Classical CD Reissues, Part 2   
for December 2002

  Pierre Monteux Set = BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14/CHABRIER: Fete Polonaise/RAVEL: La Valse; Petit Poucet from Mother Goose; Daphnis et Chloe--Suite #1; Valses nobles et sentimentales; Sarabande/D'INDY: Symphonie Cevenole, Op. 25/FRANCK: Piece heroique (orch. O'Connell)/CHAUSSON: Symphony in B-flat/DEBUSSY: Gigues and Rondes de printemps/IBERT: Escales/MESSAIEN: L'Ascension

Pierre Monteux conducts Paris Symphony Orchestra (Berlioz, Chabrier, Ravel) and San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Maxim Schapiro, piano (D'Indy)

Cascavelle VEL 3037 70:49; 65:06; 72:39 (Distrib. Allegro):

Admirers of Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) already know of these inscriptions, given the prior issue of the Paris Symphony performances from 1930 on Music & Arts, and the San Francisco Symphony retrospective with Monteux on RCA. Cascavelle is a Swiss label that has had some revived some excellent work with Fricsay, Ansermet and Robert Casadesus, so I thought I would like to hear their transfers. I went to the c. 1942 (no date given) First Suite from Daphnis and found the colors enchanting, the energy and elegant clarity I always associate with Monteux readings. All of the transfers have a high hiss level, but the power of the music is not lost. Monteux's Symphonie fantastique remains a classic: it competed in its own day with inscriptions by Fried and Weingartner and manages to outshine them both. Few conductors can make Chabrier's bottom-heavy Fete polonaise actually dance; Monteux simply urges it fast enough to sweep itself off its feet.

The San Francisco series of performannces 1941-1950 are testaments to the impressivee, Gallic discipline and taste Monteux brought to West Coast music-making, what Paray achieved for Detroit. The Ravel Valses have an erotic allure all their own. The arrangement of Debussy's haunted Sarabande was among my favorite LP's, coupled with muisic by Berlioz and Milhaud. The Chausson (rec. 1951) was a famous RCA LP (LM 1181), much sought as definitive of the emergent French symphonic tradition after Cesar Franck. The D'Indy. Messaien and Ibert (this sounds almost "Hollywoodian") each benefit from Monteux's deft sophistication: it is witty, vivacious and vibrant playing, with no sense of demure prudery in the individual lines. The plasticity of rhythm, the interior choirs mixed with a lustrous patina, make the Monteux sound as distinctive of the more flamboyant Stokowski, and just as finished. Collectors will doubtless compare L'Ascension exactly between these two colossi of the conductor's art. If you missed other labels' incarnations of these sterling performances, the Cascavelle set is your salvation.

--Gary Lemco


Leonid Kogan = BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61/MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 "Turkish"

Leonid Kogan, violin
Andre Vandernoot conducts Paris Conservatory Orchestra
Testament SBT 1228 73:07 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):   
     

Of the six new Testament reissues devoted to Soviet violinist Leonid Kogan (1924-1982), this is perhaps the most significant, since it proffers his previously unreleased, 1957 inscription of the Beethoven Concerto, with an extremely sympathetic Andre Vandrrnoot (1927-1991) leading the Paris Conservatory Orchestra in vigorous fashion. Kogan, among the most patrician of Russian violinists, carries the Beethoven with a lofty conception whose rhythmic pulse is unwavering and whose poise bears comparison to the equally exalted taste of Arthur Grumiaux.

The breadth of the first movement's melodic line, with its unforgiving rapid passages, proves Kogan's ability to make poetic elegance of running filigree without missing a beat. His cadenza is Joachim's, but it has several idiosyncratic points of departutre that allow his innovative personality to shine. The Larghetto might well steal the show: the lovely G Major variants just seem suspended in space like heavenly crystals. I find the last movement extremely deft, if not particularly good-natured; the same tight-lipped efficiency marks the Rondo of the "Turkish" Concerto from June,1957. That does not mean that the sheer pyrotechnical bravura does not prevail; au contraire, these are sterling, masterful readings by a supreme craftsman. The Mozart is almost too refined to capture the "peasant" in Mozart's janizzary figures, but for digital prowess, you would hard pressed to find superior readings. Astonishing playing.

--Gary Lemco


MOZART: Don Giovanni
Eberhard Wächter, Joan Sutherland, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Giuseppe Taddei, Luigi Alva, Piero Cappuccilli, Graziella Sciutti, Gottlob Frick
Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra / Giulini
EMI Classics 67873 (3 CDs):

More than forty years after its first release, Giulini’s towering Don Giovanni has weathered the storms of competition from both the mainstream and the original-instrument crowd. It is not perfect vocally, but it remains the touchstone against which all other recordings are measured. Oddly enough, Giulini was a last-minute addition to the production, which was originally intended for a still volcanic Klemperer, but it turned out to be a miracle of good fortune; the intensely dramatic, aggressive reading that resulted has had few rivals.

The set’s strength lies in Giulini’s single-minded power and drive, seductive phrasing, the orchestra’s playing, and in the key men: Eberhard Wächter’s snarling, savage Don and Giuseppe Taddei’s forceful, cynical Leporello are totally in synch with the conductor and carry the day as Mozart must have meant.

Joan Sutherland and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf are far less satisfactory, although this newest digital remastering makes the best case for them. Where the original U.S. pressings (and even, though to a lesser extent, the UK pressings) had trouble handling their flights into the soprano stratospheres, now they are beautifully captured without any hint of distortion or strain. Sutherland’s deplorable diction and swooping tendencies, however, continually threaten to reduce her Donna Anna to merely a pitiable creature, and Schwarzkopf is just too matronly and arch to be totally effective. Fortunately, Graziella Sciutti, is a delight as the sexily vulnerable Zerlina.

All this would be for naught if the London-based Philharmonia did not completely identify with and carry out the conductor’s vision in which nothing impedes the inevitable catastrophe. The Philharmonia in those days, when giants like Klemperer and Giulini and Karajan regularly recorded with them, was still on a level with the great orchestras on the continent, its sweet woodwinds and sweeter violins supported by the driving power of the lower strings and the silver precision of the brass.

If you have any of the previous CD incarnations of this immensely important set, you may still benefit from this new remastering. It was always a tremendous recording, however, one of EMI’s best and most characteristic, with a wide, natural soundstage, vast dynamic range and deep emotional punch that captured Giulini’s rich, dark-hued sound. Perfectly melding sonic and interpretive fury, this performance scored purely in terms of sound from the first bars of the overture and its stunning ability, during the terrible rape and murder scene, to identify the three men, Don Giovanni, Leporello and the Commandant, despite the similarities of their voices.

For a more radical point of view, try Daniel Harding’s ripping reading of Peter Brook’s production (Virgin 45525), recorded live at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in July, 1999. Everything is attitude, insanely fast speeds and an almost nightmarish level of inflection, as if the lessons of the period instrument people had been totally understood in concept but totally misunderstood in detail. And yet, it all works, and works magnificently, because Harding manages to maintain a fresh aura of exhilaration and drive, and dramatic coherence throughout, without any trace of harshness or arrogance. In time, this may come to be regarded as the Don Giovanni Giulini’s vividly melodramatic approach ultimately implied.

- Laurence Vittes


Galakonzert by Nicolai Ghiaurov = VERDI: Overture to La Forza del Destino; Simon Boccanegra: "A te l'estremo addio"; Nabucco: "Va pensero"; Don Carlos: "Ella giammai m'amo"; I Lombardi: "O Signore"/ROOSINI: Overture to The Barber of Seville; Barber: "La culunnia e un venticello"/MOUSSORGSKY: Boris Godunov: Coronation Scene/GOUNOD: Faust: "Vous qui faites l'endormi"; "Ainsi que la brise legere"; "Le bonheur"/CHENIKOV: Aria from Much Ado About Nothing

Nicolai Ghiaurov, bass
Karl Kreile, tenor (Moussorgsky); Georges Pretre conducts Munich Radio Orchestra

Melodram GM 4.0061 71:16 (Distrib. Albany):

This joyful celebration of bass-baritone Nicolai Ghiaurov (b. 1929) from June 3, 1966, captures his resplendent, mellifluous voice in several key roles and characterizations that have highlighted his career, especially from Don Carlos, Boris, and Faust. Emotions and audience volatility runs high, so be prepared for lengthy applause after each moment. Georges Pretre (b. 1924) proves a durable and equally explosive partner, achieving some heated renditions of the overtures and the independent choruses from Nabucco, I Lombardi, and Faust. The waltz from Faust has lilt and sparkling accents. Ghiaurov's characterizations are as much a part of his vocal delivery as the notes: he gets some high octane from "La calunnia" from The Barber, capturing the spite and the ironic patter both at once; it compares favorably to the classic Pinza renditions and more recently, to Sam Ramey. "I Have Achieved the Highest Power" continues to be Ghiaurov's signature piece, along with his King of Spain in Don Carlos. His Mephistopheles in Faust is artful, magical, with humor and contempt, a real sense of what Nietzsche calls "malicious delight" (schadenfroh), especially in the laughter of "Vous qui faites l'endormi." It makes us wish for Varlaam's aria in Boris. I did not know Chenikov's little aria from Much Ado, but it is an ironic march, symptomatic of glee and energized spirit that marked this entire concert. For vocal enthusiasts, I recommend you don't let this sleeper disc get away.

--Gary Lemco


PAGANINI: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D, Op. 6 (arr. Francescatti); The Carnival of Venice; 6 Caprices, Op. 1 (arr. Pilati); I Palpiti Variations, Op. 13; Caprice No. 20 in D

Zino Francescatti, violin/Artur Balsam, piano

Bridge 9125 67:38:

This "Evening of Paganini" comes from a the Library of Congress recital from 1954. It features Zino Francescatti, whose recorded legacy seems to increase monthly, and rightly so. Francescatti's pedagogical lineage came directly from Paganini's pupils, and Francescatti instantiates not only the virtuoso elements of the tradition, but the high polish and nobility of Paganini's singing line, for which he himself was famous. Polish-born virtuoso Artur Balsam provides the accompaniments in exemplary fashion. Purists will likely recoil from Francescatti's choice to play accompanied Caprices arranged by Pilati and himself; but the Caprice No. 17 in E-flat marks a new addition to the Francescatti recorded ouevre. Taking his cue from Fritz Kreisler (who abbreviated the Op. 6 even more), Francescatti plays a whirlwind rendition of the D Major Concerto, all spit and polish, with emphasis on the dazzle.

I prefer the orchestral version, which by the way, annotator Wen attributes to a recording with Mitropoulos--it was actually Ormandy--as my benchmark Francescatti performance. Francescatti always preferred the shortened orchestral introduction, while Menuhin and Grumiaux let the conductor have his five minutes. The real showpieces are the I Palpiti Variations: here, the Rossini original aria undergoes some marvelous transformations, of which double-stops and harmonics are but a fraction of the demands made upon the performer. Francescatti keeps the flow even, while negotiating all sorts of pyrotechniques upon his mellow instrument. If only his Vitale Chaconne with De Stoutz would come back! I find The Carnival of Venice trite, but Francescatti makes the sparks fly, anyway. Francescatti carries off the virtuosity in Paganini, certainly; but his innate responsiveness and approachability communicates as well, an artist of personal charm and magnetism. I tend to think of this disc as a pure indulgence, a rich dessert to any program of Francescatti in his more 'serious' repertory. But the D Major Concerto was, indeed, a Francescatti staple, and he played it with a fury and panache all his own.

--Gary Lemco

Richter = SCHUMANN: Bunte Blaetter, Op. 99/MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition/DEBUSSY: Cloches a travers les feuilles from Images, Book II

Sviatoslav Richter, piano

BBC Legends BBCL 4103-2 72:13 (Distrib. Koch International):

This recital is taken from the afternoon of November 19, 1968 at Goldsmiths' Hall, London. It testifies to the development of Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) as an artist, the dictum given to Schnabel so many years prior, "You are not merely a pianist; you are a musician." Richter improves upon the virtuoso rendition of Mussorgsky's Pictures he immortalized in his inscription from Sofia, 1960: this performance is more introspective, lingering, harmonically sensitive. The "Old Castle" sequence is given a monumental breadth, the gondola's refrain set against the undulating ostinato seems to transcend the barcarolle into an exalted nocturne. Each appearance of the Promenade becomes more illumined as we pass through the individual pictures. We realize that many of the songs are merely transformations of the persona's original character, until it achieves, a la Scriabin, a solipsistic vision of itself as a musical apotheosis at the Gates of Heaven.

The real find on this recital is the complete renditon of Schumann's Op. 99 "Varied-Colored Pictures," the collection of fourteen pieces and album leaves so often excerpted by pianists like Clara Haskil. Though Richter was notorious as a non-integral pianist, often leaving out sections of longer suites, like the Op. 12 Fantasiestuecke, here he applies his considerable prowess to infusing each of the character peices with a distinct life of its own. Several of the pieces, like the huge No. 11 March, are homages to other composers (in this case, to one of the Chopin "Nouvelles Etudes"); the No. 10 Prelude is rarified Liszt, a rare explosion of Schumann's personal demon. The finale, the "Geschwindmarsch," is Schumann at his most skittish and playful, fusing the spirit of Carnaval with the antics of his Op. 16 Kreisleriana. Finally, the Debussy evocation of bells and orisons in nature, played with an intensely personal steadfastness we associate with Michelangeli. This is an impressive recital, more "musical" than "virtuosic," but everywhere predicated on a colossal technique and temperament.

--Gary Lemco

ROSWAENGE: Opera arias--Helge Roswaenge, tenor--Dutton CDBP 9728:

This disc in Dutton’s “Singers to Remember” series presents the great Danish tenor Helge Roswaenge (1897-1972). He’s known to us mainly from his recordings, because while he was a favorite at the Berlin Opera for many years, he sang only once in the US, in 1962 when he was well past his prime. He had a big, sonorous voice, even throughout the scale, with thrilling and full-voiced high Cs and Ds. His account of Florestan’s “Gott, welch’ Dunkel hier” (from Fidelio) is the most moving and exciting I’ve ever heard, and he was also capable of style and finesse, for instance in “Un’ aura amorosa” from Cosi fan tutte. His arias from Weber’s operas are altogether exceptional, but then, so is everything else on this welcome disc.

--Alex Morin


Stokowski Conducts New York Philharmonic = WAGNER: Flying Dutchman Overture; Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music/GRIFFES: The White Peacock/MESSAIEN: L'Ascension/IPPOLITOV-IVANOV: In the Village from "Caucasian Sketches"/TCHAIKOVSKY: Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32/VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Fantasia on Greensleeves

Cala CACD0533 76:47 (Distrib. Bayside Entertainment):


Cala once again collaborates with the British Leopold Stokowski Society to reissue two companion CD's, each taken from 1947-49 sessions with the New York Philharmonic for CBS, the first series of virtuoso-style inscriptions cut after Toscanini's departure from New York, 1935-36. In the late forties, Stokowski shared the podium of the New York Philharmonic with Rodzinski and mitropoulos, fully expecting to inherit full command after Rodzinski's leave-taking. When his appointment did not ensue, Stokowski made records to display the orchestra board's wrong choice. The sparks really fly in the Tchaikovsky E Minor tone-poem after Dante, Francesca da Rimini, which Stokowski powers through at whiplash pace, reminiscent of the kind of Tchaikovsky led by the explosive Albert Coates. Stokowski's insistence on free bowing in the strings to eliminate added metric pulse makes for the famed "Stokowski Sound" pouring through the music like rich sauce. On LP, the Tchaikovsky shared the disc with Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite, now restored on the complementary CD (Cala CACD0534), along with more visceral Wagner, including the Rienzi Overture and excerpts from Gotterdammerung.

The Wagner selections are no less lush, with with Stokowski's own arrangements, splicing the Valkyrie motive to the onrush of sound depicting Wotan's farewell to his beloved daughter in the purely orchestral version (Stokowski recorded the operatic sequence with Tibbett in 1934 in Philadelphia), here taken from an elusive 10" CBS LP (ML 2153). Messaien's L'Ascension, with its odd mixture of religious mysticism and oriental exoticism, was in 1949 an LP debut. The Flying Dutchman Dutchman did not have Stokowski's approval for release, presumably due to some woodwind glitches after the D Minor opening bars; the LP came in a special edition (BM 39) used for a radiothon fundraiser. A singular personality is impressionist Charles Griffes' The White Peacock, which Stokowski had premiered in Philadelphia, 1919, a subtle and sensuous moment in the manner of Debussy and Loeffler. I urge Stokowski collectors and lovers of virtuoso ensemble to seek out both of Cala restorations, where conductor and players set out to establish a new post-war standard of flamboyant excellence.

--Gary Lemco

TEYTE: Songs--Maggie Teyte, sop--Decca 467916:

Maggie Teyte (1888-1976) was a very distinctive artist. Born in England, she studied with Jean de Reszke in Paris; and in some ways she exemplified the French school of vocalism, with her impeccable diction and intonation. But it was her musical intelligence and imagination that made her performances memorable. Debussy chose her to succeed Mary Garden in the role of Mélisande, and she became a specialist in French opera and songs, though she also sang much else. As late as 1955 she was still singing well in London and New York. The selections on this disc in Decca’s “The Singers” series range from Dvorak and Fauré to lieder, operetta and popular song. If I had to single out anything for special attention, it might be the tenderness of her account of Hahn’s “Si mes vers avaient des ailes”or the wit of Offenbach’s “Tu n’est pas beau”from La Perichole, but there is great charm and beauty in all of them.

--Alex Morin

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