Classical CD Reviews
Classical Reissue Reviews, Part 2 of 2
Published on September 1, 2004
September 2004, Pt. 2 of 2 [Pt. 1]
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 “Pathetique;” Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48
Willem Mengelberg conducts Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam
Naxos 8.110885 70:10 ****:
With repeated listening to the work of Willem Mengelberg (1871-1951), I am always astonished that no matter how eccentric or willful I find his performances, I still find them convincing. The recording of the Pathetique dates from 22 April 1941, and we are in the throes of a master virtuoso technician and his players, sensitive to the various nuances of emotion – some quite specific, which Tchaikovsky openly inserted into his score. Mengelberg takes deliberately slow first movement tempos in order to accommodate such markings as “despairingly” at bar 171, “pain, lament” at bar 317, and recollection of sweet love” at bar 326. That Mengelberg used to justify his emendations as the result of advice from the composer’s brother Modeste Tchaikovsky caused the Concertgebouw players to jibe that any adjustments Mengelberg made to his Bach scores were equally justified by conversations with “Modeste Bach.”
What most impresses in the Pathetique performances are not merely the dynamic gradations that Mengelberg elicits from his bravura rendition, but the intimacy and almost chamber music sensibility he draws in the midst of aggressively emotional sequences. The innate flexibility of tempo and of dynamic response, given the archaic use of rubato and portamento, along with the individual warmth of the orchestral colors, is music-making of the highest caliber. The Serenade from the 7th November 1938 is Mengelberg’s second version of the score, an abridged inscription having been made 21 December 1937. Both have cuts but they integrate the same capacities for warmth and lavish string tone, along with a molded discipline that caresses the Elegie section. Kudos to transfer engineer Mark Obert-Thorn, who by the way, had given equal love and care to the earlier Biddulph realizations of Mengelberg’s string orchestra inscriptions (WHL 024). Surfaces are uniquely quiet, allowing us to savor the Mengelberg sound for the spirited miracle it is.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Trio in A Minor, Op. 50/PROKOFIEV: Violin Sonata No. in F Minor, Op. 80
Yehudi Menuhin, violin
Hephzibah Menuhin, piano/Mariel Gazelle, piano (Prokofiev)
Maurice Eisenburg, cello
Dutton CDBP 9736 70:44 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:
Two Russian works of melancholy emotional temper grace this fine restoration: the first, of the duo Menuhin and Maurice Eulenburg, dates from March 3-4, 1939, recorded in Paris; the performance of the Prokofiev is from EMI’s Abbey Road Studios, October 1, 1948. Besides reconfirming our established respect for the art of violinist Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999), we learn to hear the powerful and elastic pianism of sister Hephzibah (1920-1981), who had already made her keyboard finesse known in the much-lauded recording they made together of the Schumann Op. 121 Violin Sonata and in works by Schubert and Beethoven. The Tchaikovsky Trio, with its mournful, valedictory intent to celebrate the mind and character of the composer’s friend Nicholas Rubinstein, permits all sorts of virtuosi moments, from the emotional declamations of the opening Pezzo Elegiaco to the series of dance-portraits of the long Theme and Variations, which move from folk and gypsy songs and waltzes to etudes and exercises in polyphony. Though I did not know the work of Maurice Eisenburg, he certainly makes a decided impact in his collaboration here, in stunning sound restoration by Michael Dutton.
The dark-hued Prokofiev F Minor Sonata, composed for David Oistrakh, has here Menuhin’s first recording of the piece. The imaging of the sonata is almost Bartokian, with its severe, even austere lines and uncompromising tension. Ostensibly modeled on the sonatas of Handel, to whose work Prokofiev spent some time studying, the impact of the WW II sensibility (the piece premiered in 1946) removes any brio in the music to a vacant stare. What redeems the work is its authenticity of emotion, a clear starkness that must have equally impressed Shostakovich in his own, dark moments. The Menuhin tone is still secure in 1946, and he does imbue the writing with what humanity he can. Somehow, Szigeti’s more wiry, acerbic violin tone (in the early recording with Joseph Levine) proves more apt in this often dismayed score.
GLINKA: Symphony on Two Russian Themes/PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 1 in D Major , Op. 25 “Classical”/TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 3 in D Major, Op. 29 “Polish”
Evgeny Svetlanov conducts USSR State Symphony Orchestra
BBC Legends BBCL 4145-2 73:56 (Distrib. Koch)****:
A portion of this wonderful concert of 24 August 1968 has already appeared on BBC Legends, that featuring the Scriabin Le Poeme de l’extase (BBCL 4121-2). Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002) had brought his USSR State Symphony Orchestra to Royal Albert Hall at an inauspicious moment in time: his tour coincided with the Soviet invasion of Prague, Czechoslovakia on August 20, at the urging of Soviet President Brezhnev and the Central Committee. Protests and demonstrations outside the concert hall found echoes in catcalls at the orchestra within the hall. That Svetlanov could win over the originally hostile tenor of the audience with the sheer force and sincerity of his musicianship is a testament to his personality and to the volatility of the inscriptions on this disc.
The Glinka Symphony is a new piece, at least to me. Set in one movement subdivided into six, separate tempo indications, it is a kind of primer for Russian composers on the use of folk idiom, an obvious model for Liadov’s Op. 58 and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Op. 31 Sinfonietta (both of which I would love to hear in a Svetlanov rendition). Once Svetlanov and his USSR Symphony–which, by the way, he inherited directly from his mentor Alexandre Gauk–get the blood pumping, we are on our way through Prokofiev’s ironic First Symphony, in a performance in the old Koussevitzky mold: fast, furious, and brilliant in all its color tissue. At the end of the Molto vivace, the audience is frothing at the bit. Then, Tchaikovsky’s most “balletic” of his six symphonies, the Third in D Major. Is it more a ballet suite than a symphony? It sounds like Glazounov. Nevertheless, to say Svetlanov squeezes the juice from this berry is an understatement. By the end of the opening Allegro brillante, which becomes by its coda a whirling dervish, the audience is in its throes, eager to explode. But there are still four more movements. Having listened to almost every classic version of this work–Beecham, Markevitch, Karajan, Fedoseyev, Maazel–this uncanny rendition simply blows them away. If anything impedes the sheer might of the interpretation, it is only Tchaikovsky’s awkwardly “academic” finale, his trying to write an extended fugue in order to legitimize his calling the piece a symphony. When the horns return to play their peroration, the scholarship disappears, and musical, political detente is achieved–in Russian spades.
MOZART: Piano Concerto K. 466. Symphony No. 40. Double Piano Concerto K. 365 – Edwin Fischer, Harry Datyner (in 365), Orchestre Municipal de Strasbourg (June 12, 1953) – Tahra TAH 534 (78 mins.):
It’s not so very often that you get a brand-new set of performances from a Golden Age musician as well documented as Edwin Fischer, yet here one comes in the form of a complete, all Mozart concert in Strasbourg in 1953 that provides previously unreleased (as far as I remember) repertoire. In doing so, Tahra has added substantially to our knowledge of both Fischer and Mozart.
The D Minor piano concerto (including the oddly florid yet deeply serious cadenzas by Fischer himself) will be familiar to Fischer collectors: direct, almost monochromatically sober, a little less headlong than some earlier recordings (but occasionally a technical scramble nonetheless), and ultimately deriving its power from an unswerving insistence on line. The Symphony is a marvel from beginning to end, crushingly powerful at times in a lithe sort of way, with magnificent French horns in the Trio of the Menuetto and an exhilarating one beat to a bar in the Finale. The Double Piano Concerto is more serious than I have ever heard it before and yet there is a real joy accompanying it that elevates it into far more than the sublime display piece it usually is. And Fischer’s cadenzas are to die for with, appropriately enough in light of the program, a reference in the first movement cadenza to K. 466!!
The unattributed liner notes could have used more focus, particularly about the concert and the discovery of the acetates from which this CD was made (and also about Mr. Datyner, 1923-1992, a student of Fischer and Marguérite Long, and a professor at the Conservatory in Geneva). As the sound needed extensive restoration, it is no surprise that it is no beauty (and there is at times some distracting distortion). By and large, however, the sound is good enough to provide the listener with significant data about how Fischer used structure to drive pace and drama to a still unmatched degree. This is an incredible find that no fan of either Fischer or Mozart should pass up.
– Laurence Vittes
MOZART: Violin Sonatas (K. 301, 303, 304, 481) – Frank Zimmermann & Alexander Lonquich – EMI Classics 75638 (62 mins.):
Be warned when listening to this CD: Mozart’s violin sonatas, to a far greater extent than his piano sonatas, are addicting. They come in a wide range of forms and generate amazing energy with the simplest means. On this CD alone, you get three heartbreaking delights (including a K. 304 in E minor that foreshadows the most naively romantic side of Schubert) published in 1778 when he was breaking hearts in Paris and elsewhere. At the other end of the spectrum, the 24-minute K. 481 from the mid 1780s already finds Mozart’s boyish enthusiasm transforming into something more reflective, almost withholding, with a lyricism that tells more of adult experiences, and an almost Beethovenian (albeit still gentle) rhetoric.
The performances, taken from a complete set recorded at the outset of the 1990s, are quite beautiful, each artist responding to breathtaking sequences of Mozartian inspirations with a magnificent simplicity of phrase and line. The opening of K. 301, the Introduction to the first movement of K. 303, the momentary sunlight at four minutes of the first movement of K. 481, at each of these places both Lonquich and Zimmermann use the music to momentarily stop the universe. Jascha Heifetz may flash more charmingly, and the original instrument crowd may bring to their performances a more exhilarating authenticity, but if EMI don’t release the rest of the five CDs a very great injustice will have been done. (Actually, the complete set is available through Allegro Music.)The sound is pure and crystal clear, and the very modest liner notes (this is, after all, EMI’s budget priced Encore series) are surprisingly useful.
– Laurence Vittes
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Piano Trio in C Major (ed. Steinberg)/SMETANA: Piano Trio in G Minor,
David Oistrakh, violin
Lev Oborin, piano
Sviatoslav Knushevitzky, cello
Preiser 90595 66:42 (Distrib. Albany)****:
An exciting, historic reissue from Preiser, featuring two (undated) performances by the David Oistrakh (1908-1974) Trio, from originals taped in the Soviet Union. Happily, this restoration has none of the tinny, strident acoustic that often plagues Russian recordings from Melodiya archives. I do believe the Smetana Trio made it to the Monitor LP label. With pianist Lev Oborin (1907-1963) and cellist Sviatoslav Knushevitzky (1908-1963), Oistrakh made great chamber music from 1935 (with Oborin), then from 1943 (when Knushevitzky joined them), until the group dissolved because of the deaths of his dear associates.
The discovery on this disc is clearly Rimsky-Korsakov’s incomplete 1897 C Major Trio, a highly lyrical work in the manner of Schumann that the composer discarded. It took his student Maximilian Steinberg to unearth it and to complete the scoring in 1939. The music is less oriental in quality than is the wont of The Mighty Five nationalists. Rimsky-Korsakov goes so far as to quote Schumann’s Piano Concerto in the Scherzo movement. The finale is notable for the facile fugal writing, in which Knushevitzky really shines. Oistrakh’s tone, per expectation, is the soul of lovely accuracy. The G Minor Trio of Smetana is another of his highly valedictory works, a dirge for his deceased daughter, aged five. Her love of Bohemian folk tunes and her father’s renditions of Chopin have a clear documentation in the course of this painful but brilliant music. Lev Oborin has his chance to commune with Oistrakh in moments of glory, grief and tenderness. The finale, too, with its structure in debt to Beethoven’s late piano sonatas, has feverish, bravura parts for Oistrakh and Oborin. This is a testament to superior chamber music ensemble.
R. STRAUSS: Death and Transfiguration. Op. 24; Don Juan, Op. 20/WAGNER: Rienzi Overture; Parsifal: Act I Prelude; Act II Flower Maidens’ Scene; Act I Transformation Music
Guenther Tretow, tenor/Vienna Philharmonic
Paris Conservatory Orchestra (Strauss)
Hans Knappertsbusch, conductor
Testament SBT 1338 79:21 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:
“I played cards with Strauss every day for ten years, and he was a pig!” Rather harsh words for such a sympathetic interpreter of the music of Strauss, the epithet from Hans Knappertsbusch (1888-1965) does not diminish the power of his 1956 inscriptions of the two tone-poems with the Paris Conservatory Orchestra. Each of the original, Decca performances culled for this reissue is a blistering account of the music, marking some of the more passionate moments in Knappertsbusch’s impressive, recorded output. While Tod und Verklaerung proceeds at a moderate pace, the Don Juan is relatively expansive and achieves a breadth close to what Koussevitzky gave this score in Boston. Knappertsbusch remains a noted Wagner acolyte, with Parsifal’s occupying a special place in his heart for his several Bayreuth productions. Some truly incandescent playing bursts forth from the Vienna Philharmonic’s string and brass sections; these, after a somewhat flabby account ! of the Rienzi Overture, which comes across a bit inflated. Both the Rienzi and the Parsifal excerpts date from mid-June sessions from 1950, but the recorded sound blazes as if they were inscribed yesterday. Seamless orchestral transitions, radiant orchestral tone, and finely-tuned phrasings inform every bar of the Parsifal selections, with heartfelt singing from Treptow. If this disc were your first entry into Kna’s world, you would become a believer.
FRITZ REINER = BEETHOVEN: Coriolan Overture, Op. 62/BRAHMS: Piano Concerto no. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83; Tragic Overture, Op. 81/MOZART: Symphony No. 36 in C Major, K. 425 “Linz”/MENDELSSOHN; Scherzo from a Midsummer Night’s Dream/WAGNER: Goetter’s Dance from Hungarian Sketches/STRAUSS: Till Eulenspeiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28/RAVEL: Le Tombeau de Couperin/FALLA: El amor brujo
Emil Gilels, piano/Carol Brice, contralto
Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Pittsburgh Symphony (Falla); Philadelphia Orchestra (Mendelssohn); RCA Victor Symphony (Strauss); NBC Symphony (Ravel)
EMI Great Conductors of the 20th Century 37 5 62866 79:53; 78:39 ****:
The great Fritz Reiner (1888-1963) joins the pantheon of EMI&Mac226;s extensive series, here at the urging of annotator Steve Reveyoso, who made it a point to have the 1946 Pittsburgh inscription of Falla’s El amor brujo with Carol Brice included in this set, preferring Brice’s sultry, even rough contours, to the blander, albeit more polished rendition Reiner did with Leontyne Price in Chicago. Reiner was a conductor much in the Toscanini tradition, less concerned with personal glamour and personality than with direct expression of the composers’ intentions, which Reiner achieved with a tiny beat and a furious intensity. When in 1953 Reiner succeeded Rafael Kubelik’s rocky tenure with the Chicago Symphony, he honed the ensemble into the same disciplined, world-class ensemble Szell had achieved in Cleveland. One RCA Victor LP, entitled “The Reiner Sound” (LM 2183), touted the slick, seamless patina the brilliant Hungarian favored in music by Rachmaninov and Ravel.
The most immediate coup about this set is its having an actual, instrumental collaboration–the Brahms B-flat Concerto from Chicago 1958 with Soviet artist Emil Gilels–where none of the other sets in the EMI series has had one guest artist. While the playing of Gilels is glassy smooth, I find it somewhat perfunctory when I compare it to his later reading live in Philadelphia under Muti. The D Minor Tragic Overture (1957) is of the lean-machine variety, with wonderful voicing from winds and horns. The other rarity is the 1952 Ravel Tombeau de Couperin with Toscanini’s own orchestra from a deleted LP (LM 1724) that includes what my personal choice would have been, a thoroughly ingenuous reading of Debussy’s Petite Suite. Nevertheless, the chastity and poise in the Ravel is not to be denied. The orchestra that Reiner most coveted, the Philadelphia, is represented only by its summer-home name, the Robin Hood Dell, in the lovely Mendelssohn Scherzo.
Reiner’s long association with the music of Wagner and Richard Strauss is well documented – in the opera house particularly – where his readings of Tristan, Meistersinger, Salome, and Elektra are still legends. Less known is Reiner’s fondness for Berlioz, and a broadcast of his Romeo and Juliet Symphony would be worth much to collectors. We do get Reiner’s zesty reading of Till Eulenspiegel from 1950, and a real plus is the Linz Symphony from 1954, quite a sober tonic to the lush, indulgent reading by Bruno Walter from the same period. To laud Reiner in the music of Bartok, whose Concerto for Orchestra he premiered on disc in Pittsburgh, is to bring coals to Newcastle. Reiner and Fricsay remain the two great pioneers of Bartok on record. If my memory serves, one of Reiner’s rarest recordings is his “Waltzes of Tchaikovsky,” which appeared on a short-lived 10″ LP. Another monster collaboration was with Alexander Brailowsky in Liszt’s Totentanz (LM 1195). Hopefully, when another tribute like this comes along, someone will ask for my input. Meanwhile, this Reiner tribute is as fine a testament to his personality as we have.
CHOPIN: Etudes, Op. 10: No. 4 in C# Minor; No. 10 A-flat Major; No. 11 in E-flat Major; Op. 25: No. 5 in E Minor; No. 8 in D-flat Major; No./ 11 in A Minor; No. 12 in C Minor; Nocturne in E Major, Op. 62, No. 2; Nocturne in E Minor, Op. 72, No. 1; Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat Major, Op. 61/SCRIABIN: Sonata No. 2 in G# Minor, Op. 19; Sonata No. 5 in F# Major, Op. 53
Sviatoslav Richter, piano
Praga PR 54056 61:30 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
Recordings from Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) in recital, 1972-1988, in the music of Chopin and Scriabin which show off the pianist’s granite-edged power, if not his capacity for poetic nuance. I suppose it all boils down to how you like your Chopin: Richter’s want was to display the suppleness and muscular velocity of which the composer is capable, so Richter tends to translate his Chopin into etudes, no matter the form in question. Supposedly, there is an extant performance of the F Minor Concerto with Evgeny Svetlanov conducting. Never the “integralist,” Richter always picked and chose what Chopin, Liszt, Beethoven and Schumann suited him, often by-passing popular classics. The solidity of tempo and technique in the C# Minor Etude should convince anyone that Richter has the Chopin temper in his blood when he wants it. The percussive qualities in the nocturnes and the more lyric sections of the big polonaise will continue to irritate Richter’s detractors of his Chopin.
The two Scriabin works are a far cry from the diaphanous, sensuous, almost immaterial world that Horowitz projected in this composer. Richter likes to deal in periods of density and block chords, in which fits of passion suddenly well up or die out, unexplained. The Fifth Sonata is a case in point of a many-textured, episodic series of paroxysms that caused Rachmaninov to declare that Scriabin “had chosen a wrong path.” Under Richter’s explosive hands, we can well understand Rachmaninov’s original, cautionary reaction to this volatile and still disturbing music.
BACH (orch. Stokowski): Famous Transcriptions = Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor; Komm, suesser Tod; Bourre from English Suite No. 2; Sarabande from Violin Partita No. 1 in B Minor; Einífeste Burg ist unser Gott; Sinfonai from Christmas Oratorio; Fugue in G Minor; Air from Suite No. 3; Mein Jesu, was vor Seelenweh; Preludio from E Major Partita; Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
Leopold Stokowski conducts Symphony Orchestra
EMI 5 57758 2 70:59
Incl. DVD = DEBUSSY: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Leopold Stokowski conducts London Symphony Orchestra
Video: 4:3, color
PCM Mono ****
One of several Legend entries from EMI, this set celebrates conductor Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) and his famous–or infamous–tendency to rescore the music of Bach for popular consumption, here in performances taped in New York, 1958-1958. Himself an organist, Stokowski felt that many of Bach’s organ and instrumental pieces, including his chorale preludes, would prove effective if given the color spectrum of the full orchestra. Using his basses and cellos to ground the pedal points in Bach, Stokowski then applied or deployed the various orchestral choirs in the manner of the organ’s positif, often allowing the sound to crescendo through the diapason, as in the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565. The massive shifts in block colors can be either dramatic or merely slow-tempo kitsch, depending on how reverent your feelings are towards Ein feste Burg. That Stokowski can provide lovely diaphanous woodwind tissue is no news. His Sinfonia from the Christmas Oratorio is intimate silk. The free bowing in the strings permits a rich, shimmering and sustained pedal tone and luxurious sonic palette.
Critics and commentators have long made the needed apologies for Stokowski’s Bach transcriptions. Let me say that from every major baroque musician to whom I have spoken on the subject of Stokowski’s authenticity (and these include Igor Kipnis and Gerard Souzay) I have heard nothing but glowing reports and unbridled respect. Detractors cry vulgar, but time-tested professionals claim Stokowski gave Monteverdi and Vivaldi, Handel and Frescobaldi, each his due. The DVD contains barely over ten minutes of music-making. Stokowski is 90-years-old here, but his commitment and molding of the phrases shines through on the occasion of his 60th anniversary of having led the LSO.
DELIUS: Prelude to Irmelin; La Calinda; The Walk to the Paradise Garden; Intermezzo from Fennimore and Gerda; Violin Concerto; On Hearing the Frist Cuckoo in Spring; Summer Night on the River; Sleigh Ride
Philippe Djokic, violin/Georg Tintner conducts Symphony Nova Scotia
Naxos 8.557242 74:52****:
The tenth in the Naxos series devoted to conductor Georg Tintner (1917-1999), this album celebrates Tintner’s sensitive direction in the music of Frederick Delius (1862-1934), recorded 5-6 December 1991. I must confess at the outset, as I have previously, to an aversion to Delius’ music even given the long-established tradition of performance established by Beecham, Barbirolli, and Szell. I find it strictly color music, a bit like Respighi, without any substance beyond the surface orchestral tissue, almost devoid of dramatic content. This seems particularly true of the Violin Concerto of 1916, a one-movement rhapsody that pulsates with melodic fragments but never achieves any emotional statement. I might venture to state that while Brahms may have been Delius’ inspiration here, it really sounds like an extended recitative in the manner of Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande.
The remainder of the program are by now familiar Delius staples – basically showpieces for the winds and strings – that allow the Nova Scotia principals to strut their sonic stuff. I find the molding of phrases in Irmelin quite pointed, the blending of colors for La Calinda piquant and effective. Effects are what Delius produces for me – sound portraits in miniature, like First Cuckoo, at once pantheistic and ephemeral. A work like Sleigh Ride found its influence in Grieg; but without Grieg’s innate national flavor, Delius’ music sounds relatively shallow in spite of Tintner’s loving care. Since everything I have said is blasphemy to Delius fanatics, they should proceed to purchase this disc as soon as possible.
KHATCHATURIAN: Piano Concerto in D-flat Major; Violin Concerto in D Minor
Lev Oborin, piano/David Oistrakh, violin
Evgeni Mravinski conducts Czech Philharmonic (Piano Concerto)
Rafael Kubelik conducts Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra (Violin Concerto)
Praga PR 50017 63:52 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi) ***:
Classic performances from Czech Radio, but in thin and tinny, brittle sound from 1946-1947, so audiophiles beware. But to hear Lev Oborin (1907-1963) perform the D-flat Concerto is to hear the man who gave the world premier in 1937 under Lev Steinberg. Record collectors know the Khachaturian Piano Concerto from equally febrile readings by Oscar Levant and William Kapell. The resultant, percussive sound quality, perhaps inadvertently, reminds us that Prokofiev’s First Concerto is in the same key, and that Prokofiev advised Khachaturian on the solo part of the concerto, having just completed his own Fifth Concerto in G Major (1932). David Oistrakh (1908-1974) is no less responsible for Khachaturian’s 1940 Violin Concerto, supplying his own cadenza and advising on the solo part, then premiering the work with Alexandre Gauk.
While there are times when Oborin’s piano sounds more like a celesta, the level of playing is astronomical and fleet, with some really heart-pounding moments in the Andante con anima. The oriental folksong, at first lyrical, goes through a number of percussive and staccato transformations that are quite alluring. The Violin Concerto remains Khachaturian’s most popular instrumental concerto, rife with vivacious rhythms and some fascinating melodic color, including the A Major poco piu mosso in the first movement that combines Grieg with Caucasian exoticism. In both the Violin Concerto and in the last movement of the Piano Concerto there is discernible crackle from the original pressing. But the authenticity of the performances is undeniable.
MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466/BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 3 in C, Op. 2, No. 3
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, piano
Karl Munchinger conducts Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra
Music&Arts CD-1147 58:36 (Distrib. Albany):
The unearthing of yet another Mozart D Minor Concerto (11/22/67) with the legendary Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995) might not, ordinarily, raise too much furor among collectors, but I think this release is significant. First, there are few enough realizations of this Mozart concerto with Michelangeli, the other being that with Mitropoulos and the Florence May Festival from 1953. Here, we have an even more mature artist, whose combination of silken execution and sheer, pianistic ferocity can be overwhelming. That Michelangeli may have had the strongest hands of any keyboard artist cannot be proved, but his capacity for steely clarity and for interior acceleration of tempo while balancing multiple voices and dynamic nuances has few rivals, including Robert Casadesus and Glenn Gould. Conductor Munchinger seems quick to capture the somber, stormy emotional tenor of the Mozart concerto, creating dark agogics within the strings and horns, quite reminiscent of the excellent service Rosbaud gave Gieseking in his classic recording. The Romanze occupies a world unto itself. The modulation from D Minor to D Major in the finale really seems to come out of the blue, so to speak, the clouds dispersing into song.
The Beethoven C Major (November 11, 1975) derives from a Salle Pleyel recital in Paris. The largest of three canvases dedicated to Haydn, this is the one sonata from Op. 2 that Michelangeli championed consistently. The opening Allegro con brio is broad and bold, the Adagio a kaleidoscope of color. But for me, the true miracle is the series of scurrying, lightning chords in the Scherzo, where the pianist’s fingers are like timeless ripples over the surface of mirrory water, to mix my metaphor. I can only guess what the rest of the recital contained (the liner notes do not tell us), but if the power and magnetism are on the same level as this piece, I would urge its reissue post haste.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36/SHOSTAKOVICH: Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 107
Mstislav Rostropovich, cello
Gennady Rozhdestvensky conducts Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra
BBC Legends BBCL 4143-2 70:05 (Distrib. Koch):
Two concerts that feature the gifted, fiery Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky (b. 1931), including the British premier of the Shostakovich First Concerto on 9 September 1960 with its dedicatee, Rostropovich. Critics of the premier noted the tone, technique, and temperament of the stellar cellist, who plied the tricky metrics of the piece with suave aplomb, balancing forceful rhetoric with lyrical nuance. Both in the opening movement and in the work’s impassioned cadenza, Rostropovich manages a propulsive momentum that palpably carries the audience away.
Perhaps more intriguing, because unexpected, is the subdued rendition of the Tchaikovsky Fourth that Rozhdestvensky and the Leningrad Philharmonic bring to Royal Albert Hall 9 September 1971, given the kind of monumental histrionics the same ensemble delivered under Evgeny Mravinsky. The first three movements might remind audiophiles of the famed Furtwaengler reading with the Vienna Philharmonic, another vision of “fateful intimacy,” if the metaphor succeeds. Instead of the blazing periods of unisono discipline we hear in Mravinsky’s virtuoso readings, the Leningrad players are permitted to enjoy each others’ sonorities and relaxed blends of colors. Only in the last Allegro con fuoco does Rozhdestvensky cut the rope, opting for the kind of blazing peroration that had been Mravinsky’s wont, a clear announcement that a successor to that master’s command of the large canvas and incandescent colors was at hand.