Classical Reissue Reviews
Reissue CD Reviews, Part 1 of 2
Published on October 1, 2004
October 2004, Pt. 1 of 2 [Pt. 2]
BRAHMS: Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 18; Piano Trio No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 101
Regis Pasquier and Raphael Oleg, violins; Bruno Pasquier and Jean Dupouy, violas; Roland Pidoux and Etienne Peclard, cellos; Jean-Claude Pennetier, piano
Harmonia Mundi HMA 1951073 61:24****:
Beautiful Brahms inscribed 1980-1981 by a gifted ensemble of French musicians, some of whom – the Pasquiers – enjoy a distinguished pedigree. I recall owning some old CBS 78s with the Pasquiers playing the Beethoven two string trios from his Op. 9. The 1860 Sextet possesses a grand line and spatiousness, a balance between its melancholy and sweet, waltz-like impulses in the first movement and richly textured poise in the D Minor theme and variations. The syncopations in the Poco allegretto e grazioso have swagger and a leisurely gait. The first violins and low cellos seem to respond to each other in broad antiphons.
The 1886 Piano Trio, the most neglected of the Brahms chamber oeuvre, is an aggressive, dark piece, though it has a kind of quizzical relief in the F Minor section, played pizzicato in the second movement. The last movement compels attention, having been cast in two minor subjects, C Minor and G Minor, with alternately whimsical and stormy elements. Even the final shift to C Major does not dispel the angst that permeates this uneasy opus. Though I did not know many of the other musicians that assist the Pasquiers in this restoration, they sound worth more familiarity. Here are two of Brahms’ works played by Frenchmen with a real sense of the style – restrained, polished, and luxuriant at once.
BRAHMS: Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45
Kathleen Battle, soprano/Hakan Hagegard, baritone/Chicago Symphony Chorus, dir. Margaret Hillis/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/James Levine
Recorded July 5-6, 1983, this impressive account of the Brahms Requiem won a coveted Grammy Award for its real star, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus, under the direction of Margaret Hillis. The clarity of diction in the fugal sections is outstanding, and we, too, wil wonder if Death has any sting left after the colossal section six. Levine contributes some deliberate tempos, particularly in the almost exotic march-waltz All Flesh is Like Grass, which has a sepulchral pace. The other sections move rather briskly, and Kathleen Battle is in light, silken voice for her solo. Hagan Hagegard had been a hot RCA property when he inscribed this performance, and his baritone solos have force and characterization. Again, the most luminous aspect of the conception is the splendid work by the Chorus, with pungent accompaniment and dramatic punctuations by the Orchestra. Levine’s conception reminds me more of Karajan than of Walter and Klemperer; and like Karajan, there is a slick feel to this inscription that may not rub all auditors the right way. Audiophiles, however, will bask blissfully in the sumptuous Brahms reverberating in reverent splendor.
Sergiu Celibidache set = NIELSEN: Maskarade Overture/ BERWALD: Sinfonia singuliere/MENDELSSOHN: Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90 “Italian”/TCHAIKOVSKY: The Nutcracker–excerpts/ ROSENBERG: Marionetter Overture/TIESSEN: Hamlet Suite/MOZART: Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, K.183/PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 1 in D, Op. 25 “Classical”/J. STRAUSS: Die Fledermaus Overture; Annen Polka; Tritsch-Tratsch Polka/J. STRAUSS I: Radetzky March
Sergiu Celibidache conducts Berlin Philharmonic; London Philharmonic
(Tchaikovsky, Mozart); Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra (Berwald,
Rosenberger); Danish National Symphony (Strauss); RIAS Symphony, Berlin
EMI Great conductors of the 20th Century Vol. 39 5 62872 2 69:07;
77:49 (2 discs) ****:
Always the maverick and iconoclastic conductor, Sergiu Celibidache (1912-1996) became an itinerant intellectual wanderer after 1954, when Herbert von Karajan assumed the full control of the Berlin Philharmonic, succeeding Wilhelm Furtwaengler and ousting Celibidache from his temporary leadership 1948-1954. Students of Celibidache always comment on his immense authority in matters of physics and acoustics, his relationship to Zen and to European phenomenology, all academic, circuitous routes to the natural mysticism Furtwaengler inherited as part of the Great German Tradition.
This EMI set, which manages to give us several live performances of 1948-1970, also repeats the Berlin post-War inscription of Prokofiev oft collected in Nuovo Era and Tahra collations. The Mendelssohn Italian is a new rare treat from 1953, capturing Celibidache in high gear with his keen attention to color details. I have long admired Celibidache’s work with both the Swedish Radio and Danish National Orchestras; a performance of the Sibelius 5th from Denmark on a Memories CD is among the most intense readings I know. A pity EMI does not include any of Celibidache’s work in Stuttgart nor any collaborations, but the Berwald Symphony No. 3 from Stockholm 1967 makes an exciting addition to his Northern repertory, as does a swaggering Maskarade Overture of Nielsen from 1970. Celibidache does homage to his composition teacher Heinz Tiessen (1887-1971) with his Hamlet Suite from 1957 Berlin, using Fricsay’s orchestra. The piece is appropriately gloomy and moody, in a stark neo-classic idiom not far from music by Einem and Blacher.
The Mozart and Tchaikovsky with the London Philharmonic derive from a period (1948) when Eduard van Beinum was at the helm but who did not begrudge Celibidache time with the ensemble, which included an eccentric but forceful Tchaikovsky Fifth. The witty and rather lush performances of music by the Strauss family derive from the same 12 December 1970 concert as the Nielsen. From Stockholm again, 1962, Celibidache offers a small but knotty work by Hilding Rosenberg. One could compare Celibidache’s experiments in repertory and timbre with Stokowski’s efforts, enjoying first performances more than seconds. The Prokofiev may be familiar fare, but consider what the Berlin Philharmonic’s repertory had been for ten years prior. A real character in music, Celibidache endures as a master colorist and architect of sound pictures, an aesthetic entity unto himself.
MAHLER: Das Lied von der Erde; Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor; Ich bin der Welt abhangen gekommen
Kersten Thorberg, mezzo-soprano; Charles Kullman, tenor
Bruno Walter conducts Vienna Philharmonic
Opus Kura OPK 2049 72:58 (Distrib. Albany)****:
Recorded live in 1936, the Bruno Walter inscription of Mahler’s song cycle Das Lied von der Erde has been grudgingly praised, always to its detriment when compared with Walter’s 1952 reading with Patzak and Ferrier. But the Opus Kura engineers have resuscitated the original shellacs to an astonishing degree, producing or re-releasing may be the better term, the wonderful colors and the rich textures of the Vienna Philharmonic’s response to this authoritative reading of Mahler’s passionate paean to the contrary forces of life and death. Walter’s earlier recording does not vary significantly by way of tempos and inflection but now we can hear the 1936 flute’s flutter-tonguing clearly, and the marvelous exoticism of Mahler’s colors – the harp, tympani, and woodwinds which beckon us to the lacquers and immaculate porcelains that Yeats proclaimed in “Sailing to Byzantium.” Thorberg’s dusky voice has not the haunted quality of Ferrier, but her stamina and sympathy in the Abscheid are poignant enough. I find Kullman an admirable tenor, clear and ardent, though without the transcendent ingenuousness of Fritz Wunderlich. The Adagietto fragment is the same transfer Opus Kura issed on OPK 2017. I think Janet Baker owns the song Ich bin der Welt abhangen gekommen, but there are no less tragedy and schmertz in Thorberg’s reading. Recommended for those who like old wine in new bottles.
Elisabeth Grummer, soprano = MOZART: Arias from Cosi fan tutte; The Marriage of Figaro/WEBER: Und ob die Wolke from Der Freischuetz/ WAGNER: Arias from Tannhauser and Die Meistersinger/TCHAIKOVSKY: Bald ist es Mitternacht from Pique Dame/OFFENBACH: Horst du es toenen from Tales of Hoffmann/SCHUMANN: 5 Lieder/WOLF: 4 Lieder
Hilde Gueden, soprano (Mozart) Lisa Otto, soprano (Weber) Peter Anders, tenor and Hans Hotter, baritone (Wagner) Walter Kudwig, tenor (Offenbach) Conductors: Fritz Lehmann (Offenbach); Wilhelm Furtwaengler (Weber); Arthur Rother (Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Weber); Sir Thomas Beecham (Wagner); Ferenc Fricsay (Mozart) Hugo Diez, piano (Schumann and Wolf)
Golden Melodram GM 7.0002 79:34 (Distrib. Albany)****:
Elisabeth Grummer (1913-1986) ranks among the superstars of the Vienna Opera and the Salzburg Festival, a worthy contemporary of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Hilde Gueden. Possessing both a light and flexible voice, she could command great power in her vocal projection, making her a favorite of Furtwaengler and Rudolf Kempe. Her appearances in 1951 with Fricsay in The Marriage of Figaro are splendid vocally and dramatically – holding her high notes in glorious duet with Gueden in “Wenn flohen die Wonnestunden,” an aria even moviegoers will recall from The Shawshank Redemption. The directness and pungency of her attacks are evident in “Dich, teure Halle, gruess; ich wieder” from Tannhauser, a rousing performance. With Furtwaengler in the 1954 Salzburg Der Freischuetz she simply shines with the conductor’s glorious, musical Technicolor accompaniment. The Meistersinger quartet (which includes C. Shacklock) with Anders and Hotter is from 1951, and we can hear why Anders was the great lyric tenor just prior to the all-too-short advent of Fritz Wunderlich. It is refreshing to hear conductor Lehmann with Grummer in an extended scene from Offenbach that allows us to hear what command the conductor had over dynamic shifts when handling vocal soloists – technique gleaned from long hours in Bach cantatas. The Schumann/Wolf song group is from 1953. Although there are several religious settings of quiet, pious beauty, such as Wolf’s Schlafendes Jesuskind, the Schumann Widmung says it all – a paean to music and to good will, qualities which this refined artist shared in abundance.
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C, Op. 15; Piano Concerto no. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 “Emperor”
Walter Gieseking, piano/Rafael Kubelik conducts Philharmonia Orchestra (Op. 15)/Arthur Rother conducts Berlin Radio Orchestra (Op. 73) Music & Arts CD-1145 67:40 (Distrib. Albany)****:
Walter Gieseking (1895-1956) has had a mixed reception for the music of Beethoven. Claudio Arrau found his touch and tone too light and diaphanous for Beethoven, although others have enjoyed a delicacy of sound and tonal beauty Beethoven does not often elicit. A supreme colorist and creator of impressionistic nuances at the keyboard, Gieseking was no less an adept sight-reader, and EMI and Electrola LP labels, as well as radio stations, kept firing scores at him to record in huge lumps. One of my cherished memories is a radio tribute given by one Martin Marx over the Fordham University FM station WFUV in honor of Gieseking, a model of what a one-hour portrait of this distinguished artist could be – with music by Debussy, Brahms, Mozart and Franck.
Music & Arts restores the long-mysterious CBS LP (ML 4305) of the Beethoven C Major Concerto, inscribed October 13, 1948 with Rafael Kubelik conducting, whose name had been withheld from the original issue. Those who speculated about such things thought the conductor might have been Karajan, who had refused to have his name associated with that of Gieseking, after a falling-out over politics. [Why – since both supported the Nazis?…Ed.] Now, the gentler truth seems to be that contract rights prevented Kubelik’s name from the credits. The C Major emerges thoughtfully, if not overly dramatic, in this reading. The suppleness of Gieseking’s line seems the point at hand. The keyboard tissue seems to flow in lovely cascades of sound punctuated by classical, orchestral riffs.
The Emperor Concerto (January 23, 1945) is the lone surviving stereo recording from WW II, the efforts of engineer Helmut Kruger and an especially-equipped AEG recorder running at 77 cm/sec. with metal tape. [I have an earlier pressing and you can clearly hear distant anti-aircraft guns in the background in one section..Ed.] Liner notes provided by Music & Arts provide the historical details. The performance with Rother is quite strong, less effete than the collaboration Gieseking inscribed with Walter back in 1934. The playing has the usual Gieseking refinement, but it has a forward impetus and punch that give us a more aggressive impression of Gieseking’s best work in Beethoven.
MOZART: Adagio and Fugue in C Minor, K. 546/DVORAK: String Quartet No. 12 in F, Op. 96 “American”/BLOCH: String Quartet No. 2; Night
Griller String Quartet
Dutton CDBP 9713 69:46 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:
Recordings from 1947-1948 from Broadhurst Gardens, West Hampstead, London by the acclaimed Griller Quartet, here remastered in quiet and incisive sound by Michael Dutton. The Mozart K. 546 (1783) was Tchaikovsky’s favorite piece of Mozart polyphony, his own model for counterpoint. Although I do enjoy the orchestral versions if this strict, affecting piece, the quartet arrangement has power, pungency, and a clarity that sometimes gets gobbled up by overheated first violins. I find the miking on Colin Hampton’s cello occasionally thin, but when he does sing out, as in the first movement of the Dvorak, it can do so warmly and sonorously. Jack O’Brien’s second violin makes its sweet presence felt in the haunting Lento. Sidney Griller’s first violino owns the final Vivace ma non troppo. The British hroup favors fast vibrato and a razor-thin tone, but the cumulative effect is poised and intelligent, understated beauty.
The Griller Quartet premiered Bloch’s Second Quartet in England (1945), the composer’s second essay in the form, his having written the First Quartet in 1916. Energetic and massively conceived, with a passacaglia and fugue in the manner of a modern Bach acolyte, the Bloch Second Quartet holds its own in a medium dominated by the likes of Haydn, Mozart, and (late) Beethoven. The opening Moderato is contemplative and hints at Debussy’s Quartet in G Minor; and the second movement, a blinding, somewhat agonized Presto, provides a melodic kernel that develops monumentally through the remainder of the piece. Night (1925) is a charming miniature in the composer’s serene and modal style. This historic reissue is a keeper all the way.
Igor Markevitch, A True Artist =
MOZART: Symphony No. 34 in C; Symphony No. 35 in D ’’Haffner;” Symphony No. 38 in D ‘’Prague’’/HAYDN: Sinfonia concertante in B-flat;/CIMAROSA: Concerto for 2 Flutes in G Major/GLUCK: Sinfonia in G Major/SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 3 in D/BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat ‘’Eroica’’; Leonore Overture No. 3; Symphony No. 5 in F ‘’Pastoral’’; 4 Overtures/BRAHMS: Alto Rhapsody; Symphony No. 4 in E Minor; Symphony No. 1 in C Minor; Tragic Overture/KODALY: Psalmus ungracious/WAGNER: Lohengrin Prelude, Act I; Tannhauser Overture; Siegfried Idyll; Ride of the Valkyries/GOUNOD: Symphony No. 2 in E-flat/BIZET: Jeux d’enfants/DEBUSSY: La Mer; Dances sacree et profane/TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor ‘’Pathetique’’; Francesca da Rimini; An Interview with Igor Markevitch, 1957
Aurele Nicolet and Fritz Demmler, flutes Irina Arkhipova, contralto Robert Ilosfalvy, tenor Suzanne Cotelle, harp Berlin Philharmonic Orchestre Lamoureux, Paris (Gluck; Haydn; Mozart ‘’Haffner’’; Beethoven Leonore III, Pastorale, Overtures; Brahms 4th; Wagner Lohengrin, Tannhauser; Gounod; Bizet; Debussy) Symphony of the Air (Beethoven 3rd; Brahms Symphony No. 1) USSR State Symphony Orchestra (Brahms Alto Rhapsody, Tragic Overture; Kodaly)
DGG Original Masters boxed set 474 400-2 (9 CDs) ****:
This extensive tribute to Igor Markevitch (1912-1983) captures the Franco-Russian master in some of his legendary recordings, 1954-1963, especially with the USSR State Symphony during his visits to the Soviet Union in the 1960s, which produced the famed recording of the Verdi Requiem. Markevitch had the ability, like Stokowski and Toscanini, to impose a singular sound upon the host of ensembles he led. Clarity of line and rhythmic flair marked each of Markevitch’s vital readings, so we can hear the dark, turbulent lines under contralto Irina Arkhipova, and many of the interor lines in Haydn’s Sinfonia concertante that other conductors either gloss over or render lackluster. The brisk tempi Markevitch favors in Schubert and Beethoven seem to adumbrate the authenticity movement a generation later, although the textures and breadth of phrase emanate from the Romantic tradition. Along with his commitment to French impressionism, the world of Ravel, Debussy, and Roussel, Markevitch had a penchant for the pre-Classical elegance of Gluck, Cimarosa, and Sammartini, each of whose music Markevitch rendered with airy brio.
Several of the items in this collation have a decidedly personal appeal, like the ravishing simplicity of Bizet’s Jeux d’enfants from 1957, and his splendid work in the Beethoven overtures from the sane year, like the C Major “Name-Day,” Op. 115 with its jaunty good humor. The Debussy La Mer is a Markevitch staple, fluid, forward-moving, and without any of the affectation that clouds readings by conductor-mystics. Given that the Markevitch Schubert Third Symphony dates from 1954, it fascinates to hear how much his reading has in common with Carlos Kleiber’s pointed reading some thirty years later, particularly in the virile, almost glib pace of the Menuetto and Trio. Though a good friend of Scherchen, Markevitch did not take Beethoven’s Pastoral so fast as that revisionist conductor so as to render the lines peremptory. Markevitch manages a smooth line with the Lamoureux players whose relative speed does not diminish the grandeur of the conception. Markevitch brought the music of Beethoven and Brahms back to France after a long hiatus in French conducting had ignored Brahms; and only Schuricht had employed a French orchestra to survey the complete Beethoven symphonies. The addition of Kodaly’s passionate cantata is a real coup. Besides the idiomatically rendered Mozart and Wagner readings, the 1957 interview with Martin Bookspan is remarkable for its candor, where even conductor Markevitch proclaims, “You are bold!” to an inquiry that seems to put Markevitch at a crisis between honesty and courtesy. Highly recommended.