Classical Reissue Reviews
Classical Reissue Reviews, Pt. 2 of 2
Published on February 1, 2005
BEETHOVEN: The Complete Symphonies; Leonore Overture No. 3; Egmont Overture; Coriolan Overture; King Stephen Overture; Leonore Overture No. 1; Fidelio Overture; The Creatures of Prometheus–Ballet, Op. 43/MOZART: Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551 “Jupiter”
Adele Addison, soprano/Jane Hobson, mezzo-soprano/Richard Lewis, tenor/Donald Bell, baritone/George Szell conducts Cleveland Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra Chorus (with Robert Shaw); Louis Lane conducts Cleveland Orchestra (Creatures pf Prometheus)
Sony, The Original Jacket Collection (10 CDs) – 8 hrs. 12 mins.****:
Recorded 1957-1967, the survey of the Beethoven Nine Symphonies by George Szell (1897-1970) remains to many a touchstone for comparative interpretations, given Szell’s penchant for dynamic linear clarity and crisp articulation of individual parts. Having been impressed, even awed, by Toscanini’s example in 1930, the Hungarian born and German- trained Szell applied the literalist tradition to technical perfection, striving for the utmost balance in the articulation of figures and the distribution of dynamics. Szell’s twenty-four year tenure in Cleveland raised the ensemble honed by Rodzinski and Leinsdorf into a virtuoso orchestra the envy of all but a few orchestras in the world. For sheer brilliance of execution, perhaps only Mravinsky’s Leningrad Philharmonic could boast an equal dedication to homogeneity of tone and individual discipline subordinated to the conductor’s vision.
The formatting for this boxed set is as much a selling point as the virile performances it contains: the 10-CD package contains the individual LP disc jackets, with their original notes in tiny print, as they appeared on the Epic label in the late 1950’s through middle 1960s. While integral surveys of the Beethoven symphonies rarely present us with equally satisfying renditions of all the works, Szell likely comes as close as anyone to fulfilling the demands for architecture, drama, lyricism, and vivid sound.
The 1957 Eroica received a good deal of attention in its initial release, and it is a strong rendition with some whirlwind wind and brass playing in the later movements. The D Major Symphony from October 1964 is fleet and muscular in conception, effectively graduated in its approach to the lullaby of the Larghetto which Berlioz so admired. Szell’s Pastoral Symphony is worth mentioning for the broadness of its vista and the relatively relaxed ambiance of the Cleveland players, where it seems Szell invited them to luxuriate in each other’s sonorities. The 1959 Seventh Symphony is energetic certainly but it does not surpass Beecham or Stokowski’s unbuttoned, even more spontaneous histrionics in this most rhythmic of Beethoven symphonies. The Ninth from April 1961 gained for its principals immediate recognition in its original release as a high point in Ninth interpretations, with its forward-moving impetus towards the choral finale. A splendid vocal quartet and impassioned execution throughout still makes it a riveting experience. Szell’s way with Beethoven’s Fifth, here from 1963, was almost as well regarded as the many Furtwaengler versions of this intense piece.
Less martial than some of his other approaches, the Szell Fifth still raises the rooftops and the hairs on your arm. It is coupled with his Mozart Jupiter, a streamlined account that allows the fugal entries in the finale their clear interior design and a fluid integration into the mix. My old teacher Stefan Bauer-Mengelberg, a former assistant to Szell, once remarked, “Szell tried his damnedest to be a total martinet, but Mozart would melt the humanity from him, in spite of himself.”
For the remainder of set – the various Beethoven overtures – the King Stephen stands out to this reviewer because I saw Szell lead this piece in New York not too long before his death. The Leonore No. 3 enjoys Szell’s patient and painstaking attention to orchestral anagogic details, before he allows the emotional tempest to sweep us to a fiery peroration. The reissue of Louis Lane’s April 1967 tour through the complete ballet The Creatures of Prometheus is a delightful reminder how competent this least popular (with the Atlanta Symphony, where he shared honors with Robert Shaw) of the Szell acolytes became. A dedicated and astute orchestral technician himself, Lane proved his mettle many times (in the Erb Cello Concerto with Lynn Harrell, for example), despite an acerbic character that alienated his ensembles. Still, Lane was infinitely more versatile and stylistic in French music than the overly Teutonic Robert Shaw could ever be. This entire set is quite a reissue coup for Sony, and I recommend it as a glorified Christmas present to oneself.
HAYDN: Symphony No. 82 in C “The Bear;” Symphony No. 103 in E-flat Major “Drum Roll;” Symphony No. 92 in G Major “Oxford”
Gunter Wand conducts Guerzenich Orchestra of Cologne
Testament SBT 1356 67:51 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:
I continue to find myself beguiled by the spirited, unbuttoned playing by the younger Gunter Wand (1912-2002), here in 1956-1959 inscriptions that belie the impression of the pedestrian tradition-bound kapellmeister whose RCA recordings of the late 1990’s bored me silly. These recordings for Club Francais du Disque of three Haydn symphonies provide what we require in Haydn of verve, éclat, earthiness, and musical sophistication. The earliest recording is the Oxford from June 12, 1956, a lean, vibrant reading that exudes some old-world charm although its brilliance affects me a bit less than the Rosbaud recording for DGG.
The opening work, the C Major Symphony, “The Bear,” has an immediacy of appeal and vigorous approach that compete with versions by Ansermet and Matacic. My own first impression on record of the Haydn Drum Roll was with Munch and the Boston Symphony, and not the more heralded Beecham CBS inscription. I find this Drum Roll unaffected and spirited, especially in the interior movements. The sound of these inscriptions has a rough piercing top, perhaps the effect of having only one sound engineer, but it is no more harsh than my old Epic LPs from Prtichard on Mozart. If there were a recording of Wand’s preferred Symphony No. 76 by Haydn, I would want that too.
Battle of the Beethoven Violin Concertos =
BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61/BACH: Prelude from Partita No. 3 in E, 1006/PAGANINI: 2 Caprices/FALLA: Jota and Asturias from Suite populaire espagnole/NOVACEK: Perpetuum mobile
Nathan Milstein, violin Sir Adrian Boult conducts London Philharmonic Orchestra Ernest Lush, piano
BBC Legends BBCL 4151-2 72:26 (Distrib. Koch)****:
Perhaps considered too “intellectual” a violinist to capture the British public’s fond affection, Nathan Milstein (1903-1992) still made a considerable sensation with this performance of the Beethoven Concerto, inscribed at Royal Festival Hall September 29, 1968. One of the premier Russian émigrés to America from the school of Leopold Auer, Milstein possessed an aggressive, fluid technique and predilection for fast tempos that often left weaker conductors in the musical dust. Sir Adrian Boult, himself a Toscanini (and Nikisch) acolyte in the matter of brisk tempos, has no trouble maintaining the long linear course through the labyrinths of this mighty work.
In the enchanting interview segment with John Amis (7 November 1991) of this disc, Milstein quips how un-violinist Beethoven’s writing is, especially with the demanding half-steps of the violin entry, “which I’ve never heard anyone play exactly on pitch, not even myself,” Milstein remarks. Milstein plays his own cadenzas, and they seem a composite of Kreisler, Joachim, and his own blending of color-effects. After a poised, noble G Major Larghetto the last movement Rondo gains a liveliness and wit as it accelerates to the resounding conclusion, when a mesmerized audience cuts loose in appreciation.
The Bach, Falla, Paganini, and Novacek pieces are products of Milstein’s visit to the BBC studios in 1957 and 1963 (Bach), with his firm grasp of Bach&Mac226;s flexible, polyphonic line, aided by Milstein’s own rubato. Milstein takes the two Paganini caprices at a gallop, the A Minor No. 5 especially brilliant. The little touches by veteran Ernest Lush in the two Falla excerpts are pert and lithe. The breadth of the interview takes in discussion of Horowitz, reminiscences of Glazounov, and Milstein’s high regard for Bach over Paganini, since the latter “used tricks, while Bach had none.” We hear bits from a few of Milstein’s commercial recordings (Leinsdorf’s Beethoven, Steinberg’s Glazounov), eventually to let Bach have the last word from the glorious Partita Two Chaconne. Milstein remains one of the most consistently satisfying artists in my pantheon of musical stars.
BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61/BACH: Chaconne from Solo Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004
Henryk Szeryng, violin Otto Klemperer conducts Philharmonia Orchestra
Testament SBT 1353 60:01****:
Another in the series of Otto Klemperer appearances at the London Beethoven Festivals, this after a year’s hiatus because of Klemperer’s near-death experience while smoking in bed. Klemperer returned to the podium semi-paralyzed in October 1959 for an eight-concert series which included piano concertos with Anthony di Bonaventura and the Violin Concerto with the brilliant Henryk Szeryng (1918-1988). The Polish virtuoso has any number of premiers to his credit; this reviewer was fortunate enough to hear his North American debut of the Reynaldo Hahn Violin Concerto in D under Louis Lane in Atlanta in 1987.
Conductor Yoel Levi once called Henryk Szeryng “the best-prepared musician with whom I ever worked.” Trained in piano and violin, Szeryng was quite capable of laying out his tempos and figurations at the keyboard before realizing them of the violin. He and Klemeprer obviously were in accord as to the high seriousness of the scale they wished to apply to the Beethoven Concerto (November 16, 1959), and they collaborate in an interpretation that can only be called “mighty.” It is a real contender with the powerful Schneiderhahn-Furtwaengler “live” rendition from a few years prior, in 1953. The Royal Festival audience is absolutely rapt in this monumental vision, with Szeryng attacking the Joachim cadenza in no uncertain terms. The orchestra heaves, sighs, and bristles with heaven-storming excitement. No less spectacular is the 1967 Chaconne Szeryng inscribed for broadcast from the London BBC studios. His pacing and application of dynamics testifies to a thorough command of the architecture of Bach’s daunting exercise in learned polyphony. This is a collector’s item if ever there was one.
SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43/DVORAK: Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88
Sir Thomas Beecham conducts BBC Symphony (Sibelius) and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Dvorak)
BBC Legends BBCL 4154-2 77:09 (Distrib. Koch)****:
Collectors will want to seize a copy of this BBC reissue immediately: the restoration of the famed 8 December 1954 Sibelius Second Symphony, a performance of epic and intimate beauty, at once demands its inclusion in the libraries of aficionados of composer and conductor alike. The LP version of this performance was among any Beechamite’s treasure trove, as was the immensely lyrical rendition of the Dvorak G Major Symphony, from 25 October 1959, a rendition that rivaled that of Vaclav Talich for sheer delight in the composer’s delicious and vivacious figures.
The many virtues of the Sibelius performance include what seems like a perfectly organic unfolding of the opening movement&Mac226;s unorthodox structure, with marvelous individual voicing from Gerald Jackson, flute; Alan Civil, horn; Gwydion Brooke, bassoon; and Jack Brymer, clarinet. In parts of the Dvorak, of which Beecham was especially fond, we can hear the conductor’s shouted urgings to his players, his enthusiasm absolutely electric in its communication to his ensemble. While the breadth of the Beecham D Major is not so histrionic and epically dramatic as the Koussevitzky reading from Boston in 1950, it is more genial and charming in cast, the climaxes neither forced nor underplayed. The Dvorak enjoys an interplay of strings and winds with Raymond Cohen’s solo violin providing its own magic to the thoroughly bucolic Adagio. By the time we reach the coda of the Dvorak’s last movement, Beecham winds the orchestra up for a Bohemian furiant and rushes the peroration to a close, invoking a mad ovation from the audience.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto in B-flat Minor, Op. 23; SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54
Artur Rubinstein, piano/Carlo Maria Giulini conducts Philharmonia Orchestra/ Rudolf Schwarz conducts BBC Symphony Orchestra (Schumann)
BBC Legends BBCL 4152-2 74:10 (Distrib. Koch)****:
Two sterling examples of the extroverted, communicative playing of Polish virtuoso Artur Rubinstein (1887-1982) when seated before an audience, here in two concertos essentially cut from the same cloth. The collaboration with Carlo Maria Giulini (b. 1914) from 16 May 1961 could be construed as yet another celebration of the conductor’s art as part of his 90th birthday festivities. The scale of the Tchaikovsky is quite large, no salon performance this. The scale reminds me of the Richter/Karajan collaboration with the Vienna Symphony but with entirely softer lines, a grace and warmth where Richter gives us granite and the icy Urals. The Schumann from 27 November 1957 is another liquid performance, with Rubinstein’s trying to get Florestan and Eusebius to converse in the first movement cadenza. Typical of Rubinstein, both concertos unfold with natural lyricism, seeming to play themselves without eccentricity or personal mannerism.
The brief interview (nine minutes) with Michael Oliver begins by debunking the notion of “tradition,” which Rubinstein dismisses as “a cheating word,” too often ascribed not to teachers but to materialistic dilettantes. Rubinstein relies on the individual’s working out problems and musical styles for himself; that there is no correct way to realize a piece but only discussions and feelings about a style. “I have no patience about technique,” states Rubinstein. “Critics busy watching for the tools are not hearing the music.” Rubinstein laughs that technique remains a problem for him, for all of his colleagues. “Hands are not made by a steel company, but by God.” As for teachers in his early years, Rubinstein boasts modestly that they did not help him, but he them. He calls pianists “propagandists” for composers, helping to promote their pieces, helping to raise money for them. Rubinstein uses Stravinsky as an example: “You are a terrible pianist, but why not write a little concerto for me, and you will make money and fees from this. And he listened to me, and he made money from the work, not from his ability at the keyboard.”
LALO: Cello Concerto in D minor; SAINT-SAENS: Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 33; BLOCH: Schelomo
Zara Nelsova, cello/Sir Adrian Boult conducts London Philharmonic/Ernest Ansermet conducts London Philharmonic (Bloch)
Testament SBT 1361 68:19 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:
A musician powerful enough have earned the sobriquet Queen of Cellists, Zara Nelsova (1918-2000) commanded a formidable technique and a broad repertory, though she is almost totally renowned for her interpretations of Ernest Bloch’s declamatory Schelomo, which she and the composer inscribed together for Decca. If Gina Bachauer were the “female Horowitz,” then Zara Nelsova was the “female Piatagorsky.” She studied with a wide variety of teachers, including Barbirolli, Cherniavsky, Casals, and briefly with her idol Emanuel Feuermann. It was through cellist Colin Hampton of the Griller Quartet that Nelsova met composer Ernest Bloch, and she and the composer soon played Voice in the Wilderness and From Jewish Life. She debuted the Barber Sonata in Europe, and she commissioned a sonata by Alexei Haiff. She and her husband Grant Johannesen made a fine duo, even recording works for the CBC.
The two French works with Sir Adrian Boult derive from January and December sessions in 1953. The high energy of the Lalo is matched by the tender delicacy of its Intermezzo, where he famed Nelsova rubato comes into play. The Saint-Saens has the same, glistening patina and quicksilver finesse that Piatagorsky achieved with Frederick Stock. The Nelsova tone relies on her magnificent instrument, a small but exquisite Peter Guarnerius. Despite the verve and persuasive accuracy of the French pieces, collectors will gravitate to the 1955 Schelomo, recorded with veteran Ernest Ansermet, who is in high gear for the prophet’s declamations among the “indignant desert birds.” A sturdy, passionate document from a decisive personality in music.