Classical CD Reissues, Part 2
for July-August 2002
MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 in D Major; Kindertotenlieder
Jascha Horenstein conducts London Symphony Orchestra
Janet Baker, contralto with Scottish National Orchestra
BBC Legends BBC4075-2 60:50; 52:48 (Distrib. Koch):
Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973) is that other Mahler conductor we ought to remember when enumerating the great ones: he had programmed the Mahler First back in 1922 in his debut with the Vienna Symphony, and his subsequent readings of the entire Mahler oeuvre are the stuff of legend. Thoughtful, intricately worked out, with more than a touch of improvised Viennese magic, the Horenstein performances are epic by way of Klemperer, but somewhat less austere but not so sugar-coated as Walter; perhaps Kubelik and Mitropoulos are closer spiritual kindred.
It was Horenstein who first recorded Mahler in 1928 with Kindertotenlieder with baritone Heinrich Rehkemper. The 1967 inscription, the fourth of the song-cycle under Horenstein to be issued, with Janet Baker is rife with a world of personal pain and experience, all of which are palpable in these dark songs of Rueckert, of which "Wenn dein Muetterlein" has particular pathos. The Ninth dates from September 15, 1966, and it manages to balance some very diverse emotions, from sustained resignation to dire and cruel irony.
The whirlwind Rondo-Burleske is an uncompromising tour de force whose hellish laughter rivals anything in Liszt, reminding me of how important the latter's Faust-Symphonie was in Horenstein's repertory. The delicacy of texture is no less impressive than the bolder flourishes. In vivid colors, this Mahler Ninth is for refined tastes and passionate sensibilities.
BEETHOVEN: Diabelli Variations, Op. 120; 6 Bagatelles, Op. 126/COPLAND: Piano Sonata/BEN WEBER: Episodes for Piano/WOLPE: Form for Piano/HOVHANESS: Yenovk-the Troubadour, excerpts/TUCKER: Excerpts from Tantum Ergo/CAGE: Etudes Australes-excerpts
Grete Sultan, piano
Labor Records LAB 7038-2 69:50; 76:50:
Grete Sultan (b. 1906) is still with us, well into her nineties. She studied with Edwin Fischer and Richard Buhlig, the latter an American living in Germany who made some records for Homochord of Beethoven, but whose real interest was in modernism. A Jew living in Nazi Germany, Sultan had little hope of an artistic life-or any life-until she emigrated at the last minute to Paris in 1940 and then to Portugal. Sounds like a plot from Casablanca, no? Vassar College and the 92nd Street Y gave her a livelihood in America. She then teamed up with John Cage and Merce Cunningham. The recordings featured here, this second of two Labor Records CD sets, derive from Town Hall recitals 1969 and 1972-73. While Cage composed Etudes Australes in 1974 and dedicated them to Sultan, the exact date of her inscription is unknown. [Ed.: This is the premiere release of these recordings in any form, so it is not really a reissue - though this section seems the proper place for it.]
Piano collectors will note Sultan's rather sec approach to piano tone, its brittle, under-pedaled vibrato. She articulates notes most clearly, the lean texture quite appropriate to Volume I's program of Bach and Debussy. Here, old and new collide in intricate and novel clusters of rhythm: the Diabelli Variations, a de-construction of a staid waltz into ironic and often lumbering permutations, some of which mock the obvious. The Op. 126 Bagatelles follow rather logically from the Diabelli group, and Sultan lavishes no end of minute rhythmic touches, adding accents and grace-notes ad libitum.
The modern works are thoroughly her own: she is to this music what George Copeland is to Debussy, a unique voice that cannot be discounted. Aaron Copland tricky Sonata makes use of opposing dynamics and parallel sixths, an occasional chordal, incantatory passage, Bartok-like uneven rhythms in 7 and 9, all to be played "with suppressed excitement." Sultan makes in work in her own way. So, too, the implosive sonorities of Stefan Wolpe, whose "Form" contains Webernesque pulverizations of emotion. The Cage Etudes have a vivid life of their own, based on zodiacal readings mixed with the I Ching.
The feminist touch is provided via Tui St. George Tucker (b. 1924), whose Tantum Ergo derives from Thomas Aquinas and Bach, the latter's having provided a chorale from Cantata 106, Actus Tragicus. Its rather percussive treatment of materials belies its lyrical impulse, in which the composer hides her own name anagramatically, a la Schumann. The Ben Weber is also percussive, contrapuntal and expressive, in the manner of Schoenberg. But Hovhaness sings, even to the sound of a gamelan and to some Armenian early organum, utilizing repeated notes and a suggestion of micro-tonality. There is little 'precedent' for adjudging these works, so be prepared for uncritical listening by an artist obligated to none but herself!
LISZT: Love and the Devil: Cantique d'amour; Scherzo and March; Gretchen (from Faust-Symphonie); Gretchen am Spinnrade; Staendchen; Reminiscences de Don Juan; Mephisto Waltz No. 1
Mordecai Shehori, piano - Cembal d'amour CD 116 73:29 (Distrib. Qualiton):
Love and diabolism make a natural dichotomy in Liszt's consciousness, and Mordecai Shehori exploits the composer's erotic and infernal impulses in his latest recital, the first in a projected series devoted to Liszt. Certainly, Goethe's Faust played a huge part in concentrating Liszt's own fascination with the relation of mental power and supernatural mysteries. In arranging his program, Shehori manages to avoid the cliches, both in repertory and in his playing, that have managed to dull the luster of Liszt's passionate, colorful music. The two most ambitious pieces in the recital are Liszt's own transcription of the Gretchen (or Marguerite) section of the "Faust" Symphony, and the Reminiscences after Mozart's Don Giovanni, pieces that testify to a great musician as much as they certfiy his technical virtuosity.
Given Liszt's penchant for paraphrases, transcriptions and reminiscences, the last is by far the freest of his musical responses to other composers' music; it fuses the real and the imaginative into a romance or passion of the spirit. While Don Juan is an erotic force, Liszt seizes on his innate diabolism as a source of inspiration, recalling that it is for blasphemy that Don Juan is dragged to Hell by the ghost of the man he slew in a duel of honor and outrage. In each of the pieces of this recital, Liszt uses ostinati figures to reveal compulsions of pain and of ecstasy. Often cascades of sound, brilliant roulades and rhetorical figures, capture the sweep and scope of the passions undergone. The gestures in Gretchen are lyrical and subdued, with musical hints that adumbrate the equally blistering passions in Schoenberg's Verklaerte Nacht. The Schubert transcription and the Serenade after Shakespeare, too, have their inner demons, the latter with its galop-motif not too distant from the Wanderer-Fantasie. The opening Cantique d'amour, from the Poetic and Religious Harmonies, has a bass line recalling Les Preludes.
Mr. Shehori manages to compel rich and varied hues from his piano, all in the service of rendering a nobility and sobriety to Liszt. Shehori imparts a humility to Liszt, a sense that colors and fiery bravura are means to a poetic principle, a revelation of human character. No vulgarism, no gaucherie, passes through his hands. This is an extremely successful tour de force by a pianist with as keen an ear as an eye to the nuances of his chosen repertory.
SCHUMANN: Piano Quintet in E-flat, Op. 44; Andante and Variations, Op. 46; Fantasiestuecke, Op. 73; Maerchenbilder, Op. 113
Martha Argerich, piano
Alexandre Rabinovitch, piano
Lucy Hall, violin
Dora Schwarzberg, violin
Natalia Gutman, cello
Mischa Maisky, cello
Nabuko Imai, viola
Marie-Louise Neunecker, horn
EMI Classics 7243 57308 2 74:49:
Taped "live" in Holland, September 1994, this disc captures the ambiance and fierce ensemble achieved by Martha Argerich and select friends, making music much in the same style as Argerich's mentor, Gidon Kremer, achieves at Lockenhaus. The whole recital is devoted to Schumann, whose penchant for marches and fairy-tale pictures, both of which he conceives as synonymous, calls for some delicate colors and agitated hues. Particularly arresting, beyond the long-familiar Quintet, is the D Minor/Major set from Op. 113, when the viola tenders a berceuse rife with consolations. Cellist Maisky is in brisk form for the Op. 73 fantasy-pieces, which can be played by clarinet. Argerich is omnipresent, accompanying all the miniatures as well as providing some sweeping poise in the Quintet, which, though not percussive, has more of Serkin than Schnabel. Collectors will recall a version of the Op. 46 with Ashkenazy and Frager; here, Argerich and Rabinovitch team up for this strange piece, with its reminiscences of Schumann's own, earlier pieces, even an occasional wisp of a song. Horn and the two cellos add some full-blooded passagework in the variations. The entire album is a source of joy in chamber music ensemble, where committed friends inspire each other to aerial heights.
Great Conductors of the 20th Century: Ferenc Fricsay = DUKAS: The Sorcerer's Apprentice/KODALY: Galanta Dances/HINDEMITH: Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber/SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 9 in E-flat/J. STRAUSS, Jr.: Artist's Life Waltz, Op. 316/BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, Op .55 "Eroica"; Leonore Overture No. 3/MOZART: Overture to Cosi fan tutte
EMI 7243 5 75109 2 79:35; 77:32:
EMI's Great Conductors of the 20th Century initiates the survey with some 15 2-CD sets, one of which celebrates Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963), so much responsible for the re-building of Hungarian music-making after World War II. Fricsay was the subject of several conversations I had with Janos Starker, who spoke of "Fricsay's entirely new approach to Mozart and to the repertory as a whole, a leaner, more athletic but no less vertical [harmonic] style that emphasized linearity, propulsion, and lyrical tension."
Fricsay's recorded legacy is quite extensive, but this set manages to bring us several live concerts, 1950-1961, of repertory that offer some new explorations. In particular, we have a Shostakovich 9th from April-May 1954 whose silky sarcasm must have delighted unfamiliar Germans to this piece; some may have heard Celibidache play it in Berlin back in 1949. Fricsay's mentor Zoltan Kodaly already has strong representation; this 1961 Galanta Dances is with the Vienna Philharmonic, and it is slightly broader than the commercial recording with RIAS. Hindemith is long-familiar fare for Fricsay: his recording of this composer's Symphonic Dances still eludes collections. For those who already know Fricsay's way with Johann Strauss, via his all-Strauss DGG records or his 1949 concert with Peter Anders, the 1950 Kunstlerleben with his RIAS ensemble is sheer perfection.
Fricsay's Beethoven is more mannered and personalized than some conductors. There is more of Fricsay's Beethoven to be had: a First, a Fifth, a Seventh, an Eighth, a Ninth. He has a tendency to lean heavily into phrase lengths, often underlining the pulse. But for crispness and articulation of orchestral definition, he is hard to beat, easily comparable to Erich Kleiber. The 1961 Beethoven renditions offered here are with the Radio-Symphony of Berlin, another off-shoot of those ensembles created to give Fricsay more rehearsal time. The results here, and in the brief Mozart, are self-justifying. Harp virtuoso Nicanor Zabaleta told me that his favorite recording of the B-flat Harp Concerto was with Fricsay: "the precision, the joy in making music clear, that was his gift."
Georges Enesco, violin = CHAUSSON: Poeme, Op. 25/CORELLI: La Folia, Op. 5, No. 12/HANDEL: Sonata in D, Op. 1, No. 13
Carl Flesch, violin = HANDEL: Sonata in A, Op. 1, No. 14/MOZART: Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 378/FALLA: Jota
Sanford Schlussel, piano (with Enesco)
Felix Dyck and Ignaz Strasfogel, piano (with Flesch)
Opus KURA OPK 2005 67:47 (Distrib. Albany):
This is a disc that will likely become a scarcity before too long, since it has no liner notes in English, and it combines two widely disparate violin personalities. Enesco (1881-1955) was performer and composer extraordinaire: Menuhin told me there was nothing to equal his instruction; Janos Starker, without a missed beat, quipped, "If I must name the most complete musician I knew, I say Enesco." All of the inscriptions devoted to Enesco date from 1929 German Columbias, so there is surface swish to accompany virtually all the notes. Enesco is good, plastic form for the Chausson, although his portamentos and shifts in registration made my teeth clench a few times. The side breaks from the original 78's are not spliced particularly smoothly, so one gets an extra pulse or two in the melodic line. I find Enesco's tempos on the broad and slow side; I wanted to compare his version of the Handel D Major to Milstein's. I would venture that Enesco's is a 19th century approach to ornaments, roulades and trills, sometimes trilling on the lower note. But oddly enough, I really like the Corelli, which never loses its sense of the dance.
Carl Flesch (1873-1944) represents the more academic side of German side of violin artistry; his whole way of making colors is vastly different than Enesco's. There are some who laud Flesch with a great sense of maintaining his pupils' musical personalities. I find the Mozart and the little Falla Jota most engaging, if a bit staid and resolute in the rhythm. The Mozart has some really deft touches, wonderful bowing, and a clean, flexible line. The Handel comes off a bit affected; either you accept it as acquired taste, or you relinquish the approach. I find the ornaments over spun-out, like Scherchen's mordents and trills in Bach suites. But the plaintive tone, the directness of the musical communication bespeaks a fine artist. If someone can supply some text translations, I would appreciate this minor gem a bit more.
LYAPANOV: 12 Transcendental Etudes, Op. 11
Louis Kentner, piano
APR 5620 73:07 (Distrib. Albany):
First issued in 1949, the Louis (Lajos) Kentner traversal of the Lyapanov (1859-1924) Etudes was one of the supreme virtuoso inscriptions of its time. The recording was underwritten by the same Maharajah of Mysore whose love of Russian music produced the Solomon recording of Scriabin's Piano Concerto. Lyapunov is an acolyte of the Mighty Five leader Mily Balakirev, whose Islamey was a touchstone for Lyapunov. But the obvious inspirator of the 12 Etudes of 1897-1905 is Franz Liszt, whose thumb-print can found on virtually every page, whether directly from his own 12 Transcendental Etudes, from the Harmonies du Soir, or from Hungarian Rhapsodies. Lyapunov wanted to complement the Liszt studies by offering etudes in the sharp keys.
APR offers two recordings of the opening piece, Berceuse, one from 1939. It is the first piece to show off Kentner's'jeu perle, as well as his fierce sense of inner pulsation. Etudes like Tempete, the Aeolian Harps and Ronde des sylphes are direct transpositions of Liszt's Orage, Chasse-Neige and Feux follets. The most famous Lesginka, echoes Islamey, but it finishes with hurdles out of the 11th Hungarian Rhapsody. Brailowsky made a good recording of this etude (No. 10), but I think Kentner surpasses it for both sweep and poetry. Several of the pieces are fascinating combinations of keyboard flair, a la Henselt, and transpositions of the Russian Orthodox liturgy, as in Etude No. 8, Chant epique, with its hints of Moussorgsky. A piece like Terek describes a river, while its arpeggios and stretches owe comething to Chopin. All this is as musically beguiling as the pianism, which is breathless. If ever a disc reveals Kentner as one of the unsung titans of the keyboard, this is it.
Some quick auditions herewith of several interesting reissues that have come across my desk lately...
The Great Organ at St. Mary's Cathedral, San Francisco - Works of CLARKE, WALTHER, REUBKE WIDOR, BALBASTRE, GIGOUT, MULET, HELD, WOOD, JENKINS and VIERNE - John Balka, organist - Reference Recordings HDCD RR-98CD:
This Keith Johnson recording dates from l988 and was originally sold exclusively at the cathedral dubbed by locals The Giant Maytag. The reissue is newly remastered for HDCD and has new notes and artwork. Balka was organist at the church when the recording was made and he chose thirteen mostly spectacular works that demonstrate the sonic abilities of the huge Ruffatti instrument installed in the cavernous cathedral interior. The French organ school encores by Widor, Vierne and Gigout were my personal favorites on the CD. This one will separate the subwoofer users from those without.
The Flute on Record, 1902-1940. Folkers & Powell FP001:
A companion to the Yale book The Flute, this mono CD is intended to provide aural examples of the various flutes and performers discussed in the book. However, it is interested listening on its own and has in the accompanying note booklet some details about each track. The very early recordings are a bit of a task to listen thru. The subtle flute didn't come across with primitive acoustical recording as did the tenor voice, trumpet, trombone, or banjo. And very little filtering of the original recordings has been done so as not to lose any of the delicate flutish sounds. The advent of electrical recording in l925 made more of a difference than any audio development since, and was especially kind to flute recordings. The variations in repertory and styles of playing are extremely wide. I can imagine flutists being most interested in hearing how Bach was interpreted 80 years ago, for example. I guarantee you won't find this in the stores, so visit www.flutehistory.com for more information and purchase details on both the book and CD.
The Comedy Harmonists - Whistle While You Work - Original 1929-1938 Recordings - Naxos Nostalgia 8.120613:
Having seen the wonderful documentary film on the Harmonists at the San Francisco Film Festival I was especially interested in hearing what this pioneering German "boy group's" original 78s sounded like. The sextet were not the first with their novel vocal effects imitating instruments but during the 30s they became major stars in Europe - and from l934 to 41 in the rest of the world since three members were Jewish. Their repertory covered a variety of both classical, pop and novelty songs. In many ways their enthusiastic but perfectly-honed style reminds me of The King's Singers, and on some tunes the Swingle Singers come to mind - especially the final one of the 19 tracks, which is an absolutely amazing vocalese arrangement - complete with vocal percussion - of the Overture to The Barber of Seville! No space/time to list all the tracks - about half in German - but they include tunes from Disney musicals (the CD title, for example, and The Dwarfs' Yodel Song), The Donkey Serenade and Creole Love Call. [Speaking of movie tie-ins, other reissues in Naxos' Nostalgia series include Marlene Deitrich in songs from The Blue Angel, and a collection of British heartthrob Ivor Novello recordings - he was portrayed in the recent Gosford Park. And another movie tie-in: we will be reviewing the feature film about the Harmonists in one of our upcoming issue DVD sections.]
JANIS IVANOVS: Suite from The Late Frost in Spring, Symphony No. 8, Lacplesis - Symphonic Poem - Latvian National Symphony Orch.; conductors: Imants Resnis; Edgars Tons; Vassily Sinaisky - Campion Cameo 2012:
Ivanovs, who lived until l983, was one of the leading composers of Latvia and completed 20 symphonies during his life. Most are in the darkly elegiac colors of other Nordic composers such as Sibelius but for a time the composer strove to fulfill the directives of his Soviet tastemakers and created some extremely sunny and melodic works intended to be accessible to the masses. His Eighth Symphony comes as Ivanovs begins to return in mood to the harsh realities of a nation which has seen more than a half century of occupation and oppression by bigger powers. However, there is a vigorous feeling to the work and plenty of strong melodies. That goes also for the CD's opening suite of expressive melodies for a Latvian motion picture. The recordings are from the Latvian Radio, range from l961 to l987 and are of quite good quality. This is the fourth volume so far of Ivanovs works on the UK Campion label.
STRAVINSKY: Rite of Spring (for two pianos); REICH: Four Organs (for four electric organs & maracas); CAGE; Three Dances for two amplified prepared pianos - Michael Tilson Thomas, Ralph Grierson, Roger Kellaway, Steve Reich - keyboards; Tom Raney, maracas - Angel Artistry72435 67691-20:
Several firsts re: this CD: none of these recordings had been issued on CD before, these were the first recordings from conductor-to-be Tilson Thomas (1972), and I believe it may be the only one of composer Steve Reich playing his own music. There are versions of Stravinsky's Rite for a single piano and also one for player piano, but it really takes a pair of pianos to come close to the impact and percussive nature of this watershed 20th century work. I recently attended a live performance of the two-piano version, and when it concluded I felt almost as drenched in sweat as were the pianists on stage (not to mention the single dancer who also performed!) The Cage pieces are similar to his easy-to-take Gamelan-influenced Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano, but the Reich...well, no minimalist composer is as stubbornly minimalist as is Reich. The improved sonics on this reissue may keep some listeners listening for its full 24 minutes and fully appreciating the very gradual process of transformation going on in these endlessly repeated figurations. But not me.
- Above five reviews: John Sunier
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