Classical CD Reissues
December 2002 - Part 1 of 2
MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 in D
Sir John Barbirolli conducts Berlin Philharmonic
EMI Classics 7243 5 67926 2 78:26:
I have already alluded to Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970) and his relatively late (1954, in the Ninth Symphony) discovery of Mahler's music when I covered his Third Symphony for for the BBC "Legends" series. This 1964 appearance of Barbirolli with Karajan's Berlin Philharmonic marked the first time in some 27 years that a British conductor had led the BPO in a recording; Sir Thomas Beecham had done so prior to the War, in 1937, when he inscribed Mozart's The Magic Flute. The performance of the Ninth also comes at a time when Britain, too, was in he throes of the Mahler revival spearheaded in the US by Bernstein and Walter; in Britain, Kubelik, Klemperer, Horenstein and Barbirolli were each promulgating the Mahler legacy in his own way, often with brilliant results.
EMI gives us the Mahler Ninth as part of their "Great Recordings of the Century" line, and it is a worthy addition. Barbirolli may lead Karajan's orchestra, but he does not round out all the rough edges in the Karajan manner. While the warmth of personilty is there, the interior movements, particularly the Rondo-Burleske, have an unruly passion that is idiosyncratically Sir John's. The opening Adagio is singularly broad; and although Barbirolli often favored slow tempos, the pacing of the whole is quite brisk, without sacrificing orchestral detail. The interplay of harp, winds, strings and battery will beguile audiophiles who, score in hand, like to follow the blending of parts. When Barbirolli passed away in July, 1970, Daniel Barenboim led the Mahler Seventh for the memorial concert, calling Sir John "the greatest Mahler conductor of his time." This album more than justifies that epithet.
RAWSTHORNE: Street Corner Overture/VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Symphony No. 8 in D Minor/BAX: Oboe Quintet/DELIUS: On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring/WALTON: Crown Imperial/ELGAR: Land of Hpe and Glory
Edith Rothwell, oboe
Kathleen Ferrier, contralto
Sir John Barbirolli conduicys Halle Orchestra
BBC Legends BBCL 4100-2 73:19 (Distrib. Koch International):
Culled from five distinct concerts 1951 (Elgar) to 1969 (Delius, Walton), this disc makes a splendid case for British jingoism, given the opening British National Anthem and Kathleen Ferier's haunting account of "Land of Hope and Glory" from a long-lost shellac pressing made at the re-opening of Free Trade Hall, Manchester on November 16, 1951. Rawsthorne's quicksilver Street Corner Overture plays like a modernized version of Smetana's Overture to The Bartered Bride, a busy piece. The 1967 D Minor Symphony of Vaughan Williams, dedicated to Sir John and the Halle, receives a broader, lusher performance than the 1961 version inscribed by Ermitage (ERM 181-2) from the Swiss Radio. Sir John made a transcription of the Bax Oboe Quintet for small orchestra with the composer's approval, and used it as a vehicle for wife, oboist Edith Rothwell, here from 1968. The first movement is quasi-oriental in sound, while the last movement is a rousing Irish jig. The Walton Crown Imperial and the Elgar that end the record each convey a strong valedictory emotion, the sense of fateful encounter. Spirited playing from Halle on all counts, often sensational.
BAILLIE: Arias--Isobel Baillie, sop--Dutton 9729:
Judging by the steady stream of releases, and somewhat to my surprise, the record producers must think there is a market for historic vocal recordings. Joining the ranks is Dutton, with two releases in a series they call Singers to Remember; Helge Roswaenge is reviewed elsewhere in this issue, and here we have the Scottish soprano Isobel Baillie. She had a strong, bright, clear voice, with very little vibrato and lots of verve; she sounds much like Emma Kirkby does today, though Kirkby has a much larger repertory. For more than 30 years Baillie was indispensable to English oratorios; she sang hardly at all in opera, though there is a sparkling account on this disc of the Doll Song from Offenbachs Tales of Hoffmann. Mostly we get Handel, lots of it, including several arias from Messiah for which she is best known. There is a particularly effective version of I know that my Redeemer liveth, among others, sung with great sincerity and vitality. I dont think she was really a great singer--for one thing, there are often small problems with her intonation--but in her chosen repertory she was an enjoyable one.
CARPENTER: Sea Drift (revised version)/SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 5 in D, Op. 47/GERSHWIN: An American in Paris
Leonard Bernstein conducts New York Philharmonic and RCA Victor Symphony (Gershwin)
Symposium 1295 77:45 (Distrib. Albany):
It is common knowledge that Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) got his big break in 1943, substituting for an indisposed Bruno Walter to lead the New York Philharmonic. But little documentation exists to trace Bernstein's career immediately after the 'blessed event,' at least until his commercial contract with RCA and the St. Louis Symphony in 1947, and the enclosed Gershwin performance from a studio session that same year. Now, through the auspices of Armed Forces Radio, Symposium resurrects the program of January 28, 1945, some months before the defeat of Nazi Germany, when Bernstein led the Philharmonic in the radio debut of Chicago composer John Alden Carpenter's "Sea Drift" in its revised version. For my money, the concert really does not begin until the Shostakovich: while Carpenter may take his tone-poem's rubric from Delius, the piece is uneventful, bland, and not particularly scored well. My thinking is that Carpenter had been a favorite of both Rodzinski and Reiner, Bernstein's mentors, so he took the occasion to make points with the masters. The Shostakovich, however, fires Bernstein's sanguine temperament, and the fur flies, without sacrificing some poignant interplay between clarinet, harp, tympani and battery. The atmosphere is suffused with the sense that this music comes from one of our Allies, fighting the Huns across the sea. There is none of the feeling of "forced rejoicing" the composer confessed to in his Memoirs. The Gershwin is, of course, echt Bernstein: fluid, whimsical, melodious Gershwin. Lest we forget, Bernstein spent his off hours playing in downtown Manhattan with Judy Holiday, working out revues of music by Porter, Gershwin, and Kern, the kind of stuff Bernstein himself would cultivate for the Broad way stage. A fascinating period piece, and one that complements the later Decca records Lenny made of Schumann and Beethoven.
BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73/BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36
Sir Thomas Beecham conductsRoyal Philharmonic Orchestra
BBC Legends BBCL 4099-2 70:25 (Koch International):
BBC Legends celebrates its first 100 issues of live broadcasts by splicing two 1956 appearances, August (Brahms) and December (Beethoven) by Sir Thomas Beecham in symphonic works he championed throughout his career. One would call Beecham a "Brahms consuctor," inasmuch as he programmed twenty-three of the composer's works, with emphases on the Violin Concerto, Symphonies Two and Three, and the Haydn Variations. Curiously, he rarely performed the C Minor Symphony, and he never cared to learn the E Minor. The D Major was a special favorite, and Beecham lavishes great care on details, certainly, but also a muscular, athletic assertiveness that does not avoid rough edges. He doubles wind and trumpet parts, particularly in the finale, that thoroughly mesmerize his audience; in fact, the last half page is smothered by unrestrained applause. If only the BBC would produce the F Major Symphony Beecham did that appeared on the Beecham Society LP.
Beecham was no less adept in Beethoven; and CBS would do us all a favor to reissue the Eroica and Pastoral symphonies Beecham did commercially, not to mention several extant accounts of the Ninth from live broadcasts. The D Major ranked high in Beecham's estimate, as his EMI recording attests, and the Larghetto movement here confirms. Orchestral balances are the order of the day; interior lines achieve a sheer, fluid motion, equally evident in the Brahms. These are really virtuoso readings by a master of his idiom, totally at home in repertory he loves. Beecham aficionados have another mandatory purchase for their perennial delectation.
Andre Cluytens = BIZET: Symphony in c Major/DEBUSSY: Images for Orchestra/Ravel: La Valse/Schumann: Manfred Overture/BERLIOZ: Symphonie Fantastique/Wagner: Lohengrin- Prelude, Act III/MOUSSORGSKY: Coronation Scene from Boris Godunov
Boris Christoff, bass-baritone (in Boris)
Andre Cluytens conducts Berlin Philharmonic (Schumann); Paris Conservatory Orchestra (Berlioz, Moussorgsky, Debussy); ORTF Orchestra (Bizet); National Opera-Theater Orchestra (Wagner); and Philharmonia of London (Ravel)
EMI 7243 5 75106 2 76:28; 75:54:
Having recently reviewed a series on Testament devoted to Andre Cluytens (1905-1972), as well as the DOREMI issue of the 1946 Beethoven Violin Concerto with Zino Francescatti, I decided to audition IMG's tribute another of the "Great Conductors" series, Volume 6, devoted to Cluytens' readings 1953-1964, with the Berlioz' being a live recording from a Tokyo tour from May 10, 1964. Considered to be the most important French conductor after Charles Munch and Pierre Monteux, Cluytens appeared in Wagner at Bayreuth; he also had the privilege of leading a complete Beethoven-symphony cycle with the Berlin Philharmonic for EMI, of which only a scattering can be found today. The complete EMI Boris Godunov has come back via "Great Recordings of the Century."
The old LP version of the Bizet Symphony (Angel 35119) was a classic of its kind, supple, animated, a good choice after the witty Beecham version and the more sensuous approach by Stokowski for RCA. In the CD era, an important reading by Charles Munch appeared via Chesky. The 1953 Cluytens reading is light on spirit and rhythmically flexible; it is a literalist reading in the manner of Rodzinski's, but not so dry acoustically. What follows on disc one is the 1963 Debussy Images for Orchestra, and this performance is outstanding. Vivid colors, a brilliant orchestral patina, deft miking from Salle Wagram, Paris, make this a superb complement to the classic Monteux and Munch readings. The 1958 La Valse from Britain reminds us of the complete cycles Cluytens did for EMI of Debussy and Ravel, to be superseded by Martinon's lucid versions in the late '60's and early '70's. The big find here is the Tokyo Berlioz Symphonie, an exercise in forward motion, but capable of broad, lingering harmonies in the "Scene aux Champs." When the Witches' Sabbath rings to conclusion, the Tokyo audience goes wild. The Schumann overture and the Wagner prelude certify Cluytens' credntials in German repertory; certainly his Beethoven Violin Concerto with Oistrakh and the French National Radio was among the most serene and secure of commercial inscriptions. From Boris Godunov (rec. 1962) we get three excerpts, with Christoff in fine voice and the Chorus of the National Opera, Sofia using the Korsakov version of the score. All very lush, with moments of great earnestness. But the winner for me is the Debussy, which is ravishing.
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 "Pastoral"/STRAVINSKY: Fireworks, Op. 4/MOSSOLOV: Iron Foundry/De SABATA: Juventus/GLAZOUNOV: From the Middle Ages--Suiite, Op.79: 2 Excerpts
Victor de Sabata conducts Rome Santa Cecilia Academy Orchestra (Beethoven) and Turin Orchestra of the Italian Broadcasting Company
Naxos Historical 8.110859 71:07:
Some years ago I enjoyed an ASO concert in Atlanta led by Aldo Ceccato; but my primary reason for attending was to interview his wife, the daughter of the legendary Italian maestro Vittorio (Victor) de Sabata (1892-1967), whose reputation lies almiost single-handedly in operatic repertoire, and especially with his inscription of Puccini's Tosca, with Callas, Gobbi and de Stefano, made for EMI. German Heliodor had once offered some LP transfers of 1939 shellacs with Mozart's Requiem, the Brahms Fourth, and music by Kodaly and Wagner. Hunt had someWagner with Eileen Farrell; and Nuovo Era proffered a series of New York Philharmonic appearances that included a Beethoven Fifth, a Sibelius First, and the Brahms Violin Concerto with Milstein. I recall a particularly strong account of the Schumann Piano Concerto with Claudio Arrau. London Decca produced a set of 1947 inscriptions of Beethoven, Sibelius, Wagner and Berlioz. And other than his last record, the Verdi Requiem, there were of few odds and ends with RCA: his daughter told me that of his few commerical records, his favorite was of Debussy's Jeux (LM 1057).
De Sabata had originally trained as a piano and violin student with a penchant for composition. His own tone-poem Juventus (rec. 1933 for Parlophone) was composed in 1919 and sounds like Richard Strauss cross-fertilized by Respighi. Color music was always a De Sabata tour de force, and Stravinsky's early piece Jeux d'artifice and mossolov's "futuristic" Iron Foundry, rahter literally realized, capture Sabata's zeal and vitality, his rhythmic clarity, often compared to Toscanini, but whose flexibility has something of Furtwaengler's influence. Even a second-rate ensemble from Turin, 1933, cannot avoid Sabata's rigorous discipline, his crisp entries for woodwind voices. The Beethoven Pastoral (rec. 1947) had a brief LP life on HMV: it is a lyrical, Apollinian account, gracious, under-miked, rarely striving for earth-shaking sonority. Its beauty lies in the vocalization of the lines, the flow of the Andante, the woodwinds in the Peasants' Dance, the hymnal finale. The sheer songfulness of the Sixth makes a dramatic complement to the more robust, highly idiosyncratic Eroica given the same year with the LPO at Royal Albert Hall. for Decca. While the Glazounov excerpts are great to have as filler for this under-represented artist, I would encourage Naxos to seek out the Fabien Sevitzky inscription off the entire suite, made with the Indianapolis Symphony for RCA's Bluebird label. As for Sabata, Naxos should reinstate the New York experiences formerly on Nuovo Era.
HOVHANESS: Songs--Ara Berberian, basso/Alan Hovhaness, p.--Crystal 818:
I cant remember ever hearing any of Hovhanesss songs in a recital, which is odd, because they are quite lovely. Like most of his music, they reflect their roots in Armenian folk idioms while remaining entirely individual in conception. Most of the texts (included in the program booklet) are by the composer himself. Ara Berberian (also Armenian in origin) has a strong, resonant, and expressive bass voice thats entirely suitable for this melismatic and evocative material, and while theres some monotony in its unchanging dynamic level, thats not enough to deny its beauties. This is the second volume of Hovhanesss songs, and like the first, was originally released on LP in 1970; the tape masters have been lost, but Seth Winners transfers from the LP are pretty good. Hovhaness fans will certainly want this release; Im not so sure about the rest of us, but I found it enjoyable in small doses.
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