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The Romanian Constantin Silvestri was chief conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra for eight years until his death in 1969 aged 55. They recorded only a few works together. Silvestri was an extraordinary musician who achieved incredible results within months of taking over what was then no more than a reasonably good orchestra. We should be indebted to Raymond Carpenter for his major role in the release of nine CDs produced from live broadcasts. More are planned. Carpenter was the orchestra’s principal clarinet during Silvestri’s tenure, so his front-line testimony is enormously valuable. I like his honesty in relating the occasional disaster alongside the many truly memorable concerts.

Silvestri was most demanding and idiosyncratic, yet the Bournemouth players – to their eternal credit – responded to him. This responsiveness was in marked contrast to the attitude of London orchestras. Carpenter himself describes going through ‘the fi res of hell’ before fi nding the required way of playing numerous passages. He also criticises record companies’ slowness in acknowledging Silvestri’s genius – partly due to professional jealousy in London, he believes.

As a great fan of Silvestri, I should dearly love to recommend this book unreservedly, but lack of editorial control has made this impossible. The book is littered with errors – Kurt Mazur, Philadelphia Philharmonic, Arthur Honneger, Sensemayo (by Revueltas), Jed Didler (= Distler, composer/pianist/journalist), Brendon O’Brien (ex-leader), etc. Worst of all are base for bass (three times) and – in the unreliable index – Quirk, Shirley! While Carpenter occasionally turns a nice phrase, some of the writing is inelegant or ungrammatical, and there is too much repetition and insistence. Over-emphasis is understandable, given the crusading nature of the book, but it does prove rather off-putting. However, Carpenter certainly does not exaggerate the BSO/Silvestri phenomenon. There are about a dozen photographs of Silvestri, as well as reminiscences from former BSO violinists Richard Layton and Brian Johnston, concert manager David Blenkinsop, and composer and critic Malcolm Rayment. In spite of its faults, this account of a musical legend demands to be read.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica

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