opportunities -truly vintage LSO champagne.
-- Gramophone [7/1995]
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