Classical CD Reissues, Part 2
for April 2002
BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15; Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83/WAGNER: Tannhauser Overture/TCHAIKOVSKY: Romeo and Juliet Overture
Daniel Barenboim, piano
Rafael Kubelik conducts Bavarian Radio-Symphony Orchestra
Melodram GM 4.0053 66:52; 69:59 (Distrib. Albany):
Taken from two successive Munich concerts, March 30 and April 2, 1978, these fiery inscriptions do pianist Barenboim infinitely more justice than his commercial recordings of the Brahms concertos with Barbirolli on EMI. Adherents of conductor Kubelik, too, will be mesmerized by his fluid, lavishly sensuous approach to Wagner (27 April 1975) and to Tchaikovsky (10 January 1974), the latter's enjoying a tragic mysticism that ranks this reading among the immortals. If the "Tannhauser" has a certain monumentality it shares with Klemperer, it also has a propulsion and inner flexibility of tempo we hear in Beecham and Coates.
Daniel Barenboim has been for me a problematic pianist, now exciting, now the epitome of bland. Happily, these concerts capture him in his more risk-taking mode, pushing the tempos, briskly attacking the block and rolling chords with various applications of rubato that engage the conductor and us. Big singing lines mark Kubelik's contributions, especially in the B-flat. The D Minor, of which Kubelik made an excellent inscription with Solomon, hurtles through its demonic gestures, even offering some real anguish in the Adagio. The B-flat, for all its bravura, exudes a sense of detached poise and technical security we associate with the past masters of this work, like Rubinstein, Arrau, and Fischer. The audience goes quite wild after each concerto. This set is a keeper.
Arthur Loesser in Recital - Town Hall, New York 29 October 1967 "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi"/Cleveland Institute of Music 22 June 1967
Marston Records 52036-2 78:59; 78:41 (2 CDs) (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi USA):
Ward Marston has restored two fine concerts from the legacy of Arthur Loesser (1894-1969), Cleveland's pianist and critic, whose book Men, Women and Pianos: A Social History was required reading some years ago. The LP versions of these recitals were available through the International Piano Library in Maryland; in these CD refurbishings, the sound is quite pointed, the repertory consisting of salon and "overlooked" pieces that rather fall by the wayside unless a Loesser (or more recently Frank Glazer) takes them up. In the captivating, accompanying booklet, Edward Rothstein and Loesser himself share the notes on the program.
The Town Hall Recital is takes its rubric from the notion that the glory of the world passes away. The long list of twenty-one composers Loesser (with a witty pre-concert speech about Halloween) traverses includes Dussek, Casella, Hummel, Field, Clementi, Jensen, Rubinstein, Raff, Paderewski, Chabrier, Godowsky, Reger, Busoni, Moszkowski, MacDowell and Ravina! The Cleveland Institute recital is more traditional, consisting of music by Mozart, Prokofiev, Haydn, Bach, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, and Chopin. Collectors will recall the Loesser (half-brother of Frank, the composer of Guys and Dolls and The Most Happy Fella) accompanies violinist Toscha Seidel on a number of sonatas recorded in the late '20's, early 1930's. Loesser's keyboard manner is rather direct, somewhat literalist and unmannered. His playng has lilt and considerable charm, so he can sell a series of 'sleeper' pieces like Raff's "Rigaudon" or Casella's "Two Contrasts" with a minimum of fuss. Loesser's playing can fleet (Dussek's "La Chasse") and introspective (Reger's "From My Diary").
The Cleveland recital is the more expansive, with pieces that warrant more attention, like Prokofiev's Fifth Sonata in a version that synthesizes (in the last 4-5 pages) the later emendations the composer made as Op. 135. Loesser's Bach is worth a discourse of its own: he plays the D Major Toccata, BWV 912 as a wayward arch, managing to support its meandering asides into a cohesive whole. Loesser's sometimes brittle polyphony exposes many of the interior voices clearly. His Romantic's outlook translates well into Mendelssohn's Op. 35, No. 1 Prelude and Fugue in E Minor. The big Chopin piece is the Op. 12 Variations from Herold's Ludovic, played with the same gusto Jakob Gimpel achieved in this infrequent work. I find the Beethoven variations (on a theme by Peter von Winter) and the Haydn Sonata 42 piquant and pert. This is a 2-disc set that will bear repeated visitations: Loesser is a consummate musician whose respect for all varieties of music remains consistently fresh.
MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp Minor
Hermann Scherchen conducts Philadelphia Orchestra
TAHRA TAH 422 58:14 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
Taped October 30, 1964 at a Sunday afternoon concert, here is the debut of Mahler's Fifth in Philadelphia, this despite Stokowski's advocacy of Mahler during his long tenure that included several performances of symphonies two and eight. The concert was part of Scherchen's first American tour: he had put off visiting these shores since 1927, for fear that management would ask him to conduct the blandest realms of repertory. In the Scherchen presentation of the Mahler 5, the Scherzo is abridged, presumably so that the duration would fit into an hour's broadcast slot.
Never let it be said that Scherchen doesn't have his own ideas on tempo and dyamics: the opening Trauermarsch is a dirge for the end of an era; at moments, the pulse almost halts completely. The ensuing "Stuermisch bewegt" is the very embodiment of hectic, apocalyptic 'storm and stress.' It pulls up from despairing depths to achieve a personalized vision of serenity. The Adagietto is a sustained, agonizingly slow cantilena, running over fifteen minutes; it is a quirky testament to the conductor's unwavering control over his ensemble. I found the miking on this disc problematic: am I wrong, but are the winds and horns too far forward, the strings over-subdued? I kept having to adjust for boom and shatter, then too much softness in the string line. Despite the brevity of the Scherzo, it abounds in color-the entire concept is stylistically right, even within its heterodoxy. The concluding Rondo has a misty aura, with its accelerated references to the Adagietto and its own momentum, it alternately lopes and hurtles, careers like a demented dervish. An historic document of a strong, often compelling, musical personality.
Marian Anderson Rarities, 1943-52 - GLUCK: Alceste/HAYDN: Songs/BELLINI: Norma: "Casta Diva"/VERDI: La Forza del Destino/HANDEL: Messiah: "He Shall Feed His Flock"/GOUNOD: Queen of Sheba/Traditional Songs and Spirituals
Donald Vorhees conducts orchestral ensembles
VAI Audio VAIA 1200 58:07:
Philadelphia contralto Marian Anderson (1900-1993) continues to fascinate; after all, Toscanini called her voice one that appears only once in a hundred years. Her excellent training under Giuseppe Boghetti results in immaculate diction and excellent throat projection, especially in her beloved spirituals, like "I was There When They Crucified My Lord" and "Every Time I Feel the Spirit." The programs date 1943 ("Concert Hall") to 1944-46 ("Music from America") to an untitled 1952 appearance in three songs. Her aria "Divinites du Styx" has less ferocity than has Callas but more technical security. The sound quality (as in "She Never Told Her Love" and "One More River to Cross") gets a bit choppy, but Anderson's even cantilena and floating tone come through. That she can move comfortably from deep-toned spinto roles to bravura or coloratura finds ample evidence in Haydn's "She Bid Me Bind My Hair," one step away from Donizetti as sung by Roberta Peters. The "Casta Diva" is a study in even, spun-out color, the tessitura nor the flourishes a bit daunting to her vocal technique; it sounds like Ponselle. The Forza ("Pace, pace, mio Dio") and Reine de Saba ("Plus grand dans son obscurite") arias only make more bitter Anderson's being barred from the MET until 1955. For me, a real moment happens in her registration shift in the middle of Dvorak's "Songs My Mother Taught Me." I recall William Warfield's teling me that Anderson was his idol. No wonder.
Ginette Neveu: Hommage - BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61 (2 perfs.)/BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77; Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108/Two Interviews
Jean Neveu, piano
Hans Rosbaud conducts SWDR Orchestra, 1949
Willem van Otterloo conducts Radio Filharmonie Orkest, 1949
Roger Desormiere conducts ORTF Orchestra, 1948 (Brahms)
TAHRA TAH 355-357 53:07; 41:02; 62:24 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi USA):
Any addition to the small but rewarding legacy of violinist Ginette Neveu (1919-1949) is important. This burgeoning star of the violin died in a plane crash, along with her gifted brother, Jean. A pupil of Carl Flesch, Ginette Neveu astounded the judges at the 1935 Wieniawski Competition, taking top prize in the face of 180 candidates, including David Oistrakh. Though her earliest inscriptions were done in Berlin, her fame rests on a handful of recordings she made for EMI, especially in the violin concertos Brahms (with Dobrowen) and Sibelius (with Susskind). She toured extensively in her brief career, with sojourns to Amsterdam to play with Mengelberg, to New York to play with Munch, Koussevitzky and Ormandy, to Australia, and to Edinburgh, where she favored Barbirolli with performances of her favorite, Sibelius.
It is not easy to define Neveu's style, but it ranks high among the French patricians, like Renardy and Grumiaux, but it is more introspective than Grumiaux's approach, though it has a similar, nasal tone and piercing attacks. Her drive and forward tenacity remind me of Milstein. Her cadenza (try the one with Otterloo in a soaring reading despite swishy acetates) for the Beethoven seems to be hers, and it is rife with double-stops and rapid alternation of bowing styles. In fact, this particular cadenza soon becomes a Paganini etude displaying several degrees of tremolando and detache chords! The musicality is so spontaneous, one can see why she swept competitors away. The chance to hear another under-rated musician, Roger Desormiere (1898-1963), in the Brahms Concerto only compounds the urge to possess this extraordinary set. The Rosbaud Beethoven has already been cycled on CD via Music & Arts, coupled with readings of Chausson and Ravel under Munch. It is a powerhouse Beethoven as well. The Brahms Sonata, a favorite of Heifetz and of Szigeti, has a fine peer with this brother and sister, recorded September, 1949. I would place this reading alongside of the Menuhins for intimacy and grace, for sympathetic partnership in music. And to hear Neveu speak on her career and her repertory is to be reminded that long before Women's Lib, there was Ginette Neveu.
RAVEL: The Complete Works for Piano Solo
Walter Gieseking, piano
EMI 7243 5 74793 2 51:38; 66:04:
This is one of the staples of the recording industry, having the ultimate colorist Walter Gieseking (1895-1956) perform the complete solo keyboard works of Ravel. Inscribed over the course of a week in December, 1954, the level of execution is consistently beguiling. Given Ravel's penchant for linear clarity and polyphonic detail and Gieseking's sensitivity to chordal nuance, the two masters meet on common ground. Gieseking's Gaspard de la Nuit is noted among collectors for its sensuous wash of colors, its panoramic sweep in the course of a bravura reading. Gieseking comes as close as anyone in allowing the Pavane for a Dead Princess to "play itself," but he still 'intrudes' with dramatic pauses and rhythmic lilt. The Jeux d'eau, like the Gaspard, has a post-Lisztian, kaleidoscopic intensity. While some may prefer the fiery punctuation of Lipatti in the "Alborada" from Miroirs, Gieseking is not at a loss for non-legato explosiveness. But who can read the 'leger" indication for the opening "Noctuelles" with more security? Even for the dry, 'sec' articulation Ravel's wit and understatement often demand, Gieseking manages to minimalize his pedal for the various "hommages" of Haydn, Borodin and Chabrier. Perhaps the most rewarding cycle after the Bertrand series of Gaspard impressions is Le Tombeau de Couperin, Ravel's tribute to the world of the old clavecinists, a suite in antique style, played with such reverence and surreal affection by Gieseking. Then take the Valses nobles et sentimentales as an after-dinner cordial, a bemused smile at the world of Schubert seen from the detached heights of a master of the keyboard palette. Essential for any keyboard collector.
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