Classical CD Reissues September 2001
[Click on any CD cover to go to its review below]
MARLBORO MUSIC FESTIVAL 50TH ANNIVERSARY ALBUM--Various artists-- Bridge 9108 (2 CDs):
For 50 years the Marlboro Festival has provided a summer haven for talented musicians. It has had only two directors, Adolf Busch and, from 1952 until his death in 1991, Rudolf Serkin, and under their leadership, it has maintained a remarkably high standard of musical integrity and seriousness of purpose, reflected on the mix of compositions and performers selected for these two discs. Beethoven's three rambunctious and good-humored Marches for Piano Four Hands, Op.45, are played brilliantly by Cecile Licad and Miecyslaw Horszowski. Verdi's String Quartet doesn't reach the level of his operas but it's graceful and melodious, and a group led by Pia Carminelli plays it with energy and an admirably light touch. Benita Valente sings Schubert's "Der Hirt auf dem Felsen" with warmth and understanding, and she's superbly accompanied by two great virtuosos, clarinetist Harold Wright and pianist Serkin. Sandor Vegh leads the Marlboro Festival Strings in an unusually lyrical performance of Bartok's Divertimento for String Orchestra. Compositions by Kurtag and Ligeti are full of strange outbursts, twitterings, and discordances, and I find them unlistenable, but you may enjoy their inventive sounds and jagged rhythms. All in all, this is a release well worth having, as a memento of a major musical institution and for the interesting music and splendid performances it contains. [Ed. Note: This is not the CD cover, which steadfastly refused to scan, but a photo from the note booklet of a tense moment in the traditional Marlboro chin-scratching competition featuring Sasha Schneider and Rudolf Serkin.]
Adolf Busch - From the 1949 Strasbourg Festival: BRAHMS: "Double" Concerto in A Minor, Op. 102; Sextet No. 1 in B-flat, Op. 8/MENDELSSOHN: Capriccio from Op. 81
Adolf Busch, violin; Herman Busch, cello
Paul Kletzki conducts French Nat'l Radio Orchestra (Op. 102)Albert Bertschmann, viola(Op. 18);August Wenzinger, cello (Op. 18)
Busch Quartet (Brahms Op. 18; Mendelssohn)
Music and Arts CD-1083 70:00 (Distrib. Koch):
Adolf Busch (1891-1952) still retains a decided charisma for lovers of great instrumental music-making. A pupil of Willy Hess and Fritz Steinbach, Busch inherited the Brahms tradition as a natural extension of his pedagogy; and while Menuhin spoke to me of Busch's teaching as somewhat "dogmatically Spartan" in his approach, Menuhin still granted Busch's "absolute fidelity" to the spirit as well as the letter of the composers' intentions. Music and Arts has resuscitated a series of concerts June 11-21, 1949 from Srtrasbourg, under the auspices of the French National Radio, and they convey several significant moments of post-War ensemble, not the least of which is the A Minor Concerto under the Polish leader Kletzki, a performance that rivals the intensity of the few collaborations that exist between Adolf and his conductor-brother Fritz Busch.
The down-side of the record is the poor state of the sound, especially the opening movement of the Op. 18 Sextet, which suffers degradation in sonic definition and color, as well as occasional ticks and flutter. The musical poise and self-possession of the presentation, however, more than compensates for its technical deficiencies: the variations of the Andante sail along, and the Scherzo has a puckish quality that proves enchanting enough to warrant innumerable re-listening. The Double Concerto from the Palais de Fetes is a linear, polished account-some will liken it to Galliera's conducting in the classic Oistrakh/Fournier rendition-but highly stylized, with fascinating turns of phrase, a small ritard, a passing grace-note, to captivate our imagination. The last movement Rondo avoids rhythmic heaviness. The Mendelssohn Caprice from Op. 81 was a post-War specialty of the highly-charged Busch Quartet, and its inclusion from the June 11 recital adds a spicy sauce to a most delectable concert. Once more, Music and Arts has blown away a thin layer of dust and uncovered many pearls of musical wisdom.
POULENC: Organ Concerto in G Minor; Gloria; Four Penitential Motets
Maurice Durufle, organ; Rosanna Carteri, soprano; Choeurs Rene DuclosOrchestre National de ORTF/Georges Pretre, conductor
EMI CDC 7 47723 2 63:40 (Distrib. Allegro):
The music of Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) continues to endure as a breezy, cosmopolitan experience, with moments of great expressivity and poignancy. The Gloria in G Major (1959) commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation is a case in point: its modal harmonies and ecstatic upper-registrations remind one of Gaudi's slightly irreverent ideas in Gothic architecture, where the profane comes dangerously close to real spirituality. Rosanna Carteri's 1961 inscription with Pretre remains one of the very best inscriptions of this work, long associated with Charles Munch; recall that Carteri did some good opera work with Monteux as well. The G Minor Organ Concerto (1938) has been a sonic favorite of mine since I first heard it on the old CBS LP with E. Power Biggs and Richard Burgin conducting (ML 4329, OP). It is a colossal toccata with tremendous motor energy, including blocks of sustained pedal and rapid figures that make for audiophile thrills and chills. No less engaging, sonically, are the a cappella choirs of 1938-39 (rec. 1963) that capture that "sequestration of spirit" Auden defined as endemic of the age preceding WW II. The miking on this restoration nicely balances soprano, organ, strings and timpani so that the musics' alternative revels and descents into the abyss reverberate most emphatically. This is brilliant audio-reprocessing, and this disc will provide many a new audio system a test disc of limitless energy. A winner all the way.
LIEDERABEND: Songs by Gluck, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert--Arleen Augér, sop/Erik Werba, p--Orfeo 509011:
Arleen Augér (American-born in spite of the accent on her last name, on which she insisted to make sure it was pronounced properly) became famous in the 1960s for her dramatic coloratura roles in Mozart operas, but she was also an accomplished recitalist. The 28 songs on this disc--many of them unfamiliar--were offered in an evening of lieder in Salzburg in 1978, and they display her exceptional assets in concert performance. These include technical security, excellent diction, a good sense of musical form and line, a high level of artistic judgement, a winning intimacy of communication, and a pure, bright, and very beautiful voice. Everything here is so well sung that it's hard to single anything out for special praise, but if I had to select a few, they would include the knowing wit of Haydn's "Eine sehr gewöhnliche Geschichte", the graceful charm of Mozart's "Die Zufriedenheit", the dark intensity of Beethoven's "Wonne der Wehmut", and the gentle charm of Schubert's "Heidenröslein". Werba provides sensitive support, playing a 18th-century Hammerflügel with a lovely, delicate tone. A delightful disc!
The Sublime Voice of Carlo Bergonzi: Opera arias--Decca 467023 (2CDs):
Bergonzi never achieved the public visibility of "The Three Tenors", but among musicians and critics his reputation is that of a singer's singer, an artist whose performances were models of tastefulness, vocal refinement, and beauty. The two discs present 40 mostly familiar arias from familiar operas, drawn from his complete recordings, so they include glorious duets with stellar partners (like Tebaldi, Nillson, and Sutherland) and are led by notable conductors, including Karajan, Kubelik, and Solti. The noted critic J.B. Steane described Bergonzi's voice as combining "strength, power, beauty, intensity, and elegance", and to this I would add that he had a superb technique and great respect for the scores, which he rendered with a high level of musical intelligence.
He started out as a baritone and some baritonal quality remained in his voice, giving it greater depth and resonance; his style was Italianate, with open vowels and a smooth legato, always restrained and polished. In warhorse arias like "Questa o quella", "E lucevan le stelle", and "Ciela e mar", he combined tenderness and virility, with ringing high notes and exquisite diminuendos; in dramatic arias like "Vesti la giubba" and "Dio! Mi potevi scagliar!" (from Verdi's Otello) he avoided the over-emotionalism of many (most?) tenors while retaining the passion of the music. These recordings were made between 1958 and 1965, when he was in his 30s and in his prime, and the sound is excellent. Bergonzi was an aristocrat of tenors, and they are much to be prized as exemplars of Italian singing at its best.
- Alex Morin
ERNESTINE SCHUMANN-HEINK: Victor Recordings 1911-20--Romophone 81030 (2CDs):
Ernestine Schumann-Heink (1861-1936) is best remembered today as a motherly German lady who sang "Silent "Night" in a quavery voice over the radio every Christmas Eve during the 1930s, but she was the most beloved and popular contralto of the first two decades of the last century, notably in Wagnerian roles. She had a splendid voice, strong, even, and secure, without a trace of vibrato, in a wide range from a deep, rich low register to pure, clear tones at the top, always communicative and expressive. Here she sings mostly popular songs and ballads, plus a scattering of opera arias and lieder, all in German and English. Among the many outstanding performances on the two discs are Wagner's "Träume", where she shows off her lovely legato; she's light and joyous in Schubert's "Die Forelle" and tender and loving in Brahms's "Wiegenlied"; Loewe's passionate "Das Erkennen" is powerful and dramatic. Recorded in her prime and in excellent transfers by Ward Marston, this set is invaluable testimony to the art of a very great singer.
EDMOND CLÉMENT: Complete Pathé recordings (1916-25); LÉON DAVID: Complete recordings (1904-08)--Romophone 82016 (2 CDs):
Romophone is an English firm that specializes in the complete recordings of great singers of the past, always in excellent transfers and attractively presented. In addition to this set, three other recent releases are reviewed in this issue (Gigli, Melchior, and Schumann-Heink). Here we get two French lyric tenors who were almost exact contemporaries and sang much the same repertoire.
The bulk of the two discs is given over to Edmond Clément (1867-1928), who appeared for a few seasons in New York and Boston but spent most of his career in Paris, where for many years he reigned supreme at the Opéra-Comique. His light voice was a splendid example of the distinctive French vocal style taught at the Paris Conservatoire for well over a century: bright and clear, firm and even, scrupulous in intonation and diction, always lucid and--above all--elegant. He had little dramatic strength, but when it was required he supplied it not by force but by the intelligence with which he used his voice. Two Massenet arias ("Pourquoi me reveiller" from Werther and "La rêve" from Manon) are models of their kind, smooth and graceful, the high notes ringing out or thinning into nothingness as needed. He's at his chrming best in two witty little songs by Weckerlin: "Bergère légère" and "Jeunes fillette", with some delicious ornamentation in the latter.
Léon David (1867-1961) is less well known. His voice was also very French, not as clear or secure as Clément's but worth hearing as another good example of a style no longer heard, to our great loss. In both cases the transfers are by Ward Marston, better for Clément than for David as you would expect from the age of the recordings, but the voices come through vividly. It's a valuable release for what it tells us of the superb singing of a bygone age.
BENIAMINO GIGLI: Complete HMV Recordings 1936-38--Romophone 82020:
This is the fifth Romophone release devoted to Gigli's complete recordings; earlier volumes carried him from 1921 to 1935. By the mid-1930s the great tenor was in his 40s and at the height of his popularity everywhere he sang, which was just about everywhere. He was singing as sweetly and effortlessly as ever, his voice still rich, vibrant, and flexible, perhaps even stronger than earlier, and still able to produce a haunting mezza voce (especially in Grieg's "A Dream", oddly sung in French) and ringing high notes. The familiar faults are there: aspirated vowels, some undesirable portamento, and a fair amount of exaggerated emotionalism. Don't look to Gigli for the best of taste--for that, turn to Carlo Bergonzi, reviewed elsewhere in this issue--but in its place you get his sheer beauty of voice and infectious joy in singing. This is particularly the case for the Italian songs that make up a good part of the 22 selections on this disc; they include a tender "Serenata" and a wonderfully lilting "Marechiare", both by Tosti. The transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn are excellent, as always. Many critics and listeners believe Gigli had the most beautiful voice of the century, and there is nothing here to disprove that contention.
LAURITZ MELCHIOR: Complete MGM Recordings 1946-47--Romophone 82019:
Melchior was the greatest heroic tenor of the last century and maybe of all time, most famous for his roles in Wagner operas, but he also enjoyed being a popular entertainer, and that's what is offered on this disc: a mix of ballads, operetta excerpts, and pop music, with a couple of operatic pot-boilers thrown in. His voice is as beautiful as ever, secure, even, and giving intelligent shape to the words, but with his bold, heroic style and German (or Danish) accent, he's far from idiomatic in this material. If you enjoy ballads like Nevin's "The Rosary", you'd do better with John McCormack; if "Vesti la giubba" or Italian songs like de Curtis's "Torna a Sorriento" are to your taste, you should listen to Gigli; for Porter's "Easy to Love", there's always Sinatra. Romophone is to be praised for giving us this addition to Melchior's discography, and collectors may want the disc, but for the rest of us there are more rewarding examples of his singing and of this music.
TENORS OF THE OPÉRA-COMIQUE--Louis Cazette/Charles Friant/Jean Marny-- Marston 51006:
Ward Marston has been assiduous in his attention to the great exponents of the distinctive French vocal style, which emphasized clarity of diction, elegance and refinement of style, and a sensuous beauty of voice. The three singers represented on this disc were leading tenors of the Opéra-Comique in Paris during the 1920s, and they all display these characteristics, in excellent sound. Cazette had a wonderfully sweet voice with a pure, effortless top, exemplified in his lovely presentations of the two big arias from Massenet's Manon, "En fermant les yeux" and "Ah, fuyez, douce image". Friant was a fine actor, and his more dramatic style is displayed in "O liberté, ma mie" from his most famous role, Massenet's Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame. Marny is the least well-known and had the least attractive voice of the three, a cross between lyric and dramatic tenor; his version of "Quelle musique" from Charpentier's Louise is bold but smooth and ingratiating. None of the three sang much (if at all) outside France, so they are little known in this country, but they were splendid singers who deserve to be heard, not only for their artistry but for their demonstration of a vocal style now vanished, to our great loss.
JACQUES URLUS, HEROIC TENOR: Arias and songs--Marston 52031 (2CDs):
Urlus (1867-1935) was the greatest Heldentenor of the early years of the last century. He was best known for his Wagnerian roles--that's all the Met allowed him to sing during his years there from 1913 to 1919--but in Europe, where he was based in Leipzig for most of his career, he excelled in Puccini and Verdi and was a distinguished recitalist. These two discs present his complete Edison recordings, made from 1913 to 1917, in excellent transfers, and offer a wide range of material. Wagner always demanded a smooth Italian bel canto style from his singers, and that's just what Urlus provided, for instance in a lovely rendering of "Siegmund heiss ich" from Die Walküre. His musicianship was scrupulous, his voice was voluminous and clear, evenly and effortlessly produced and very beautiful, and his characterizations were as vivid in lieder as in operatic roles. He was a splendid singer, and it's a great pleasure to remake his acquaintance.
PONSELLE ON THE AIR: Songs and arias--Rosa Ponselle, sop--Marston 52032 (2CDs):
In the years just before her abrupt retirement in 1937, the great soprano Rosa Ponselle made a considerable number of appearances on radio for programs like the "General Motors Hour". This compilation is Vol. 2 of these performances, recorded in 1936 and 1937. The contents are generally light fare--popular songs and ballads, interspersed with a few opera arias. She takes this material seriously, turning it into fine art. Her voice was still in very good shape, as sumptuous and expressive as ever, for instance in a lovely, smoothly delivered Gounod "Ave Maria" and a touching "Tu che invoco" from La Traviata. The transfers, as you would expect from Marston, are excellent, and the release is a fine example of vocal artistry at its best.
Jane Bathori: Complete Solo Recordings--Marston 51009:
Mezzo-soprano Jane Bathori (1877-1970) was the first of a number of distinguished recitalists who specialized in the French art song repertoire in the first half of the last century (others were Clair Croiza and Ninon Vallin). She recorded little and not until 1929, when she was in her fifties and her voice had lost some of its luster and top range, but it retained considerable beauty and the authority and subtlety of her interpretations were undiminished. She was an exemplar of the distinctive French vocal style, with its emphasis on precise diction and its combination of sensuality and elegance. On this disc, all 26 selections are by French composers--Debussy, Ravel, Satie, Milhaud, etc.--except for two Mozart arias (not particularly well sung). The six Milhaud songs are accompanied by the composer and all but one of the others by Bathori herself, who achieves a remarkable integration of words and music. This is especially apparent in the lyricism of Milhaud's "Chant de la nourrice" (from his Poèmes juifs) and Debussy's "La chevelure" (Chansons de Bilitis 2), but her nuanced expressiveness in all the songs is entrancing. Good sound, good notes, and delightful listening.
- Alex Morin
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