SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
MACDOWELL: Piano Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 15; Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 23 Eugene List, piano (A Minor) – Vienna State Opera Orchestra/ Carlos Chavez; Van Cliburn, piano (in D Minor)/ Chicago Symphony Orchestra/ Walter Hendl – HDTT
Published on May 2, 2007
The MacDowell First Concerto was composed c. 1882 while the composer studied in Germany with Carl Heymann and Joachim Raff. It plays more like an audacious, slickly cascading konzertstueck than a concerto, though it has its own lyric qualities. Eugene List (1918-1985) recorded the piece for the Westminster label, whose 2-track prerecorded tape provides the basis of these high definition transfers. List had a penchant for Americana in his concert programs, and was, along with Leonard Pennario, among the fist to play sundry works of Louis Moreau Gottschalk. That he premiered the Carlos Chavez Piano Concerto (1942) in New York under Dimitri Mitropoulos cemented his relationship with that composer-conductor. The tympani part receives a sizable workout in the course of the concerto, and especially in the acrobatic presto that concludes the piece – an American’s attempt to write a breezy Italian saltarello? For my taste, there are several trills too many in the exegesis of ideas. Still, List and Chavez manage an aerial grandeur where they can get it from the pompous fluff, which often sounds like hasty Saint-Saens.
The D Minor Concerto No. 2 (1889) is of another order of being entirely. It represents a benchmark for American concerto composition, Lisztian in power and ambition, declamatory and noble like the Grieg. By far, the RCA Victor recording by Van Cliburn and Walter Hendl has remained the collector’s version of choice; the former commercial 4-track prerecorded tape provides the source for this splendid transfer. Though Cliburn and Fritz Reiner worked together in the music of Schumann and Rachmaninov, associate Chicago Symphony conductor Walter Hendl collaborate in a true meeting of musical minds. Follow the horn, tympani and string agogics through the development section of the opening movement lightning transformations. Cliburn maintains just the right balance of brittle, lithe filigree and dramatic poise in the concerto; only a live performance by Leon Bates has ever rivaled this conception in my memory, although Earl Wild’s inscription for Chesky is noteworthy. Saint-Saens again makes his influence felt in the Presto giocoso second movement, where Cliburn flies high, negotiating the syncopated second subject with explosive distinction. Flute and trumpet work from the CSO raises the hair on one’s neck. For the opening bars of the last movement Hendl could be leading the Franck Symphony, especially given the cyclic character of MacDowell’s writing. Then, piano and trumpets own us, body and soul, for a wild ride not far from Sibelius; dances for polar bears. Bully! sayeth the Teddy Roosevelt section of my music library.
[If your CD player is also your DVD player, you will realize an enhanced level of resolution and clarity from the DVD-R version of this reissue vs. the CD-R version. Even if yours is an older DVD player which downsamples everything to 48K, you will still hear a somewhat improved sound over the standard 44.1K CD format. The level of transparency and detail on the List recording from the late 1950s Westminster tape is quite amazing. The Van Cliburn is in a richer and fuller sonic, similar in sound to the RCA Living Stereo SACD reissue series, but not as transparent and detailed as the List. There is surprisingly no serious hiss in spite of the compromised quarter-track tape media.
HDTT now offer 96K/24 bit downloads of their audiophile reissues on their site in addition to the two physical disc options, plus a 15% discount for orders over $12…Ed.]
– Gary Lemco