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AUDIOPHILE AUDITION - web magazine for music, audio & home theater

 December 2003 - Part 1 [Part 2]

Sir Thomas Beecham = ROSSINI: William Tell Overture/DVORAK: Legend, Op. 59, No. 2/WAGNER: Das Rheingold: Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla/MOZART: Divertimento No. 15, K. 297- excerpts/DELIUS: Appalachia/WEBER: Der Freischutz Overture/RIMSKY KORSAKOV: Antar Symphony, Op. 9/MENDELSSOHN: 2 Songs Without Words, Op. 104 (orch. Del Mar)/TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36/HANDEL: Sarabande from Amaryllis Suite

Sir Thomas Beecham conducts Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and London Philharmonic (Rossini, Dvorak, Weber, Delius)
EMI "Great Conductors of the 20th Century" Vol. 25 7243 5 75938 2 77:38; 78:16:

Well, finally, Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) made it to the list of Great Conductors. My main concern was that EMI would not include materials new to his discography; but my fears are somewhat allayed by selections like the 1951 Antar and the 1947 Wagner excerpt. The latter features a British cast of singers: Edith Furmedge, Walter Widdop, George Chitty, and Margaret Field Hyde, among others. Happily, this does not repeat the "Beecham plays Wagner" disc that Dutton issued several years ago. It is salient to recall that besides Albert Coates, Beecham was the major Wagner conductor in Britain, with Sir Adrian Boult's running a long third.

The delight of this happy assemblage of Beecham offerings is the thoroughly idiomatic color Beecham brings to every score. The Russian works are most flavorful, with wonderful oboe and flute parts in the 1957 Tchaikovsky Fourth, whose first movement was recorded in stereo sound. The reading is lyrical and balletic without losing the "fateful" momentum of the symphony's implied program. My own choice for this collation would have been the Sony rendition of Franck's "La Chasseur maudit," but it may come back on Sony's own Beecham series. The Antar enjoys the lithe orientalisms Beecham brought to Balakirev's C Major Symphony.

Mozart, Delius, and Handel were Beecham's favorite composer's; and the rare 1935 live inscritions of Appalachia and Weber's brooding Der Freischuetz are welcome collectors' items. While I am not partial to Delius' vaporous, melodic meanderings, many are, so the rather conservative variants on a slave-song will appeal to those who enjoy the rather Hollywood harmonies. Dvorak's G Major Legend is a debut, since Beecham suppressed the 1935 record as being beneath his standards. The Mozart and Handel excerpts are glorious, period. Another decided plus of this set is the balanced programming, the nice contrast of sonorities among the diverse pieces, especially the following of Wagner with the athletic, buoyant Mozart. Norman Del Mar's two 1947 orchestrations of Mendelssohn is a musical curio, the kind of item Biddulph liked to reissue, just another pair of reasons to acquire this eminently playable set.

Hermann Scherchen conducts = BEETHOVEN: Coriolan Overture; Symphony No. 8 in F, Op. 93/STRAVINSKY: Firebird Suite/SCHOENBERG: Suite in olden Style/ORFF: Entrata/REZNICEK: Donna Diana Overture/HAYDN: Symphony No. 100 in G/BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68

Hermann Schechen conducts Vienna State Orchestra; Royal Philharmonic (Beethoven 8th, Stravinsky); Berlin Radio-Symphony (Schoenberg)
EMI "Great Conductors of the 20th Century" Vol. 32 7243 5 75956 2 78:24; 73:21:

If the term "temperament" can be applied justly to a conductor, certainly Hermann Scherchen (1891-1966) possessed it. Self-taught in music and philosophy, Scherchen had allied himself to the Second Viennese School by the time he was twenty-one; after 1918, with his founding of the Society for New Music, he premiered some 200 works, including the Schoenberg Violin Concerto. Restlessly intellectual, Scherchen sought out meaningful scores from every national and avant-garde school. His Shangri-La became Gravisano, Switzerland, where he experimented (much like Stokowski) with acoustics and electronic music. Only as the end of his career neared did some doubt - like that we see in Leonardo's last self-portrait - creep into his heart that much of modern music had taken a wrong turn. One of my own mentors in music, Beatrice Brown (nee Rothenberger), a pupil of Scherchen, admitted that "Hermann could sometimes be his own worst enemy."

This EMI collation embraces inscriptions Scherchen made (mostly for Westminster) 1952-1960. The earliest recording is the Brahms Symphony No. 1, which is also quite a rarity in Scherchen's discography; prior to this rather expansive C Minor Symphony from Vienna, I knew only of a Third Symphony from the Swiss Radio. One of the happy aspects of this collection is the sustained lyricism of the playing; there is little of the lag or sag that sometimes plagued Scherchen's idiosyncratic readings of say, the Bach Brandenburgs. The Beethoven Coriolan and Eighth Symphony (both 1954) are muscular, energized performances with a fairly (not always) steady rhythmic pulse; the F Major Symphony has light feet and a decided sense of playfulness. Beecham's Royal Philharmonic, captured here in a blazing rendition of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite (1954), manages those string and wind adjustments in glissandi and rapid staccato motion, not to mention loving phrasing, that rival Ansermet's achievements with the Suisse Romande.

In one of recent letters to Scherchen's daughter Myriam (founder of Tahra Records), I expressed my desire to hear Scherchen's wonderful evocation (1960) of Orff's Entrata after William Byrd: and here it is! Its layered sonorities appeal tothe polyphonic in Scherchen's character, a soul that found in Bach's The Art of Fugue its spiritual kinship. The 1958 Haydn "Military" Symphony reminds us how much joie de vivre Scherchen could impart to this swaggering and noble music. From September 1959 we have a live studio recording of Schoenberg's String Suite in Olden Style, an un-opused work that has a dry sonority and a bit of dance flavor that is reminiscent of Hindemith. Finally, the ever-youthful Overture to Donna Diana (1957), taste of Scherchen's wide knowledge of concert overtures, some of which has been restored by the Rediscovery label. Vivacity and good humor mark this bouncy realization with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, manyo f whose principals made solo concerto records with Scherchen. Along with Hans Rosbaud and Dimitri Mitropoulos, Scherchen remains an explorer of the new spirit of music in the 20th Century, and that is what more than justifies his presence among the other worthies.

--Gary Lemco

Josef Krips conducts = MOZART: Symphony No. 39 in E-flat, K. 543; Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550; Symphony No. 41 in C, K. 551 "Jupiter"; Symphony No. 31 in D, K. 297 "Paris"/BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98/DVORAK: Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104/SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in B Minor "Unfinished"/HAYDN: Symphony No. 99 in E-flat; Symphony No. 94 in G Major "Surprise"/SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120/MENDELSSOHN: Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90 "Italian"BEETHOVEN: Scene, "Ah, Perfido!" Op. 65/R. STRAUSS: Closing Scene from Salome, OP. 54/TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64

Inge Borkh, soprano
Zara Nelsova, cello
Josef Krips conducts London Symphony Orchestra; Vienna Philharmonic (Haydn; Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Strauss) and Israel Philharmonic ("Jupiter" Symphony)
Decca Original Masters 5-CD set 473 121-2 (Distrib. Universal):

I recall having seen Josef Krips (1902-1987) conduct on two occasions: he led the pick-up summer orchestra of the New York Philharmonic at Lewisohn Stadium, and again in Carnegie Hall, leading the Philharmonic and pianist Shura Cherkassky in the Prokofiev G Minor Concerto. Stocky, plump, jovial, and eminently capable, Krips managed a crisp, articulate stick technique, easy to follow, and he loved to pump those elbows! A former chief conductor with the Vienna State Opera, Krips was no mean Mozartean, having inaugurated the post war Salzburg Festival with a production of Don Giovanni. The Viennese tradition was as natural to him as it had been to Clemens Krauss, Karajan, and Knappertsbusch. His stereo reading of the Brahms First with the Vienna Philharmonic was one of my early, treasured London LP's.

This collection of Historic Deccas derives from sessions 1950-1958, when Krips was long familiar with repertory and rehearsal methods that guaranteed him warm sound that still had the easy gait of a spontaneous outpouring. I found myself gravitating to the 1958 Tchaikovsky symphony with the VPO, thinking it would be eccentric. Instead, Krips manages a natural, balletic performance that has size and grandeur. The VPO strings are velvet, and the woodwinds have the kind of transparency Krips cultivated as his trademark. The Schubert "Unfinished" (1950) and the Mendelsshon "Italian" (1953) are among the most happy inscriptions, the latter's rivalling Beecham an Cantelli for exuberance and color. Inge Borkh, who made big recordings of Turandot and Salome, provides two pungent characterizations for Krips, both from June 1956, and the dark harmonies in Strauss remind us how comfortable Krips could be in the moderns, like Stravinsky, Bartok, and Egk.

The Viennese repertory, the Haydn and Mozart, hardly need my validation for collectors to seek them out. Some collectors will cherish this 1951 "Paris" Symphony over his later reading with the Royal Concertgebouw for Philips. The approach to the Haydn 99th is not so far from Toscanini's way, except it is more idiomatic. The last three Mozart symphonies were something of a specialty, no less so than to Bruno Walter, and Krips shapes each with loving care. He uses fewer repeats in these than in his later version of the G Minor, but it has a singular pathos underlying its classical balances. For the 1951 Dvorak, Krips has the gifted Zara Nelsova in collaboration, a sensitive, if under-rated artist who was a favorite of composer Ernest Bloch. The reading reminds me of Krips's equally commanding rendition of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Campoli, a combination of large gestures and intimate, lyrical detail. Finally, 1952 Schumann and 1950 Brahms, each of which exhibits high polish and seamless affection. Krips was someone who enjoyed both music and the recording process, like Stokowski; little wonder he was conductor for Rubinstein's 1950 cycles of Beethoven and the Brahms B-flat. This is music making done with flair, style, and a light heart.

--Gary Lemco

SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, D. 485; Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759 "Unfinished"/MOZART: Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550

Sir John Barbirolli conducts Halle Orchestra
BBC Legends BBCL 4120-2 73:57 (Distrib. Koch):

The resurrection of some of Sir John Barbirolli's radio broadcasts over the BBC should ignite devotees of this genial and energetic conductor to seek this disc out, especially for the Mozart G Minor Symphony (September 14, 1962), which the Maestro never recorded commercially. Barbirolli plays it for its poised nobility, its dignity in the midst of tragic feeling. The crux of the symphony for Barbirolli is clearly the Andante, on which Barbirolli and the Halle lavish tender affections. Schubert, too, was a Barbirolli specialty, although he made no commercial record of the "Unfinished" with the Halle. Typical of Barbirolli, in contrast to Boult, he takes a more romantic, broader approach to tempos, though with a directness and anguish that does not distort the tension into a parody of Celibidache or Furtwaengler. This is late Barbirolli, taped December 32, 1965, and unusually "serious" fare for a Proms concert. The Schubert Fifth often appeared in the course of one of Sir John's "Viennese Nights," this from August 9, 1968. Charm and grace, affectionate buoyancy, are the guiding principles of this fine rendition. Each of the symphonies is in fine sound, the Halle's being responsive to every nuance in the conductor's arsenal.

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E Major/FALLA: 2 Excerpts from The Three-Cornered Hat/MUSSORGSKY: Khovantschina: Prelude

Carlo Maria Giulini conductrs Philharmonia Orchestra
BBC Legends BBCL 4123-2 73:44 (Distrib. Koch):

The relationship between conductor Carlo Maria Giulini (b. 1914) and the Philharmonia goes back to the mid-1950's, when producer Walter Legge contracted Giulini for work in Vivaldi and Boccherini that would employ the talents of concertmaster Manoug Parikian. Giulini, the majesterial and gentlemanly, devout Catholic, is the Italian equivalent of Eugen Jochum. Both bring their spiritual conviction and noble musicianship to the scores they lead, and both committed vast energies to both the concert hall and the opera house.

The Bruckner Seventh (Haas edition) the BBC restores is from July 19, 1982, the second half of a program that included Mozart's "Linz" Symphony. Like Furtwaengler, Giulini has the gift of inner pulsation and ease of transition, and his moving, fluent tempo for this performance is superior to his own commercial version. The individual lines of the Philharmonia Orchestra are distinct and warmly rounded, with only a flubbed horn (Alan Civil?) note or two to be endured as the price for this ingratiatingly spontaneous rendition. The Falla and Mussorgsky "encores" derive from concerts twenty years earlier, the two Falla pieces--the seguidilla and the farruca--were in fact the encore for a concert of August 8, 1963 (sharing music by Verdi and Brahms); the luminous Mussorgsky is from Ulster Hall, Edinburgh, 7 September 1961. The remainder of Giulini's concert of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is already available on BBCL-4023.

--Gary Lemco

SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43/TCHAIKOVSKY: Suite from The Sleeping Beauty, Op. 66/BEETHOVEN: Egmont Overture, Op. 84a

Leopold Stokowski conducts BBC Symphony Ochestra and New Philharmonia Orchestra (Tchaikovky, Beethoven)
BBC Legends BBCL 4115-2 76:40 (Distrib. Koch):

More vintage Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) inscriptions from 1964 (Sibelius), 1965 (Tchaikovsky), and 1973 (Beethoven), in splendid sound and with plenty of musical panache. Stokowski always had esteem and sympathy for the music of Sibelius, so it is a pity we have no complete cycle of symphonies. For the September 15, 1964 studio recording at Royal Albert Hall, Stokowski originally planned to have performed the Sibelius Seventh, but he decided the Second was more apt for the occasion. His reading is lyrical and Latin in flavor, with high relief given to oboe, clarinet, horns and strings. He plays the work as a personal profile of the composer crossed with exalted landscape music in the heroic mold. It would be gratifying to have Beecham's account with the BBC reissued for comparisons.

The music of Tchaikovsky likewise spoke to Stokowski's heart, and he often quipped that in heaven he would thank Tchaikovky for all the wonderful melodies! The twenty-three minute suite from Sleeping Beauty comes from a concert in London's Kingsway Hall, September 10, 1965. It features many of the same elements as Stokowski's arrangement "Aurora's Wedding," such as The Bluebird, the big Act I Waltz (a bit cut), and the fervent Act III Polonaise. The flute playing and the entire orchestral sonority are intensely pointed, and Tchaikovsky's blend of pageant and ingenuous fairy-tale are balanced in the grand manner. Stokowski was 91 when he played the Egmont Overture on June 7, 1973 in Maida Vale Studios. There are some idiosyncracies, to be sure, with angular phrasing and some weird decisions about which voices are to receive priority miking. But the energy level belies Stokowski's years, and Beethoven's muscular call to freedom might well be Stokowski's determination not to go gentle into that good night.

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36; Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92

Eduard van Beinum conducts Philharmonia Orchestra
BBC Legends BBCL 4124-2 73:06 (Distrib. Koch):

Another disc, an important one, in the resurgence of the recorded art of Eduard van Beinum(1900-1959). The two Beethoven symphonies included here derive from the same concert, that of November 10, 1958, when Beinum (as had Giulini, in October) had to fill in for an ailing Otto Klemperer. Although the Philharmonia Orchestra was an EMI organization, founder Walter Legge knew of Beinum's work with the London Philharmonic, contracted by Decca. The entire program also included Beethoven's Coriolan Overture. Typical of Beinum, we have Beethoven with little intrusion of "personality," only seamless, dynamic music-making in the Toscanini tradition. While Beinum inscribed a Beethoven D Major (1954) for Philips (Epic) with his beloved Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Beethoven Seventh is a new must-have for collectors of this distinguished conductor. Beinum adds extra trumpet and two horns to Beethoven's specifications, but purists should not suffer much. The elastic spontaneity and exuberance of the Beethoven Seventh is lyrical and dramatic testimony to the naturalness Beinum enjoyed in this style. Here's hoping the BBC will issue the prior three concerts Beinum played in his part of the Beethoven cycle of 1958. Sparkling!

--Gary Lemco

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21; Leonore Overture no. 3, Op. 72/MOZART: Symphony No. 39 in E-flat, K. 543; Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, K. 218

Bronislaw Huberman, violin
Bruno Walter conducts New York Philharmonic and NBC Symphony (Beethoven)
Arbiter 138 79:48 (Distrib. Qualiton):

Vintage Bruno Walter (1876-1962) lovingly restored by Allan Evans and company. The 25 March 1939 Beethoven First documents Walter's music making at a disturbed period in his life, when, outcast from his native Austrian environs, he was living in Switzerland, making excursions to Paris, and generaly groping his way towards a permanent residence in the United States. The March concert was one of five Toscanini helped to arrange for his Salzburg friend Walter; happily, many of Walter's concerts (are these others forthcoming?) were less conservative in taste than was the NBC's homogenized wont.

The remainder of the program documents Walter's year of American citizenship, 1946; the concert of May 26, 1946 likewise perpetuates the sound of violinist Bronislaw Huberman's last American appearance before his return to Europe. This performance was previously on a poor-sounding LP, one I programmed for a series of Bruno Walter tributes on Binghamton's WHRW back in 1974. The Arbiter restoration is certainly not perfect: it has surface swish and hiss, and a startling gap at the beginning of Huberman's first movement cadenza. But the playing has a driven, brazen aggression that gives it lasting appeal. The Leonore No. 3 is taken at the most frenetic tempo I have heard Walter demand. Perhaps its overt call for human freedom rallied Walter's personal emotions. Both the Beethoven Symphony and the Mozart E-flat bask in the meticulous attention to color details, even while they occasioanlly betray Walter's rhythmic lassitudes that bear testimony to his Romantic's interpretation of the Classical style.

--Gary Lemco

Jascha Heifetz: Never-Before-Published and Rare Live Recordings, Volume 5 = BRAHMS: Hungarian Dance No. 1/SAINT SEANS: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso; The Swan/CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO: Second Movement from Violin Concerto No. 2/KORNGOLD: March from "Much Ado About Nothing"/PROKOFIEV: Gavotta; Masques from Romeo and Juliet/DEBUSSY: Beau Soir; Clair de Lune/GRUENBERG: Second Movement from Violin Concerto/BURLEIGH: Giant Hills/TCHAIKOVSKY: Melodie/LALO Andante from Symphnoei Espagnole/WHITE: Levee Dance/RAVEL: Piece en forme de Habanera/SARASATE: Romance Andalouse

Donald Voorhees conducts Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra
Emmanuel Bay, piano; Milton Kaye, piano (Prokofiev)
Cembal d'amour CD 121 63:06 (Distrib. Qualiton):

More off-the-air broadcasts from The Bell Telephone Hour and wartime appearances, 1943-1950, by Jascha Heifetz, well into the peak of his career. Several of the pieces, like those of Burleigh and White, have the flavor of Americana with panache; the White is the tenor equivalent of Robeson's singing "Go Down Moses." The violin playing throughiout is virtually flawless. Audiophiles will be less happy with the occasional metallic clicks and surface shatter that haunts a few selections. Staples like Saint-Saens and Debussy flow effortlessly. I was not happy about the orchestral sonority in the Lalo (6/21/48); it is one of the few times Voorhees sounds second-rate. The Castelnuovo-Tedesco is a Sephardic chant, a lovely, unending cantabile. The Gruenberg is more bluesy, more proletarian music. Both Prokofiev pieces with Milton Kaye (who made Decca inscriptions with Heifetz) make me wish Heifetz had been partial to the composer's D Major Concerto: wonderful effects in glissandi and harmonics. The last two pieces , the Ravel and the Sarasate, make splendid contrast for a finale: the languid, sensuous Ravel, then the pyrotechnical wizardry of Sarasate, all realized with a silken finesse that still ahs not found an equal. Purchase here

--Gary Lemco

BLISS Premieres: Vol. I = Piano Concerto; Adam Zero

Solomon, piano
Sir Adrian Boult conducts New York Philharmonic
Constant Lambert condcuts Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden
APR 5627 60:46 (Distrib. Albany):

Donald Manildi and Lady Trudy Bliss are responsible, respectively, for the reconstruction of two world premier performances, of the Arthur Bliss Piano Concerto (June 10, 1939) and his ballet Adam Zero (May 9, 1946). Bliss composed the Piano Concerto in 1938, hoping to submit this piece, among other selected British works, for inclusion to the 1939 World's Fair. When the venue moved to an overheated Carnegie Hall, conductor Boult was pleased, and Solomon made his American concerto debut in spectacular fashion. The piece has had few acolytes beyond John Ogden and Noel Mewton-Wood: Gina Bachauer was an exception, and she and Mitropoulos performed it again (1960) in New York, and a CD incarnation of their collaboration is available through Nickson Records.

Despite some poor sound quality of deteriorated acetates, Solomon manages a feverish, often tempestuous performance of this moody, Lisztian work, one of the few, really virtuosic British piano concertos. Occasionally, the spliced note or chord is obvious in the APR reconstruction, missing notes supplied by Solomon's later (1944) commercial record from Liverpool. The blazing octaves and cadenzas, the sheer propulsion of the keyboard part, mark Solomon as the British Horowitz. Even the music's frequent incursions into Hollywood rhetoric cannot diminish the volatile wizardry of the piano and the Philharmonic's ability to stay in step with a demonized soloist.

Adam Zero is the third of the Bliss ballets; it reminds me at several points, of the music Bliss wrote for the Raymond Massey sci-fi film The Shape of Things to Come. Produced in 1946 with choreography by Robert Helpmann, the ballet tells the story of Man as set in four seasons, a kind of cyclical interpretation of life and death. Constant Lambert (1905-1951), Britain's most gifted ballet conductor, gives us ten numbers from the full score, each tenderly rendered in spite of the hiss and swish in the original 78's. I can only assume this APR series devoted to Bliss will reinstate Lambert's equally fine work with the other ballets, Checkmate and Miracle in the Gorbals. Purchase here

--Gary Lemco

MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major, K. 271/SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54

Clara Haskil piano
Pablo Casals conducts Prades Festival Orchestra (Mozart)
Carl Schuricht conducts Strasbourg Municipal Orchestra (Schumann) - Music&Arts CD-1126 59:58 (Distrib. Albany):

Familiar but impassioned fare from Roumanian pianist Clara Haskil (1895 1960), in good restorations by Maggie Payne. Haskil made a commercial inscription of the Schumann Concerto with Willem van Otterloo, and the dimensions of that performance are markedly similar to this Schurucht-led rendition from 15 June 1955. These two fine artists worked together several times, and their collaboration on Mozart's F Major Concerto is always worth a listen. They, too performed the E-flat Mozart Concerto in Stuttgart. Despite some tape flutter and sonic deterioration, the Music&Arts performance sings joyfully, and Haskil's first movement cadenza is strong. Pablo Casals was one of Haskil's early admirers, at a time when the world little noted nor long remembered her self-effacing talent. He brought her to Perpignan and to Prades, where she played Mozart and Bach. Casals' contract with CBS precluded his recording the E flat Concerto with Haskil, although he made a fine record of the piece with Myra Hess. This version, from 19 June 1953, moves along rather briskly; again, there is a comparative, commercial recording with Baumgartner. There is also, available through Tahra (TAH 366/367), a performance even more darkly colored, with Eugen Jochum. Some tubbiness in the Music&Arts restoration is evident, but it didn't stop my toes from tapping. A natural Mozart player, Haskil's work is required for all connoisseurs of the keyboard. It is about time that her EMI recording of the Bach 2-Piano Concerto in C (with Anda, piano and Galleria conducting) be made available. Purchase here.

--Gary Lemco

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