Classical Reissue Reviews
Reissue CD Reviews, Part 2 of 2
Published on November 1, 2004
November 2004, Pt. 2 of 2 [Pt. 1]
MAHLER: Symphony No. 3 in D Minor/An Elizabethan Suite (arr. Barbirolli)
Lucretia West, contralto
Women and Children’s Choir of St. Hedwig’s Cathedral
Sir John Barbirolli conducts Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Testament SBT2 1350 64:26; 47:35 (Distrib. Harmondi Mundi):****
Recorded live 8 March 1969, this exemplary performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony under Sir John Barbirolli pre-dates his less expansive survey of the same work he recorded with his own Halle Orchestra at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester 23 May 1969 (BBC Legends BBCL 4004) with Kerstin Meyer, contralto. Contralto Lucretia West sang the Nietzsche verses for Mitropoulos in his appearance with the Cologne Radio-Symphony. For a conductor who only discovered Mahler (the Ninth Symphony) when he was 54, Barbirolli caught the temper and exalted flair of this composer with a passionate vengeance, and almost single-handedly created a Mahler renaissance both in England and in Berlin. The devotional respect with which Wolfgang Stresemann’s Berlin Philharmonic responds to Barbirolli is palpable in every bar, though perhaps nowhere so iridescently as in the final movement, whose slow and exalted meditation on Beethoven’s F Major Quartet touches the stratosphere.
Along with a strong sense of musical architecture–difficult always in Mahler since there are so many peaks and upheavals in the course of a single movement–Barbirolli elicits some of the warmest orchestral tone one will hear from the Berlin Philharmonic. The muted playing in the horns is exact, finely paced and beautifully balanced. Barbirolli neither sentimentalizes the yearning Mahler nor does he avoid the moments of vulgarity, realizing that Mahler wants both extremes at once. The many-sided polyphony achieves an incandescent texture of expression, a shimmering transparency. As a side note, Barbirolli after the concerts with the BPO, received the Gustav Mahler Prize from Dirk Nabering, then chairman of the international Gustav Mahler Society.
The Elizabethan Suite, which Barbirolli first crafted in 1941 from the music of Byrd, Bull, and Farnaby, comes here from a performance 16 January 1964. The rest of the program included the Vaughan Williams Eighth and the Berlioz Fantastic Symphony. The sound of the Berlin cellos could not be more resonant, as if Barbirolli had stolen a page from Koussevitzky’s ledgers. The John Bull transcription has a pomposo lovely to behold. A penny for the thoughts of Herbert von Karajan, upon hearing the mighty, loving response of his orchestra to the agile, diminutive Englishman who had revitalized Mahler playing in Germany!
Perlman Rediscovered = PAGANINI: 3 Caprices/HANDEL: Sonata in E/BEN-HAIM: Berceuse Sfardite/SARASATE: Navarra/HINDEMITH: Sonata in E-flat, Op. 11, No. 1/LECLAIR: Sonata No. 3 in D/BLOCH: Nigun/FALLA: Spanish Dance No. 1/BAZZINI: La Ronde des Lutins
Itzhak Perlman, violin
David Garvey, piano
RCA 82876-62516-2 63:18****:
Originally intended as RCA’s first commercial release of the art of Itzhak Perlman (b. 1945), these inscriptions of salon and concert pieces recorded March-November, 1963 in Webster Hall, New York City found little favor with the record executives, who preferred two large concertos, by Sibelius and Prokofiev, to represent their new-found virtuoso. So, these records were suppressed until now, and we have some dazzling, if strident, playing by one of the new generation of instrumental superstars who grace our musical horizons.
Perlman opens with three Paganini caprices, nos. 1, 16, and 24, much in the manner that Michael Rabin had made his reputation for CBS. The hard patina of the recording does not belie the suppleness and razor-sharp technique of young Perlman, who skips over arpeggios and cross-bowings with ease. When David Garvey’s piano enters for the Sephardic Lullaby of Ben-Haim, however, it is almost a balm after the solos, and the music by the displaced German composer who migrated to Israel is most pleasant. Perlman’s intonation and attacks are solid, his approach certainly in the Heifetz tradition, cross fertilized by Stern and any number of conservatory influences. The Leclair Sonata in D, a favorite of Szeryng and Oistrakh, finds high-voltage sympathy under Perlman. Using over-dubbing to splice both parts of the Sarasate Navarre, we have Perlman accompanying himself, echoes of Heifetz’ famous record of the Bach 2-Violin Concerto with himself. Everything in the program is traditional fare in the Heifetz-Elman mode except for the 1918 Hindemith sonata, a rare concession to conservative modernism, although I do recall that Joseph Silverstein’s debut LP for CBS took its own risk with Bartok. For those who like their young virtuosos in fine fettle, this is a keeper, especially since Perlman has not to date re-recorded some of these works.
RACHMANINOFF: 13 Song Transcriptions
Earl Wild, piano
Ivory Classics 74001 77:55 (Distrib. VAI)****:
Earl Wild (b. 1915) has been a devotee and acolyte of Serge Rachmaninov for over seventy years, beginning at age six. During his student days, Wild had the opportunity to accompany a singer in a couple of songs; then, Wild fell under the spell of Maria Kurenko, who had performed much of the song oeuvre with the composer at the piano. Having listened to Rachmaninovís piano style for over two decades and having absorbed its technique and syntax, Wild decided to transcribe twelve of the songs, much in the manner of Liszt, in the summer of 1981. The twelve werededicated to Michael Rolland Davis; the thirteenth, a treatment of “Do Not Grieve,” was composed later in the decade and dedicated to Clair van Ausdall.
The inscribed performances of Wildís own transcriptions date 1982-1991 and take in venues from New York City; Columbus, Ohio; and Montreal. The Vocalise receives two treatments, the first in 1982 enjoying an even broader treatment and lush fioritura than the reading from 1991. Wild’s “Floods of Spring” bursts forth like one of the more aggressive preludes from opus 23. “In the Silent Night,” Op. 4, No. 3 receives three inscriptions, obviously a kind of romanticís calling-card for the Wild high relief in the melody over a self-contained accompaniment, ending on a sustained D. Perhaps none of the songs inhabits quite the modal and harmonically ambiguous world as “The Muse,” Op. 34, No. 1, an E Minor closer to Debussy than to Brahms. This writer owes the late violinist Oscar Shumsky a debt for having introduced him to the melancholy beauty of “To the Children,” Op. 26, No. 7, which Mr. Wild effects with edgy wistfulness. Gorgeous music, gorgeous playing, and a high class production all the way.
Heinrich Schlusnus: The Quintessential Baritone
Erna Berger, soprano
Sebastien Peck, piano
Conductors: Clemens Krauss; Hermann Weigert; Alois Melichar; Leo Blech;
Robert Heger; Gerhard Steeger
Dutton CDBP 9732 78:45****:
Perhaps Germany’s most durable baritone 1914-1952, Heinrich Schlusnus (1888-1952) reigned in Hamburg, Nuremberg, and Berlin, assuming the principal roles in Verdi and Wagner that established his repute alongside other baritone luminaries Friedrich Schorr and Herbert Janssen. Gifted with both a strong, spinto projection and power as well as a soft, lingering, warm vocal tone, Schlusnus could easily move between the opera house and the recital hall. He and colleagues Erna Berger, Elisabth Schumann, and Gerhard Husch initiated a kind of lieder renaissance in Germany during the 1930’s, a project extended into the next decade through pianist Michael Raucheisen. Under the tutelage of librettist-conductor Clemens Krauss, Schlusnus became an adept in Wagner, Strauss, Mozart, and Offenbach.
The twenty-one diverse selections on this Dutton collection capture much of the best of Schlusnus’ legacy, including the 1939 Beethoven cycle An Die Ferne Geliebte, formerly featured on a deleted Heliodor LP. The combination of mellow vocal security and artistic sympathy makes his reading with Peschko a classic of its kind, with kind of lyrical virtuosity in the singerŒs upper registers for the Es kehret der maien. The earliest records are from 1930, with Hermann Weigert in music by Silcher and Peters. The sheer loveliness of Schlusnus’ tone shines through immediately in German renditions of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, where La ci darem La Mano has his courting a young Erna Berger from 1936; the Champagne Aria and Don Giovanni’s Serenade derive from 1951 Bavarian sessions with Robert Heger. We get some resonant Schubert (try the diaphanous Du Bist die Ruh) and Liszt from 1932 under Alois Melichar. The Tannhauser excerpts, in two distinct sessions with Krauss and Leo Blech, 1935-1936, reveal Schlusnus in his Wagnerian prime, ardent, classically poised, and exalted, especially in the Evening Star under Blech and the Berlin State Opera Orchestra. The Strauss group from 1943 under Gerhard Steeger bears comparison with the similar group of songs Peter Anders recorded with Furtwaengler in 1942, given the two singers’ distinct vocal ranges. Music by lesser lights Abt, Kreutzer, Marschner, and Nessler fills out the disc; a pity we have none of the Schlusnus colossal virtuosity in Italian repertory. But for a fine cross-section of the singer’s command of the German repertory in which he excelled, this is as fine a compilation as one could desire.
SHOSTAKOVICH: Piano Trio No. 1 in C, Op. 8; String Quartet No. 15 in E-flat Minor, Op. 144
Elisso Wirssaladze, piano
Oleg Kagan and Grigory Zhislin, violins
Yuri Bashmet, viola
Natalia Gutman, cello
Live Classics LCL 110 53:26 (Distrib. Qualiton)****:
One of some thirty volumes dedicated to the memory of violinist Oleg Kagan (1946-1990), this fine combination of two of composer Shostakovich’s chamber pieces from the extremes of youth and age display Kagan’s remarkable sensitivities to nuance and ensemble in the music he championed. At age nineteen, Kagan was fortunate to enjoy the brief melting of Soviet relations with the West; so a visit to Helsinki for the Sibelius Competition and the Kuhmo Summer Chamber Music Festival proved auspicious for him and his wife Natalia Gutman. The fact that Kagan won First Prize at the Competition and then moved on to become Oistrakh’’ esteemed pupil projected Kagan into the limelight in Soviet music-making.
The relatively neglected C Major Trio, Op. 8 of Shostakovich, composed for his true love Tatyana Glivenko, has a performance from 27 July 1982, with a blistering piano part from virtuoso Wirssaladze. The ten-minute piece in one movement moves through a series of ephemeral emotions, from witty buoyancy to sudden fits of gloom, but with panache and idiomatic writing. The 1974 Fifteenth Quartet, originally intended for the Taneyev Quartet and a premier in Moscow, was part of a projected cycle Shostakovich had in mind to write a quartet in every one of the keys of the chromatic scale, thereby emulating Bach and rivaling Beethoven. Natalia Gutman recalls that Shostakovich had approached the Beethoven Quartet to play the premier of this piece (in Leningrad) as well as the Taneyev ensemble; in an anxious bit of maneuvering, Shostakovich no less asked Kagan, Gutman and friends to learn the music as quickly as possible for a run-through. The actual premier occurred in Shostakovich’s apartment, rather secretly, so as not to offend the Beethoven Quartet members.
The E-flat Minor Quartet (from 29 July 1982) is huge, opening with an Elegy: Adagio of severe and unbridled melancholy that lasts over fifteen minutes. The Serenade is a misnomer, having the cello part at first strike and slide along different strings in the manner of Berg; then a groping, lyrical melody plays over uneasy edgy riffs. The Intermezzo opens with a virtuoso cadenza for violin, rife with double-stops; the cello extends the proceedings gloomily, and a lonely aria in the violin makes a transition to the Nocturne: Adagio. Quiet and intimate, the Nocturne certainly recalls Beethoven and Bartok in their meditative turns. Rarely do we hear the pizzicato technique applied to such somber sensibilities. The ensuing Funeral March: Adagio molto is Shostakovich in his sublimely lyrical vein, with full expression granted to Bashmet’s viola and Gutman’s cello. Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony is close. The final Epilogue: opens with virtuoso treatment, only to soften into cloudy moods reminiscent of Ravel or Debussy. The cello has some whiplash filigree that almost becomes a concertante piece for that instrument until the quiet harmonies of the violins surround it. An eerie transition takes us to a world more shadow than substance, where sudden pizzicati sound like drops of rain in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. Muted strings and tremolandi proceed even further down this somber valley, a kind of Stabat Mater of the spirit. Shostakovich called the E-flat Minor a “philosophical work which I hold most dear.”
Fritz Wunderlich: Operetta Arias = LEHAR: Arias from Giuditta; Der Zarewitsch; Das Land des Lachelns/FALL: Aria from Die Rose von Stambul/J. STRAUSS: 2 Arias from Der Fledermaus/ZELLER: 3 Arias from Der Vogelhaendler/KALMAN: 2 Arias from Grafin Mariza/TRIEBEL: Aria from Pfaelzer Wein
Fritz Wunderlich, tenor
Franz Marszalek conducts Orchestra and Chorus of the WDR Cologne
Emmerich Smola conducts Southwest German Radio Orchestra (Lehsr, Triebel)
Arts Archives 43010-2 57:21 (Distrib. Albany)****:
Has it really been almost 40 years since that fateful day, 17 September 1966, when the world lost the staggering, singing talent of Fritz Wunderlich, then a few days away from his 36th birthday? I recall introducing Wunderlich’s stellar talent to the late actor Henry Brandon, a German-born talent himself, to whom I sent a copy of the second of three Seraphim LPs, to reward Brandon for the pleasure of many fine film performances. “Wunderlich is Tauber reborn!” exclaimed the Christmas card I received a few weeks later. True enough, the high lyric tenor had beguiled the European stages in Vienna, Aix-en-Provence, Stuttgart, Wuerthemberg, Salzburg, Edinburgh, and Munich; America awaited his MET debut with baited breath. His fluent musicianship, his perennial freshness of voice, his silken timbre, his canny dramatic flair; all these qualities, not to mention his natural charisma, made him the finest lyric tenor after Peter Anders and a true disciple of Tauber.
The Arts Archives collection, 1957-1962, reassembles familiar vocal fare, each demonstrating Wunderlich’s capacity for Viennese charm and suave, sophisticated buoyancy of delivery. Obviously, every such collation boasts another rendition of Dein ist mein ganzes Herz with varying degrees of orchestral intensity. I do wish Wunderlich’s jazz-band version of Granada would come back and replace his more staid studio performance. Why DGG Archives has not reissued his “Earliest German Lied” album, with music by Isaac and Fincke, I know not. But the polish of Komm mit mir zum Souper from Fledermaus, with Heinz Maria Lins, easily assuages our losses. That Wunderlich was the Teutonic Mario Lanza and more is evident in the excerpts from Leo Fall and Emmerich Kalman. No new insights, but no platitudes, either–this is simply a superior vocalist who delights in the glory of his songs.
DVORAK: In Naturexs Realm, Op. 91; Rondo in G Minor, Op. 94; Silent Woods, Op. 68, No. 5; Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 “From the New World” – Wolfgang Sawallisch conducts Czech Philharmonic (Op. 91) Michal Kanka, cello Tomas Koutnik conducts Janacek Philharmonic Vaclav Neumann conducts Czech Philharmonic (Op. 95) – Praga PR 50501 67:55 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:
A kind of charming compendium of Dvorak works, taken from archival scraps in the Supraphon catalogue. Wolfgang Sawallisch conducts (December, 1972) the tone-poem from 1892, a paean to Nature with a haunting oboe solo that finds all kinds of evocative colors in the orchestra. Dvorak spent October of 1893 orchestrating various piano four-hand pieces, including his lovely Klid, Op. 68, No. 5, a meditative adagio in D-flat for cello and orchestra. The Rondo in G Minor has a bucolic character in its three sections, one of which is a stylized dumka. I had not known the work of cellist Michal Kanka nor conductor Koutnik, but they play (September, 1992) in such lovely collaboration that collectors might be tempted to put this on the laser and ask connoisseurs to venture which more famous virtuosos they think are at work.
The New World Symphony from January 1971 finds Vaclav Neumann in both an intimate and animated mood, opening with an understated adagio then moving briskly through the symphony, omitting repeats and caressing each of the Afro-and-Native-American melodies in turn, then exploding at the finale. The Czech Philharmonic strings and horns sound especially bright and elastic. We are reminded that Dvorak set the Ninth Symphony as a program to Longfellow’s poem The Song of Hiawatha, a narrative Dvorak’s employer Mrs. Thurber favored, wishing that the versatile composer would create a national opera based on the poem’s thematic content: an homage provided by the opening horn, then the Largo’s English horn, and in the vivacious Allegro con fuoco finale.