Classical CD Reissues  
September 2002 - Part 1 of 2

Annie Fischer: BRAHMS: Piano Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 5/BARTOK: 15 Hungarian Peasant Tunes/LISZT: 2 Etudes/DOHNANYI: Rhapsody No. 3in C

Annie Fischer, piano

BBC Legends BBCL 4054-2 64:13 (Distrib. Koch):

Annie Fischer (1914-1995) remains a personal favorite among pianists, not for her technical prowess, which was somewhat constrained and undependable, but for her innate poetry and natural affinity for musical style. The present recital derives from Edinburgh August 27, 1961, and though brief, displays her penchant for the big forms and the big ideas. Most impressive is her Brahms F Minor, whose bulky, often percussive fist movement can prove unconvincing in some hands. The Andante has the right application of touch and tempo to indebt its sequences to Schumann. A good sense of restrained pedal marks the Scherzo, which far too many pianists over-touch dynamically.

The remainder of the recital is clearly an homage a Budapest, a paean to Liszt, Bartok and Dohnanyi, including loving renditions of Liszt's "Un Sospiro" Etude and the sixth of the etudes after Paganini. The Bartok folk tunes are bouncy, ripe, and individually colored. The Dohnanyi Rhapsody in C does not get the mileage it used to, so even with an occasional finger slip and missed upbeat, Fischer makes it an 'orchestral' event with vibrant flair. I suspect the recital was longer: the audience is certainly revved-up for more. I, too, would like BBC to offer more of this unique artist.

--Gary Lemco

BEETHOVEN: Piano Trios: Op. 70 in D, "Ghost" and No. 2 in E-flat; 10 Variations on Mueller's "Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu," Op. 121a; Piano Trio in E-flat, WoO 38; Cello Sonata no. 3 in A, Op. 69 and No. 5 in D, Op. 102, no. 2

Jacqueline Du Pre, cello; Daniel Barenboim, piano; Pinchas Zukerman, violin; Stephen Kovacevich, piano (cello sonatas)

EMI Double Forte 7243 5 74834 2 1 77:25; 63:09:

This fine two-CD set celebrates the venerable cello artistry of the late Jacqueline Du Pre (1945-1987), whose all-too-brief career was cut short by MS. These inscriptions date 1965-1970, when her technique was accorded the finest in Britain. It is a strong collection of Beethoven, featuring the powerful trios (1808) of Opus 70, of which the second in E-flat is my particular favorite. Even the early (1791) uncatalogued Trio in E-flat comes off as the work of a more than promising talent in the Mozart tradition, but with a mind of his own, especially concerning the art of modulation. For me, the weakest link in the performing trio is Zukerman, whose tone I always prefer on the viola. Trying too hard to be Heifetz for my taste. But the joie of playing music shines through with the others. The two cello sonatas with Stephen Kovacevich (aka Stephen Bishop) are heart-throbbing, especially the well esteemed A Major, Op. 69. I would like Sony some day to bring back the Gendron-Entremont account. Perhaps the most representative moment is the "Kakadu" Variations, where Beethoven takes an aria from Mueller's The Sisters from Prague and adds his own wit and invention to an otherwise prosaic interlude. The electricity between Barenboim, Du Pre and Zukerman is palpable; you can feel the sizzle.

This is a keeper all the way, especially as it complements several fine EMI collections and tributes to Du Pre.

--Gary Lemco


PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Op. 25 "Classical"; Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 19; Symphony No. 5 in B-flat, Op. 100

Franco Gulli, violin; Sergiu Celibidache conducts Berlin Philharmonic (Op. 25), RAI Milan (Op. 100) and RAI Naples (Op. 19)

Classica D'Oro CD0 1049 76:03 (Distrib. Allegro):

This disc is another of those pirates-taken-from-pirates editions, where we suspect that discs rather than master-tapes are the sources. Some of this material (especially the "Classical" Symphony) has been on more reliable labels, like Music & Arts and TAHRA, although the 1948 performance still makes a considerable effect for its thoughtfulness and deliberation, despite this label's sound being tubby. That Celibidache was introducing post-War Berlin to a new and varied repertory was a kind of quiet revolution of its own.

The D Major Concerto and the Fifth Symphony have been on the Hunt (aka Arkadia) label and various incarnations on Fonit Cetra and its ilk. Gulli, who passed away in 2001, was an extremely gifted violinist who made a professorship at Indiana University and played some 16 times with Michelangeli in Italy. When I heard him in Atlanta, he played an exquisite Baal Shem of Bloch with the orchestra under Louis Lane. When I asked Gulli straight out whether Michelangeli were a drug-addict, he replied no, but that "Michelangeli is so very strange. He will cancel a concert-like that! Any reason: too hot, too cold, the piano, the acoustic. But when he plays. . .amazing!" So, too, when Gulli plays. This 1957 performance with the Alessandro Scarlatti Orchestra of Naples is dreamy, silky music-making, with a lyrical freshness that takes its cue and surpasses the famed Szigeti-Beecham account. Gulli, by the way, was a Szigeti pupil.

The Fifth Symphony is from Milan, 1960. I recall that Rococo LP had this available, with its Koussevitzkian temper and its oh-so deliberate re-entry of the Scherzo theme after the trio. This is a striking account, sympathetic and filled with volatile passions, an excellent example of Celibidache's ability to mold a second-rate ensemble into a driven whole. Again, the filtered sound eliminates some nuances in texture and dynamic, and collectors may pass on this reissue for a more authentic restoration. But for us peasants, it will do in the meantime.

--Gary Lemco

Eugene Ormandy -- BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98/STRAUSS: Don Juan, Op. 20/WEBERN: Im Sommerwind/KABALEVSKY: Colas Breugnon-Overture/RACHMANINOV: Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27/SIBELIUS: Lemminkainen's Return, Op. 22, No. 4

Eugene Ormandy conducts Philadelphia Orchestra and Bavarian Radio-Symphony (Strauss, Kabalevsky)

IMG Artists: Great Conductors of the 20th Century 7243 5 75127
- 70:36; 67:35 (2 Cds):

Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985) was not among my personal pantheon of great conductors, in spite of his 40-year tenure with the Philadelphia Orchestra and his obvious, early talent as a violinist-arranger. His aesthetic credo resembled that of Heifetz, in that he sought a level of technical excellence that did not vary from performance to performance, so there was little to distinguish his Brahms Fourth from 1936 from that of 1967 (included on these discs). I always thought he excelled with any given soloist-Heifetz, Francescatti, Serkin-where his emphasis on lushness and orchestral clarity made the collaboration shine. When I met him in Atlanta in the early 1980's, I asked him to sign an album I thought worthy of his gifts-my Columbia LP of Gaite Parisienne. We did not discuss his rather shabby treatment of resident composer Richard Yardumian, whom Ormandy shafted with rigor.

This EMI retrospective is about as good as Ormandy gets: the Rachmaninov E Minor and the excerpt from Sibelius' Four Legends were house staples for Ormandy, and warm and resilient readings they are. No less sumptuous are the Bavarian Radio's response to his leading a 1959 Don Juan and a 1965 Colas Breugnon: each has a patina worthy of the Philadelphia sound as well as a delicious sense of the orchestra's own principals. While Ormandy was hardly an exponent of the Second Viennese School, his choice of Webern's early (1904) tone-poem Im Sommerwind was the work's world premier recording (1963), revealing this pointillistic composer a rare student of Strauss and Bruckner. Brahms, too, fares well under Ormandy's steady hand, with large gestures, a syrupy gloss and a good sense of dynamic propulsion in the Chaconne. The 1973 Rachmaninov E Minor is Ormandy's try at an uncut edition: it does not have the inner tension that Sanderling brings, nor the personal idiosyncrasy of Golovanov, but it has an expansive breadth and total nostalgia.

Ormandy, recall, was the most-recorded conductor for twenty years, between 1950 and 1970, so picking and choosing six representative works had to be a challenge that EMI has well met.

--Gary Lemco


GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16/SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54/LISZT: Hungarian Fantasia

Solomon, piano

Herbert Menges conducts Philharmonia Orchestra; Walter Susskind conducts Philharmonia Orchestra (Liszt)

Testament SBT 1231 75:03 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

I have already had occasion to comment on the artistry of Solomon Cutner (1902-1988), whose chosen professional name was simply Solomon. The Grieg/Schumann combination dates from 1956, the peak of Solomon's form, and the coupling appeared on CD for EMI's "Artist Profiles" series. The pianist maintains a deft, light hand for the Grieg, aiming more for its serenity and luminous pantheism than for herculean fireworks. The sensibility to under-state might affect auditors as coldness, but the discerning ear will savor the matchless fluency, the sober sense of balance, so that transitional passagework does not receive undue weight. The central Adagio, perhaps the most "Eastern" of concerto movements, wafts an ephemeral texture that evaporates when you try to seize it. Along with Lipatti's Grieg, I would rate this traversal very high. The Schumann may seem a bit pedestrian in relation to the Grieg; it smiles but rarely sails. It seems eminently forthright and smartly decorative, like those lancers outside White Chapel. More to the sanguinary is the 1948 Hungarian Fantasy, where Solomon and Susskind serve up some very saucy colors for our delectation, a rare goulash of improvisation and immaculate craftsmanship.

--Gary Lemco

SCHUMANN: Violin Concerto in D Minor/DVORAK: Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53

Yehudi Menuhin, violin

John Barbirolli conducts New York Philharmonic (Schumann); Georges Enesco conducts Paris Conservatory Orchestra(Dvorak)

Naxos Historical 8.110966 57:59:

The Schumann Violin Concerto (1853) has it is first inscription (in the complete edition) on this reissue from 1938, after a long and arduous political situation had prohibited Menuhin from giving the premier in Germany. Those who own the Kulenkampff performance with Schmidt-Isserstedt have a cut edition especially prepared as a propaganda exercise for Goebbels' office of cultural information. Menuhin actually premiered the work in St. Louis with Vladimir Golschmann on December 23, 1937.

Surprisingly, the Barbirolli Society (distrib. Dutton) has not sought this historic collaboration with Menuhin as one its offerings. So the Naxos is most welcome after the long hiatus, since the Electrola LP has been out of circulation for years.

The passion and commitment Menuhin and Barbirolli bring to this melancholy score do not entirely redeem its mono-thematic content. It seems cut from one lachrymose impulse, although the last movement tries to smile by making the tune into a polonaise.

The second movement Langsam is played to perfection. The Dvorak, inscribed in 1936, represents the teacher-pupil relationship of Menuhin and Enesco in lyrical throttle, if not in dramatic flair. Enesco's conducting seems lackluster, and I would recommend Naxos revive his later recording (for London Decca) of the Rodrigo Concierto d'Ete with Christian Ferras as a better example of his orchestral flair. Still, this is Menuhin's only recording of the Dvorak, and his hearty tone is worth the price of admission. It is the Schumann, though, that warrants our gratitude.

--Gary Lemco

SCHUMANN: Dramatic Scenes after Byron's Manfred; Scenes from Goethe's Faust; Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54; Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 129

Rafael Kubelik conducts Bavarian Radio Orchestra (Manfred)
Erich Leinsdorf conducts Bavarian Radio Orchestra (Faust)
Rudolf Serkin, piano; Pierre Fournier, cello
Paul Kletzki conducts Bavarian Radio Orchestra (Op. 129)

Melodram GM 4.0054 78:13; 50:00; 53:55; 59:14 (Distrib. Albany):

Culled from the archives of the Bavarian Radio 1967-74, these impressive inscriptions capture the spirit of Robert Schumann (1810-1856) in some electrifying performances with renowned artists. The most extended selection are the Scenes from Goethe's Faust, written late (1846-48) in Schumann's career, somewhat as an "operatic" response to the work of Berlioz, Gounod and Liszt, although the latter did not publish his Faust-Symphonie until 1851. Recorded in 1971, the Leinsdorf-led production has a stellar cast, including Hermann Prey, Edith Mathis, Brigitte Fassbaender and Werner Krenn. Much of the writing is lyrical, with strong traces of Weber's Der Freischuetz (especially the Wolf's-Glen scene) permeating its texture. As in much late Schumann, there is a melodic sameness about the score, as if once the composer got hold of a good tune, he could not let it go. Leinsdorf (1912-1993), whatever his emotional limitations as a conductor, is always a great leader of large forces, and he seems much in his (operatic) element.

I have always harbored reservations about Manfred. Except for the Overture, very little of this music with dramatic narrative survives in the concert halls except in rare revivals by Scherchen, Beecham, and this one, from 1974, under Kubelik (1914-1996). The Byronic drama itself is a strange amalgam of Macbeth and Wordsworth's The Prelude, with unnamed malaise plaguing its hero, and all sorts of confrontations with malign and benign spirits. Tchaikovsky's treatment as a dramatic symphony is likely the best solution. Will Quadflieg tries hard with Kubelik to make us sympathetic to his hero's wanderings, and so does Alpine Fairy Maria Koerber, but it is heavy going. More successful musically are the concertos, with Rudolf Serkin (1903-1991) and the under-rated Fritz Rieger (1910-1978) delivering a powerhouse Piano Concerto from 1976. Someone should inform Melodram that their 'picture' of Rieger is another of Kubelik. Finally, the reliable Pierre Fournier (1906-1986) teams up with Paul Kletzki (1900-1973) for a delicious Cello Concerto, airy and streamlined. Schumann was alive and well in Munich, and these inscriptions bear fascinating witness to some outstanding collaborations in excellent sound.

--Gary Lemco

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