Classical CD Reissues, Part 2   June 2003


MAHLER: Das Lied von der Erde

Julius Patzak, tenor
Kathleen Ferrier, contralto
Bruno Walter conducts Vienna Philharmonic

TAHRA TAH 482 61:11 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

Subtitled "In Mermoriam K. Ferrier," this lovely reissue captures the live concert from May 17, 1952, the performance contracted by Decca with permission from CBS (who owned Bruno Walter's recording rights) for the LP inscription of Das Lied von der Erde. Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953) was already severely ill with the cancer that would claim her life October 8, 1953, so her participation in the last-movement Abschied is miraculous on a more-than musical level. While Julius Patzak suffers some vocal strain, and the orchestral ensemble gets occasionally ragged, the intensity and pathos Patzak and Walter generate in the opening Drinking Song of Earth's Woe is virtually an hysterical reaction to the detachment of Bethge's translation, "Dark is life; dark is death." The close miking reveals the wonders of Mahler's delicate orchestration, in oboe, harp, clarinet, and flutter-tongue flute, not to mention the exotic, chromatic and pentatonic harmonies that enrich the symphonic fabric.

Too ill to accept Karajan's offer of Brangaene at Bayreuth, Ferrier retired from music after recording Four Songs of Rueckert with Walter. Walter himself would say farewell to the Vienna Philharmonic only eight years later, with Mahler's Fourth Symphony. Placed side by side with the commerical inscription this team made, the concert makes an elegant, valedictory companion to one of the most satisfying accounts of this music ever to grace the catalogue. [For a more recent Das Lied see this month’s Hi-Res section.]

--Gary Lemco

GOUNOD: Messe Solennelle de St. Cecile; Petite symphonie - Lorengar/Hoppe/Crass/Rene Duclos Choirs/Orch. De la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire/Jean-Claude Hartemann; (In sym.:) Halle Orch./Sir John Barbirolli - EMI Classics 5 74730 2:

These remastered classics date from l963 and 1958 respectively. I may be wrong on this, but they strike me as the sort of fine recordings that those of us longer in the tooth recall as among the great LPs that probably will never see the light of CD. But now they have. The digital remastering is excellent, with good preservation of the rich acoustics of the church in which the recording was made. Like many opera composers Gounod also wrote sacred music, and his mass for the saint of music abounds in lovely, almost operatic melody - some of which will sound familiar even to those who hear the work for the first time. It some ways it is akin to Verdi’s Requiem in its often dramatic nature, with some fine solos for the soprano, tenor and bass against the large chorus and orchestra. The Small Symphony for wind instruments is an obscure but also lovely work which continues the melodic mode of the composer.

- John Sunier

Charles Munch conducts = SAINT-SAENS: La Princess Jaune Overture/BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 "Choral"/BERLIOZ: Le Corsaire Overture, Op. 21/MENDELSSOHN: Scherzo from Octet, Op. 20/BIZET: Symphony in C Major/MARTINU: Symphony No. 6/PROKOFIEV: Excerpts from Romeo and Juliet

Leontyne Price, soprano; Maureen Forrester, contralto; David Poleri, tenor; Giorgio Tozzi, bass
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Munch; Paris Conservatory Orchestra (Berlioz); French National Radio Symphony (Bizet)

EMI "Great Conductors of the 20th Century" 77:23; 79:04:

I recall my old music professor, Phil Freidheim's recounting a Charles Munch (1891-1968) concert at Tanglewood: "It was the Brahms D Major Symphony, and Munch had the last movement going, so fluid, so vital, that one audience member stood up, started conducting along with Munch, finished on the beat, and collapsed back into the seats." Charles Munch had that kind of charisma, a spontaneity and urgency in his music making, that could be totally infectious. The first piece of this collation, the 1951 record of Saint-Saens' La Princesse Jeune, was an RCA LP (LM 1700) especially dear to me; and now that this colorful overture is on CD, we have every bit of Saint-Saens that Munch commercially inscribed.

Munch was happy in the recording studio, where his penchant for spontaneity was restrained in the service of history and musical posterity. The 1958 Beethoven Ninth assembled a stellar vocal ensemble, along with a hard-driving vision of the music, with extremely precise choirs from the BSO, which Munch had taken from Koussevitzky, only to refine further its discipline and expand its adventurous repertory. One of the results of Munch's penchant for new material was the 75th Anniversary commission to Martinu for his Fantasies symphoniques of 1955, which Munch recorded in April of 1956. It is hard to characterize Martinu's music; it is not melodic (i.e., whistleable), but it has periods of elastic rhythm and melody, dissonance and huge pedal points, kind of a Slavic Bruckner with a modern, harmonic syntax.

The oldest recording is the lithe,1948 Berlioz Corsaire with the Paris Conservatory, coming at a fertile period in Munch's discography, with a fine Ravel Daphnis inscribed at the same time. The Bizet Symphony is supple and exalted, with Munch's taking it with repeats that expand its lyricism a few moments longer than his BSO and RPO versions. I was quite fond of Munch's eleven excerpts from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet: we are given four of the episodes, with some glorious oboe, flute, and string playing. I am a bit puzzled why EMI did not extend the Munch retrospective to include any of his New York Philharmonic records; but the little Scherzo from Mendelssohn's Octet has enough shimmer and aerial virtuosity to carry the torch for this conductor's ever-infectious talents.

--Gary Lemco

Pierre Monteux conducts = BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 36/WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde: Prelude and Love-Death/HINDEMITH: Mathis der Maler/DEBUSSY: 3 Nocturnes/TCHAIKOVSKY: Excerpts from The Sleeping Beauty/LISLE: La Marseillaise

North-German Radio Symphony (Beethoven, Wagner)
London Symphony (Tchaikovsky, Lisle)
Danish State Radio Symphony (Hindemith)
Boston Symphony Orchestra and Women's Chorus of the Berkshire Festival
EMI "Great Conductors of the 20th Century" 21 5 75474 2 73:03; 74:07:

In conversation with David Zinman some years ago in Binghamton, New York, where Zinman was touring with the Rochester Philharmonic, we spoke of his teacher Pierre Monteux (1875-1964). "Monteux was the most natural of conductors, and he was without affectation. His knowledge of an immense, catholic repertory was staggering: he could recall the violin, second violin and viola parts of almost any score he had led. Balance, beauty of sound, homogeneity of the sound-image, and devotion to the composers' intentions were his credo." It is hard to expand upon Zinman's precis without simply being redundant. This excellent EMI restoration has several merits: the Hindemith, Wagner and Beethoven all from late in his career; likely, collectors would love to have in CD format his Beethoven "nine" in one volume, culled from RCA, Universal, and Decca sources.

Record collectors will enjoy having Monteux's Debussy Nocturnes from 1955 (LM 1939) restored, with superior oboe playing from Ralph Gomberg in the Nuages, and sober, fleet and suavely lithe readings of Fetes and Sirenes. The Hindemith tryptich is live from 1962 Denmark, with the ensemble's generating a warm, articulate melodic line in music Monteux clearly favors. Monteux's work with the London Symphony is as lean and liquid as anything he achieved in Boston and Amsterdam. Much of this material was inscribed by Philips, but the 1957 Sleeping Beauty from RCA has all the grace and brilliant finesse Monteux could muster from a lifetime of ballet experience. The phrasing is eminently classical, no mawkish dawdling and exaggeration in the phrases. Every Monteux performance moves without drag, without sag. The Beethoven Second is a tad more pesant than his San Francisco version, with that lilted marcato in the Trio of the Scherzo that seems to have ben a calling card. When La Marseillaise arrived, could I help but see Paul Henreid's getting the nod of approval from Bogart? Vive La France!

--Gary Lemco

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60; Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67

Guenther Wand conducts Guerzenich Orchestra of Cologne
Testament SBT 1286 66:36 (Distrib. Harmonia mundi):

I have prior commented on the Guenther Wand readings of Beethoven from the 1950's; these two symphonies were inscribed in 1956. My own predilection in reviewing Beethoven's nine symphonies is to audition No, 4 in B-flat first: lying between the two big, dramatic opera as it does, it has elements of colossal energy and moments of transparent intimacy: a good conductor's test-piece. Recorded in monaural sound, the Wand Fourth is striking for its insistence on orchestral detail, with a lingering sense of atmosphere and rhythmic pulse in the Adagio that made me awaken from my dogmatic slumbers. The Fifth was recorded in early stereo, with Wand's having mixed the brass and winds to the left, a la Stokowski. Hard-driven and pungent attacks mark this performance, where Wand saves his more savage impetus for the final pages, a really blistering drive much in the spirit of Erich Kleiber. Balance, security of phrase and cleanliness of ensemble have these early Wand Beethoven records making me re-assess and upgrade my rating of Wand's musicianship. These Testament reissues are all keepers.

--Gary Lemco


BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major "Romantic"

Istvan Kertesz conducts London Symphony Orchestra
Testament SBT 1298 61:22 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

In conversation with London Symphony horn principal Barry Tuckwell, the subject of Istvan Kertesz (1929-1973) arose, particularly this recording (issued on Decca LP) of the Bruckner Fourth. "It was joy to work with Kertesz, who knew the music so well. There was a small contingent of Hungarian conductors in Britain at the time, the early to mid-1960's: Dorati, Fricsay, Kertesz, and Solti (whom I did not like). Kertesz, the junior member, was to assume all the duties that Monteux had occupied; frankly, we players were overjoyed."  One fact I did not elicit from Tuckwell was the actual date of the recording: this Testament issue cites November 22-25, 1965; an earlier issue, perhaps of a broadcast with a remarkably quiet audience.  BBC Radio Classics (15656 91712), gives the date as March 13, 1964.

Kertesz uses the 1878/80 edition of the score, in which Bruckner reinstated cuts made by Ferdinand Loewe. Kertesz takes a kind of Bruno Walter approach, broad, sturdy, good-natured, and idiomatic by way of the Viennese-Linz tradition. If the performance does not attain the ether of Furtwaengler and Klemperer, it has a hearty vigor that makes us wish Kertesz had lived to re-record it in his later career. The two interior movements strike me as the most successful: the Andante, with its big, arching melody and secondary theme in violas and pizzicato strings; the hunting-call Scherzo, with its stop-on-the-dime trumpets and lilting peasant dance of a Trio. Testament is engaged in a major restoration of the Kertesz legacy, including his concerto work with Hans Richter-Haaser, the German pianist who first called producer Walter Legge's attention to the merits of this tragically short-lived talent.

--Gary Lemco

HANDEL: The Faithful Shepherd Suite/GOLDMARK: Rustic Wedding Symphony, Op. 26

Sir Thomas Beecham conducts Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Sony SMK 87780 66:44:

Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1962) first arranged Handel's music for Il pastor fido in 1940. He took suites the composer had organized in 1712 and in 1734, updating the scoring to suit the modern orchestra, particularly Beecham's hand-picked desk leaders of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. By the time of this recording, 1950, Beecham had honed his Royal Philharmonic into Britain's prime ensemble, with Jack Brymer (clarinet), Gwydion Brooke (bassoon), and Dennis Brain (French horn) among his principals. Beecham often rearranged the order of the suite's movements according to his whm, using for the introduction music from Terpsichore.  Beecham keeps the music moving, no dawdling or forced affection in the Gallic style of the dances: Bouree, Musette, Gavotte, and Minuet.

The Goldmark Rustic Wedding Symphony, from June 1952, is among that large batch of LP's (ML 4626) collectors have been awaiting for CD transfer, of which this is but one of the first set of fifteen. It is Beecham at the top of his form, lavishly mounting relatively unfamiliar, but thoroughly melodious, music in warm and superb orchestral detail. The Symphony (1877) is in five movements in the manner of Beethoven's Pastoral; the first an extended theme and variations, thirteen in fact, of which Beecham excludes numbers 8 and 10. The Bridal Song and In the Garden are silken and lovely, a kind of Hungarian Brahms, rather than the reverse. The jaunty outer movements have the Beecham delicacy and wit we associate with his crisp articulation in French music and the encores he calls lollipops. Sound restoration is excellent, and the idea that the series of previously unreleased 1950-54 Beecham Columbias will be available is cause for general dancing. This collector has been waiting for the Sibelius First and Franck's Le Chasseur maudit for a long time.

--Gary Lemco

Ossy Renardy, violin = BACH: Sonata No. 1 in G Minor for Solo Violin, BWV 1001; Sonata No. 3 in C Major for Solo Violin, BWV 1005/PAGANINI: Le Streghe; 2 Caprices/WIENIAWSKI: Scherzo tarantelle, Op. 16/KREISLER: Liebesfreud; Liebesleid; Caprice viennois; Caprice chinois/SCHUBERT: Ave Maria

with Ernest Lush, piano
Testament SBT 1292 79:04 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

The repute of Viennese violinist Ossy Renardy (nee Oskar Riess, 1920 1953) rests with his having made the first complete recording of the Paganini Caprices (although in the accompanied version of Ferdinand David) in 1941, and his 1948 inscription of the Brahms Violin Concerto with Charles Munch and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam (Dutton CDEA 5024). After the Brahms, Renardy recorded mostly short, encore and miniature works with Ernest Lush; and it was only in 1950 that Renardy turned to unaccompanied Bach. A poetic, responsive player with an elegant tone (he owned one instrument that had been Paganini's), Renardy could also be inaccurate, his concepts more appropriate for the salon than the concert hall. Renardy made some records for Don Gabor's Remington label before he died; perhaps if these were issued, especially the Franck and Ravel with American pianist Eugene List, his legacy would be even better served.

The two Bach works demonstrate Renardy's virtues and frailties: he has a clean, articulate line, but at times the shape of the piece eludes him. I found the C Major more to his taste than the G Minor, which seems precious and too dainty. The Kreisler, as well as Schubert's Ave Maria, suit Renardy's style admirably: the cross of sentimentality and lyric outpouring matches his salon approach. The Wieniawski is more lyric than bravura; and Paganini's Le Streghe is almost too civilized, given Ricci's visceral, savage approach. The two Caprices, numbers 17 (arranged Fuchs) and 24 (arranged Flesch) are digitally solid, and the famous A Minor variations do get spicy and virtuosic. A somewhat uneven artist, still evolving when claimed by a fatal car crash, Renardy is remains attractive to connoisseurs and collectors, so this set expands a limited market.

--Gary Lemco

CHOPIN: Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise brilliante in E flat, Op. 22; Scherzo No. 3 in C# Minor, Op. 39; Waltz No. 5 in A flat, Op. 42; Etudes, Op. 10: Nos. 8, 4 , 5/BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 27 in E Minor, Op. 90/SCHUMANN: Carnaval, Op. 9/LISZT: Concert Etude No. 2 "Gnomenreigen"

Simon Barere, piano

APR 5624    71:40 (Distrib. Albany):

Here is Volume Four of the Carnegie Hall recitals by Simon Barere (1896 1951), the Russian virtuoso who was heir-apparent to Mischa Levitzky for propulsion, clarity, and articulate filigree. This assemblage claims two recitals from 1949 as their source: 7th February and 18th November, although there is some uncertainty about the Beethoven Sonata, which may date back to November 11, 1947. All of the recordings, in decent if not strong sound, are the product of son Boris Barere's penchant for taping his father's concerts "just for the fun of it."

The big pieces are Beethoven's elusive, lyric Sonata in E Minor and the brilliant Schumann Carnaval. Beethoven purists may quibble over the victory of color over content, but the E Minor's quirky pathos comes through, Barere's emphasizing the high singing line in the second movement. Carnaval is awhirl with light and shade, furiously kaleidoscopic and filled with tender nuance. The velocity of the final pages threatens to break up the March Against the Philistines, but Barere manages to knead an unbroken string of pearls. The Chopin Scherzo No. 3 was something of a specialty; here, each repetition of the hymn-like phrase gets increased dynamics and fury. The Andante spianato was entirely new to me: it has Hofmann's slick gloss and refinement, but it carries a wistfulness we associate with Rubinstein. All of the etudes, whether Chopin's or Liszt's Gnomenreigen, have an effervescent flair and security of technique that transcend mere bravura. The A-flat (or 2/4) Waltz is Hofmann reborn. Muddy sound, occasional crackle, some pitch variation, all do not detract from the liquid fire in Barere's fingers, still dazzling fifty-plus years later. The audience demanded a repeat of the "black key" etude, and so will you.

--Gary Lemco

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