Classical Reissue Reviews

Walter Damrosch = GLUCK: Airs de Ballet; BACH: Gavotte in D; SAINT-SAENS: Ballet Divertissement from “Henry VIII”; FAURE: Pavane; MOSZKOWSKI: Perpetual Motion; PIERNE: Entrance of the Little Fauns; RAVEL: Mother Goose Suite; BEETHOVEN: Funeral March from “Eroica” Sym. – Walter Damrosch, piano & cond. – Pristine Audio

Musician and educator Walter Damrosch has the majority of his electrical recordings from 1927 and 1930 restored masterfully in this Pristine collection.

Published on October 8, 2013

Walter Damrosch = GLUCK: Airs de Ballet; BACH: Gavotte in D; SAINT-SAENS: Ballet Divertissement from “Henry VIII”; FAURE: Pavane; MOSZKOWSKI: Perpetual Motion; PIERNE: Entrance of the Little Fauns; RAVEL: Mother Goose Suite; BEETHOVEN: Funeral March from “Eroica” Sym. – Walter Damrosch, piano & cond. – Pristine Audio

Walter Damrosch = GLUCK: Airs de Ballet (arr. Gevaert); BACH: Gavotte in D (arr. L. Damrosch); SAINT-SAENS: Ballet Divertissement from “Henry VIII”; FAURE: Pavane, Op. 50; MOSZKOWSKI: Perpetual Motion from Op. 39; PIERNE: Entrance of the Little Fauns; RAVEL: Mother Goose Suite; BEETHOVEN: Funeral March from “Eroica” Sym. – Walter Damrosch, piano & cond. – Pristine Audio PASC 395 mono CD, 71:54 [avail. in various formats from pristineclassical.com] ****:

Conductor Walter Damrosch (1862-1950) inherited from his eminent father Leopold Damrosch not only a talent for orchestral leadership, but an original gift for composition and a didactic gene that found its expression in music education. Although Damrosch emigrated with his family from Germany in 1871, his relatively sparse electrical-recorded legacy seems dominated by Gallic repertory, except for the Beethoven talk (from the keyboard) and a Brahms Symphony No. 2. A student of Hans von Bulow, Damrosch came into a “modern” style of conducting that eschewed excessive portamento. The collation here assembled, 1927-1930, by producer Mark Obert-Thorn, bears his usual high standard of remastering, the originals divided between Victor “Gold” label pressings, an Orthophonic disc, and American Columbia.

The opening suite of Gluck pieces from various operas – Iphigenia in Aulis and Armide – has Damrosch before the National Symphony Orchestra (13 May 1930), the ensemble that preceded the famous NBC Symphony created by David Sarnoff. Each of the five dances, concluding with the stately Chaconne, projects a string sense of rhythm and individual color, particularly in the NSO woodwinds. The Bach arrangement comes from the Sonata No. 6 for Solo Cello, a rarity at the time, especially in its original form. We can imagine Walter’s father Leopold in conversation with Casals on what would constitute proper balance in the scoring of the piece for full orchestra.

The gem in this collection may well be the five-movement suite from Saint-Saens’ 1883 opera Henry VIII, again performed by the National Symphony (16, 20 May 1930).  The composer admired the French baroque, especially Rameau, so the music combines a sense of highland pageantry and staid classical lines. The music for the Entrance of the Clans has the good energy of a Scottish national style that Bruch might admire. A rustic charm marks the Scotch Idyl, in which the oboe intones the main tune which leads to light, tripping figures. The Dance of the Gypsy exploits those exotic colors Saint-Saens wants when he travels “East,” as in his Samson et Dalila. If this music has any “influence,” it might be either Massenet or Verdi. The suite concludes with a Jig and Finale, lively and exuberant.  The relatively clean ensemble, light feet  and bright colors could be attributed to someone like Hamilton Harty.

The triptych of Faure, Moszkowski, and Pierne – the last piece the first of the group in which Damrosch leads the New York Symphony Orchestra – enjoy a solid workmanship, fleet execution, and thoughtful purpose, though not so transcendent and magically scintillating as qualities Beecham could educe from the same repertory.  Still, the Moszkowski and Pierne pieces forcefully project their individual charms, well recorded.

With the Mother Goose Suite (7, 9 June 1927) Damrosch reasserts colorful authority and judicious restraint, much in Ravel’s preferred style. The delicate balance between full-blown orchestral ballet and salon intimacy finds excellent realization under Damrosch’s quite tender ministrations. Rarely has Hop o’ My Thumb emerged so harmonically attentive to modulations and dynamic levels. The exotic alchemy of Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas proves instantaneous, a Zoltan Korda production in sound. A waltz tempo permeates the Conversations of Beauty and the Beast, the latter’s grumblings well honed as darkness yields to light. All of “youth’s magic horn” seems concentrated into The Fairy Garden, which Damrosch urges softly from a rarified and compassionate mist, certainly competitive with my old favorite reading from Serge Koussevitzky.

The final offering, the Funeral March from Beethoven’s Eroica, as “explained” by Walter Damrosch, testifies to his position as host of the Music Appreciation Radio Hour, an earnest attempt to expose “the masses” to the elements of classical music. Damrosch provides a literal program of this C Minor funeral procession in “mournful cadence.” Love and grief compete for primacy in Damrosch’s explication. The Trio, for Damrosch, presents the Hero’s spirit “as it ascends to Heaven” to be greeted “by a Heavenly host.”  Damrosch even conceives the pedal point on B as a literal consecrating of the coffin to the ground. In the piano arrangement, curiously, we can hear dynamic models for Mussorgsky.  Damrosch certainly means well, and Obert-Thorn in his note generously calls the effort “naïve.”

—Gary Lemco




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