Classical CD Reissues
April 2003 - Part 1 of 2
Karel Ancerl Gold Edition = Vols. 1 (SMETANA: Ma Vlast) and 5 (STRAVINSKY: Petrouchka and Rite of Spring) - Czech Philharmonic / Karel Ancerl - Supraphon SU 3661-2 & SU 3665-2:
Supraphon has launched an ambitious re-issue series, planned in 42 volumes, celebrating the recordings made for the label mostly in the 1960s by the great Czech conductor Karel Ancerl (1908-73), setting standards for interpretation and execution that have rarely been surpassed. Many of these recordings have been available on CD before, but only in indifferently-mastered versions. Working from the original tapes, the 24-bit remastering by Stanislav Sykora brings out the considerable best in these analogue recordings: the often spectacular sound is big and dynamically wide, with strikingly natural colors, particularly from the marvelous Czech woodwinds.
Ancerl was named artistic director of the Czech orchestra in 1950 and remained there until he emigrated after the events of 1968. He combined a rhythmic precision, that was deeply secure without being disciplinarian or dry, with an ability to chisel long arching phrases adorned by details of surpassing beauty that never impede the ongoing musical momentum. Overall, Ancerls is a clear vision of great humanity characterized by the Philharmonics smooth, rich strings, highly individual woodwinds, and powerful brass. It is a heady combination.
These qualities are as vividly evident in the Smetana as in the Stravinsky. In each, Ancerl illuminates phrases and bars and even individual notes with striking musical insights in passionate music making that finds its sentiment in the musical architecture and lyricism more than in rhetorical gestures.
Bohuslav Viteks valuable liner notes provide an intelligent, informative discussion of Ancerls history with the music and his approach to its interpretation. This is an essential series for understanding and enjoying the full magnificence of the Czech tradition at its most beautiful and profound. At mid-price to boot, these great recordings of the century should be in every music lovers collection!
- Laurence Vittes
Sir John Barbirolli, The Barbirolli Viennese Collection = J. STRAUSS: On the Beautiful, Blue Danube; Thunder and Lightning Polka; The Gypsy Baron--Overture; Champagne Polka/J. STRAUSS, SR: Radeltzky March/LEHAR: Gold and Silver Waltz/R. STRAUSS: Suite from Der Rosenkavalier/SUPPE: 6 Overtures/SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 9 in C, D. 944
Sir John Barbirolli conducts Halle Orchestra
CDSJB 1024 74:04; 76:09 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
Culled from EMI and Pye label inscriptions, 1957-1967, this set is among the most delightful and infectious programs offered through the Barbirolli Society. From the opening, lilting phrases of The Blue Danube, with careful attention to the inflected second beat, to the show-stopping urgencies of Suppe's clamorous overtures, we are in the throes of inspired playing, consistently peppered with the spirit of pure fun. The one exception to this is the Schubert 9th from June 1964, a hugely broad account that dwarfs Barbirolli's comparatively lean version from 1953 (on Dutton SJB 1020).
While I had come to admire, even awe at, Karajan's chiseled renditions of Suppe for DGG, these Barbirolli readings of pieces like The Jolly Robbers and The Beautiful Galatea supply their own balance of lyric grace and frenzied momentum. The Halle brass section seems exceptionally lit up for these recordings: The Light Cavalry has trumpets blazing and strings galloping in full regalia. Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna, a Beecham staple, has a rival in Barbirolli's martial treatment of the score. Lehar's Gold and Silver Waltz, which some collectors feel belongs to Rudolf Kempe, again has serious competition this 1966 recording, already shown off in Dutton's prior celebration "Glorious John" (SJB 1999). Pieces like Thunder and Lightning, the Gypsy Baron Overture, the Champagne Polka, long the property of Clemens Krauss and Erich Kleiber, suffer no diminution of finesse or ballroom temper under Sir John's flexible beat. Finally, Schubert's "The Great" Symphony, played for its heavenly length, the pacing broad and almost liturgical in the manner of Furtwaengler's inspired performances, but the textures and choirs of the Halle riper in the oboe and less explosive in the sudden climaxes. Dutton sound restoration is excellent, and writing this review has made me replay the Poet and Peasant Overture even louder. Purchase Here
Sir Thomas Beecham conducts = CHABRIER: Gwendoline Overture; Espana Rhapsody/MOZART: 4 Movements from Divertimento in D, K. 131/DELIUS: Brigg Fair/DEBUSSY: L'Enfant prodigue: Cortege et Air de Danse/SAINT-SAENS: Le Rouet d'Omphale, Op. 31/MASSENET: Last Sleep of the Virgin
Sir Thomas Beecham conducts Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
BBC Legends BBCL 4113-2 76:35 (Distrib. Koch):
Consistently scintillating playing lights up this collation of BBC Studio performances by the inimitable Sir Thomas Beecham, 1955-1959. While the program is almost singularly French, the major work is Delius' Brigg Fair from October 22, 1956. Beecham lavishes on this mercurial and atmospheric work no end of nuance and attention, eliciting pure beauty from the winds, led by Gordon Jackson's flute and Jack Brymer's clarinet. Assessments of Beecham's art often ascribe to him the power to make second-rate music sound important. If you already like Delius and Mozart, who along with Handel were Beecham's own favorites, such distinctions are mere sophistry, especially when in fine sound.
The Mozart excerpts date from the same October concert, actually having opened the program prior to the Delius. Airy, light, pert, briskly paced, the divertimento moves along, with a neat splice in the last Adagio to the Allegro molto. The remainder of the disc is devoted all to "lollipops," sweet and bubbly encores inflected at the end of a stick, Beecham's impish baton. Strong and supple, the Berlioz (1959) and Saint-Saens (1958) have lilt and lithe grace. Beecham is never short on power, and the Gwendoline and Espana can explode on command. Massenet's meditative adagio from La Vierge was Beecham's number one encore; the Debussy could easily be number two. Interspersed with the lovely selections are three minutes of bon mots by Beecham, a sly wink of humor from the master of idiomatic, unpretentious, but brilliant music-making.
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor/BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 2, Op. 72b
Bruno Walter conducts New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Music&Arts CD-1110 65:15 (Distrib. Albany):
The concert by the New York Philharmonic under Bruno Walter (1876 1962) for the evening of March 17, 1946 featured only two works, both dear to the conductor's art. Bruckner figured prominently in Walter's estimate, having led the Ninth for a memorial to Franz Schalk in 1931. The recorded legacy, however, has been unjust to Walter's typically muscular approach to the Ninth, the late inscription with players of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (using 65 players) for CBS constrains the breadth of his interpretation, and the conductor's state of health likewise impedes the music spiritual tenacity. Otto Klemperer, in a moment of impish irony, called Walter's late (1959) Bruckner "too Jewish." This first issue of the 1946 Ninth should dispel any of the sentimentality attached to Klemperer's epithet.
Walter favored the Alfred Orel (original) edition of the Bruckner Ninth; he seems to have made his own emendations besides, adjusting the tempos to moderato for the pizzicati in the Scherzo and having the tympani echo the brass in the first climax in movement one. Even with the occasional pitch fluctuations in the preserved shellacs (taken from V-discs), we can appreciate Walter's attempt to retain a tight, undeviating pressure on the continuity of the outer movements, which detractors see as meandering and often merely rhetorical. While more earthy than the Furtwaengler performance from 1944 Berlin, it has a great yearning for spiritual solace that I likewise found in Beinum's fervent readings. A pity Walter abandoned Bruckner's Fifth sometime after his emigration to Paris and then to America. Like his legendary Mahler 7th, also lost to posterity, those who have heard it say he could be most persuasive in this music.
The Beethoven Leonore No. 2 concluded the concert of March 17, 1946. Its Dionysiac temper suited Walter's desire to avoid a dramatic anticlimax after the whimpering wisps of emotion that haunt us at the conclusion of Bruckner. Beethoven's gestures are convulsive, angry, with Walter's taking great pains in transition passages to anticipate the explosive effects of the trumpet calls, visceral and threatening at once. Again, there are some dynamic dropouts in this restoration, we we can barely hear the winds at diminished passages. The disc, taken as a whole, nevertheless has personality and presence, a vigor that does better justice to the charisma Walter imparted to his efforts. Purchase Here
WEILL & BRECHT: Die Dreigroschenoper (The Three-Penny Opera) Berlin 1930 - With Lotte Lenya, Marlene Dietrich, Bert Brecht, Kurt Gerron, Lewis Ruth Band, Theo Mackeben & his Orchestra - Telefunken/Teldec 0927 42663-2:
The l928 Three-Penny Opera became a huge hit in Europe and between its premiere and 1932 over 40 discs of songs from it appeared in Germany and elsewhere. The main item in this important collection is the set recorded by Telefunken in l930, simultaneous with filming having begun on Pabsts movie version of the musical theater piece. Most of the original cast are heard on these recordings, with the young Lotte Lenya singing not just the songs of her role as the prostitute Polly, but also some of the others. The spoken introductions by Kurt Gerron were a first in such recordings, setting the scene and characters for each song to be heard in a suitably Brechtian approach to theater. (Gerron believed he was immune from the Holocaust because he was such a popular Jewish performer; he was tragically wrong. Theres a fascinating but hard-to-find documentary film out on his life.)
These 78s, as well as others recorded just after the premiere in l928, have been reissued countless times now on LP and CD, but this new remastering upgrades the originals more than would have been believed - stripping away layers of sonic fog and distortion that one had to suffer thru before. The CD is slipped into a shrunken replica of the Telefunken paper sleeves for the original individual 78s, and there is a profusely illustrated 86 page booklet in English, French and German which includes all the lyrics in English. Speaking of language, there are four songs from the French version of the Three-Penny (Lopera de quatsous), which was also shot by Pabst simultaneously with the German film. Lenya is also heard in three tracks from Weill & Brechts Mahagonny - including an alternate take of the famous Alabama Song, for which Lenya had to learn the English lyrics phonetically since she hadnt yet learned English. The even more blatantly sexual style of Marlene Dietrich is heard in odes to Peter and Jonny, and three other cabaret songs of the period are included - two of them featuring Kurt Gerron. These 70-year-old 78s provide a living memory of the wildly imaginative, progressive, and cynical artistic milieu of Berlin just prior to that fateful 30th of January 1933 when Hitler became Chancellor. Purchase Here
- John Sunier
DVORAK: Piano Concerto in G Minor, Op. 33; Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88
Rudolf Firkusny, piano/Rafael Kubelik conducts Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
MulitiSonic 31 0019-2 74:06 (Distrib. Albany):
This disc entitled "A Czech Gala" celebrates the International Prague Spring Festival, dating back to 1946 and the liberation of Czechoslovakia from fascist control. There are no recording dates given on this album; the constrained colors and constricted dynamics suggest early 1950's. What sells the disc, if collectors gravitate to it, is the combination of Firkusny and Kubelik in a relatively uncut performance of the G Minor Concerto. Ivan Moravec, in a recent conversation with me (and Garrick Ohlsson), called the Firkusny/Szell Dvorak Concerto "the most intelligent, judicious version Firkusny did, with the cuts [by Vilem Kurz] eliminating so much repetitious and rhetorical matter." Frankly, while I admire the CBS version with Szell, I do like to hear Dvorak's original ideas without the prejudice that the Concerto was written "for two right hands."
Firkusny is top form for this performance, with sweeping glissandi and octaves, plenty of pep as well as melody. The pace is quick enough to prevent some of the inflated sequences from becoming self-evident. I do wish the sound quality were up to snuff for the G Major Symphony, so we could savor Dvorak's writing for violas and cellos with more depth and definition. I want to hear more of the flute in movement one. Kubelik plays the work for its lyricism, avoiding the heavy foot. At first hearing, the performance sounds much like the Dorati version for Mercury Records. There is a warmth and wistfulness, however, that communicates Kubelik's idiosyncratic, dramatic sense. The miking placement appears back of the hall, toward the brass and tympani, so gauge your own interest in a disc that will likely escape all but devoted Kubelik fans.
Paul Kletzki conducts = BERLIOZ: Benvenuto Cellini Oveture/TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64; Capriccio Italien, Op. 45/SCHUBERT: Entr'acte from Rosamunde/DVORAK: 3 Slavonic Dances/MENDELSSOHN: Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage Overture/BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98/WAGNER: Traume from Wesendonck Lieder
Paul Kletzki conducts Philharmonia Orchestra; Bavarian Radio Orchestra (Tchaikovsky 5th); Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (Brahms); Royal Philharmonic (Schubert); Israel Philharmonic (Mendelssohn); French National Radio Orchestra (Dvorak)
EMI Great Conductors 20 7243 75468 2 75:37; 72:10:
In a seminar on under-rated, fine conductors Paul Kletzki (1900-1973) would stand high, a composer-conductor with a strong polish-German pedagogy who came under the influence of Furtwaengler; only Kletzki managed to refine his own stick technique. Collectors recall fondly Kletzki's emotional, pungent way in Mahler and Schoenberg with the Israel Philharmonic, an his many fine collaborations with soloists, especially his Chopin E Minor Concerto with the young Maurizio Pollini and the F Minor with veteran Witold Malcuzynski. Kletzki's Beethoven cycle with the Czech Philharmonic for Supraphon has proved a durable, high-gloss series of performances, again in the middle-European, athletic tradition which made his Sibelius no less enthralling.
This excellent collation restores two live performances, of th Tchaikovsky Fifth and the Brahms Fourth, both of which have some suave, enduring points. The 1967 Tchaikovsky from Bavaria is set in strong lines, much in the heroic, Koussevitzky or Mravinsky tradition, more in the martial than in the waltz spirit. The audience is absolutely rapt, and explodes only after the final chord of the whiplash finale. The Brahms is from 1965, the first E Minor I have heard with the Czech Philharmonic. It has tremendous personality, not to mention all sorts of interior lines and agogic accents in the violas and bass that most recordings subdue. We can hear, in the E Major Andante and again in the whirlwind chaconne, Kletzki's emotionalism in strong vocal demands to his players. I would challenge collectors to play the Brahms and keep their sophisticated guests on hooks about whose molded performance this is.
The Mendelssohn overture has vivid colors even for 1954, the Israel Philharmonic always responsive to Kletzki. The three instances of work with the Philharmonia Orchestra are up to producer Walter Legge's best standards, the 1958 Tchaikovsky Capriccio elated and elastic, just a hair off the utter abandon Paul vsn Kempen wooed out of the Concertgebouw. The Wagner Traume has violinist Hugh Bean in the vocal part, from a 1958 LP that had the Siegfried Idyll as its major calling card. The Berlioz playing is quite stylish, making me wish EMI had done an all-Berlioz overtures disc with Kletzki to rival efforts by Beecham and Munch. Hearing three vivacious Slavonic Dances from 1961 with the French National Radio is a rarity; the last, the Kolo from Op. 72, simply blasts off. While my comparisons to other conductors' performances may seem to restrain my enthusiasm, do not let appearances dissuade you from acquiring this colorful and often impassioned series of musical insights by a past master of the orchestral idiom. This is a musician's musician, this Kletzki.
SCHUBERT: Schwanengesang, D. 957; 3 Lieder/MAHLER: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone/Klaus Billing, piano/Wilhelm Furtwaengler conducts Vienna Philharmonic (Mahler)
Archipel ARPCD 0067 74:46 (Distrib. Qualiton):
The more collectible aspect of this issue is likely the 1951 live Mahler Songs of a Wayfarer with Fischer-Dieskau and Furtwaengler, since along with their commercial inscription for EMI, this is Furtwaengler's only incursion into Mahler. The immediate downside is the inadvertent cutting of the first measure and one-half of the opening, but the performance manages to redeem the cut and the compressed sound with some real sympathy in the realization. The third song, "I have a burning knife in my breast," is an operatic aria, almost Verdian in this rendition. No small wonder: the Schubert from 1948 predates by ten months Fischer-Dieskau's operatic debut in Fricsay's Don Carlos production in November 1948. My feeling is that the Schubert is the real gem, with some fascinating musical decisions by the then twenty-four-year-old artist, with a brisker "Abschied" than say, Hotter's, with its underlying, horseback canter an ironic foil to the yearning of the persona's departure.
If Fischer-Dieskau can project sentiment and intimacy in the "Staenchen," he can also adumbrate the urgent passion in Mahler in "Der Atlas." Until Fischer Dieskau strained his voice on Wagner roles, his was a natural, lyric baritone, born to Mozart and Schubert, capable of judicious spinto tessitura. Here, we have him in his true element, in good sound. A sleeper album worth acquisition.
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