Classical CD Reissues II
BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonatas: No. 1 in D Major, Op. 12, No.1; No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 12, No. 3; No. 10 in G Major, Op. 96
David Oistrakh, violin/Sviatoslav Richter, piano
DOREMI DHR-7800 67:14 (Distrib. Allegro)
The collaboration of the great Russian artists David Oistrakh (1908-1974) and Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) came relatively late in their careers, likely a testament to their respective temperaments and to Oistrkakh's loyalty to his regular accompanists, Lev Oberin and Vladimir Yampolsky. The association between Oistrakh and Richter formally began in 1967. Their EMI (via Melodiya) recordings of Brahms and Franck enjoy a power and energy uniquely theirs. The Beethoven violin sonatas, here in a May 6, 1970 rendition, were not new to Richter, who had traversed much of the standard repertory with Oleg Kagan. The readings here are restrained, thoughtful, and well-propelled. Oistrakh, of course, is always right in the middle of the musical marshmallow with wonderful intonation. Some of the miking is piano-heavy, but Richter can subito enough to allow even diminuendo violin passages to be heard clearly. The theme-and-variations in Op. 12, No. 1 has a real sense of direction, a strong personality. The wit and momentum of the finale in Op. 12, No. 3 is undeniable. For sheer elegance of line, the G Major Sonata is superb: plangent, expansive, a real tour de force for two performers who clearly came to musical and temperamental consonance. Kudos to DOREMI for an important addition to the legacy of two monumental personalities.
BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68/TCHAIKOVSKY: Serenade in C Major for Strings, Op. 48
Yevgeni Mravinsky conducts Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra
Urania URN 22.181 72:00 (Distrib. Qualiton):
Taken from LP's made in 1949-50, these are the usual Italian transfers not done with original masters, so buyers must tolerate surface noise and occasional pitch variation endemic to Melodiya's state of the art half a century ago. For those who admire the 'ice man' Mravinsky and his glacial appraoch to Brahms, the opportunity to have his C Minor Symphony is too good to pass up, at least until Music&Arts competes with Urania in this project. Like Furtwaengler, Mravinsky sees the C Minor Symphony as a direct descendent of the Beethoven Ninth, rife with portent. It is a grainy, visceral interpretation, not always 'pretty,' in the sense that Mravinsky does not mind a few discordances to disturb our vision, unlike the slicker, equally cold conceptions by Karajan. The Allegretto is of a piece, taken in a single breath, as it were, in five-bar phrases. The last movement is played as a toccata for the Leningrad Philharmonic. Tchaikovsky's silky Serenade is all business; I was surprised that the famous Valse received such linear treatment. More in the monumental style is the great Elegy, a testament to Mravinsky's rigorous tension in building an even melodic pulse. Again, the toccata approach to the Tema russe finale, and it's a whirlwind all the way. These might not be to everyone's sensibility in Brahms, treating the movements as a 'populist' progression in spiritual victory, but it sure packs a whollop. For acquired tastes.
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Capriccio Espagnol, OP. 34; Symphony No. 2, Op. 9 "Antar"; Russian Easter Overture, Op. 36
Paul Paray conducts Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Rediscovery RD 022 55:06:
Paul Paray (1886-1979) made a reputation in French music during the late 1930's and 1940's, especially as an accompanist to great soloists, Pierre Fourner, Jean Doyen, Jeanne-Marie Darre, and Jacques Thibaud. His appearance in Detroit in 1951 had enough success to warrant his tenure there until 1963, where his catholic musical tastes extended well beyond Saint-Saens, Franck and Chabrier to Schumann and the German romantics and to the Russians. Paray's preference for the Mercury label resulted from their single-mike engineering, which preserved the balances Paray favored. These 1953 Rimsky-Korsakov inscriptions derive from that happy collaboration, now refurbished in scintillatiing sound by David Gideon and his Rediscovery personnel.
The big work is certainly Rimsky-Kosakov's "Antar" Symphony in F-sharp, a relative rarity in the 1950's, where only Scherchen and Leinsdorf (with the Cleveland Orchestra) had competing versions. A kind of musical allegory, the symphony is divided into four movements or depictions of primal energy, like "the power of fate." Colors abound, from deep basses to a full snare-drum battery complemented by harp, all captured in audiohile-worthy sound. A real product of the Balakirev philosophy of Russian musical composition, the score sways with Eastern nuances and evocative rhythms. Paray squeezes out all of Araby that Motown can muster. The Spanish Caprice has some wild touches, like a full ritard in the fandango that will either thrill or thwart the purist's sense of momentum. The Russian Easter is perhaps the most conventional of the readings, appropriately lush and resonant, but lacking that bit of mysticism Stokowski could evoke in his famous RCA recording (LM 1816, OP) with bass Nicola Moscona, also available on Rediscovery. For the musically adventurous, this label continues to revivify performances and performers all too easily glossed over by the majors. Try their website at Rediscclassics.
MOZART: Idomeneo--Sena Jurinac, sop/Birgit Nillson, sop/Richard Lewis, tenor/Leopold Simoneau, tenor/Fritz Busch, cond/Glyndebourne Festival Orchestra and Chorus--Urania 22.182:
Mozart wrote Idomeneo for the 1780-81 carnival season in Munich; he kept working on it until the last minute and revised it further for a concert performance in 1787, so it exists in no definitive form. He wrote his father that he was very pleased with it, and so he should have been. In retelling the story of Idomeneo of Crete and his tragic vow to sacrifice the first person he sees if he's rescued from shipwreck (it turns out to be his son Idamante), he explodes the conventions of opera seria, turning its stock characters into real people with real feelings; from the dramatic overture to the final jubilant chorus (after Idamante is saved by the intervention of the gods), secco recitatif is replaced by orchestral accompaniment leading directly into arias and choruses, with a propulsive energy previously unheard. Perhaps for that reason, the long and complex opera disappeared from the repertory for over 100 years, and it wasn't until after the landmark 1951 production preserved on these discs that it began to appear with any regularity on the world's stages. Even so, the Glyndebourne production was heavily cut (Arbace's arias are omitted, as is much of the recitative), and only in later recordings can we hear all of this glorious music.
But Busch leads his forces with understanding and commitment, and his cast was the best ever assembled. It included two of the greatest Mozart singers of the century, Jurinac as a womanly, tender Ilia (Idamante's beloved) and the manly and elegant tenor of Simoneau as Idamante, along with Nillson as a brilliant and vengeful Electra (Ilia's rival for his affection) and Lewis as a persuasively anguished Idomeneo. There are other excellent and more modern versions--the best is probably John Eliot Gardiner's (Archiv)--but in spite of sound that is no more than passable, the musical integrity, effective characterizations, and sheer excitement of this production have never been surpassed.
SCHOENBERG/SHILKRET/TANSMAN/ MILHAUD/CASTELNUOVO-TEDES/CO/ STRAVINSKY/TOCH: The Genesis Suite
Edward Arnold, narrator
Chorus directed by Hugo Strrelitzer
Werner Janssen conducts The Janssen Symphony Orchestra of Los Angeles:
EMI 7243 5 67729 2 2 49:57:
And now for something completely different: in 1946 Hollywood composer and arranger Nathaniel Shilkret decided to tell "the greatest story ever told," and so he assembled a cast of famous classical composers to fill out the Biblical text of Genesis with a kind of extended cantata, with chorus (mostly wordless, except in two sections, notably the Stravinsky) and running narrative commentary. Both Schoenberg's Prelude ("The earth was without form") and Toch's finale ("The Covenant") are purely orchestral sequences. Shilkret himself contributes "The Creation," with a score reminiscent in part of the film Spellbound, with a vocalise for chorus of 'oohs' and 'aahs' that might have a touch of Lost Horizon. Tansman's "Adam and Eve" provides the love music, with hints of Scriabin and Wagner, then a series of cascading downward scales to depict "The Fall."
Text-painting is the Suite's weakest link. Stravinsky's "Babel" is the account of Man's being confounded in languages by his ambition to assault heaven. Castelnuovo-Tedesco, noted for his pieces arranged by violinist Jascha Heifetz, has a long section for Noah. Almost none of the pieces has any melodic quality, just pleasant harmonies in thirds and sixths, with a tendency to G Major. The Stravinsky remains alluring in a way that lovers of "The Flood" may enjoy. Whether this restoration, with its intermittent crackles, will provide more than a sophisticates' party-piece or a young person's guide to Bible passages, is a matter of taste.
Morely and Gearhart Rediscovered = Historic Two-Piano Wizardry
Virginia Morely and Livingston Gearhart, pianos
Ivory Classics 72004 64:03; 60:45 (Distrib. Naxos):
For those whose two-piano listenings have been confined to the Labeque sisters, this album will be something of a revelation. Even for us who are well familiar with Vronsky and Babin, Whittemore and Lowe, and Gold and Fizdale, the 14-year collaboration of Morley and Gerheart (1940-1954) may well have slipped by, despite their recordings and David Diamond's having dedicated his Concerto for Two Solo Pianos to them. A favorite duo for Fred Waring, the Gearharts originally met as part of Robert Casadesus and Nadia Boulanger's master class in Paris, 1937. Virginia's maiden name, Clotfelter, found a more euphonious stage name in Morley; she became Mrs. Gearhart in 1940. At first, the duo specialized in Gallic fare, like Debussy En Blanc et Noir; but with their access to night clubs and radio, Livingston used his training in composition from Boulanger, Stravinsky and Milhaud to create enduring arrangements from classics to Broadway and Tin Pan Alley. Virginia, by the way, after the couple's separation, became Mrs. Fred Waring.
The two CD's from Ivory offer 43 cuts, music from Gearhart's arrangement of "Three Blind Mice" to Poulenc's Movements perpetuels, Hoagy Carmichael's Star Dust, to Chopin's "Minute" Waltz, Youman's "Tea for Two" and Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." Consistently, the playing is exceeding suave, fleet, even glibly secure. Most of the tempos are fast, even in eight of the Brahms waltzes. The playing in Debussy's "Fetes" will bear comparison with the recording by the Lheviines in the 1930's. They play the Arensky Op. 15 Waltz with the same schwung as Gabrilowitsch and Levitzky, only in better sound. Many of the cuts seem to come out of Hollywood soundtracks, like the arrangements of Arlen's "Stormy Weather," Rodgers' "With a Song in My Heart," and Green's "Body and Soul." Gershwin's An American in Paris is breezy, deft, and it enjoys any number of coloristic touches, from honking taxicabs to evocations of Paris night-life. For both touch-piece accuracy and agile symmetry of motion, try their Liadov Music-Box, Op. 32 and Kodaly's "The VienneseMusical Clock" from Hary Janos. From the French salon we have Tailleferre's "La Tirelitentaine" and Lenoir's "Parlez moi d'amour," which all but evokes the voice of Piaf.
Typically, the team of Morely and Gearhart gleaned highest praise for the intelligence and polish of their playing, for what Isabel Morse Jones called their "precision and simultaneous musical thinking." These discs confirm her opinion and then some.
BACH: Partita No. 4 in D Major; Gigue from French Suite No. 5 in G/BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, OP. 31, No. 2 "Tempest"/GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A Minor: First Movement/CHOPIN: Etudes, OP. 25: No. 1 in A-flat; No. 3 in F
Dame Myra Hess, piano/Victor Kolar conducts Detroit Symphony Orchestra (Grieg)
APR 5549 68:51 (Distrib. Albany):
This is the third volume of the Dame Myra Hess 1949 appearances at Illinois University; this in March 18, 1949, recorded in fair to good sound, but still capturing her particular magic in her favorite Bach and Beethoven. The Grieg excerpt, the Chopin etudes, and the Bach gigue derive from 1937 tapes from a Ford Sunday Evening Hour broadcast from March 7. Each of these pieces is a contribution to the relatively small recorded legacy of Myra Hess, who generally disliked recording. The Hess discography rests primarily on her Schumann, whether the Carnaval, Symphonic Etudes, the Piano Quintet, and Concerto in A Minor, and her Beethoven, especially the last three sonatas (excluding any record of Op. 111) and the latter three concertos.
The Bach Partita is quite energetic, nicely shaped, and several of the inner movements have a suppleness that command by their authority. The Beethoven is aggressive, attacked with a boldness missing in her more delicate, commercial rendition of Op. 110; unfortunately, the record is marred by the loss of some measures in movements two and three, as well as occasional pops in the original acetates. The playing in the last movement is fleet and suave, poised and architectural, with plenty of colors. The 1937 sound for the Grieg Concerto movement is thin, tinny and crackly, with some bad sloughing in the orchestral part. The piano playing enjoys great security and rhythmic freedom. The Chopin etudes and the finale from Bach's fifth French Suite are pert, brilliant miniatures, each of which shows off the Hess fioritura and joy of playing. Even with the sonic limitations, this is a most desirable addition in the legacy of one of the keyboard's most popular, enduring artists.
ALEXANDER KIPNIS, bass--Russian arias and songs--Lebende Vergangenheit 89946:
Some consider Alexander Kipnis (1891-1978) to be the greatest basso in the period between the two World Wars, and I'm not about to disagree with them. With majestic sonority throughout an exceptional range, infallible technical control, a superb legato and mezza voce, and acting skills to rival Chaliapin's, he was best-known for his roles in the Wagner and Mozart operas and was notable in the Italian and French repertoires as well. Still, he was Russian by birth (Ukrainian, to be precise), and you get the feeling from this disc that there's where his heart lay. By 1945, when these opera arias (seven from Boris Gudonov plus four others) were recorded, his voice was somewhat frayed; even so, his Farewell Scene from Boris is astonishing in its gripping intensity and moving beauty, and so is "Everyone knows love" from Eugen Onegin. He was in better voice in 1939, singing two pensive songs by Rachmaninoff with great taste and fluency, along with five by other Russian composers that are equally absorbing and idiomatic, including a remarkable Stravinsky song called "Tilim-born" that I don't remember having heard before. The sound is good and the voice is glorious; don't miss it.
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