Classical CD Reissues
June 2002 - Part 1 of 2
BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73/MENDELSSOHN: Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90 "Italian"
Leopold Stokowski conducts National Philharmonic Orchestra
Cala CACD 0531 73:43:
The latest in the Cala issues through the Leopold Stokowski Society, the Brahms Second is among Stokowski's (1882-1977) last recordings, this made for CBS just a few months prior to his death. He had recorded the D Major only once before, in 1929; and in returning to it, he decided to respect the repeats in the first movement and to maintain a transparent, liquid melodic line throughout, in order to avoid the thick, soupy effect that often makes Brahms degenerate into pathetic gloom. None of the National Philharmonic players is named specifically, but we can appreciate the flute solo just prior to first movement repeat; the warmth of the Philharmonic strings, especially the cellos; the French horn entries. The great poise of the Allegro non troppo suggests a throwback to an earlier era, to the kind of majesterial readings led three-quarters of a century ago, by Walter Damrosch and Bruno Walter. The security of the opening of the Adagio non troppo, too, is no less indicative of a mind (95 years old!) thoroughly immersed in the Brahms style. The Finale is in the 'whiplash' tradition guaranteed to make the sparks fly.
There's no denying that "Stokowski sound!"
While I relish Stokowski's Mendelssohn-it's sparse enough, with only the Scherzo from A Midsummer Night's Dream his commercial excursion into this composer-the performance has had reissue status on Sony, coupled with the Bizet C Major Symphony.
The performance is outgoing, lyrical, often scintillating in its freedom of rhythm. But here I wish the Stokowski Society had taken from Sony the 1960 "Historic Return" concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra, especially Stokowski's synthesis from Tristan, which is among his most sensuous inscriptions. Those concerts yielded many treasures, including Stokowski's standby Scheherazade and the Verrett-Carter El Amor Brujo. Maybe the next release?
LISZT: Hungarian Rhapsodies 1-6; Les Preludes; Mazeppa; Slaughter of the Huns; Mephisto Waltz No. 1
Hermann Scherchen conducts Vienna State Opera Orchestra. Westminster 289 471 237-2 2-CD's 72:02; 56:25 (Distrib. Universal):
Recorded 1957-59, we hear Hermann Scherchen (1891-1966) in the music of Liszt, to which Scherchen was temperamentally attracted. Tempos in the Hungarian Rhapsodies are consistently broad, with slow, lingering instrumental soli from the Vienna State Opera Orchestra principals, like Leopold Wlach's clarinet. A combination of canny manipulation of gypsy elements and unabashed, martial vulgarity, the Liszt rhapsodies continue to beguile. Some of the slicker playing easily rivals Karajan's gloss with the Berlin Philharmonic. The sonic restoration is quite vivid, and Scherchen imparts a lusty fervor, shimmering intensity and peasant's love of life that really is not so far from Mahler.
Scherchen's way with the selected tone-poems and the Mephisto Waltz is pointedly designed to rescue this repertory from kitsch status, especially as he had seen Les Preludes degenerate under the Nazi's aegis to commend the Wehrmacht. Few recorded performances of the third of the symphonic poems can rival Fricsay's thrilling flexibility in this piece, but Scherchen's is clearly a sympathetic, even heroic reading, more in the Mengelberg "virtuoso" tradition. I find his martial, speed-driven sections less compelling than the lyrical moments, which enjoy a grand line. Scherchen's Hunnenschlacht is a classic of its kind, alternating between the savage, golden horde and the conquering, Christian hymnody. Mazeppa is played even faster than Karajan's esteemed version, but we can still savor the triple-tonguing the trumpet coda. Mephisto has a broad tempo and a whirling gait, a performance in good competition with Rodzinski's classic reading in Cleveland. Universal's own digital processing of the original sources makes the fit between artist and repertory even more secure.
MAHLER: Symphony No. 3 in D Minor
Hildegard Roessel-Majdan, soprano/Women's Chorus of the Vienna State Opera/Vienna-Youth Singers/Vienna Symphony Orchestra/F. Charles Adler conducting. TAHRA TAH 340/341 64:20; 35:40 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
Typically, when listing the rank and file of first-generation Mahler conductors, we mention names like Otto Klemperer, Bruno Walter, Oscar Fried, Hermann Scherchen and Willem Mengelberg. But the British acolyte often overlooked is F. Charles Adler (1889-1959), a pupil of both Felix Mottl and Gustav Mahler, who served at Bayreuth in 1911 as an assistant and from there went on to the Dusseldorf Opera. With the advent of Nazism, Adler emigrated to the USA, where he led the New York Chamber Orchestra and served as Artistic Director for SPA Records, a label of break-through inscriptions that included the Mahler 3rd, the Milhaud 4th, and Liszt's "Dante" Symphony. But Adler's tastes ran to even more contemporary and experimental music: his huge repertory embraces Ives, Paisiello, Siegmeister, Cowell, Bruckner, Luening, Falla, Wigglesworth, and a host of others.
Adler's most expansive treatment (rec. April 20, 1952) of the Mahler 3rd reminds us of the freshness of this unwieldy score, with its sustained sense of 'what Nature tells me' on every page. One movement is a series of variants on the old "La Folia" melody used by Corelli, Glinka and Liszt. Soprano Roessel-Majdan is in good voice, intoning "Man, take heed!" from Nietzsche's Zarathustra. Add to the mix the children's chorus from Des Knaben Wunderhorn and an elastic, monumental meditation on Beethoven's last, F Major Quartet, and you have something of the awesome, hallucinatory scope of this 100-minute symphony. "Kitchen-sink music," one acerbic critic called it. The violin solo (Wolfgang Schneiderhahn?) is uncredited, and neither are the principal woodwinds given recognition, but their contribution, pointed and as full of malicious glee as of poignant tenderness, is something to hear. What is no less fluent about this reading is how stylistically Viennese it is, rife with slides and portamenti throughly ingrained in the Mahler tradition. A big score led by a conductor with equally big ideas. Sound is serviceable considering its age, the major climaxes suffering the most.
WAGNER: Die Meistersinger-Prelude, Act I; A Siegfried Idyll/DEBUSSY: Iberia/STRAVINSKY: Symphony of Psalms/FALLA: Damces from "The Three-Cornered Hat"
Pierre Monteux conducts BBC Symphony (Debussy, Stravinsky), Royal Philharmonic (Wagner), and London Symphony (Falla)
BBC Legends BBCL 4096-2 72:50 (Distrib. Koch):
The master of orchestral clarity, Pierre Monteux (1877-1964), has a multi-colored tribute in this BBC collation, taken from concerts given 1960-1963 with various British ensembles in top form. Eschewing his role as an "interpreter," Monteux tried to be simply a 'vehicle' for the music to pass through, close to Stravinsky's own ideal of a "conductor." But Monteux does not forsake vitality and passion for the sake of transparency of effect-he manages a ringing ardor in everything he plays. Rarely, virtually never, can one accuse Monteux of lethargy or indifference to a score. His long career as a violist assures his auditors that all interior lines will account themselves, that the open-work will be more than mere supportive tissue. Listen to the interplay of horns, strings and second violins in the late pages of his 1960 A Siegfried Idyll, the affection that harmonizes them under an inverted pedal tone.
Monteux's own 'adopted' orchestra is the LSO, and we hear it only in one extended 1961 excerpt, from the ever-volatile Manuel de Falla: "The Neighbors" and the colorful "Miller's Dsnce." The natural affinity between Falla and Debussy's evocative Iberia could not be any clearer: the sultry, even Moorish affect, the panoply of color are all evident; one of my students, entering my listening area, immediately called out, "It sounds so Arabic!" This is also my first experience of Monteux in Symphony of Psalms, a work I associate with Markevitch and Celibidache, even Bernstein. What marks the 1961 Monteux contribution are subtle stresses of accent, shifts in nuance and color, a graduated sense of pulse. The opening of the second movement gives the metronomic illusion of a wind serenade by Mozart, that is, until the serpentine bass line creeps in! A major addition to the Monteux legacy, one of the real giants of conducting art.
BIZET: Symphony in C Major; L'Arlesienne-Suites 1 and 2; Patrie Overture,Op. 19
Andre Cluytens conducts French National Radio Orchestra. Testament SBT 1235 76:22 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
This charming restoration gives us Andre Cluytens (1905-1967) in the music of Georges Bizet, repertory Cluytens knew well, having led Carmen at several points in his career, as well as having made at least two inscriptions of the vivacious Patrie Overture. Testament has in fact reissued an extended 7-CD series (SBT 1234-40) devoted to Cluytens' French inscriptions from EMI sources. The Bizet dates from 1953 and has much spirited playing to recommend it, much of its deriving from his principals, like Marcel Mule's saxophone and Fernand Duyfrene's flute. The fact that EMI had Cluytens record materials already available via Desormiere, Munch and Beecham gives us some notion of their support of this under-rated conductor, the first Gallic musician to leave a Beethoven cycle with the Berlin Philharmonic.
While some may consider the suites from L'Arlesienne light music, their demands for good ensemble rival anything in Ravel, and Cluytens makes the two suites shine. The oboe player for these inscriptions receives no credit, but here and in the C Major Symphony he provides some warm, pointed playing. The innate luster of Bizet's palette emerges in the Carillon, in the Pastorale and Menuet. The second movement of the Symphony is no less elegant; the very slow Adagio has a grace and lilt that makes its easy polyphony something special. The outer movements are certainly lively, perhaps only a tad less exuberant than Beecham's superb version. The Patrie Overture, as full of nature as it is of jingoism, is alone worth the price of admission, with verve and full-blooded fervor stamped on every page. Paul Baily's digital remasterings are top-flight.
DELIUS: Violin Concerto/ELGAR: Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op. 61
Albert Sammons, violin
Sir Malcolm Sargent conducts Liverpool Philharmonic (Delius)
Sir Henry Wood conducts New Queen's Hall Orchestra (Elgar)
Naxos Historical 8.110951 67:13:
This disc celebrates the artistic vitality of Albert Sammons (1886-1957), the largely self-taught former leader of the Beecham Orchestra and the London String Quartet, who premiered the Elgar and Delius concertos here presented. Sammons gave the world premier of the Delius Concerto in 1919 under Adrian Boult; he first performed the Elgar Concerto under Safonov in 1914. Considered by many to be Britain's finest violinist, Sammons' recording career (which ended around 1945, soon after the Delius inscription) became overshadowed by younger players, like Menuhin and Heifetz, in the Elgar Concerto.
The Delius Concerto (rec. 1944) is a one-movement fantasia, utilizing a five-note pattern that sounds a bit like Richard Strauss cross-pollinated by the exoticism of Ketelbey. Though it exploits the interplay of harp and violin, it never achieves any extended melody, nor does it incorporate folk motifs in the manner of Bruch. It simply meanders along, like a pleasant rill, reminiscent of a line from "Kubla Khan." Very fine and pantheistic and all that. The Elgar (rec. 1929) is the more obvious classic-this being its first uncut presentation--with Sir Henry Wood's rather literalist approach providing an aura of finished sobriety around the solo's plaintive nostalgia. If one senses a bit of fatigue in the Sammons version of the Delius, there is only ferocious energy in the Elgar of fifteen years prior. A soaring tone, perspicacious use of portamenti, a sure sense of ensemble, all mark Sammons' aristocratic way with this piece, a model that Menuhin did emulate in his later years. Restorations by Mark Obert-Thorne, from laminated English shellacs, are the best in the reissue business.
Heifetz Rediscovered - GRIEG: Violin Sonata No. 3 in C Mimnor ,OP. 45/BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 1 in G, Op. 78/WIENIAWSKI: Etude, Op. 10, No. 5/TCHIAJKOVSKY: Lensky's Aria/RAMEAU: Tambourin/BACH: Sicilienne/PADILLA: Valencia/SARASATE: Zapateado, Op. 23, No. 2
Jascha Heifetz, violin
Emanuel Bay, piano
Isidor Achron, piano
Samuel Chotzinoff, piano
RCA 09026-63907-2 65:37:
Violinists are recent as Isaac Stern refer to the 20th century as "the age of Heifetz," and with good reason. Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987) remained the non plus ultra of violin artistry through the world, the deft pupil of Leopold Auer whose burnished tone and refined eloquence on the instrument were as natural as breathing. Not that Heifetz did not have his critics and detractors: some found his tone thin, nasal and 'stingy,'his playing too glib and arbitrary in its bow pressure. But when a Heifetz performance is "on," rarely will you hear a more exemplary combination of literal devotion to the score and blazing passion in the same gesture. Now, some 65 years and more after their inscription, RCA brings to light several major works ( as well as some minor works) virtually new to the violinist's vast recorded legacy.
The opening two sonatas, by Grieg and Brahms, both accompanied by the gifted, even explosive Emanuel Bay (1891-1967), are the major additions here. The Grieg is a white-hot rendition from 1936, originally meant to act as a foil to the more 'romantic,' exaggerated performance by Kreisler and Rachmaninov from 1928. Not only does Heifetz capture Grieg's ardent Norwegian sentiment, but he applies a fierce acceleration that is at times demonic. The Brahms was recorded a week later, February 13, 1936; but only the A Major Sonata, Op. 100 was ever issued. Heifetz went on to record the D Minor with William Kapell in the early 1950's. Finally, we can have the complete Brahms Sonatas with Heifetz. The G Major is quite lyrical and poised, something in the Szigeti tradition, but with a lean vibrato and unwavering melodic line. Heifetz' Brahms is certainly a 'classical' romantic, whose intense, personal ardor is subdued under the mask of balanced symmetries.
Of the remaining miniatures, there is one real curio, the Padilla Valencia recorded May 8, 1938, with Heifetz and Isidor Achron's sharing the piano! The rest are noisy acoustics, made pre-1925 and include Kreisler's arrangement of Wieniawski's Caprice in E-flat in the style of an Italian saltarello. The Sarasate Zapateado predates his later three inscriptions and is actually more fiery than any of those, more gypsy-like. Tchaikovsky was always important to Heifetz: his playing of Auer's arrangement of the tragic Lensky's aria (with Chotzinoff) prior to the fatal duel from Eugen Onegin has the pathos we would later hear in Serenade melancholique, despite the quickness of the tempo, to accommodate the shellac format. Rameau's Tambourin, in the Joseph Achron arrangement, shows off his pointed rhythm and effective double-stopping and harmonics; the Bach Sicilienne from the E-flat Flute Sonata, BWV 1031 displays a seamless if unsentimental legato. Wonderful, heady stuff, essential to the Heifetz collector.
VERDI: Giovanni D'Arco--Renata Tebaldi, sop/Carlo Bergonzi, tenor/Rolando Panerai, bar/Alfredo Simoniato, cond/Milan RAI Symphony and Chorus--IDIS 6363 (2 CDs):
Giovanni d'Arco is early Verdi, premiered in Milan in 1845. Without many memorable arias and with somewhat uninspired orchestration, it's never been very popular and isn't often heard. Still, it's had two excellent recordings, both with all-star casts: one from 1972 with Caballé, Domingo, and Milnes led by James Levine (EMI), and this 1951 studio recording. The singers here are in their prime and quite wonderful, their strong, clear voices ringing out dramatically, expressively, and very beautifully. The EMI sound is better, but this one isn't bad; a synopsis is provided, but no notes or libretto. The opera isn't among Vedi's best, but either of these recordings is worth hearing for singing like this.
Alfredo Campoli plays - MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64/PAGANINI (arr. KREISLER): Concerto in D in One Movmeent; La Campanella/TARTINI: Sonata in G Minor "Devil's Trill"/CORELLI:La Folia-Variations/BAZZINI: La Ronde des Lutins
Alfredo Campoli, violin/Eduard van Beinum conducts Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Mendelssohn)/Victor Olof conducts National Symphony (Paganini-Kreisler)/Eric Gritton, piano
Dutton CDBP 9718 77:27 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
Alfredo Campoli (1906-1991) was one of London Decca's most prolific, popular artists, quite comfortable in playing anything from showtunes to the concertos by Beethoven, Brahms, Bliss, Bruch and Khachaturian. While his tone was not huge, it had a pure line and occasionally hefty vibrato that consistently won admirers. Once Campoli assumes a tempo for a piece he remains steadfast and poised on a driven line of attack. The Campoli experience, then, is little different from that of Heifetz. These inscriptions date 1946-49, when London was experimenting with its 'orthophonic' recording process, and the sound is quite good, the Dutton restorations superbly quiet. Some may find his Mendelssohn a bit subdued and less 'virtuosic' than others, but it has great serenity and repose, even in the midst of blazing double-stopping and tremolando effects. He packs a stunning spiccato that easily rivals Heifetz. While I auditioned the disc primarily for the Beinum collaboration, the Paganini-Kreisler arrangement from the Concerto, Op. 6 turns out to be quite a gem. Campoli's natural, aristocratic tone provides a nobility this schmaltzy vehicle for Kreisler rarely achieves. Tartini's "Devil's Trill" is a broad canvas, much in the same style of Morini, with real sweep in the final Allegro. A contemporary reviewer found Campoli's "La Folia" unstylistic, too bass-heavy, but I do not think it drags. I did not know accompanist Eric Gritton, but he fits Campoli like a glove, a musician of distinct taste and talent.
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