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December 2001 - Part 1 of 2 parts
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Edwin Fischer, piano - Concert Performances and Broadcasts, 1943-53: BACH: Klavier Concerto No. 2 in E; 3-Klavier Concerto in D Minor; Concerto in A Minor for Flute, Violin, and Klavier; Klavier Concerto No. 4 in A; Klavier Concerto No. 5 in F Minor; Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D (uncredited); A Musical Offering: Ricercare a 6/BEETHOVEN: Fantasy in G Minor; Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major; Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major/BRAHMS: Sonata No. 3 in F Minor; Variations on an Original Theme; Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat/MOZART: Fantasia in C Minor, K. 475; Romance in A-flat; Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor; Piano Quintet in E-flat; Symphony No. 40 in G Minor/WASSENAER: Concerto Armonico in F Minor

Edwin Fischer, piano and conductor: Berlin Philharmonic (Beethoven C Major)
Lausanne Chamber Orchestra (Bach 3-Klavier Cto.; Cto for Flute, Violin&Klavier; Bach Ricercare; Bach Ctos #2, #4, #5/Wassenaer)
Strausbourg Municipal Orch. (Mozart Cto.#20; Sym. No. 40)
Hans Munch conds. Basel Orchestra (Brahms B-flat)
; Anatole Fistoulari conds. Paris Cons. Orch. (Beethoven Cto. #4)

Music&Arts 6-CD's 60:33; 60:03; 72:52; 67:48; 67:44; 60:33 (Distrib. Koch):

Basle-born and bred Edwin Fischer (1886-1960) remains one of the great musicians, a genuine exponent of the Great German Tradition in the broadest sense, akin to his colleague and mentor Wilhelm Furtwaengler. Somewhat like his contemporary Artur Schnabel, Fischer rarely struck out for the virtuoso effect; theirs was the pursuit of spirit in music. Fischer's recordings tend to concentrate on only a handful of composers: Bach, Schubert, Mozart, Schumann, Brahms and Beethoven. Within this very narrow range Fischer achieved a respected, even exalted status for his even and ethereal tone, sobriety of expression, and restrained passion. This set breaks a few of those sacred cows, especially if the Brahms F Minor Sonata from 1948 is any evidence, given its frenetic, tempestuous exhilaration (barring a lovely Andante), to the point of fitful, breakneck speed, memory lapses, and fistfuls of wrong notes. On the other hand, the Brahms B-flat Concerto from 1943 under Munch is the soul of musical repose and security, with marvelous chromatic effects and unity of phrase in all respects. Certainly, the rarity here is the Variations, Op. 21, No. 1, a work confined to his1949 concert season, and played with rhythmic freedom and spirited elan.

Completely new to the Fischer discography is the Mozart Piano Quintet (c. 1943) with wind members of his chamber orchestra. After a thoughtful, opening "Largo," the ensuing movements rush forward at a brisk pace, with extremely fluid interplay among the parts. Likewise, the 1948 Wassenaer Concerto shows off Fischer's passionate affinity (not always stylistic) for under-rated Baroque music, here in an arrangement by Sam Franko, who arranged some editions of Mozart as well. Fischer's Bach is still respected, and his concert performances enjoy the same lucidity and finish of his commercial ventures: not only do I recall his excellent 'triple' concerto with Denis Matthews and Ronald Smith from EMI, but Grant Johannesen confessed to adoring Fischer's F Minor Concerto as his own model of graceful articulation. The 1948 A Major Concerto from Lausanne has elegance and poise in abundance, the orchestral patina in liquid harmony with the solo, which favors more non-legato phrasing than in his commercial venture. The Ricercare possesses some lush textures, one step away from a Romantic's version of Beethoven's Great Fugue, a la Hermann Scherchen. The Brandenburg D Major is un-credited, both in the notes and on the disc-presumably, it dates from the 1945 Lausanne Festival. Again, we can compare it to a commercial reading with the Philharmonia Orchestra, Manoug Parikian, violin solo. The 1945 playing is a bit more pesant and beat-conscious than the later reading, but the piano solo is rounded and fleet. For the 3-piano Concerto, Fischer joins Paul Baumgartner and Adrian Aeschenbacher, the latter known for his own work in the Beethoven C Major with Furtwaengler.

The Mozart and Beethoven interpretations show off Fischer's musicianship rather well: in the rare radio-broadcast of the Beethoven G Major, with "non-conductor" Fistoulari, from 1949, Fischer plays his own first movement cadenza and Eugen d'Albert's in the finale. The Fantasia, Op. 77, was something of a Fischer specialty, and he adds a sweetness and suavete to the roulades that Serkin makes rather percussive. The Beethoven C Major (and Fantasy) was available on LP; sonics are cramped. So, too, the A Minor Bach Concerto has some low-volume spots. The Mozart playing is consistently strong. The D Minor Concerto, made a year before his de facto retirement in 1954, has complete command of his palette; it bears a strong similarity to the muscular performance Fischer gave of this work with Eugen Jochum around the same period. Finally, Fischer's conducting style has free rein in Mozart's G Minor Symphony, a work he also led in Denmark. Given the entirely satisfactory quality of this reading, Music&Arts would do well to restore the other symphonies (like No. 32) in the Fischer discography. So, Fischer acolytes take heed of this set, among the most comprehensive, most expansive tributes to this excellent artist that we have.

--Gary Lemco

MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D Major

Dimitri Mitropoulos conducts New York Philharmonic

IDI IDIS 6358 51:29 (Distrib. Qualiton):

Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) remains one of the great, early exponents of Mahler's music, having been the first to inscribe the First Symphony with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra in 1940. More febrile and volcanic in temperament than his colleague Bruno Walter, with whom he shared the programming of the New York's Philharmonic's occasional Mahler cycles between 1947-1958, Mitropoulos stressed Mahler's demonic, decadent and 'vulgar' elements, his earthbound yearning for spirituality. Mitropoulos had been in Berlin 1921-24, so his own models for the Mahler style were exemplified by Klemperer, Mengelberg, and Fried. Mitropoulos' own passionate striving in Mahler, in turn, set the tone for Leonard Bernstein's successful cycles for the next generation of enthusiasts, 'after the battle had been won,' so to speak.

This fine Mahler First dates from October 21, 1951, just nine years before Mitropoulos died rehearsing Mahler at La Scala. Mitropoulos is in total control here, and his players respond brilliantly. The singing line is exalted; the blistering ironies of the piece, with their street songs and cabaret sensibility are not diluted. What compels us is the invariable tension Mitropoulos imposes on the whole, the security of the string attacks in the Scherzo, the grinding agony in the finale. Mahler acolytes should not miss this one: even in dated sound, the performance is Herculean by every standard.

--Gary Lemco

MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D Major; Adagio from Symphony No. 10 in F-sharp Major

Hermann Scherchen conducts Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (No. 1) and Vienna State Opera Orchestra (No. 10)

Westminster 289 471 246-2 79:12 (Distrib. Universal)

These are musical performances dear to conductor Hermann Scherchen's heart, having been a part of the Schoenberg and Webern inner circle in his youth, and an avid acolyte for Mahler, ever since he had heard Klemperer and Fried set the standard for this music back in the early 1900's. Scherchen himself instituted no end of 'modern music' concepts in Lucerne, Winterthur and Weisbaden, ranging from Schoenberg's Moses and Aron to the chamber works of Berg, Nono, Maderna, Stravinsky and Webern. His natural successors in this were Hans Rosbaud and Pierre Boulez. His especial Mahler experience came in the viola section of the Mahler Seventh's premier in 1911! Subsequently, as a conductor, Scherchen held Mahler cycles in Leipzig as well as in Italy.

The 1954 (September) Mahler D Major may well be the first Mahler inscribed by the Royal Philharmonic, which had no tradition with this music under Beecham. While Scherchen's tempos are brisk, they do not gloss over the implied pantheism and mysticism in the opening, nor the torrential emotions in the finale. It is a convincing performance, Viennese in character; and Scherchen own eclecticism contributes to the natural range of feelings in this often troubled sensibility. Equally poignant is the 1952 inscription of the Adagio from Symphony No. 10, with its stretched chromaticism, its grueling emotionalism that insists on finding some semblance to Wagner's Tristan. The VSOO strings and brass play with passion and conviction. While Scherchen could frequently be a musical maverick, a rogue and willful interpreter, there are authority and power in abundance in these readings, backed up by refurbished sonics. Solid Mahler.

--Gary Lemco

TCHAIKOVSKY: Aurora's Wedding, Op. 66; Humoreque, Op. 10, No.3 /DEBUSSY: Clair de Lune; Soiree de Granade/ALBEBNIZ: Festival in Seville/NOVACEK: Perpetuum Mobile/SHOSTAKOVICH: Prelude in E-flat Minor/RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Flight of the Bumble-Bee/CHOPIN: Mazurka in B-flat Minor; Prelude in D Minor (transcr. Stokowski)

Leopold Stokowski conducts National Philharmonic Orchestra

CALA CACD0529 78:29:

Leopold Stokowski was 94 years old (May, 1976) when he returned, after a twenty-years' hiatus, to record Aurora's Wedding-an arrangement from Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty-in stereo for CBS. Stokowski had inscribed this score back in 1947; at that time, it was the most complete version of highlights from the ballet obtainable. Those who have seen videos from the period know how frail Stokowski could be prior to ascending the podium. Then, the miracle occurs; the years melt away, and a sense of exhiliration emerges that invests every note with nervous energy. The Polonaise from Act 3 is as good a case in point as any: it has verve, great syncopation, and blazing sonics. I find some of the selections for "Aurora" static, and I would have interpolated the big waltz from the ballet and the Act 3 Trepak.

Since many of the top London Philharmonic and London Symphony first-desks are present, like Alan Civil on French horn, the individual soli and wind and brass choirs are first rate. The encores are a series of Stokowski transcriptions he made 1925-45 and recorded in June, 1976. Several are quite breathtaking, like his version of Festival in Seville, which is true to the Iberian spirit and features a lovely trio of trumpet, oboe and English horn. That RCA would re-issue Stokowski's arrangement of Granados with cellist Frank Miller! Some of the transcriptions are mere camp, like Debussy and the Chopin. But the Shostakovich Prelude still has a gloomy power, a disturbing ethos, that transcends any sense of its being a Beecham 'lollipop.' The Cala issue, by the way, is another in its exemplary series in union with the Leopold Stokowski Society. Don't miss it.

--Gary Lemco

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 "Eroica"; Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 "Pastorale"

Hermann Scherchen conducts Vienna State Opera Orchestra

Westminster 289 471 241-2 78:23 (Distrib. Universal Music):

Released in 1958, these performances attest to a distinct personality in Beethoven, one disarmingly "modern" in his approach to the "Pastorale" in particular. Since the late 1980's, with the advent of the Norrington and Zinman (especially in his Baltimore Symphony days) emphases on Beethoven's original metronome markings, the quick tempos set by Scherchen no longer seem eccentric. It becomes an aesthetic issue, a real matter of taste, whether one gravitates to this 'streamlined' view of Nature, where the storm comes hard upon the brisk peasants' dance. Much like Toscanini's in conception,

Scherchen's pulsation has that deceptive evenness that creates the illusion of speed, which is not to deny its sometimes frenetic momentum. Individual wind first-chair members, the oboe, horn, clarinet and bassoon, each shine in their respective parts, contributing to the earthy humor of the dance. The contrast between the violence of the storm and the ensuing hymn of praise resounds with hearty conviction. The refurbished sound isexcellent. The "Eroica" a seems relatively traditional performance by comparison with the Toscanini and Bruno Walter standards of the period, with supercharged outer movements, hurtling intensely through (in spite of taking the opening repeat) the metric irregularities rife in the opening Allegro and the final theme and variations. Scherchen creates a pensive, heavy but not leaden funeral march that resonates mightily at key moments. Playing and sound are top-notch restorations, but it's the "Pastorale" that keeps me coming back.

--Gary Lemco

Yehudi Menuhin, Volume 1 = BACH: Violin Concerto No. 2 in E; Sonata No. 1: Adagio et Fuga; Partita No. 2 in D Minor: Chaconne; Partita No. 3 in E: Paeludium/BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77/PAGANINI: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D, Op. 6; Violin Concerto No. 2 in B Minor, Op. 7

Yehudi Menuhin, violin
Georg Schneevoigt conducts New Friends of Music Orchestra
Sir Adrian Boult conducts BBC Symphony Orchestra (Paganini Concerto No. 2)

DOREMI DHR-7781/2 78:20; 77:57 (Distrib. Allegro):

These are fascinating restorations of concerts by the late Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999), given in 1940, 1947 and 1949, and featuring the Finnish conductor Georg Schneevoigt (1872-1947) in repertory well away from his stereotypical role as a Sibelius interpreter.

The earliest lacquers are from 1940, with Schneevoigt; the 1949 excerpts from Bach are from a U.N. Day concert (on 16" vinylite pressings) celebrating the First Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. The BBC concert is from 1949 lacquer pressings. All of the excellent, painstaking reprocessing is by Seth Winner.

The performances capture Menuhin in the second phase of his career: the boyish charm is gone; the mature artist has restudied and refocused his technique in a conscious effort to apply his intellectual ideas to the music. Although the Paganini concertos are hardly 'brainy' music, Menuhin takes a Gallic approach to them, a la Emile Sauret's cadenzas in the D Major. For the Brahms, which is a lush, compelling reading, Menuhin uses cadenzas by his mentor, Enesco. The opening Chaconne from the D Minor Partita is rather glib for Menuhin; perhaps he senses an impatience in his audience. The E Major Concerto, on the other hand, is quite broad, a romantic's approach, with tempo rubato and plenty of underlined cadences. It might be worth mention that Menuhin actually auditioned for the acting part in the later film version of 'Paganini,' losing out to Stewart Granger. For Menuhin fans, these are indispensable documents, especially considering the opportunity to hear him with Schneevoigt. Sound has limitations and intermittent surface noise, no real bother.

--Gary Lemco

SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54/BARTOK: Violin Concerto No. 2 (1938)

Alfred Cortot, piano/Tibor Varga, violin
Ferenc Fricsay conducts RIAS Symphony, Berlin

Urania URN 22.184 69:19 (Distrib. Qualiton):

Reissue CD's can make for strange bedfellows, and this is one of them; although as a tribute to the art of Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963) and his catholic tastes in music, it is typical enough. At the time of these inscriptions (1951) pianist Cortot was well past his prime; and even at his peak he was not an 'exact' technician, being more prone to flights of digital and poetical fancy. Given the slowness of the tempos, connoisseurs will find either musical exploration or musical molasses in this performance: it adumbrates the tugs-of-war between Glenn Gould and Leonard Bernstein in the 1960's collaborations in Beethoven's G Major Concerto: the solo slows things down; the conductor tries to move right along. There are colossal finger-slips in the first movement cadenza; there are missed beats in the finale. Perhaps Cortot wanted some of the ambiance Gieseking and Furtwaengler had achieved in this piece during the War. More likely, he needed to practice.

Everything about the Bartok Concerto reverses my judgments on the Schumann. These two artists collaborated on the DG recording; and like that account, this concert broadcast has the vigor and tension of authority, and in more than adequate sound. The fierce drive of the whole collaboration recommends it immediately; but it is no less poetical and exalted for that. Bartok and Kodaly were Fricsay's two gods, and he never fails them. The last movement, musically a re-working of the opening movement's thematic material, achieves both a militancy and an illumination that set a standard for anyone who cares to pursue this music: how different in approach this is from the famed Menuhin/Dorati inscription! Until Music&Arts issues a competitive Fricsay retrospective, this is the version we live with.

­Gary Lemco

Vienna Philharmonic 1957-1963: BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor/MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 in D Major/R. STRAUSS: Tod und Verklaerung, Op. 24; Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40

Herbert von Karajan conducts Bruckner (1957)
Dimitri Mitropoulos conducts Mahler (1960)
Karl Boehm conducts Strauss (1963, with Willy Boskovsky, violin)

Andante VPO 1 4997-5000 4CD's: 30:26; 50:06; 79:59; 66:21:

This VPO retrospective is the first installment from "Andante.com," devoted to "the preservation of the world's classical music heritage" by issuing over the next decade, a "panorama" of 20th Century performances grouped in four categories: Great Operas, Great Composers, Great Interpreters, and Great Orchestras. Each compilation features a lavishly edited and illustrated booklet, this (75-page booklet) with essays by Tim Page and Barrymore Scherer, as well as some splendid photos of the conductors. The recordings are remastered archival documents, in fine sound, and each is indicative of the conductor's intimate relationship to the music and to the VPO.

Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) led the Vienna Philharmonic actively 1946-49; with his accession to the Berlin Philharmonic after the death of Wilhelm Furtwaengler in 1954, Karajan made routine visits with the great musical "mistress" ensemble. His Bruckner 8th comes from April 17, 1957. Karajan, like Kabasta before him, seems to have favored this Bruckner symphony above all others, here in the Nowak edition. The performance is expansive, nervous, less slick than his several commercial recordings of the piece, with excellent response form the Vienna string and horn sections. Karajan may well have had the 1949 Furtwaengler rendition in mind, especially in the shimmering Scherzo. My only quibble with this production is the spacing of the movements, allotting only 30 minutes to disc 1, where coupling the Bruckner with a Wagner overture or Liszt tone-poem would have filled out the time with equally compelling musical value.

Karl Boehm (1894-1981) had a long tenure in Dresden and with the Vienna Opera, notable for his productions of the Richard Strauss operas. While DG has recently issued his recordings of the Strauss tone-poems, these two inscriptions from May 19, 1963 capture Boehm in virtually perfect form, assisted by the able and musically alluring solo in Willy Boskovsky in the Heldenleben. With its distillation of his other works, the Ein Heldenleben gives us a quick cross-section of the Strauss style; and its passing references to Beethoven's Eroica may motivate collectors in Boehm's direction. Death and Transfiguration is virile and passionate; it too re-emerges in the passing of A Hero's Life.

Mitropoulos (1896-1960) spent many glorious moments with the VPO during and subsequent to his tenure with the New York Philharmonic (1958); this Mahler 9th derives from a concert of October 2, 1960, about a month prior to his untimely death in Milan, rehearsing Mahler's 3rd Symphony. The Mahler 9th was something of a Mitropoulos specialty-as was much of Mahler-Stefan Bauer-Mengelberg once recalled to me a particularly telling account with the NY Philharmonic. This rendition is ablaze with valedictory pathos and emotional frenzy, cross-fertilized bymoments of exquisite tenderness.

A first installment that bodes well for the connoisseur of historic performances; I suggest keying into Andante.com for purhasing details.

--Gary Lemco


Concertgebouw Series = PUCCINI; Un bel di vedremo from "Madame Butterfly"/SCHUBERT: Der Vollmond strahlt from "Rosamunde"; Liebe schwaermt auf allen Wegen from "Claudine von Villabella"; Vedi quanto adoro from "Didone Abbandonata"/MOZART: Bella mia fiamma," K. 528; Elsultate Jubilate K. 165/Weber: "Ozean, du Ungeheuer from "Oberon"/BACH: Chorals, Recitatives and Choruses from St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244

Grace Moore, soprano (Puccini)
Betty von den Bosch, soprano (Schubert)
Ria Ginster, soprano (Mozart)Ruth Horna, soprano (Weber)
Jo Vincent, soprano (Bach)
Hermann Schey, baritone (Bach)
Willam Mengelberg conducts Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam

Audiophile Classics APL 101.546 75:25 (Distrib. Qualiton):

As a document attesting to the varied musical life of the Netherlands under Willem Mengelberg (1871-1951), this is an important addition to the legacy that formally ended with Mengelberg's suspension from all duties in Holland after 1945. These inscriptions from 1936-1943 are mainly radio transcriptions; that featuring American Grace Moore is in scratchy sound, but her voice is strong. The "Rosamunde" excerpt is lovely: Monteux used to feature the orchestral version as part of his incidental music. Ria Ginster is to Holland what Rita Streich is to RIAS, so the Mozart concert aria really shimmers; the motet is without the opening bars, but it sails well enough. Ruth Horna seems a bit breathless after her 1943 bout with that mighty monster, ocean; she's not Kirsten Flagstad.

The major portion of the disc devotes itself to extensive excepts from a 1936 Easter-Fest performance of the St. Matthew Passion, a tradition with Mengelberg. Conductor David Randolph has often commented on his distaste for Mengelberg's approach to this music, which is decidedly old-school. There are huge pauses and loopy phrasings, all kinds of metrical license, portamenti galore. But for me there is no less an authenticity of feeling which always grabs my attention. Flute solos are by Hubert Barwahser, no mean talent. These are real pages from musical history; for the Mengelberg aficianado they add a dimension not available through the more standard sources.

--Gary Lemco


Carlos Kleiber conducts Light Music = OFFENBACH: Die Kleine Zauberfloete-complete; Die Verlobung bei der Lanterne-complete/NICOLAI: Overture to the Merry Wives of Windsor/J. STRAUSS. JR: Overture to "The Gypsy Baron"/JOSEF STRAUSS: Austrian Village Swallows-Waltz; Feuerfest! Polka; Music of the Spheres-Waltz; Jockey Polka

Members of the Rhine Opera House, Duesseldorf
Zurich State Theater Orchestra (Nicolai, Strauss)

Melodram GM 4.0051 56:17; 37:58 (Distrib. Albany):

Taped in 1963 (Offenbach) and 1966 (Nicolai and Strauss), this well-recorded document from Melodram helps to fill out the discography of that most elusive conductor, Carlos Kleiber. The packaging is minimal, with a bit of plot-summary for each of the two Offenbach operettas, and no timings for any of the individual bands. No information provides details of the arias and ariosos in these two 'patter' pieces, given their amalgam of German light opera and French cabaret style. The dialogue is in German, sometimes in muffled miking, which makes for some guesswork on the bits of humor, except that most of it is broad situation-comedy, with boyfriends hidden in the pantry, etc. Nonne of their melodies was familiar to me, but on the whole they are pleasant, good-natured fluff. The Assignation by Lantern-Light reminds me of a happy version of Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale, where the protagonist finds love, not death, under a foretold tree. Gabriele Treskow and Ditha Sommer are the respective sopranos in the two comedies, and they are in strong, light voice, with a flair for buffa color. Baritone Alfons Holte is the effective 'heavy' in both pieces, and soprano Eva Kaspar stands out, even in ensembles, as a solid presence.

The Nicolai/Strauss group reads like a typical New Year's Concert, except it is too short. The playing has the same luster we associate not only with the Vienna Philharmonic, but with Kleiber's distinguished predecessors, Erich Kleiber, Clemens Krauss, and Willi Boskovsky. The orchestral patina in the Josef Strauss Sphaerenklaenge simply shimmers, gossamer and light. The Nicolai has equal delicacy, along with a breadth that reminds one of Furtwaengler's famous inscription. The required lilt, explosive accelerandi, the ability to subito 'on a dime,' as it were, attests to a supreme master of technical control, a wizard in his medium. Unlikely that any but aficianados of Carlos Kleiber will seek out this set, but those that do will treasure it.

-Gary Lemco

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