Classical CD Reissues
January 2002 - Part 1 of 2
TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35 PROKOFIEV: Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op 63
Jascha Heifetz, violin
William Steinberg conducts Los Angeles Philharmonic (Tchaikovsky); Serge Koussevitzky conducts Boston Symphony (Prokofiev)
Cembal d'amour CD 115 53:48 (Distrib. Qualiton):
The second in Mordecai Shehori's tributes to the late Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987), the "live" album derives from two spring 1949 programs: at the Hollywood Bowl (March 21) and the "Concert Hall" broadcast of the BSO of April 2. Heifetz is in spectacular form, literally sizzling in the Tchaikovsky Concerto, played with uncompromising tension and blistering speed so that Steinberg has his hands full to keep up. The Prokofiev, which Heifetz and Koussevitzky recorded for RCA Victor in 1937, is played faster and more incisively than the commercial inscription. Considering Koussevitzky's innate romanticism, the Andante is rather straightforward, eschewing the kind of sentimental pathos achieved by Stern and Bernstein in this piece. A year later, Heifetz and Koussevitizky collaborated in the Beethoven at the Hollywood Bowl (available on DOREMI). When I told Mordecai Shehori that I found the sound 'scratchy,' we got into a discussion of the relative degrees of 'scratchiness.' Suffice it to say that the intensity of the music soon alleviates any sonic limitations; the fur really flies in the Tchaikovsky.
For Heifetz enthususiasts, this is required listening.
Walter Gieseking at RIAS: MOZART: 6 Variations, K. 137; Sonata in C, K. 545; 9 Variations, K. 264/MENDELSSOHN: 4 Songs Without Words/BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 17 in D Minor , Op. 31, No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major/DEBUSSY: 14 Preludes/RAVEL: Sonatine; Gaspard de la Nuit/SCHUBERT: 2 Impromptus/SCHUMANN: 6 Pieces from Album for the Young, OP. 68/BRAHMS: 8 Klavierstucke, Op. 76/SCRIABIN: 24 Preludes, Op .11
Antal Dorati conducts RIAS Symphony Orchestra
Music and Arts CD 1098 4 CD 65:48; 72:22; 64:27; 43:32
Walter Gieseking (1895-1956) never seems to go out of date. The enduring German exponent of French Impressionism and the great German tradition, Gieseking's recorded output, especially as new materials keep springing up, represents a tireless artist whose facility is so poetically glib that critics try to find things wrong with it. But if the words pertinent to Alfred Cortot are any consolation-"even his mistakes were those of a Titan"-Gieseking's is a colossal gift that he was eager to share often. These unearthed inscriptions from RIAS (1950, 1955) provide an even better sound portrait than the shaded, muffled, albeit 'misty" and "atmospheric" discs that make up most of EMI's contributions to his legacy.
The additions to the Gieseking recorded repertoire are too good to pass up: excerpts from Schumann's Album fur die Jugend, Op.68, lovely character sketches that complement his Concerto, Kreisleriana, Fantiasie, Davidsbuendler, and Kinderszenen discs, as well the non-commercial Sonata No. 1; the pert variations K. 137 taken as a pianistic addendum to the Clarinet Quintet; and the fluid, sensitive readings of Scriabin's Op. 11 Preludes, a reading that matches the deleted EMI LP from Gina Bachauer. While critics and musicians often criticize Gieseking in Beethoven: too effeminate, wrong sonic image, too monochrome; the two offerings here, the 1955 "Tempest" Sonata and the 1950 G Major Concerto under a fired-up Antal Dorati, belie any such detractors. The Brahms Op. 76 is a muscular, sinewy set of miniatures rendered soberly but poignantly, "old bachelor music" that looks ahead to 20th Century harmony. Since the EMI people have yet to reissue Gieseking's Schubert, including the posthumous impromptus, we are glad to have the Op. 94, No. 4 with its liquid "cello" melody, and the big 'variations' Andante, Op. 142, No. 3.
The treasure in this set still remains disc 2, with its selections from Debussy and Ravel. All of the Gieseking magic, even his ability to compensate for memory slips, condenses in these pulsating, shimmering renditions of "Ondine" and "La cathedrale egloutie," with the pianist's own decisions about crescendo. The fluid use of pedal, of differentiated weight in chordal progressions, of non-legato and soft staccato attacks, present a virtual encyclopedia of keyboard effects, a kaleidoscope of color and dynamics at which we can but marvel. When Gieseking is "on," his technique rivals Hofmann and Michelangeli for the sheer variety of colors. Yet the subdued, almost plaint-like simplicity of Ravel's Sonatine can melt your heart for its innocence. This set is its own New Year's resolution.
Richter Rediscovered - HAYDN: Sonata No. 60 in C/CHOPIN: Scherzo No. 4 in E; Ballade No. 3 in A-flat; 2 Etudes; Mazurka in C, OP. 24, No. 2/RACHMANINOV: 4 Preludes/RAVEL: Jeau d'eau; La Vallee des Cloches/DEBUSSY: Les Collines d'Anacapri/PROKOFIEV: Sonata No. 6 in A; 9 Visions fugitives; Gavotte, Op. 95, No. 2
RCA 09026-63844-2 62:07; 50:54:
Taped December 26-28, 1960, these discs recapture Sviatoslav Richter's American tour in stereo sound; where the CBS sets have disappeared, given the artist's objection to them, these must stand as the official record of the Carnegie Hall debut. The four encores derive from a performance at the Mosque Theater in Newark, New Jersey. Given the renown Richter (1915-1997) achieved in Russian repertory, especially in the music of Prokofiev, the set is crucial; perhaps even more so in light of the Cold War politics from which this event emerged. Musically, Richter appeared as both a Promethean fire and an oddly provincial, hot-house flower, groomed in a non-Western performance practice that made him a combination of uncanny power and sometimes limited imagination.
Richter performed the Haydn C Major Sonata twice in his debut concerts, claiming to have played it badly the first time. Applying broad and rapid strokes to the opening, Richter also plays the exposition/recap repeats to achieve more scale in the work. Richter's Chopin always displayed a degree of willfulness that connoisseurs either love or find objectionable; for instance, he takes episodes in the Ballade at a ferocious tempo, twisting the shape for dramatic effect. His etudes have a thunderous, Lisztian menace quite unlike anyone else's. Each of the Prokofiev Op. 22 Visions (played as encores at Carnegie Hall) has a spatial and dramatic intensity all its own, and the audience reacts accordingly. A rather perfunctory manner in the Ravel water piece is balanced by the suave sonorities of the Valley of Bells. The Rachmaninov group proves absolutely natural to his style, especially the B Minor, which the composer and his main acolyte, Moiseiwitsch, called "The Return." The Debussy prelude is supple and elastic, achieving a real a 3-part singing line and a Spanish lilt.
The Prokofiev 6th Sonata is one of the "wartime" sonatas championed by Richter; he also recorded the Ninth in several versions. In the debut recital, Richter offered the 8th along with the Sixth. "Galvanic" would be just about the right epithet for this conception, with Richter's applying an unyielding tension so that even occasionally lackluster passagework emerges taut and organically cohesive. Eschewing sheer technical ferocity, Richter yields up its lyrical, saving character even in the midst of desolation; surely, this is a vision close to the composer's heart. Finally, kudos to engineer Jon Samuels for the beauty of the edits in this restoration, which capture in life-like sound the playing just as Richter delivered it. A new classic of its kind.
RAVEL: Ma Mere l'Oye-Complete Ballet; La Valse; Pavane pour une infante defunte; Rapsodie espagnole; Bolero
Pierre Monteux conducts London Symphony Orchestra
Philips 289 464 733-2 77:13 (Distrib. Universal):
Another in the Philips series "50 Great Recordings," this disc, culled from 1961 and 1964 inscriptions with Monteux and the London Symphony, is exactly what its advertising claims. The accord between conductor and orchestra is perfect: Mother Goose has a transparency of sound, an 'orientalism' of color and texture that astonish. Barry Tuckwell exclaimed in an Atlanta interview that Monteux was among the 'natural' of conductors in Tuckwell's experience. "He brandished the baton with an economy hard to match. For all the energy he needed to expend to achieve his effects, he could have lived another 90 years." If diaphanous restraint marks the Perrault suite, serpentine sensuality suffuses the Rapsodie and the Bolero. Along with La Valse (and the Alborado del gracioso, not included), all of Ravel's large dance-forms tend to explode at the end, as if their own forms had found the apocalypse. Few pieces could prove such a foil to their self-indlugence as the lyrical Pavane of 1899, played with such demure ingenuousness to enshrine it in our memory. Philips' 24-bit reprocessing is stunning, the sound spectacular. Must-hear Ravel by a master of the idiom.
MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 15 in B-flat, K. 450; Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488; Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491
Solomon, piano; Otto Ackermann (K.450) and Herbert Menges conduct Philharmonia Orchestra
Testament SBT 1122 79:58 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
Solomon Cutner (1902-1988) remains among the most satisfying British pianists, an artist of consistently high polish and refinement, thoroughly capable of unfettered virtuosity while communicating the most thoughtful poetry. His untimely paralysis at the height of his career, 1956, robbed the discriminating world of his later development. Happily, Solomon had a great love for making records, and this all-Mozart CD (recorded 1953-55) captures the fluency and buoyancy of his playing, the ease and security of his high gloss, especially in the major-key concertos, which sail in imaginative panoply. 'Seamless continuity' proves the rubric of the entire disc: I well recall how fond I was of the EMI Da Capo LP's of these works, especially the B-flat with Ackermann, a conductor equally at home with Mozart as with his ubiquitous Johann Strauss. The artists' ability to shape this music, to imbue it with persuasive and delicate nuance, astonishes. Textural clarity in strings and winds, the interplay between solo and orchestra, the pregnant caesuras (particularly in the K. 450 Andante), are masterful. Those who favor Curzon, Rubinstein and Haskil in K. 488 and K. 491 will find a worthy competitor, interpretively and sonically, in Solomon and Menges, the latter of whom seems to have spent his recording life in assisting great minds, like Solomon and Szigeti. Highly recommended.
DELIUS: Brigg Fair; Sea Drift; A Song Before Sunrise; A Dance Rhapsody No. 2; On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring; The Walk to the Paradise Garden; 2 North Country Sketches
Dennis Noble, baritone; Manchester Beecham Opera Chorus; London Philharmonic Orchestra; London Symphony (Sea Drift);Orchestra of the Royal Philh. Society (Cuckoo; Paradise Garden); Symphony Orch. (Brigg Fair)
Sir Thomas Beecham conducting
SOMM-BEECHAM 10 4887 1 25102 74:45 (Distrib. Qualiton)
The inscriptions gathered here, in the tenth of the ongoing series devoted to Beecham's historic legacy, date from 1927-28 and 1945 (Dance Rhapsody). For the devotee of Frederick Delius (1862-1934), this set is crucial, since Beecham always represented for the composer his idealized realization in sound of his music. For Beecham, Delius represented the last bastion of "romance, emotion and beauty." The composer's sister once wrote of Sir Thomas' "ungrudging championship" of her brother's music. The earliest collaboration between the artists was in 1908, when Beecham programmed Appalachia; the last was in 1960, when Beecham gave his last concert on May 7, playing "On the River" from the Florida Suite. Between these years lay a thousand performances of Delius' music, including 70 of the works, including songs.
While I am not particularly drawn to Delius' personal pantheism in music, finding it rather devoid of depth, the surface patina remains alluring and melodious. The Whitman Sea Drift only confirms the conceits of love, death, and the sea as some inexplicable 'resolution' to the torments of desire. Baritone Noble (1899-1966) has a rather nasal tinge for my taste, but he places the words roundly enough to be understood, even from 1928. The Dance Rhapsody, A Song Before Sunrise, and the two sections (Autumn and Winter) of North Country Sketches are from previously unissued 1945 takes in good sound. There is a Mass of Life excerpt (Vol. 8) as part of this cycle of records, and I suggest Beecham and Delius fans follow up on a real musical opportunity here.
WAGNER: Overture to The Flying Dutchman; Good Friday Spell from Parsifal/BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98/Interview with Paul and Yolanda Paray
Paul Paray conducts Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Taken from Mercury Classics LP's, this restoration is a fine testament to the more Teutonic art of French conductor Paul Paray (1886-1979), who brought a wide culture to the Detroit Symphony for twelve seasons. There might be a bit of Toscanini in Paray's svelte approach to the Dutchman; the coda has a bit of metronomic regularity that contrasts sharply with the dreamlike final bars. Parsifal, too, has a martial spirit that softens to a shimmering series of sequences based on the 'Dresden amen' Wagner culled from Mendelssohn. The Brahms Fourth dates from March 26, 1956. The liner notes boast of "the continuity of line" in this inscription, and I must concur. Extremely vivid sound imaging makes Brahms's counterpoint blaze forward, especially in the coda of the opening movement. The second movement, with its Phrygian color, is equally on a grand scale; the Scherzo is a genuine romp. The finale is always a challenge: one must balance individual variants and their especial colors with the ongoing transformation of the whole passacaglia's spiritual progress. Paray's efforts prove a real coup, and I recommend this disc fervently.
Lastly, Rediscovery has made the investment into some cover art that makes their budget-concept production more aesthetically attractive. The 11-minute interview with the Parays, featuring Paul's thick accent and dry, self-effacing humor (as oft-explained by his doting wife Yolanda), is charming.
The Fabulous Victoria De Los Angeles--Testament 1246:
For many years one of my favorite LPs was a recording with this title in which the great Catalan soprano in 1960 sang a wide-ranging program--baroque arias, lieder, and lots of songs by Spanish composers--accompanied by Gerald Moore. EMI reissued most of the Spanish material in a 4-disc set a couple of years ago, but here is the complete recital in far and away the best sound it has received, supplemented by Villa-Lobos's Aria (Bachianas Brasileiras 5), one of Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne, and an aria from her famous recording of Carmen led by Thomas Beecham. It displays all her virtues--a pure, sweet voice with the sheen of satin, musical intelligence, idiomatic command of all the styles and languages required, wit, and great personal charm. If there is one vocal recording that belongs in your collection, it's this one. It offers unalloyed delight from beginning to end.
LISZT: Faust Waltz; Gnomenreigen; Liebestraum; Petrarch Sonnet 104; La Campanella; La Leggierezza; Reminiscences de Don Juan; CHOPIN: Scherzo 3; Ballade 1--Simon Barère, piano--Cembal d'amour 114:
The Russian pianist Simon Barère (1896-1951) was best known as a virtuoso who seemed to try to play everything faster than anyone else. His digital dexterity was indeed amazing, but his musical understanding was less impressive. You can listen in astonishment to the glittering runs and rapid repeated notes, but they often seem calculated for effect rather than expressing the sense of what he's playing. That's for the most part the case in this disc, a recording session taped only days before he died while playing the Grieg Concerto on the stage of Carnegie Hall. The music was chosen to display his skills, and the Liszt pieces--especially Reminiscences of Don Juan--are vibrant and exciting, though others find more music in them. Still, you won't often encounter virtuosity like this, and you might as well sit back and enjoy it for what it is.
Continue to Part 2 of Reissues this month
Return to the Home Page for JAN. 2002
Back to the Top of This Page
To Index of CD Reviews for Month