Classical Reissue Reviews
Reissue CD Reviews, Pt. 1 of 2
Published on March 1, 2005
March 2005, Pt. 1 of 2 [Pt. 2]
VIVALDI: The Battle Between Harmony and Invention, Op. 8; Concerto in D Major for 2 Violins, KV 513
Louis Kaufman, violin Peter Rybar, violin (KV 513) Henry Swoboda conducts Concert Hall Symphony Orchestra (The Four Seasons) Clemens Dahinden conducts Winterthur Symphony Orchestra, Zurich
Naxos 8.110297-98 TT: 126:34****:
For those of us who came to the Baroque revival, and especially the Vivaldi revival of the 1960’s, courtesy of DeKoven and a few select others, the complete Op. 8 of Vivaldi – his set of 12 violin concertos whose opening four became world-renowned as The Four Seasons – Op. 8 found expression through Renato Fasano with violinist Roberto Michelucci. But the initial rediscovery of Vivaldi had occurred half a generation earlier, in 1947, when Henry Swoboda and Louis Kaufman (1905-2004) recorded The Four Seasons and then contacted Dario Soria, who put them in touch with musicologist Gian Francesco Malipiero to uncover in Brussels the remaining eight concertos of Op. 8. Naxos now collates the December 1947 inscription of The Four Seasons with the August 1950 Zurich recordings of the other concertos as issued by the Concert Hall label.
The artistry of Louis Kaufman enjoys a documentation dating back to the 1920’s, and it includes music as diverse as Still and Wiren, Sauguet and Larsson. Sporting a sweet but relatively small tone, Kaufman’s violin takes some amplification to achieve a pungent effect, but his playing has exactness and refined taste. There are few romantic mannerisms in his approach, which tends to speed and linear propulsion. He favors a chaste bowing technique and a fast vibrato. The Four Seasons sessions from Carnegie Hall took place after midnight and featured members of the New York Philharmonic string section. The sheer joy of musical discovery that begins the E-flat Concerto “The Tempest at Sea” carries right through the entire traversal of Op. 8, which still sounds fresh to those of us who admittedly rarely explore the oeuvre beyond the opening four. The added feature of violinist Peter Rybar (1913-2002) for the D Major Concerto recalls for many of us this artist’s own sojourns into unusual and neglected repertory, plied earnestly and skillfully. This set comes highly recommended. [And sound is very good considering the pre-tape origin of the materials...Ed.]
TCHAIKOVSKY: The Nutcracker–Suite, Op. 71a; Romeo and Juliet–Fantasy Overture/WEBER: Oberon Overture/GLAZOUNOV: Stenka Razin, Op. 13
Leo Borchard conducts Berlin Philharmonic
TAHRA TAH 520 73:34 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:
Few collectors recall Leo Borchard (1899-1945), the fine musician who led the first twenty-two concerts of the Berlin Philharmonic directly after the fall of National Socialism while Furtwaengler awaited de-Nazification proceedings. Having recorded some 35 sides for Telefunken, Borchard had a strong rapport with the Berlin ensemble, and for some time his inscription of Stenka Razin, due to Melodiya misinformation, was wrongly attributed to Furtwangler. A member of the anti-Nazi resistance, Borchard died after having performed for the Allies: his jeep driver ran a GI command post and the jeep took several bullets, one of which killed Borchard.
A pupil of Hermann Scherchen and Eduard Erdmann, Borchard was a champion of the new German wave represented by Blacher and Einem. The bulk of the recordings on this TAHRA collation derive from matrices inscribed 1934-1935. Except for the Romeo and Juliet Overture, the performances reveal few romantic mannerisms, mostly being literalist and minimally sentimental. The delicacy of phrasing in The Nutcracker likens Borchard to Paul van Kempen or to some moments from Stokowski. Glazounov was a rarity for German conductors to program; it was Ernest Lumpe who finally put to rest any relationship between the Stenka Razin and Furtwaengler, just as he had prior disabused us of the Furtwaengler New World Symphony. The Romeo shows us Borchard’s more expansive character in music. The accompanying booklet includes photographs provided by the daughter of Borchard’s companion, the writer Ruth-Andreas Friedrich. For those who wish to fill in the musical gap between Furtwaengler and Celibidache in the leadership of the BPO, the Borchard CD provides some luminous insights.
SCHUMANN: Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44/BRAHMS: Piano Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 26
Clifford Curzon, piano/Budapest String Quartet
Naxos 8.110306 77:01 ****:
Naxos touts this excellent pair of transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn as the first of two volumes dedicated to the CBS collaborations from Clifford Curzon (1907-1982) and the Budapest Quartet. The original recordings date from April 28-29, 1951 (Schumann) and April 27-28, 1952 (Brahms) are were issued on the CBS label as distinct LPs, ML 4426 and ML 4630. Curzon is one of two superb artists I lost the pleasure of meeting in Atlanta (the other was Igor Markevitch) when death robbed us of his talent, just as he (and Markevitch) had been slated to appear with the ASO in 1983. The collaboration of Curzon with the Budapest Quartet in the A Major Dvorak Quintet (ML 4425), scheduled for later release, is among my treasures of the LP music format.
In spite of daunting pianistic gifts and prowess, Curzon always favored a low-profile approach, subduing his bravura to his lyric impulses. The influences of both Schnabel and Solomon may have been factors in Curzon&Mac226;s dynamic restraint, along with his innate musicianship and sense of ensemble. Despite some very dry acoustics, especially at the Library of Congress sessions at Coolidge Auditorium, the pliant, tender sweetness of the romantic composers&Mac226; nostalgic yearning manages a velvet glow. For the Schumann Quintet, the second violinist is Jac Gorodetzky. The performances are in the literalist manner, with little intrusion by way of exaggerated personality, but the forward motion and intimate persuasiveness never falter. I have always thought the A Major Quartet of Brahms the most sprawling, the least concentrated of the three, although it is rife with Bach allusions and a few gypsy tricks Brahms had imbibed from work with violinist Remenyi. The consistently fleet and idiomatic quality of the playing makes us wish that master Obert-Thorn and his Naxos cohorts would explore the entire Prades and Perpignan Festival legacies as well.
FRANCK: Symphony in D Minor/LALO: Symphony in G Minor/FAURE: Pavane, Op. 50
Sir Thomas Beecham conducts French National Radio Orchestra
EMI Great Artists of the Century 7243 4 62949 2 71:25 ****:
From the last recorded sessions of Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961), these alternately happy and explosive 1959 readings of French repertory certify Sir Thomas&Mac226; long familiarity with pieces popular and relatively rare, as the Lalo Symphony which Beecham programmed as far back as 1907, though few conductors excepting Antonio de Almeida picked up the volatile piece after. Beecham plays the Franck for its forward motion, trying by sheer force of graduated momentum to overcome its four-square bar lengths and innate repetitions. It is rather a vehement and liquid affair, not the incense-burning vapors that Furtwaengler and Mengelberg found in the score. Some wonderful individual voices from Beecham’s woodwinds and a sturdy brass complement make for fervid and even febrile moments in this autumnal work. The Lalo has a bubbly and inexorable pace in its final Allegro that has always kept me enchanted through any number of hearings, The lovely Faure Pavane occurred to the EMI engineers as an afterthought, but Beecham makes its diaphanous lyricism his very own, the gentle pizzicati bass a perfect foil for the swaying treble. Perfection from the Old Master, need I say more?
DELIUS: Paris–The Song of a Great City; In a Summer Garden; Summer Night on the River; Eventyr–Once Upon a Time; Over the Hills and Far Away
Sir Thomas Beecham conducts London Philharmonic Orchestra
Dutton CDBP 9745 71:29 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:
Recorded 1934-1936 under the aegis of the Delius Society and producer Walter Legge, these classic inscriptions of the music of Frederick Delius (d. 1934) remain the standard by which all performances of his music are judged. Beecham had premiered the London Philharmonic in 1932; and having received rave reviews for the superior quality of ensemble excellence, Beecham immediately launched a campaign of inscriptions to preserve his thoughts on his favorite composers, Mozart, Handel and Delius.
My readers know that I am not an avid devotee of Delius, that I find his music, like that of Respighi, sonically pleasant but almost devoid of depth. For me, Delius makes color effects, an impressionistic response to the influence of Debussy, without the sense of innovation. But Beecham plays his music with such absolute conviction and superb attention to color details, with soloists like Reginald Kell and Leon Goossens in the woodwinds, that I am compelled to listen seriously. Still, Paris sounds like a pastiche or divertissement, and the two Summer pieces weak imitations of Wagner’s Forest Murmurs. Delius called many of his works “songs,” and I do think he earned the appellation because of a natural melodic gift. Beecham accords these works a serenity of mood and a religious aura that keep Delius acolytes enthralled. Hear why in these stunning restorations.
HANDEL: Six Violin Sonatas, Op. 1/BACH: Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004
Alfredo Campoli, violin George Malcolm, harpsichord
Testament SBT 1358 74:47 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:
Recordings from July 1952 and June 1948 (Bach) from the Italian violinist Alfredo Campoli (1906-1991), whose career found its true home in England. Always sporting an elegant tone which he coaxed from his 1702 Stradivarius, Campoli recorded the Handel sonatas (some of which are spurious additions to the Handel catalogue) with harpsichordist and choral conductor George Malcolm (1917-1997) at a time when Mischa Elman and Nathan Milstein were likewise playing Handel, but with [less authentic] piano accompaniment. The most famous of the set, No. 13 in D, has Campoli pressing the material hard in the Milstein fashion, but with a noble, exalted line and smooth finish strictly his own. The vocal style Alfredo had imitated in his early lessons under his parents still applies to the polished master.
Of the less authentic opera in this set, the No. 14 in A seems to have been composed by some anonymous Italian composer with a gift for stately declamation. Its second movement Allegro makes a few more bravura demands on the soloist than the others in the set. The Bach Chaconne of 1948 is excerpted from a complete Partita inscription, the only solo Bach in Campoli’s legacy. It has an almost martial air as it proceeds, relatively slowly paced but with a strong sense of transition between the sections as the momentum increases. Campoli manages to retain its dance-like, even intimate character, while in the midst of strident and filigree-rich dialogues among the voices – a real coup given the limited audience to whom this historic reissue will appeal.
SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54/HINDEMITH: The Four Temperaments
Clara Haskil, piano /Paul Kletzki conducts Resident Orchestra, Holland Festival, the Hague/Hans Rosbaud conducts SW Radio Orchestra, Baden-Baden (Hindemith) – TAHRA TAH 540 55:43 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi) ****:
Clara Haskil (1895-1960) retains her cult status as a Mozartean par excellence, a canny purveyor of the classical arch and the very model of interior clarity. Like her fellow Roumanian, Dinu Lipatti, Haskil maintained a small circle of accomplished works which she reworked continually, polishing every performance without any loss of spontaneity. Schumann had a way of realizing Haskil’s own childlike simplicity, a quality Wordsworth, Whitman and even Dickens extol. While she came to abhor her commercial recording of the Schumann with Willem van Otterloo, her many readings of the Schumann Concerto in performance have yielded some heated results, as in the 9 July 1953 collaboration with the gifted Paul Kletzki from the Hague. The first movement cadenza is a marvel of knotty polyphony, and, in spite of a few finger-slips, the entire performance has passion and lyrical sway.
From earlier the same year, 4 March 1953, we hear Haskil in concert with one of the great arbiters of the modern German school, Hans Rosbaud, in Hindemith’s four-movement tone-poem to human nature. Few would credit Hindemith with a “melodic” gift, but Rosbaud infuses the Sanguine section of the concert with an almost Viennese lilt. Rosbaud has the string section using only the tip of the bow to effect some detache sentiments, a lean texture that undergirds Haskil&Mac226;s colorful riffs. There now exist two versions of the Hindemith in disc form, the other with the composer from Montreux, 1957. They performed the piece in Munich in 1955; and Haskil has a performance with conductor Michl from Saarbruecken, 1952, that may see the light of day. Meanwhile, this is a vivid, hearty tribute to Clara Haskil; and the extended, valedictory speech by Igor Markevitch in the enclosed booklet makes a marvelous case for her illustrious talent.
DEBUSSY: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun; La Mer; Two Nocturnes; Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien–Symphonic Fragments/RAVEL: Pavane pour une infante defunte
Guido Cantelli conducts Philharmonia Orchestra
EMI Great Artists of the Century 7243 5 62951 72:57****:
Sessions from EMI archives 1954-1955 with the legendary and tragic Guido Cantelli (1920-1956) and the Philharmonia Orchestra, then in its heyday as a premier assemblage of gifted principals. Cantelli’s Debussy is the soul of clarity, even in the deliberately smeared textures of the Faun, where Dennis Brain’s horn response to the opening flute is transparent as fine glass. The two nocturnes enjoy a shimmering patina, albeit in a rather literalist rendition. Very suave woodwind ensemble keeps the Fetes moving, along with some delicately paced staccati in the strings. The La Mer is played for buoyancy and speed, for the sheer delight in color and orchestral musculature. Cantelli maintained a consistent affection for Debussy’s 1911 hybrid oratorio, The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastien, even inscribing a rendition for RAI. Its transparent and exotic harmonies enjoy Cantelli’s lavishing infinite care over phrase and nuance, eliciting as definitive a reading of this rarified work as can be wrought. The classic chaste lines of Ravel’s Spanish court dance unfold with tender grace, a testament to Cantelli’s painstaking, if occasionally impatient, methods with the orchestra that most perfectly realized his musical ideas.