Classical Reissue Reviews
Reissue CD Reviews, Pt. 2 of 2
Published on March 1, 2005
March 2005, Pt. 2 of 2 [Pt. 1]
R. STRAUSS: Don Quixote, Op. 35; Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, Op. 60
Enrico Mainardi, cello/Richard Strauss conducts Berlin State Opera Orchestra
Dutton CDBP 9746 72:11 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:
Dutton has quite a coup in this disc, a superlatively quiet transfer of two classic interpretations by a master composer of his own works, with a great cellist, Enrico Mainardi (1897-1976), and a responsive orchestra. Strauss made a fine reputation as a conductor as well as a composer, making his first records in 1917 with excerpts from his Moliere suite, Op. 60. Strauss himself, similar to Fritz Reiner, depended on small gestures and a long baton to indicate his musical decisions, relying on the ensemble’s growing familiarity with his style to respond appropriately. Though Strauss later rerecorded these items in the 1940’s, the inscriptions offered here, the Polydor 1930 Op. 60 and the 1933 Don Quixote, stand among his most celebrated.
The 1933 version of Don Quixote is the second performance on record, the first being Beecham’s with Alfred Wallenstein and the New York Philharmonic. Strauss opts for brisk tempos, although Mainardi manages a romantic slide or portamento to capture Quixote’s anachronistic values. The viola solo is uncredited, but the expansive Dialogue of the Knight and His Squire has a real yearning and visionary power. Collectors will place this fine, lean account against their Feuermann/Ormandy rendition for comparative miracles of technique. The Op. 60 has had many excellent readings, from Clemens Krauss to Walter Strarum to this witty and light-footed version. The violinist in the swaggering Dance of the Tailors is the gifted but doomed Josef Wolfsthal (1899-1931), whose few surviving acetates have always been coveted by collectors. And Michael Dutton deserves some praise as well, having transferred 75-year-old records with little hint of their age, liberating only their timeless musical values.
MUNCH CONDUCTS BERLIOZ = Romeo and Juliette (1953); Les Nuits d’Ete; The Damnation of Faust; Overture to Beatrice and Benedict; The Corsair Overture, Benvento Cellini Overture; L’Enfance du Christ; Harold in Italy, Roman Carnival Overture; Requiem Op. 5; Symphonie fantastique (1954); Romeo and Juliette (1961); Symphonie fantastique (1962) Overture to Beatice and Benedict
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch
RCA Red Seal Complete Collections Series (9 CDs, stereo & mono) 82876-60393-2 ****:
This is really a complete collection, even to duplicate interpretations of both Romeo and Juliette and the Fantastic Symphony, similar to jazz collectors sets. Munch programmed many Berlioz works in his Boston Symphony concerts and is seen as one of the ideal interpreters of the very forward-looking French composer. Those who have preferred the Berlioz interpretations of Colin Davis due to their more recent taping will have greater competition from the Munch approach since these CDs extract the best fidelity yet from the RCA originals. Of course some of them are just mono – after all the lengthy BSO reign of the Alsatian conductor ran from l949 to 1962.
There is no identification as to which selections are mono and which stereo – one can only depend on the recording dates which are given in the 36-page booklet accompanying the set – and your ears. Those before about 1955 would have to be mono and stereo thereafter. the early Romeo and Juliette and The Damnation of Faust do not make it to the stereo era. It is interesting that simultaneously the Berlioz Requiem has just been issued on the Living Stereo multichannel SACD (3 channel) SACD series. (But without the surround channels for the brass choirs in this work designed by the composer for spatial performance, how much improvement can the third channel be?) All ten discs fit into individual little cardboard sleeves and thus the entire box is not much thicker than a double-CD set of just a few years ago.
The muscular vitality of Munch’s recording make them sound very up-to-date today, especially in the excellent remasterings, which do have a slight edge on the original RCA CDs. His soloists were also excellent – of the quality of Victoria de la Angeles, Berard Souzay, Leopold Simoneau, violist William Primrose and so on. Munch’s later version of the Symphonie fantastique is a bit more leisurely but benefits greatly from the improved stereo fidelity of the l962 recording date, so important to this very audiophile work. The Witches Sabbath really raises hell. While Toscanini’s Herold in Italy is a recognized classic, Munch’s scene-painting is more vivid and the sonics are so much better in stereo that there’s little question which is to be preferred. In fact, I found it one of the highlights of this massive set. Listen closely; it’s often mind-boggling to realize that Berlioz was active in the very early 1800s – he would not have been out of style even in the late 1800s!
There’s so much to discover in this wonderful set, which will keep you busy listening for a good long time (sorry, I didn’t add it up). There haven’t been many such superb combinations of composer and conductor in musical history, and music lovers owe a debt of gratitude to Victor for preserving these interpretations so successfully for future generations of listeners.
– John Sunier
Jascha Heifetz Live, Vol. 6 = PROVOST: Intermezzo/ GODOWSKY: Valse/BENJAMIN: Jamaican Rhumba/KROLL: Banjo and Fiddle/BENNETT: Jim Jives/SCHUBERT: Impromptu; Ave Maria/BEETHOVEN: Cadenza and Rondo from Violin Concerto in D/BRUCH: Adagio and Finale from Concerto No. 1 in G Minor/DEBUSSY: La Chevelure; Girl With the Flaxen Hair; It Rains in My Heart/GRASSE: Waves at Play/SCHUMANN: The Prophet Bird/DVORAK: Humoresque/SARASATE: Zigeunerweisen
Donald Vorhees conducts Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra/ Emanuel Bay, p.
Cembal d’amour CD 122 66:10 (Distrib. Qualiton):
Cembal d’amour producer Mordecai Shehori proudly boasts that his latest Heifetz installment now surpasses the number of private reissues of live Heifetz material, the DOREMI label having released only five volumes. This present survey covers ten years, 1942-1952, with Ronald Colman’s wartime introduction for Heifetz via Armed Forces Radio opening the program with the Intermezzo by Provost, a kind of Tristan clone with Emanuel Bay at the keyboard. Typical of the 1940’s acetates, some are in better condition than others, the orchestral tissue in the last movement of the Bruch Concerto (1947) being quite pallid. The 1942 Sarasate showpiece is distantly miked, but the playing, along with Dvorak Humoresque (1952) has the excitement we associate with John Garfield’s appearance in the movie Humoresque with Joan Crawford, the violin there courtesy of Isaac Stern.
The wartime and Cold War sensibility produces some intriguing cuts for Heifetz, like the jingoistic Jim Jives of Bennett (1945) and Kroll’s popular Banjo and Fiddle (1947). The lightning speed of Heifetz at his prime is always a phenomenon to hear, particularly in the Sarasate and in the gymnastics of both Beethoven and Bruch. There is little of the intellectual about Heifetz’ approach: aside from the scholarship of the arrangements and the security of the playing the musicianship is geared to bravura or sentimental effects. The occasional heavy bow pressure, the sudden trnasposition to a higher register, all seem somewhat arbitrary and self-congratulatory. The sheer finesse and facility of the technique are ends in themselves. But every once in a while, a pearl of emotion shines through, and that is always worth the price of admission to a Heifetz recital.
WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde: Prelude; Parsifal: Good Friday Music/R. STRAUSS: Tod und Verklaerung, Op. 24; Metamorphosen for 23 Solo Strings
Clemens Krauss conducts London Philharmonic Orchestra and Bamberg Symphony Orchestra (Metamorphosen)
Preiser 90499 74:36 (Distrib. Albany)****:
Vienna born conductor Clemens Krauss (1893-1954) has been a favorite artist of mine since I owned a 78 rpm set entitled Three Delightful Waltzes, wherein the music of Johann Strauss was divided between Krauss and another immense talent, Erich Kleiber. Having led the world premiers of four of Richard Strauss operas, Krauss enjoyed the uneasy reputation of type-casting as a Strauss specialist, even while his surveys of Wagner, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Schubert, and Haydn tended to be overlooked. He worked in Bayreuth as well as in Vienna, since his natural disposition as a theater director and leader of singers permitted him invaluable insights into operatic dramaturgy.
The four recordings assembled by Preiser attest to the sensitivity and control of orchestral nuance Krauss could command from scores he knew well. While his tempos are not so slow as those of Knappertsbusch nor his transitions as mystical as those of Furtwaengler, Krauss still has the London Philharmonic making some visceral points in strings and woodwinds that transcend the limitations of the shellacs. The 1949 Good Friday Music from Parsifal is especially effective, with wonderful adjustments to dynamics that provide an atmosphere of intimate reflection even in the midst of the spiritual upheavals. Collectors are well aware that Krauss inscribed Death and Transfiguration with the VPO for Decca as part of a large Strauss cycle for records. Again, the degree of expressive detail and orchestral rubato in this1947 effort is quite riveting, with the opening motives that set the stage for the struggle laid out as a symphony exposition. Metamorphosen – an extended lament for the fall of Germany and the passing of its world-historical aspirations – comes to us from a 1953 broadcast – six years after Karajan and Furtwaengler and later Stokowski, debuted the music in Vienna, Berlin and New York. Heartfelt, agonized music-making informs every note, given that Krauss himself had made emotional investments into National Socialism. Assuming music transcends politics, we can still find aesthetic fulfillment in these powerful realizations. [“World-historical aspirations” – what a clever euphemism!; I used to like that work – now I don’t anymore…Ed.]
SCHOENBERG: Verklaerte Nacht, Op. 4; Pelleas and Melisande, Op. 5/SCRIABIN: Prometheus, the Poem of Fire, Op. 60/FRANZ SCHMIDT: Symphony No. 2 in E-flat
Dimitri Mitropoulos conducts New York Philharmonic (Pelleas and Scriabin), and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (Verklaerte Nacht and Schmidt)
Music & Arts CD-1156 (2 discs) 68:30; 66:35 (Distrib. Albany)****:
The four works reissued in this Music & Arts set have had prior release as single CDs from the same company in 1997, as CD 907 and CD 991. They capture the febrile Greek conductor in concerts from 1953 and 1958, in music that most appealed to his imaginative and volcanic powers: complex, arcane, and mystically passionate. The Schoenberg string serenade after Richard Dehmel’s poem and the Franz Schmidt E-flat Symphony derive from a Vienna Philharmonic concert of September 28, 1958. That CBS Sony has not yet reissued Mitropoulos’ New York Philharmonic reading of Verklaerte Nacht (ML 5285) remains a mystery to me. Both performances reveal the intense sympathy Mitropoulos had for the orchestral version of the score, with its long, sensuous lines each derived from a basic motif Schoenberg calls a ground-form (grund-gestalt), and whose four-part structure seems a natural extension of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy and the Liszt B Minor Sonata. Mitropoulos has the VPO at white heat, an apoplectic frenzy just prior to the D Major “redemption” section. The Schmidt Symphony, a piece that like the composer has not exported well, sounds rather derivative of Richard Strauss, with episodic moments of Wagner and Bruckner, cross-fertilized by a Schubertian attempt at folk lyricism.
The New York concerts of October 29, 1953 (Pelleas) and April 9, 1953 (Prometheus) attest to the daring and innovative vision that Mitropoulos brought to the Philharmon ic’s repertory, as well as his ill-considered tendency to over-program heavy works on the same evening, although we record collectors are not burdened with the Wagner and Falla pieces that followed historically. Pelleas is Schoenberg’s first full-blown attempt at a purely orchestral piece, and he outsizes Wagner for sheer orchestral scope and detail, adding all kinds of massive textures, leitmotifs, and glissandi for brass that demand virtuosity of all participants. That Mitropoulos can bring a basically singing, noble line to the intricacies of the score testifies to his innately vocal/operatic sensibility. Purists will be less kind to Mitropoulos’ Prometheus, since it omits the wordless chorus Scriabin wished included in the score, which could only add to the cost of mounting an already controversial work. I believe the uncredited pianist is Leonid Hambro, as he also appears in the commercial CBS recording. Vivid colorations and agonized ecstasies abound in the usual Scriabin arch. As with any poem that takes fire as its leading element, we can safely call the Mitropoulos reading incandescent – purists notwithstanding.
BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14/TCHAIKOVSKY: Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Gennady Rozhdestvensky
BBC Legends BBCL 4163-2 75:56 (Distrib. Koch)****:
Two supercharged performances from Gennady Rozhdestvensky (b. 1931), the Berlioz from 9 September 1971, the Tchaikovsky from 9 September 1960, each marking something of the conductor’s development from a gifted apprentice (to Mravinsky, in 1960) to a polished master with his own ideas. The son of conductor Nikolai Anosov, Rozhdestvensky comes to his craft honestly by way of studies with Lev Oborin and his father. He adapted his mother’s last name for professional reasons. His approach is post-romantic in the manner of his predecessor Mravinsky, but his repertory extends well beyond that demure and conservative master. That the Soviets entrusted a tour of the Leningrad Philharmonic to England under its assistant conductor was quite a coup for Rozhdestvensky at the time, 1960, especially in the Tchaikovsky piece Mravinsky had championed forever.
The Tchaikovsky descent into Dante’s infernal regions is a convulsive performance, a bravura, breakneck affair, with the long-established discipline of the orchestra undaunted by rapid tempos. When the fiery paroxysms settle down for Dante and Virgil to contemplate the doomed lovers, the resultant calm and “recollection of bliss in misery” is ravishing, with flute, string and harp colorations of the first order, all out of Tchaikovsky’s balletic skills. The Berlioz is somewhat idiosyncratic, which may come as a tonic after so many straight-laced, neo-classical imitations of the Monteux style. Rozhdestvensky exults in the colors of his orchestra, so the Scene aux champs benefits from all kinds of niceties of phrase and orchestral balance. The last two movements, the scaffold-scene and the Witches Sabbath, are over the top, evoking a pandemonium of applause from a mesmerized Albert Hall audience.
MOZART: Piano Concerto No 12 in A Major, K. 414; Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466; Prelude and Fugue in C Major, K. 394; Six German Dances, K. 571
Rudolf Serkin, piano/Alexander Schneider conducts The English Chamber Orchestra
BBC Legends BBCL 4157-2 79:18 (Distrib. Koch)****:
I had the pleasure of hearing Rudolf Serkin (1903-1991) in Atlanta, where he performed the last three Beethoven sonatas as a solo recital. He later autographed my ancient LP of his performance of the Schubert E-flat Trio with Adolf and Hermann Busch. In our all-too-brief interview Serkin spoke of his fondness for Dimitri Mitropoulos, with whom he played Mozart and Strauss in New York, but also the Reger F Minor Concerto in Minneapolis, where the audience was so responsive as to warrant their repeating the last movement.
Some find Serkin’s propulsive, even nervously obsessive approach to the keyboard too percussive, especially after his collaborations with Toscanini seemed to urge Serkin to clip phrase endings in order to maintain musical momentum. But Serkin could be capable of exquisite beauty and innate naturalness of musical line, as in his Schubert Moments musicaux and Sonata in A, Op. Posth. for CBS, neither of which has been restored via the CD catalogue. Serkin’s Mozart, too, had a strong pellucid character, less effeminate than Gieseking’s but vigorous and unmannered. Curiously, Serkin recorded for posterity only one Mozart solo piece, the Rondo in A Minor, K. 511 (no less true of Rubinstein). The present performances from the BBC, the two concertos from July 23, 1996 and the 13 May 1968 enjoy a robust and cleanly delineated pair of works with which Serkin was well familiar. The ever-impish Alexander Schneider contributes to the alternately exuberant and dramatic character of the two concertos, adding a rousing set of German Dances from the same concert as the concertos. The dark polyphony of Mozart’s K. 394 resonates with the composer and the performer’s mutual admiration for Bach; and I for one would like to see Sony support the Serkin Edition domestically that restores Serkin’s Capriccio on the Departure of His Beloved Brother. Meanwhile this disc is a healthy contribution to the formidable Serkin legacy.
BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3 in C, Op. 72; Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93/SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759 “Unfinished”
Franz Schalk conducts Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Berlin State Orchestra (Schubert)
Symposium 1344 58:47 (Distrib. Albany)****:
It was while I resided in New York City in 1968 that I first heard the name of Franz Schalk (1863-1931), from a little Viennese-Jewish lady, my diminutive but fierce-willed neighbor, Mrs. Fliegl. She spoke with reverence of having attended concerts of Beethoven and Wagner in the 1920s led by Schalk which impressed her with “their clarity and largeness of canvas.” She also thought she had heard Schalk perform Mahler in the early 1930s, when anti-Jewish sentiment had already arisen in Austria. Although I later became aware of an EMI issue devoted to Schalk’s art, I finally am able to write on my impressions from this Symposium issue, whose sonic restoration of these 1928 inscriptions is strikingly pointed.
Schalk, along with Bruno Walter, Willam Mengelberg, Otto Klemperer, and Oskar Fried, was among the noted Mahler acolytes. Schalk’s style, however, was a curious admixture of classical architecture and an uncertain beat, so that lyricism and refinement enjoy a nervous balance, not so far from the Furtwaengler ethos. There is something of Weingartner in Schalk’s sense of scale and architecture, as in the Beethoven Eighth Symphony, where a firm continuity marks the interior movements, especially the parody of metronomic exactitude in the Allegretto Scherzando The Schubert Unfinished unfolds with strong tensions in the first movement, natural grace in the major subject, and nobility of line. The same stately resignation imbues the Andante con moto, and the Berlin players seem to warm as the symphony evolves. The weak link is the Leonore No. 3, where Schalk cannot decide whether he wants overt cosmic drama or intimacy of line. The whole piece has a tenuous, anxious pulse, somewhat wistful and with a tendency to sentimentality. But fascinating music-making this is, along with Schalk’s being an integral personality in the history of the Great German Tradition.
MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 in D Major
Bruno Walter conducts Vienna Philharmonic
EMI Great Artists of the Century 7243 5 62965 2, 69:42****:
Recorded January 1, 1938 the live inscription of Mahler’s Ninth with Bruno Walter has an ethos entirely its own, given the imminence of the annexation of Austria to Hiltler’s war-machine. Walter (1876-1962) had already been established himself, along with Klemperer, Fried, and Mengelberg, as the leading exponent of Mahler’s music, so the power of the occasion is well noted. Hindsight allows us to hear the music as a kind of valediction for a bygone age, the loss of European humanity. The second movement, which takes its spirit from Schubert and an innate love of the soil, strives to attain some balance in a mind confronting too many intimations of mortality. The Rondo-Burleske, on the other hand, has a viper’s bite for the things of this world, a message close to Nietzsche’s recounting of the Wisdom of Silenus: “better never to have been born; or, barring that, to die soon.” The concluding Adagio, taking its cue from Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, heaves a great sigh of resignation, with orchestra leader Arnold Rose’s adding a special color throughout. Whether the symphony is a hymn to faith or to nihilism is still a matter of conjecture. The Abschied motif from The Song of the Earth has the rocking character of a lullaby, but one sung on Boecklin’s Isle of the Dead. This is a haunting document – one that Walter and the EMI engineers knew posterity would claim when they made it.