Classical Reissue Reviews
Reissue CD Reviews, Pt. 1 of 2
Published on December 1, 2004
December 2004, Pt. 1 of 2 [Pt. 2]
Wilhelm Furtwaengler: An Anniversary Tribute = BACH: Suite No. 3 in D, BWV 1068/GLUCK: Alceste Overture/ SCHUBERT: Overture to Rosamunde/MOZART: Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543/SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 38 “Spring”/BEETHOVEN: Egmont Overture; Leonore Overture No. 2; Grosse Fuge in B-flat Major, Op. 133; Symphony No. 8 in F, Op. 93/WEBER: Euryanthe Overture/BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor/STRAUSS: Metamorphosen/BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68; Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90/Interviews with Furtwaengler1951 and 1954
Wilhelm Furtwaengler conducts Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (Schumann)
DGG Original Masters 477 006-2 66:31; 79:06; 70:43; 58:54; 70:58; 44:16 (Distrib. Universal)****:
Several sources plan anniversary tributes to conductor Wlhelm Furtwaengler (1886-1954), the outstanding apostle of the Great German Tradition in music-making whose best and most inspired readings of the classic canon occurred during humanity&Mac226;s most morally bankrupt period, 1933-1945 under Germany’s National Socialist regime. This DGG collation includes previously issued interpretations of the music Furtwaengler cultivated through perpetual study, readings and experiments in approach. Collectors will likely balk at the re-release of materials well-familiar instead of an outpouring of alternative performances from private sources; hopefully, the TAHRA set in tribute will contain sessions hoarded over theyears by individual owners. Even DGG has some repertory, such as the May, 1953 Beethoven Violin Concerto with Schneiderhahn, prior issued on the LP set “Furtwaengler in Memoriam” (along with a rehearsal disc) which has not re-entered the mainstream historical market.
What this set does provide, especially to the initiate to the Furtwaengler mythos, is an exemplary series of readings essential to the conductor’s style. The 1944 Bruckner Ninth is a case in point: a work he only recorded once, in an agony of spiritual crisis, the tragic atmosphere of which suffuses much of Furtwaengler’s legacy. Heartache and mysticism converge in an uncanny mix of hope and despair. So too the 1947 Metamorphosen for 23 Solo Strings of Richard Strauss, a piece conceived amidst the ruins of a shattered German nation and spirit, an extended lament for the reeling zeitgeist of nobility that haunts us through the refrain from Beethoven’s Eroica Funeral march. Furtwaengler called the Beethoven Leonore Overture No. 2 “demonized,” and his 1949 reading spares no dissonance nor convulsive movement of rebellion against political tyranny. The earliest inscription, the 1943 Mozart E-flat Major Symphony, has a dark power not usually afforded its ordinarily lyric figures. But it is to Brahms that we turn for the crystallization of the turbulent, lachrymose character of the conductor’s mind: his Brahms C Minor Symphony from 1952 perceives the composer as emerging out of the serpentine, harmonic motions of the opening movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The result, both in the Brahms First and in the harmonically ambiguous Third Symphony from 1953, is a titanic struggle of emotional forces versus those restraining powers for whose safety Joseph Conrad fears in Heart of Darkness.
But along with clearly Dionysiac sensibility that permeates Egmont, Leonore Overture No. 2, Weber’s Euryanthe, and the Brahms, there is no less an Apollonian character of measure and exquisite balance active in the Furtwaengler arsenal. The aforementioned Bruckner Ninth is a colossal edifice to Mankind’s beneficent aspirations. The one performance with Furtwaengler’s “mistress,” the Vienna Philharmonic, is the Schumann Spring Symphony from October 1951, a paean to both the composer’s pantheism and to the conductor’s capacities as an ardent colorist. The Schubert Rosamunde from 1953 likewise maintains a poise and stately grace along with a driven tension we hear in Brahms. Perhaps collectors can guide the novitiates to the unparalleled delights of the Schubert Unfinished Symphony with Furtwaengler and the Vienna Philharmonic. Beethoven’s infrequent F Major Symphony (14 April 1953) under Furtwaengler has a muscular suppleness of form, a reverential line that hints at Furtwaengler’s magisterial way with Mozart’s G Minor Symphony. But the ultimate moment of immaculate conception occurs for this auditor in Bach’s D Major Suite (22 October 1948), whose Air has a mystery only comparable to the space between Adam’s and God’s extended fingers in Michelangelo’s fresco in the Sistine Chapel. Beethoven’s Great Fugue (10 February 1952) is Furtwaengler’s ultimate concession to pure form in music, since he did not inscribe Bach’s The Art of Fugue. The hard-won resolution marks a synthesis for Furtwaengler’s crisis of conscience, his being the fulchrum of Germany’s clash between moral and aesthetic values. Few artists have had to be “the collective conscience of their race,” but Furtwaengler did try to make music that would urge his fellow Germans back to civilization.
The forty-odd minutes of personal interviews with the conductor are devoted to aesthetic issues. The discussions are in German, with no accompanying texts. The topics range from sense of symphonic drama and relative notions of correct tempo; acoustics; scoring and orchestral texture in terms of musical expression; questions of style and performance practice; Bruckner; problems of communicating to orchestras and audiences; and operatic music – with an emphasis on Verdi and Weber in particular. Furtwaengler is professorial, certainly; but he presents himself as an eminently earnest advocate of musical taste and values, a thinker in music.
Herbert von Karajan = STRAUSS: Tritsch-Tratsch Polka/WALTON: Symphony No. 1/MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition/WALDTEUFEL: The Skaters–Waltz/SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 4 in A Minor/WAGNER: Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde/LISZT: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2/WEINBERGER: Polka from Schwanda the Bagpiper/CHABRIER: Espana; Joyeuse Marche/OFFENBACH: Barcarolle from Tales of Hoffmann
Helga Dernesch, soprano Philharmonia Orchestra Berlin Philharmonic (Wagner) Vienna Philharmonic (Strauss) RAI Rome (Walton)
EMI Great Conductors of the 20th Century 36 5 62869 2 79:52; 79:41****:
“A genius but a total megalomaniac,” quipped Boris Goldovsky when I asked him to comment on Herbert von Karajan (1908-1991), with whom Goldovsky had worked at the Vienna State Opera. One of the stellar conducting talents of the last century, Karajan would always elicit a double response, one for his impeccable musicianship, another for his all-too-human foibles. “The Nazis can claim to have produced very few geniuses,” offered one critic, “but doubtless Karajan is one of them.” Ever the opportunist, Karajan joined the Nazi Party–twice–in order to secure improved appointments and better working conditions. Between Ulm, Aachen, and Salzburg, Karajan built a career using both Furtwaengler and Toscanini as his musical models. With his appointment to Walter Legge’s Philharmonia Orchestra in 1948, Karajan could hone a hand-picked ensemble and refine the rounded sound that he would impose on the Berlin Philharmonic after 1955. Along with his infallible ear, Karajan had a refined eye, and his visual sense found a perfect medium in the video-taping of his own performances, which he scripted himself. For me, his sound exploded into a wall of objectivist perfection around 1970, with the publication of his Ring Cycle for DGG. My only quibble with the Karajan sound was its utter seamlessness – a smooth, contrived veneer that would tolerate no rough edge even where the music required it.
The EMI collection embraces inscriptions Karajan made 1949-1971 mostly with the Philharmonia of London, with smooth and suave renditions of Waldteufel, Liszt, and Chabrier. The Sibelius A Minor Symphony from July 1953 is special since Karajan had an innate grasp of the style, even in this most harmonically audacious moment of the cycle. Curiously, Karajan never attempted the C Major Symphony No. 3 on record, having constantly resided thoughts about how to avoid an anticlimax in the last movement. The Philharmonia recordings are all examples of clean linear playing in the Toscanini literalist mode. While the little polka from the Vienna Philharmonic is light and witty, the orchestra was Furtwaengler’s mistress at the time and so basked in his and perhaps the Knappertsbusch aesthetic.
EMI might have taken some of the 1958 Strauss work with Gueden for a more lively source. More musically fascinating is the rare appearance of the music of William Walton in Italy, with the knotty Symphony No. 1 in Rome, 5 December 1953 – a live recording of a work that must have both dazzled and bewildered its audience. The Mussorgsky is silky and refined, a showpiece certainly for the wind and brass choirs which blend homogeneously in a meshed fabric. I confess to being unused to hearing the Weinberger polka without its attached fugue, so I am a bit puzzled by its appearance in this set. The Dernesch Liebestod is of course a perfect example of the new (1971), lustrous, coldly shimmering, aural monument Karajan honed for the Berlin Philharmonic. For me it worked wonderfully well for the set of Suppe overtures Karajan recorded, as well as in the sublime opening from the Die Goetterdaemmerung set of the Ring.
When I attended Easter-Fest in Salzburg in 1989 there were two icons pasted on every billboard and posted in every shop window: Boris Becker and Herbert von Karajan. Karajan was by then quite frail, his back problems only permitting him intermittent stretches at the podium; he approached it using a walker. He led two concerts – one with Kissin in the Tchaikovsky Concerto, the other the Verdi Requiem. A life filled with intrigues, political and romantic, sportsmanship on snow and water and in fast cars, Karajan’s mystique had been the adventurer’s, in art and in fact. He was a player in every way and with everyone.
Hans Rosbaud: The Complete Recordings on Deutsche Gramophon = BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 “Emperor”/BERG: 3 Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6/BLACHER: Concertante Music, Op. 10; Piano Concerto No. 2 “In Variable Meters,” Op. 42/HAYDN: Symphony No. 92 in G “Oxford”; Symphony No. 104 in D “London”/MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, K. 218/RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18/SIBELIUS: Tapiola; Karelia Suite; Finlandia; Swan of Tuonela; Festivo; Valse Triste/STRAVINSKY: Petrouchka Ballet; Agon/WEBERN: 6 Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6
Robert Casadesus, piano (Beethoven) Gerty Herzog, piano (Blacher) Julian von Karolyi, piano (Rachmaninov) Luctor Ponse, piano (Petrouchka) Wolfgang Schneiderhan, violin
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Munich Philharmonic (Rachmaninov) Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam (Beethoven, Petrouchka) SWF Symphony Orchestra, Baden-Baden (Berg, Webern, Agon)
DGG 477 089-2 72:28; 71:02; 61:50; 60:35; 53:07 (Distrib. Universal)*****:
For admirers of the legendary conductor Hans Rosbaud (1895-1962), this set is a collectors prize possession, re-instating into the artist’s catalogue the Blacher and Rachmaninov recordings that had become most elusive. Rosbaud’s American protégé, Richard Kapp, always speaks glowingly about Rosbaud’s “immaculate technique” and his “complete command of the most diverse repertory, an astonishing balance of the classics with the most avant-garde of his contemporaries: Blacher, Nono, Dallapiccola, Egk, Boulez, Stravinsky, Penderecki, Xenakis, Messaien, Bartok, Berg, Schoenberg, Webern. Much like his colleague Hermann Scherchen and his work in Gravesano, Rosbaud fashioned the South-West German Radio Orchestra in Baden-Baden as a special instrument for the rehearsal and performance of demanding compositions. In the mid-1940&Mac226;s, during the War years, Rosbaud began making some records for RRG with pianist Eduard Erdmann which established Rosbaud’s capacities as a superior accompanist. EMI grabbed him up for late piano concertos with Gieseking; Electrola assigned him the infrequent Reger Piano Concerto with Then-Bergh, a performance collectors eagerly await for CD transfer. As leader of the Aix-en-Provence Festival, Rosbaud also left us some classic Mozart, Schubert, and Gluck
Much of the material in this collation has been available singly, such as the Mozart-Haydn and all-Sibelius discs, as well as the Philips single of the Emperor Concerto, a viscerally fluid account with Robert Casadesus from 4 February 1961. The Sibelius entries are exquisite, sumptuously wrought sonically and marked dramatic without ever becoming maudlin. The Op. 25, No. 3 Festivo (Bolero) has been a personal favorite for over 35 years, superior to Beecham, to anyone. The opening of Karelia Suite is a mite marcato, a tendency Rosbaud uses in several works to be able to create an accelerated contrast later on. The Valse triste is delicate in a way that only the Berg and Webern pieces could have anticipated. The Rachmaninov Concerto (7 May 1948) with Chopin specialist Julian von Karolyi, while in the literalist tradition, has a momentum and lushness of realization that disarm all skeptics and ravish aficionados. No less beguiling are the two works of Boris Blacher, wrought in a jazzily pointillist and metrically intricate style, but remarkably transparent in texture in the manner of Gottfried von Einem -whose own Piano Concerto Blacher’s wife, Gerty Herzog, performed with Fricsay.
The two Stravinsky ballets come from opposite aesthetics: the Petrouchka is from the fertile Russian period of 1913, when the Rimsky-Korsakov influence was still strong, albeit cross-fertilized with bitonal harmony and inklings of The Rite of Spring. Agon, on the other hand, represents Stravinsky’s concession to serialism and expressionistic movement, some sixteen jerky and often convulsive modes and gestures whose dissonant substructure is revealed in a way that must have opened the ears of Pierre Boulez as a model of deconstructionism. The original Westminster recording of the Berg-Webern-Stravinsky combination used to be a common sight at the remainder bin of Sam Goody’s Record Shop. Lastly, the classics, the Haydn and Mozart, realized in the most glorious Technicolor imaginable. The Haydn “London” Symphony has everything one wants from this piece–grandeur, breadth, singing lines, nobility of phrase, an irradiated orchestral tone. The Oxford Symphony has elegance and wit to spare, not to mention poise and balance of textures. The Mozart D Major Concerto (15 March 1956) finds Schneiderhahn in top form. Collectors still await the return of his Beethoven Concerto with Furtwaengler from May 1953 which graced the “Furtwaengler in Memoriam” set. With Rosbaud he is in more restrained and staid company but no less in the presence of a consummate master of his trade.
CHOPIN: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35; Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58; 4 Scherzos; 4 Ballades
Cecile Ousset, piano
EMI Classics 5 85511 2 64:04; 61:10***:
A basic Chopin piano legacy, recorded in 1987 with a competent, even poetic interpreter, Cecile Ousset, who made something of a splash in Gallic repertory fifteen years ago. Ousset has a fine command of the digital and emotional filigree of the B-flat Minor Sonata, and her bold explorations in the harmonic labyrinths may remind some auditors of her compatriot Jeanne-Marie Darre. Ousset carries a strong, pianistic punch; no marshmallow dynamics for this performer. Occasionally, for my taste, Ousset takes passages too quickly, making the G Minor Ballade a colossal but peremptory etude. When she does linger over a subject, as in the Largo of the B Minor Sonata or the trio of the famous Funeral March, it can be most affecting. Ousset’s Scherzi are brisk, temperamental and expansive, much in the grand tradition we associate with Cortot and Rubinstein, except, like too many French interpreters, she plays the C# Minor too fast. I like her way with the F Major Ballade, since it reminds me of the treatment Robert Casadesus afforded this alternately dreamy and volcanic piece. Whatever glories I may celebrate about this set, I can only speculate whether its relatively undistinguished performer, by today’s lights, will glean any enduring shelf-life, given the staggering number of pianists available in this same program. Call it a sleeper, but let yourself in for a pleasant wake-up call. Recorded sound from EMI’s Abbey Road studios under engineer Mark Vigars is warm and vital.
SCHUBERT: Moments musicaux, D. 780, Nos. 1 in C; No. 3 in F Minor; No. 6 in A-flat Major; Sonata in E Minor, D. 566/CHOPIN: Barcarolle in F# Major, Op. 60/LISZT: Sonata in B Minor
Sviatoslav Richter, piano
BBC Legends BBCL 4146-2 (Distrib. Koch) 79:39****:
Some glorious Schubert performed by the impeccable Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) from two Aldeburgh Festival performances: the E Minor Sonata from 20 June 1964, the three Moments musicaux from 22 June 1965. The Chopin and Liszt selections derive from the same recital at Parish Church, Aldeburgh, 21 June 1966. The revelation here is Schubert’s 1817 Sonata in E minor composed at age nineteen, likely in two movements in order to parallel Beethoven’s sonata in the same key, Op. 90. Richter attaches a Scherzo in A-flat as a middle movement between two movements in the home key, forming a kind of sonata-arch marked by the most tender playing of Moderato&Mac226; one is likely to hear. Never the integralist, Richter plays three of the D. 780 Moments musicaux, again with a studied slowness of tempo that oozes melancholy and intimate yearning. The A-flat final piece of the triptych gropes for some kind of light at the end of a troubled tunnel.
The Chopin is supple in Richter’s usual, granite cast. The playing is more suggestive of a stormy nightride and sunrise than of a lulling sojourn on a gondola. Finally, a towering performance of the Liszt B Minor Sonata, a Richter staple realized at the height of his monumental powers. Liszt’s demands for ever-increased momentum and flights of impetuous fioitura–like stringendo, calzando, vivamente, con strepito–leading to the wild fugato and stretti that move from Presto to Prestisimo, all testify to a dazzling array of pianistic rhetoric and romantic temperament in one singular vision. Not the least of Richter’s virtues is the eminently singing quality of his melodic lines. Quite a whirlwind performance to complement the most delicate textures of the Schubert pieces, a real coup on all counts.
A pair of competing Dvorak Cello Concertos next…
DVORAK: Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104/BRAHMS: Double Concerto in A Minor, Op. 102
Zino Franceacatti, violin/Pierre Fournier, cello/Sir Colin Davis conducts BBC Symphony Orchestra (Dvorak)/Sir Malcolm Sargent conducts BBC Symphony Orchestra
BBC Legends BBCL 4149-2 72:49 (Distrib. Koch)****:
Under the rubric “Two Eminent French Brahmins,” the BBC has issued two marvelous concerts played by two outstanding Gallic artists, cellist Pierre Fournier (1902-1986) and violinist Zino Francescatti (1902-1991), both of whom sported noble and lovely instrumental tone. The Dvorak Concerto with Fournier and Sir Colin Davis dates from 14 March 1973. The Dvorak Concerto fascinated Fournier, who made three commercial recordings of the work, the most successful of which seems to be his earliest with Kubelik. Sir Colin Davis opens the orchestral proceedings with a rather detached emotional tutti, but he warms up as his soloist asserts ever more forceful declamations through the first movement. The second movement Adagio ma non troppo has rarely suffered any accomplished performer’s mishap: it is this movement that captivated the imagination of Brahms, to which his own Double Concerto is a kind of oblique response.
The last movement has all the ingredients: zest, rhythmic vitality, and a heartfelt hymnody that make for a rendition to remember.
The Brahms Double Concerto with Sir Malcolm Sargent derives from a Edinburgh Festival concert 30 August 1955, around the time the two soloists performed the work for CBS with Bruno Walter. The two string players had also joined pianist Solomon Cutner for trio repertory; and one wonders if there are records of that serendipitous trio. Sargent, who had done admirably good work with the Oistrakh Trio in their inscription of the Beethoven Triple Concerto, fares just as well here in Brahms, applying a steady but not too heavy hand. The sound throughout is a bit distant but the interchanges between the two strings and the warmth of the BBC horns and strings still manage to evoke a robust Brahms interpretation. Those addicted to the svelte Francescatti tone and poised phrasing will covet this disc as much as those who continue to admire the unspoiled purity of the Fournier experience.
DVORAK: Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104/IBERT: Concerto for Cello and Winds
Jacqueline du Pré, cello/Sir Charles Groves conducts Royal Liverpool Philharmonic/Michael Krein conducts Michael Krein Orchestra (Ibert)
BBC Legends BBCL 4156-2 54:55 (Distrib. Koch)****:
An important document for the legacy of the gifted Jacqueline du Pre (1945-1987), the stellar talent who left us much too soon, and whose recorded output will advance astronomically with this issue of the two works included here. The Dvorak Concerto with Sir Charles Groves (25 July 1969) is simply rousing, with excellent support from the underestimated Groves (1915-1992). The canvas is large, the sweep inexorable, but without the sacrifice of the intimate details of rhythm and dynamics, especially pianissimos, that mark du Pre’s fine grasp of a work she had only taken on in 1965. She plays in the unbuttoned romantic style, with slides and luftpausen to spare. The second movement communicates a particular warmth, the tender interplay of winds and solo cello that make the piece a ravishing study in heroic nostalgia. The Ibert (1925) is taken from a studio session 12 February 1962. The piece is a blend of Paris and Stravinsky, a deftly facile work that few cellists, excepting Navarra, seem to have relished. It requires a light hand and quick articulation of the wrist and bowing arm, even calling for “suppleness” in the second movement Romance. Conductor Michael Krein, something of a crossover saxophone virtuoso, had gathered some of Britain’s exceptional wind players for this collaboration, and the result is both breezy and piquant. The dry wit and quirky, asymmetrical metric patterns are challenges du Pre relishes, and the result is a happy, even explosive rendition of a neglected little masterpiece.