Classical Reissue Reviews
Classical Reissue CDs
Published on May 1, 2005
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 3 in D Minor (Nowak Ed.); WAGNER: Tannhauser: Overture and Venusberg Music
Sir John Barbirolli conducts Halle Orchestra
BBC Legends BBCL 4161-2 78:40 (Distrib. Koch)****:
Only in 1951 under Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt had the Halle Orchestra performed Bruckner’s Third Symphony–at least since the 1913 Manchester appearance by Hans Richter–so it was with a sense of its time being ripe that Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970) took up the score in mid-1963 for its presentation at the September 23-24 concerts and the 18 December 1964 recording session at Free Trade Hall. Barbirolli chose the 1877 reduced version of the score, the edition accepted as the least padded (with Wagnerian leitmotifs) and most thematically integrated – although advocates exist for the 1873 original score. While Barbirolli’s repute in Mahler accords him celebrity status, he is less well known as a Bruckner acolyte, despite his having added to the Seventh (from 1939 on) his readings of the Fourth, Eighth and Ninth.
Having cleared the audience section of Free Trade Hall for the recording session, engineers had the full acoustic of the venue for the shimmering and exalted sentiments the Halle realizes in this performance. Long, sustained pedal points and clarion horn calls, along with a sinewy labyrinthine melodic line in the Adagio, make for some athletic drama. The bit of laendler theme in the coda could have come from Dvorak. The relatively unscathed (from the revision) Scherzo is all business, a whirling dervish of energy with an identifiable Viennese lilt. The deliciously creamy texture of that Viennese sound becomes a rich froth in the otherwise hectic final Allegro, beautifully paced by a master technician and colorist. The Wagner from 3 October 1969 is apt enough, given the Tannhauser influence on Bruckner’s Third. High voltage Wagner here, with the rather four-square Venusberg music moved along with tenderness and bustle as required.
Kirsten Flagstad: Great Artists of the Century = WAGNER: Wesendonck Lieder; Tannhauser: Allmacht&Mac226; ge Jungfrau; Siegfried: Ewig war ich; Gotterdammerung: Brunnhilde&Mac226;s Immolation; Tristan und Isolde: Doch nun von Tristan?; Mild und leise
Gerald Moore, piano (Wesendonck) Set Svanholm, tenor (Siegfried); Elisabeth Hoengen, soprano (Isolde&Mac226;s Narrative) Wilhelm Furtwaengler conducts Philharmonia Orchestra (Brunnhilde&Mac226;s Immolation) Issay Dobrowen conducts Philharmonia Orchestra (Tannhuaser, Tristan) George Sebastian conducts Philharmonia Orchestra (Ewig war ich)
EMI 7243 5 62957 2 75:04****:
With the exception of the Siegfried excerpt (1951), these recordings by the great Wagnerian helden-soprano Kirsten Flagsten (1895-1962) date from 1948, when her voice still had solid intonation and projection, as well as suave flexibility of line. The upper range is a bit tight and strained, but Flagstad’s maturity of characterization compensates for the few vocal liabilities of her late career. The coveted excerpt in this collation will be the oft-recycled Starke Scheite schichtet mir dort from Gotterdammerung, Act III, with the legendary conductor Wilhelm Furtwaengler. The virtually seamless intensities of the scene, in which Brunnhilde directs the building of Siegfried’s funeral pyre, assumes the wearing of the fatal ring, and directs her horse Grane to hurl itself forward, with Brunnhilde mounted, upon the blazing funeral fire, has all the vivid passions of a sacred mystery.
Another grand collaboration is with the under-represented conductor Issay Dobrowen, whose legacy in the music of Beethoven, Moussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov has yet to return to CD format, but whose work in Tristan has a tender and propulsive melancholy. Set Svanholm shines in his duet from Siegfried, as does Elisabeth Hoengen, who sang so powerfully for Horenstein in the Vox Beethoven Ninth. As ever, Flagstad’s tone is massive, her diction rounded and sensual, especially in the Twilight of the Gods and Tristan excerpts. The opening set of Wesendonck songs, with Gerald Moore, show off Flagstad’s late bloom in the world of art-song, with Traume enjoying an autumnal glow of intimate power. If this is a music lover’s entry into the precincts inhabited by Kirsten Flagstad, it is as good an initiation as any.
Jascha Heifetz, violin = BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 ; BRAHMS: Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108; FRANCK: Violin sonata in A Major
Benno Moiseiwitsch, piano (Beethoven) William Kapell, piano (Brahms) Artur Rubinstein, piano (Franck)
Naxos Historical 8.110990 75:47****:
Three classic performances brilliantly played by Jascha Heifetz (1900-1987) and stunningly transferred to CD by Mark Obert-Thorn, wherein each of the sonatas pairs Heifetz with an equally outstanding keyboard artist. The earliest of the collaborations is the Franck Sonata from 1937, with Artur Rubinstein (1886-1982) in solid form in this, one of many recordings he and Heiftez made together, although never again as a duo. Although the later Heifetz performance from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion has a bit more nervous energy, this is an exemplary account of the Franck, particularly if one is partial to Heifetz high-wrist bow pressure and occasional, romantic slides. The Recitativo-Fantasia comes off a bit wiry as well as sweet, but for the combination of sheer mechanics and blazing speed, Heifetz has virtually no peer. Rubinstein is in a poetic mood, as he always had a soft spot for Franck (I owned the 78s of his Prelude, Chorle et Fugue).
The association with virtuoso William Kapell (1922-1953) might have given us the complete Brahms sonatas, but Kapell had inscribed only the D Minor in November 1950 when he died in a plane crash, returning from an Australian tour. The febrile artist gives the Brahms piano part muscular and supple treatment, not always on the bar line, but staying right with Heifetz for some pungent ensemble of a high order. The last pages of the Brahms quite scintillate after the delicate and sentimental third movement. The opening sonata, the Kreutzer in A, dates from London studio sessions May 14-15, 1951 with Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963), a colorist of first rank who made no other chamber music appearances on record. The artists made two complete versions of the sonata, since Heifetz felt the earlier takes detracted from his violin sound to the advantage of the piano. The nicety of balance in the present inscription achieves a tonal splendor in the Andante con Variazioni movement, where each melodic development and rhythmic nuance has character and tender grace. With the majority of the Heifetz legacy on CD, I would expect collectors who lack these performances to scoop them up in this consolidated edition.
John Williams – The Ultimate Guitar Collection – Compilation set of 41 selections from his many recordings – Sony Classical S2K 93959 (2 CDs), 76:19, 78:09 ****:
The barrage of reissue material from the major labels is well worth investigating when it brings up such bargain gems as this one. The two discs are fully packed with 41 selections from the recording career for Columbia/Sony of probably the world’s finest classical guitarist – over two hours of great music. While mostly solo guitar works, there are excerpts from concertos by Vivaldi and Rodrigo among others. The Australian-born guitarist has been heard in scores for such films as The Deer Hunter and A Fish Called Wanda, and some of his most recent albums have explored world music cultures in an effort similar to that of cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Most of the tracks come from the 90s and more recently, although a couple are from as early as l975.
Many familiar guitar favorites such as Recollections of the Alhambra and pieces by Satie and Bach are in the collection, but it also abounds in unique choices such as the theme from the film The Mission, a Courante by Handel, and an original piece by follow guitarist Andrew York. There are two originals by Williams (as well as the theme from Schindler’s List by that other John Williams). William’s swinging performance of Charlie Byrd’s 3 Blues for Classic Guitar had me smiling ear to ear – this musician is nothing if not versatile! If you’d like to know more about him, and see a list of all the 41 selections in the set, check out his own web site; www.johnwilliamsguitar.com
– John Sunier
London Symphony Orchestra (1904-2004): The Centennial Set = WEBER: Oberon Overture; BERLIOZ: King Lear Overture, Op. 4; Benvenuto Cellini Overture and Act I Trio; BEETHOVEN: Coriolan Overture, Op. 62; DVORAK: Symphony No. 6 in D, Op. 60; SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 6 in C; Symphony No. 8 in b Minor; TCHAIKOVSKY: Romeo and Juliet Overture; Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64; STRAVINSKY: Petrouchka Ballet; BERG: 3 Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6; ELGAR: Cockaigne Overture; DEBUSSY: Jeux
Arthur Nikisch conducts (Oberon); Josef Krips conducts (Schubert 6th); Sir Hamilton Harty conducts (King Lear); Bruno Walter conducts (Coriolan); Istvan Kertesz conducts (Dvorak 6th; Schubert 8th); Claudio Abbado conducts (Berg); Michael Tilson-Thomas conducts (Jeux); Sir Colin Davis conducts (Benvenuto Cellini); Pierre Monteux conducts (Romeo and Juliet); Sir Georg Solti conducts (Petrouchka, Tchaikovsky 5th); Sir Andre Previn conducts (Elgar)
Andante AN 4 100 76:06; 64:19; 79:16; 77:23 (Distrib. Naxos)****:
Sir Colin Davis refers to the London Symphony Orchestra as “the casual virtuoso,” a fitting epithet for a gifted ensemble of splendid, individual players whose good humor is as famous as its brilliant sound. Formed in 1904 as a reaction to an ultimatum from Sir Henry Wood to his own Queen’s Hall Orchestra about deputy replacements for rehearsals, the LSO became the UK’s first orchestra to be governed and managed by the players themselves. The original ninety-nine players had Hans Richter as their first conductor. Arthur Nikisch (1855-1922) served as Principal Conductor 1912-1914, also making the first records with the orchestra. The 1914 Oberon under Nikisch, in spite of the stingy acoustics of the recording horn, captures the conductor’s penchant for brisk, strict tempos and some fine execution from the orchestra principals.
Sir Hamilton Harty (1879-1941) remains a sensitive purveyor of Berlioz, whose more comprehensive survey with the Halle and London Philharmonic orchestras has been on Pearl (CD 9485). Harty’s 1935 King Lear Overture in its CD debut comes as a bit of a let-down technically, although the diaphanous color of the ensemble makes some good points. Bruno Walter (1876-1962) made recordings with several London ensembles, particularly after his ugly exile from Austria in 1938. His recording of the Coriolan Overture has cohesiveness and power, as well as a warmth deriving from the players&Mac226; great respect for Walter the musician. Disc one ends with Josef Krips (1902-1974), who had served as Principal Conductor 1950-1954. The 1948 Schubert Sixth has a homogeneous Viennese sound, quite expressive given the somewhat cramped acoustic of the recording. Deft figurations in the last movement make the performance a find for collectors.
The CD devoted to the leadership of Istvan Kertesz (1929-1973) may well be the piece de resistance, with the willful Hungarian’s commanding a muscular yet eminently lyrical Dvorak Sixth from 1 September 1966, with a buoyant Furiant and rousing finale. The atmospheric Schubert Unfinished comes from the same concert. Horn Barry Tuckwell spent considerable time lavishing praise on Kertesz, whose only faux pas was with management, wishing to exert full authority (as Music Director rather than as Principal Conductor) on personnel, while the LSO remained adamant as a self-governing body, so they parted ways in 1968. Sir Georg Solti (nee Stern, 1912-1997 ), Tuckwell did not like especially, despite Solti’s strong musicianship. “It was like playing for a Chicago gangster, so little personal warmth did he communicate,” proffered Tuckwell. Still, the 7 August 1994 concert contains two electric performances: of the Stravinsky Petrouchka (1911 version) and the Tchaikovsky Fifth, literalist to the nth degree, but no less compelling for their fierce drive and brilliant sonic patina. Although neither Carlos Kleiber nor Leonard Bernstein has representation here, the appearance of Michael Tilson-Thomas (b. 1944) extends something of the Bernstein influence; always imaginative in his choice of programming for the orchestra, the 27 February 1997 Jeux is a pastiche of shifting rhythms and accents, with myriad color-effects to manage in what still remains a most elusive score. We might be reminded that another venerable colorist, Sergiu Celibidache, is conspicuous by his absence on these discs.
Claudio Abbado (b. 1933) succeeded Andre Previn as Principal Conductor in 1979, bringing his searching intellect and passion for the modernists, starting with a penchant for Mahler and the Second Viennese School. The 8 December 1970 Berg Abbado recorded for DGG, partly to show off the orchestra’s dynamic control and lucidity of individual textures. Previn (b. 1929) himself appears in the music of Elgar, here from the 1975 Salzburg Festival, where the LSO was making its second appearance, with a rousing opener via the Cockaigne Overture on August 3. The collaboration with Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) in the Romeo and Juliet Overture of Tchaikovsky made a happy re-discovery some years ago, when Vanguard unearthed the 31 May 1963 performance as part of an all-Tchaikovsky concert that also featured pianist John Ogden in the B-flat Concerto. Finally, Sir Colin Davis (b. 1927) in the Overture and Act I Trio from Benvenuto Cellini (5 December 1999), with vocal assistance from Giuseppe Sabbatini, Elizabeth Futral, and Laurent Naouri, the vocal melodies courtesy of the Roman Carnival Overture. A fascinating and often captivating set, where a second volume might fulfill yet fairer hopes!
J. STRAUSS, JR: Melodien -Quadrille Nach Verdi, Op. 112; Banditen-Galopp, Op. 378; Leichtes-Blut, Op. 319; Kaiser-Walzer, Op. 437; Rosen aus den Suden, Op. 388; Annen-Polka, Op. 117; Tristsch-Tratsch Polka, Op. 214; Overture to Die Fledermaus; Unter Donner und Blitz Polka, Op. 324; Romanze for Cello and Orchestra No. 1; Pizzicato Polka; Vergnuegunszug Polka, Op. 281; An Der Schoenen Blauen Donau, OP. 314; Perpetuum mobile, Op. 257
Peter Maag conducts RAI Rome Orchestra and RAI Turin Orchestra (Op. 117; Op. 324; Die Fldermaus Overture)
Arts Archives 43036-2 79:22 (Distrib. Albany)****:
Swiss conductor Peter Maag (1919-2001) is captured in the music of his beloved Johann Strauss, a composer the under-rated musician esteemed butdid not have the pleasure of directing in an Austrian venue, as had his idols in this music, Bruno Walter, Wilhelm Furtwaengler, and Clemens Krauss. Recorded in live stereo sound in 1975 Turin and 1993 Rome, Maag brings the requisite lilt and blithe sentiment to the waltzes and polkas, inserting among the more familiar pieces the occasional, rare find, like the lovely Cello Romance (one of three Strauss wrote), which makes us wonder if there were a full-fledged concerto only awaiting an opportunity for its inception.
The Kaiser Waltzes have not the tragic melancholy Furtwaengler brought to them, but they have an airy nobility of line, along with some winning flute solos. The Southern Roses Waltzes enjoy a grand leisure of exposition and recapitulation. The Verdi Quadrille has bits from La Traviata, Il Trovatore, and Rigoletto tossed in a lithe broth. Occasionally, an errant note intrudes into the radio orchestras, but the quick tempos of the polkas and broad flair of the Fledermaus Overture have a definitive sanguine temperament and infectious spirit. For the ever-bubbling Perpetuum Mobile, we can hear a vivid “Etcetera” from Maag – a close we well know who recall George Szell’s “And so on” from earlier days. A sleeper disc that is simultaneously a wake-up call for an enchanting 80 minutes of music.
Maurice Andre: Great Artists of the Century = HAYDN: Trumpet Concerto in E-flat; ALBINONI: Trumpet Concerto in B-flat, Op. 7, No. 3; HANDEL: Concerto for Trumpet and Organ in D Minor; TELEMANN: Trumpet Concerto in D; HERTEL: Trumpet Concerto in E-flat; HUMMEL: Trumpet Concerto in E-flat
Riccardo Muti conducts Philharmonia Orchestra (Haydn); Sir Charles Mackerras conducts English Chamber Orchestra; Herbert von Karajan conducts Berlin Philharmonic (Telemann, Hummel)
EMI 7243 5 62947 2 77:07 ****:
Among modern practitioners of the virtuoso trumpet, Maurice Andre (b. 1933) stands virtually on a peak of his own making, having proselytized and popularized the piccolo trumpet to a superstar status, a coloratura, vocal instrument capable of any number of degrees of nuance, along with its fierce, high tessitura. The six concertos assembled on this disc, recorded 1974-1984, testify to Andre&Mac226;s seamless facility on his chosen instrument, with the concerto by Hertel’s serving as a competition piece for any trumpeter who favors the musical stratosphere. Herbert von Karajan provides accompaniment for the Telemann Concerto, which along with Handel concerto, has the ancient sonata di chiesa as its precedent, and exploits long stretches of high registration for the instrument.
The Haydn, Albinoni, and Hummel concertos move so gracefully, effortlessly, and articulately, that we marvel at the exactness of the playing and its capacity for soft passagework. To some extent, Roger Voisin of the Boston Symphony may have provided Andre an example of the stellar virtuosity to which the trumpet could rise, but Andre’s own contribution has been immense – comparable to what Rampal brought to the flute repertory. This disc is to make even the angelic trumpeters envious.
PERSICHETTI: Serenade No. 5 for Orchestra, Op. 43; Symphony for Strings (Symphony No. 5), Op. 61; Symphony No. 8, Op. 106 (1967)
Robert Whitney conducts Louisville Orchestra Jorge Mester conducts Louisville Orchestra (Sym. No. 8)
First Edition FECD -0034 57:42 (Distrib. Albany)****:
The Louisville Orchestra occupies a special place in the history of American music, commissioning as well as performing pieces by contemporary composers to create a body of work mostly American and expressive of our country’s diverse national vision, but no less indicative of other national trends. In 1948 Orchestra board president Charles P. Farnsley decided to reduce the orchestra to 50 players. Beginning in 1950, the Louisville Orchestra ceased spending significant monies on imported soloists in traditional staples; instead, it commissioned five new works per season, inviting major participation from compositional talents such as Thomson, Schuman, Harris, Martinu, Hindemith, Chavez, Foss, Ginastera, Carter, Hovhaness, Riegger, Mennin, Dello Joio, Tcherepnin, and Villa-Lobos. Producer Howard Scott of CBS helped supervise the LP incarnations of Louisville premiers. From 1954 through 1959 Scott and the Louisville ensemble under maestros Whitney and Mester gave 116 world premiers by 101 composers. The present disc of Vincent Persichetti compositions derive from inscriptions made 1954-1970, two of which – the Serenade and Symphony No. 5 – being commissions by the Louisville Orchestra.
Persichetti’s short Serenade No. 5 (1950) is a six-movement suite in contemporary “olden style,” with tempo indications in English. Both tonal and modal in syntax, the piece has an immediate sonic appeal and lively, brassy and percussive energy, neither of which touches the darker corners of the psyche. More contrasting and disturbed in its visions is the Symphony No. 5 for Strings (1953), which occasionally intimates moments from Britten, Richard Strauss, and Bartok. In one movement, the piece subdivides into five sections, all of which derive from viola materials in the opening bars. The last two movements, Andante and Allegro, are angular and darkly sinewy, with a clear evocation of Bartok and a touch of Bernard Hermann.
The Symphony No. 8 is a big, four movement work, utilizing traditional, classical procedures that might have taken their cue from Haydn, or from Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. Equally lyric and declamatory, the first movement has a plain-spoken style that might imitate Persichetti’s Ohio roots and its most famous acting voice, that of Richard Basehart. The Andante sustention is relatively introspective, with woodwind riffs that evoke something of Barber via James Agee. The Allegretto could be a response to Mahler with slightly gaudy, rustic eruptions from the tuba. The concluding Vivace possesses the brightest colors, which seem to have brightened as the music evolved. Percussion and cymbal rule, the music’s enjoying a buoyant character that works to a powerful conclusion. Solid Americana in good mono sound (stereo for Symphony No. 8) from the company and players who virtually invented it.
BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata in D Major, Op. 12, No. 1; Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 12, No. 3; Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 “Kreutzer”
Henry Szeryng, violin/Gary Graffman, piano
Bridge 9165 71:16 (Distrib. Albany)****:
Recorded at the Library of Congress December 3 (Op. 12, No. 1) through December 11, 1970, these excellent collaborations (in good mono sound) feature the late Polish virtuoso Henryk Szeryng (1918-1988) and American pianist Gary Graff man (b. 1928), a partial restoration of recitals that included music as well by Brahms and Schumann. Called by conductor Yoel Levi “the best-prepared violinist with whom I ever worked,” Henryk Szeryng enjoyed a princely reputation among violinists, sporting a Germanic-Franco pedigree that embraced Frenkel, Flesch, Thibaud, and Bouillon. A fair pianist as well as supreme fiddler, Szeryng was quite capable of expounding the orchestral parts of concertos as well as his own contributions and cadenzas. Yet in spite of the cerebral energies Szeryng brought to his vast repertory, he had a quality of improvisation that kept his performances exciting.
The three sonatas by Beethoven here inscribed are old, familiar staples in the Szeryng lexicon, but he moves the music without fuss and without cloying mannerism. The Tema con Arizona from the D Major Sonata retains its shape and it dynamic sense of flow. The sparkling E-flat Sonata passes with almost invisible ease, with virtually no intrusion of “personality” on the lyric and motor elements of the piece, especially the touching Adagio con molto espiessione second movement. The gusto of the final movements here and in the D Major are quite heart-pumping. From the opening measures of the Kreutzer Sonata, we are in the throes of high drama, a real whirlwind tour de force, with Graffman’s piano contribution no less gripping. The beauty of the interpretation lies as much in the pairing of equals as in the individual bravura of its participants. Collectors will naturally associate the more explosive and affecting moments with the great duo recitals from Adolf Busch and Rudolf Serkin, Wolgang Schneiderhahn and Wilhelm Kempff, and Yehudi Menuhin and Louis Kentner, – high company indeed. Bridge now has a series of some twenty recitals from the Library of Congres in its active catalogue, each worthy of repeated hearings and inexhaustible lessons in musicianship.