Classical Reissue Reviews
Reissue CD Reviews, Part 2 of 2
Published on October 1, 2004
October 2004, Pt. 2 of 2 [Pt. 1]
SCARLATTI: 3 Sonatas/MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 13 in C Major, K. 415/RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G Major
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, piano
Mario Rossi conducts RAI Turin (Mozart); Igor Markevitch conducts Orchestra of the National Academy, Santa Cecilia (Ravel)
TAHRA TAH 537 65:44 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:
Recently resuscitated documents from the legacy of Arturo Benedetti Michelangelo (1920-1995), perhaps the finest sheer keyboard technician of the last century. Even through the veiled sound afforded us by the Mozart acetates (25 December 1953) with Mario Rossi, we can hear the immaculate, pearly play of Michelangeli’s filigree, the supple strength of his line. Like Clara Haskil, Michelangeli held the C Major Concerto in high regard, where many Mozart specialists pass it by. The quicksilver capacities of Michelangeli colors confound attempts to describe his playing a percussive instrument.
The opening Scarlatti group comes from Arezzo’s Petrarch Theatre 12 February 1952. The Sonata in A, L. 483 is brilliant; but no other pianist ever plays the B Minor, L. 449 at such a blinding speed, transforming its haunted atmosphere in a slower tempo into arpeggiated mysteries. The Sonata in D, L. 461 is new to me, a tiny cameo added to the small but vital Michelangeli oeuvre. The Ravel Concerto in G, a Michelangeli staple, is from a Champs-Elysees Paris concert of 28 May 1952. Michelangeli and Markevitch collaborated thrice, each time in the Ravel Concerto. While the sound gravitates around the keyboard, often to the detriment of the wonderful woodwind colors, the interplay of solo and orchestra dazzles. There are few conductors who have the Markevitch combination of rhythmic deftness and strength of orchestral definition. Somehow the second movement sonics seem to transcend the rest of the recording and really sing. The liner notes by Tahra owner Myriam Scherchen are a paean to Michelangeli art.
Jascha Horenstein: Broadcast Performances from Paris (1952-1966) = BARBER: Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 14/BARTOK: Concerto for Orchestra/BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92; Symphony No. 8 in F, Op. 93; Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125; Egmont Overture, Op. 84; Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21/BRAHMS: Tragic Overture, Op. 81; Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68/DEBUSSY: La Mer/HAYDN: Symphony No. 100 in G “Military”/JANACEK: Sinfonietta/MAHLER:Kindertotenlieder/MENDELSSOHN: Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90 “Italian”/MOZART: Don Giovanni Overture/ PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat, Op. 100/RAVEL: Bolero; Piano Concerto in G/ROUSSEL: The Spider’s Feast/SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 43/STRAUSS: Metamorphosen; Tod und Verklaerung, Op. 24/ STRAVINSKY: Firebird Suite; Symphony in 3 Movements
Jascha Horenstein conducts French National Radio Orchestra Lola Bobesco, violin (Barber) Monique Haas, piano (Ravel) Pilar Lorengar, soprano; Marga Hoeffgen, alto; Josef Traxel, tenor; Otto Wiener, bass (Beethoven 9th) Marian Anderson, contralto (Mahler)
Music&Arts CD-1146 (9 CDs for the price of 5) TT: 10 hours, 44 minutes (Distrib. Albany)*****:
For collectors of conductor Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973), this is one of those desert island sets that we Robinson Crusoes of the spirit covet. Music&Arts had prior given us the Mahler, Prokofiev and Prokofiev elements of this set, but the addition of so much Beethoven and French music makes us reevaluate our appreciation of the catholicity of Horenstein’s tastes. For one thing, the performance of the Richard Strauss Metamorphosen (3 April 1964) rectifies EMI or Testament’s failure to revive Horenstein’s commercial recording (Angel LP 35101) with the same ensemble, a performance that followed soon on the heels of Karajan’s initial inscription but in softer and more poignant terms. Assuming the date for the Barber Concerto with Bobesco is correct (13 November 1950), the set title is a misnomer, but the proceedings generally begin on 11 February 1952, with the concert of Mozart’s Don Giovanni Overture, Janacek’s Sinfonietta, Ravel’s G Major Concerto, and Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony.
The survey of French works, along with the pieces by Stravinsky, gives us some idea of Horenstein’s long association with the avantgarde movement of the 1920s, when he and Furtwaengler auditioned contemporary music for the New Friends of Music concerts in Berlin. Horenstein’s Stravinsky is brisk and Italianate, less severely classical than Klemperer’s approach but more robust, especially in the Symphony, where the fur flies. The Debussy La Mer (1 June 1966) offers us a chance to hear dark contours in the undercurrents of Debussy’s scoring, details often lost in upper, vibrant regions. The Ravel Bolero (1 July 1966) starts low-key but works up a terrific peroration. The Ravel Concerto with Monique Haas (a Fricsay collaborator) is perky, witty, pointed and thoroughly competitive with Horenstein’s commercial view with Perlemuter. It would be interesting to know how French musicians and audiences responded to the infusion of Bartok, Sibelius, and Barber from a German-trained conductor. Horenstein’s repute in American musical repertory is almost nil, but he and Bobesco make exquisite sounds together in a work that had only recently been inscribed by Louis Kaufman. It would be worth reviving the Jaime Laredo/Leopold Stokowski performance from the American Symphony archives to complement Horenstein’s version.
For the mainstream German repertory, we have many delights in which to revel. The Beethoven First Symphony (31 October 1963) is worth its weight in gold, a scintillating, supple exercise in attacks and rhythmic virtuosity on a grand scale. Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony is quite a startling surprise – light-footed, often winged in its arch and soulful song, a real rival to Beecham and Cantelli. A pity we do not have Horenstein in straight Italian repertory. The Beethoven Seventh (1 June 1966) I find a bit stodgy in places, more like Klemperer, but with wonderful attention to color details of wind and string articulation. The buttons do open up for the final Allegro con brio. The Beethoven 8th (11 February 1952) is all wit, bubbly excitement, and charm. The Beethoven Ninth (31 October 1963) is a real coup, utilizing several soloists from his Vox recording, but in cleaner more open sound. The pungency of the attacks in the Scherzo, the literacy of the double theme and variations third movement, and the expressivity of emotion in the slow section “Seid umschlungen, millionen” of the choral movement are quite overwhelming. I must confess, however, that I am simply not keen to recommend Marian Anderson in the Mahler Children’s Death-Songs Cycle (22 November 1956). I find her voice ponderous, heavy, poorly enunciated, and a bit monotonous. She elicits respect but not pathos.
Finally, the bright, responsive tone of the French National Radio Orchestra is to be commended in works like the Sibelius Second Symphony (19 November 1956), where a sustained ardency of execution is requisite to the heroic drama of the music. Once again, we miss Horenstein’s Nielsen in this survey, but the fervent approach to the Richard Strauss, Beethoven, and Prokofiev scores will have to compensate. Collectors who own the Vox LP’s contemporary with these live broadcasts will both revel in and lament the duplication of some repertory, but the chance to study and to refine our overview of Horenstein’s art is a reward in itself. At the price Music&Arts is asking, especially given the happy resonance of the restorations, these nine discs qualify for one’s urgent purchase.
In Memoriam Yehudi Menuhin = BACH: Partita No. 2 in D Minor for Unaccompanied Violin, BWV 1004/MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, K. 218
Karl Boehm conducts RIAS Symphony Orchestra, Berlin
TAHRA TAH 533 50:38 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:
I met Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999) twice, first in Atlanta, after a performance of the Elgar Concerto with the Atlanta Symphony; the second time in London, at the Barbican Center, after an all-Bach concert that featured Menuhin in the violin obbligato of Bach’s “Erbarme dich” from the St. Matthew Passion, then his conducting of the Suite No. 4 and the Magnificat. Menuhin’s sister Hephzibah had died only weeks before this concert, and Menuhin was clearly in pain, the music of Bach a valedictory for her passing.
Menuhin is hardly underrepresented on disc, with over 500 recordings to his credit. Still there are gaps in the CD restorations, like his RCA Bruch Concerto with Munch, the Lekeu Sonata, the EMI sonata by Pizzetti, a piece Menuhin favored among his many inscriptions. I would like someone to restore, if such tapes exist, his recitals from Brussels with pianist Alexis Weissenberg. This Tahra CD gives us a Bach solo partita from 6 October 1968 and the Mozart 4th Concerto with Boehm from 9 April 1951. While Menuhin’s 1968 skills are not technically perfect, his proportions and ease of phrasing in the Bach bespeak years of mastery and total familiarity with the medium. The Chaconne is emotionally cogent, fluent, and elastic. Menuhin recorded the Mozart with Pritchard, and this conception with Boehm glides along stylishly. The cadenzas are not identified, but I believe they are Enescu’s. The Andante is quite broad, slow for my taste, but played for lofty ideals. That Menuhin could appear in Berlin after the War with Boehm, an unapologetic supporter of the National Socialism, attests to a humanity and love for music in Menuhin that transcends politics, perhaps forgiveness itself. Good sound on these reissues.
BEETHOVEN: Piano Works Vol. 7 = Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 “Appassionata;” Sonata No. 26 in E-flat, Op. 81a “Les Adieux;” Sonata No. 22 in F, Op. 54; Sonata No. 24 in F# Major, Op. 78; Sonata No. 25 in G, Op. 79
Artur Schnabel, piano
Naxos Historical 8.110761 66:04 ****:
I have not commented on the recordings by Artur Schnabel (1882-1951) made for the Beethoven Sonata Society in the 1930s. For those who own or have perused the Schnabel Edition of the Beethoven sonatas, his performances reveal a kind of schizophrenia: the attention to dynamic and agogic details in the printed scores is fastidious to the point of pedantry. The actual performances are actually quite emotional, as though once seated before the microphone, Schnabel sacrificed his intellectual for his impulsive responses. [Plus his clams are more than I care to dip into…Ed.]
The performances assembled here and edited in superbly quiet sound by Mark Obert-Thorn date from 1932-1935. I like to begin with Schnabel’s Op. 78, the F-sharp Major, a wonderfully concise, two-movement work first revealed to me by Robert Goldsand, a name who seems forgotten by reissue labels. Schnabel had a virtuoso grasp of this piece, a coup of finesse and digital prowess that belies Rosenthal’s nasty quip that Schnabel avoided Austrian military service since he had no fingers. No less blazing are the hurtling gestures at the start of the G Major, Op. 79. Both this brief sonata and the tricky F Major, Op. 54, revel in fleet wit and devilish metrics. The two large sonatas, Les Adieux and Appassionata, reveal Schnabel’s tendency to accelerate tempos according to his own lights. The redeeming aspects of the playing are the heroic scale of the ideas and the utter conviction of the approach. Much of the playing is simply breathtaking. Kudos to Obert-Thorn’s handling of the various shellacs, along with the declicking process, that has restored seminal interpretations of thse pillars of keyboard repertory.
VIVALDI: The Four Seasons, Op. 8/HANDEL: Messiah–Highlights
Hugh Bean, violin (Vivaldi)/Sheila Armstrong, soprano/Norma Proctor, contralto/Kenneth Bowen, tenor/John Cameron, bass/Charles Spinks, harpsichord/New Philharmonia Orchestra (Vivaldi)/LSO Chorus and Orchestra (Handel)/Leopold Stokowski, conductor
Cala CACD0538 45:50; 58:05 ****:
Marking the 25th Anniversary of the Leopold Stokowski Society, the reissue of the Vivaldi concertos no less marks the passing of concertmaster and solo violinist Hugh Bean (1929-2003), whose exemplary work in Vaughan Williams&Mac226; The Lark Ascending with Adrian Boult was a classic of its kind. Stokowski recorded the Vivaldi, in the Malipiero edition, 11 June 1966, and the CD transfer had a brief life on Decca’s Weekend Classics series (433 680-2). Stokowski at 84 was conducting this music for the first time; and although Stokowski had made idiosyncratic ventures into baroque music prior, mainly for RCA and Vanguard, his vigorous, terraced dynamics may suggest more of Beethoven than The Red Priest. Bean’s playing is adept and polished without being particularly showy. The original Phase 4 Stereo sound is quite stunning in its remastering.
The excerpts from Handel’s Messiah date from 20 September 1966, and reintroduce Stokowski to a score he had last conducted in 1909, for his fist season in Cincinnati. Favoring rather slow and leisurely tempos, Stokowski favors orchestral and vocal clarity of line, allowing his singers to project with a full sense of devotion and tragic conviction. Sheila Armstrong stands out among the vocalists for her plain and pointed delivery, vocally secure in I know that my Redeemer liveth. John Cameron’s fiery Why do the nations so furiously rage? has a combination of breathless agitation and resigned poise to make his rendition memorable. The London Symphony strings and brass, the latter choir including the ever-reliable Barry Tuckwell, are in top form. Those who might expect a degree of gaudiness to plague Stokowski readings of these concert staples will be happily disappointed. These are clean, unaffected performances by a consort of engaged professionals.
DARIUS MILHAUD: Le carnaval d’Aix; L’apothéose de Moliere; Le carnaval de Londres; Le boeuf sur le toit (The Nothing-Doing Bar – Cinéma-fantasie) – the New London Orchestra/Ronald Corp/Jack Gibbons, piano – Helios CDH55168, 76:48 ****:
What a great full-up bargain program of wonderful French music in captivating performances and with topflight (Tony Faulkner) sonics! The originals aren’t that old (1992) and I don’t expect one could find more fresh and in-the-mileu performances than these by the Brits. Although Milhaud was confined to a wheelchair for the last 30 years of his life, he had earlier made a reputation as a leading pianist, violinist and violist, as well as conducting in many major cities in Europe and the U.s. His practical knowledge as a performer aided his writing for the orchestra, and the almost 450 works he left were the result of his being able to write music almost anywhere at any time without difficulty.
The subtitle of Milhaud’s music hall-flavored Le boeuf indicates that he first thought it might be just the thing for accompanying a Charlie Chaplin film. He transcribed a hodgepodge of pop tunes, tangos, sambas and a Portuguese fado, with a rondo theme tying them all together. Jean Cocteau did the choreography and sets and staged the ballet in a Manhattan bar. The music is breathless and breezy, and that’s an aspect of the other three Milhaud works here as well. After all, two of them have to do with carnaval time. The nearly half-hour-long Londres is variations on themes from John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, and the Moliére-centered suite employs an appropriate harpsichord but is far from stuck in the Baroque.
– John Sunier
Two unusual compilations bring our reissues to a close now…
The Most Relaxing Cello Album in the World…ever! Hits of ST.-SAENS, FAURE, RACHMANINOFF, VILLA-LOBOS, BACH, ELGAR, BRAHMS, PIAZZOLLA, SIBELIUS, TCHAIKOVSKY, GRIEG, DVORAK, CHOPIN & GLENN MILLER – Mstislav Rostropovich/Han-N Chang/Jacqueline du Pré/Truls Mork/The 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic – EMI (2 discs) 7243 562507 2 7 ****:
Everybody loves the cello, right? So a couple hours of nice quiet famous cello themes ought to be a big seller, right? Well, it started off on the wrong foot for me with The Swan, but by Rachmaninov’s Vocalise I must admit I was completely hooked. There really aren’t any other chestnuts and the variety of performers guards against boredom – especially the tracks from the wonderful Berlin Phil dozen cellists. They are saved for the last tracks on both discs: Piazzolla’s loveliest tune, Adios Nonino, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, and the capper Moonlight Serenade. Pressures of the daily grind getting you down? Just take a deep breath and put these discs in your changer.
Ravel’s Greatest Hit – The Ultimate Bolero (10 different versions of Bolero end to end!) – RCA Red Seal 82876-61386-2, 69:00 * or maybe ****:
Can you believe this? RCA has done some lovely classical compilations – one I especially liked was of many different versions of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. This one – illustrated by the delightful cartoons of “Mutts” creator Patrick McDonnell – will be either a fascinating musical journey for the music lover of curious and experimental mein, or the most hellish torture imaginable for a different category of listeners. In its effort to demonstrate just how indestructible is Ravel’s predecessor of minimalism, RCA has dropped considerations of age and fidelity, going back as far as old 78s of Nat Shilkret and his orchestra. With the movie Ten surely in mind, they came up with ten different versions – to wit: BSO/Charles Munch, Tomita, Fray & Braggiotti duo-pianists, Nat Shilkret & His Orchestra, Benny Goodman, Boston Pops/Arthur Fiedler, Morton Gould – piano, The Canadian Brass, Percussionist Evelyn Glennie, Dallas Sym. Orch./Eduardo Mata. Whew! Only the first and last versions are the complete Ravel work – the others are all Readers Digest-type arrangements (some obviously to fit the few minutes of a 78 rpm side).
– John Sunier