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Classical CD Reissues  
February 2002 - Part 1 of 2

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Hermann Abendroth conducts BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93/BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73/BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor

Hermann Abendroth conducts Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (Beethoven); Large Orchestra, Radio-Breslau (Brahms); Leipzig Radio-Symphony Orchestra (Bruckner)

Music&Arts CD-1086 61:06; 78:11 (Distrib. Koch):

Hermann Abendroth (1883-1956) is perhaps the only German conductor whose recording career rivalled that of Wilhelm Furtwaengler, at least until the primacy of Herbert von Karajan. The Beethoven Eighth in this set, from December 27, 1944, is the only extant version with Abendroth and has been given equally loving incarnation on TAHRA TAH 382/385. Abendroth's association with his responsive Gewandhaus Orchestra began in 1934, when he replaced the dismissed Bruno Walter. His final concert with the organization was on November 29, 1945, after which he was dismissed as a former (albeit hostile) Nazi Party member. Abendroth then gravitated to Thuringia, making a career in East Germany. By 1953, Abendroth's international reputation had been rekindled, with appearances in Prague, Leipzig, Budapest, Munich, and Dresden. Collectors still treasure his Brahms 1st and 4th, made in 1927/28 in London and issued on Biddulph (OP).

Trained by Felix Moettl, Abendroth was a real proponent of the old school, a highly subjective artist who enjoyed great rhythmic flexibility while still maintaining a rigid metric pulse. The version of the Beethoven 8th is set in the Weingartner mold, with fierce attacks and rather straitlaced, although the Trio of the Menuetto has a sly mirth. One commentator sees a kinship to Scherchen, but the use of portamenti to refine the rhythm (also in the Brahms Adagio) precludes that analogy for me. The Brahms Second dates from 15 April 1939, and it is in good sound; beware a bit of French horn struggle prior to the coda in th first movement. Abendroth takes meticulous pains with the string sound, especially in the lovingly caressed three-note phrases in the opening movement, a tendency we hear in Furtwaengler, Walter and Fricsay. The last two movements are especially buoyant, with real grace in the Quasi Andantino and a headlong rush of a finale.

TAHRA has already offered Bruckner's 7th and 8th with Abendroth, but pitch variation in the original master made the effect torpid..This C Minor Symphony (in an amended Haas edition) is a concert given September 28, 1949, and the re-mastering gives it a significant luster, although the sound of the opening movement is cloudy. The Leipzigers play at full, fever capacity. Certain rhetorical effects will remind collectors of their treasured 1949 Furtwaengler rendition, although the approach is more restrained, less impulsive. The core of the performance is an enthralled Adagio. The Finale enjoys the ubiquitous trademark of tempo variation, a series of adjustments that prevents any sag in the melodic line, maintaining a taut grip on this music, obviously dear to Abendroth's heart, as it had been to Kabasta's.

--Gary Lemco

Simon Barere: Carnegie Hall Recordings, Volume III: GODOWSKY: Renaissance Suite/LISZT: Sonata in B Minor/CHOPIN: Ballade No. 1 in G Minor; Inpromptu No. 1 in A-flat/BLUMENFELD: Left-Hand Etude/BALAKIREV: Isalmey/Scriabin: Etude in D# Minor/RACHMANINOV: Polka de WR/SCHUMANN: Traumes Wirren/WEBER: Perpetuum mobile

Simon Barere, piano

APR 5623 73:14 (Distrib. Albany):

The third installment of Simon Barere's 1947 Carnegie Hall recitals is made possible by tapes furnished by his son, Boris. Simon Barere (1896-1951) was an Odessa-born virtuoso, nurtured by Essipova, Glazounov and Blumenfeld, whose approach often proved controversial in the sheer motor application he assumed towards the classics, where velocity often collides with poetry. For demonic sensibilities, however, Barere is close to Horowitz, especially in the B Minor Liszt Sonata, where Liszt's indications like "Grandioso" and "Allegro energico" Barere follows with the fidelity of a high priest. That Barere has a glistening legato as well as powerful punctuation is attested immediately, in Godowsky's arrangement from Corelli's "Christmas Concerto" followed by Loeillet and Rameau. The Left-Hand Etude of Blumenfeld glides and scintillates. Chopin purists will likely find Barere entirely too fast in his Ballade and Impromptu, a criticism Rubinstein levelled at Saint-Saens. Blinding speed characterizes Islamey as well, although the quieter sections undulate in the best Eastern fashion, a wash of sensuality. Barere has a truly ringing upper register; his trill is formidable-maybe Serkin's was a bit stronger. The encores only reinforce our first impressions of lyricism overwrought by high voltage. The last two encores, the Schumann and the Weber excerpt from his First Sonata, likely derive from another concert than the November 11, 1947 phenomenon that will sweep you away.

--Gary Lemco

TCHAIKOVSKY: Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32; Symphony No. 3 in D Major, Op. 29 "Polish"

Sir Thomas Beecham conducts Royal Philharmonic and London Philharmonic (Op. 32)

Classica D'Oro CDO 1042 62:43 (Distrib. Allegro):

The Beecham "Polish" Symphony comes from 1947 RCA shellacs and was once available through the CD series of the Beecham Society, along with a much-sought Schumann Manfred reading. The exhaustion of the licensing rights allows 'derivative' labels access to the material, and the re-processing is good enough to warrant a listen. The Francesca is from 1939 and is among Beecham's most intense, polished readings of Tchaikovsky, which is saying something. The London Philharmonic boasted so many individual talents at first desks, it would be hard to enumerate their many virtues; the playing in the tone-poem bespeaks their glorious ensemble. The 1875 Third Symphony is perhaps the most 'balletic' of the Tchaikovsky six; why the composer did not simply call it a suite is likely due to his penchant for achieving German 'legitimacy' as an artist. Beecham takes a non-explosive view of the piece, playing it for its sweetness, its waltzes and polonaises, its delicate charm. If this were a 'drop the needle' test, I'd probably think it was a Markevitch performance. The more dramatic performers of this work tend to become histrionic and over-ripe, so Beecham achieves a nice balance. If you missed any of the more 'credible' CD instantiations of these Beecham treasures, go with this version.

­Gary Lemco

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36; Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 "Pastoral"; Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92; Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61

Willem Mengelberg conducts Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam; Louis Zimmermann, violin

TAHRA TAH 420-421 73:53; 77:17 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

This is third and final installment in a series of unissued Mengelberg recordings: these inscriptions date 1936-1940, and they include a fine rendition of the Violin Concerto with Louis Zimmermann, a more than competent soloist who in 1937 recorded Bach's "Double" Concerto with Ferdinand Helman and Menglberg (once available on Biddulph).

Taken from off-the-air transcriptions, the acetates for the A Major Symphony (May 21, 1936) required the most meticulous work, since degeneration of the originals had to be supplemented by passages from the 1940 commercial recording. The splices are astonishingly smooth, given Mengelberg's wandering rhythmic license and variation from performance to performance. The Seventh is grand scheme, with explosive climaxes and a headlong rush of a finale.

One commentator has called Mengelberg's Pastoral "a true feast in sound." This performance, from May 22, 1938, features the first movement exposition repeat, and the second movement enjoys a lushness and breadth found in few rivals. The use of string portamento is rife; but the clarity of woodwinds, especially the clarinet solo, is lovely. There is some sonic swish in the Scherzo, but winds, strings and horn shine.The whole rendition exudes a pantheistic flavor that outdoes Bruno Walter for colorful intensity. The Second Symphony dates earliest at May 14, 1936, a very clear and articulate presentation of a vivid, highly energized reading. Rhythmic license, brilliant orchestral crescendos, precise and homogeneous choirs of sound, all mark these presentations. Zimmermann much reminds me of Joseph Szigeti (who frequented Mengelberg's Concertgebouw), with a thin, nasal tone and fast vibrato. Those who own the Beethoven Seventh with the Berlin Philharmonic and the Bustabo/Mengelberg Violin Concerto will covet these addenda to the mainstream Mengelberg discography. Kudos to TAHRA for a major Mengelberg restoration.

--Gary Lemco

A Collection of American Songs: J.A. CARPENTER: 2 Sassoon Songs; Gitanjali/DUKE: Songs to From the Sea; Six Dickinson Poems; Four Poems by cummings/CUMMING: 3 Poems by Minor; 2 Poems by Blake; two songs/COPLAND: 12 Poems by Dickinson/FLANAGAN: Cycle from Melville's Time Long Ago!; 3 Poems by Moss; Song from Whitman/ROREM: 4 Poems by Tennyson

Carole Bogard, soprano
Theodore Mook, cello (Cumming: "Heart, we will forget him")
Beth Orson, oboe (Cumming, "As Dew in April")
R. Sullivan, guitar (Flanagan: "Goodbye, My Fancy")
John Moriarty, piano (Carpenter, Rorem and Copland songs)
John Duke, piano
Richard Cumming, piano
David del Tredici, piano (Flanagan songs)

Parnassus PACD 96021/2 77:27; 75:17 (Distrib. Qualiton):

Parnassus has grouped a series of 56 American songs recorded late 1960's ­ 1980's by soprano Carole Bogard, a California-trained artist who went on to record for the RCA, Vox, Cambridge, Smithsonian, Desto and Vanguard labels as well as various American and European venues. Along with Phyllis Curtin, Ms. Bogard maintains a healthy respect for the American art-song, and her efforts have been noted by Ned Rorem, who adds her to his list of "smart singers of smart music." Perhaps the real beneficiary of her vocal talent is the late William Flanagan (1923-1969), a composer and critic whose life came to a sudden, tragic end literally months after this reviewer corresponded with him at Stereo Review. His cycles for Melville and Howard Moss enjoy the same harmonies as David Diamond and Aaron Copland, with his own notions of dissonance. The Melville cycle may even owe something to the 'white' period of Stravinsky's Apollo, with its bare, bleak harmonic texture under the poet's words of lost meaning and spiritual anomie.

Many of the original records (for Desto and Cambridge) enjoy liner notes by Ned Rorem, no mean writer as well as composer; so his comments on the relation between word and tone must pass as Gospel. The collected works survey a broad range of British, American and 'Eastern' poetry, with subjects on mortality, love, loss, death, and eternity. Each composer brings his own sensibility and idiosyncratic harmony to these works. John Alden Carpenter (1876-1951) is remembered mainly for Adventures in a Perambulator (1914); he had a work or two played by Mitropoulos and Rodzinsky at the New York Philharmonic. His harmony is delicate, with wafts of French Impressionism; in fact, several of these American composers owe something to Les Six and to Poulenc. John Duke (1899-1984), a pupil of Boulanger and Schnabel, has taken several of Dickinson's poems, like "Heart, We will forget him!" with cello obbligato, and captures their wistful, simultaneous longing and defiance, those prickly little dashes she uses to build a defence around her anguished heart, and turned them into pregnant cadences. Rorem's treatment of Tennyson is more epic, and the famous "Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal" merges oceanic sentiments and a timeless sense of space. The music of Richard Cumming seems refreshingly 'romantic,' tonal, optimistic, and 'arty' in the Schubert sense of matching words and piano part as a kind of woven, inter-dependent fabric. The most familiar composer is Copland (1900-1990), who combines nostalgia and a feigned simplicity in his songs, which likewise treat of death, loss and eternity.

While the recordings and tapes come from a twenty-year period and are of unequal fidelity, there is no denying the musical and cultural import of these collaborations, many of which enjoy their creators' best accompaniments. For that rare collector of vintage American song, this is a solid foundation.

--Gary Lemco

ELGAR: In the South-Concert Overture, Op. 50 (Alassio); Symphony No. 1 in A-flat, Op. 55

Sir Adrian Boult conducts London Philharmonic Orchestra

Testament SBT 1229 68:30 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

The combination of Edward Elgar's being conducted by Sir Adrian Boult is always a happy collaboration; particularly apt is the 1955 rendition of Alassio, Elgar's evocation of the Italian Riviera, with its penchant for sounding like Richard Strauss's Aus Italien at key points. A pupil of Nikisch, Boult had a literalist's interpretative stance and a tendency to quick tempos: I used to call him 'the British Toscanini.' He takes to the South with uncompromising strength and suppleness, only allowing his viola solo, George Alexander, a decided laxity of tension in his expressive "canto popolare" that enjoys hints of Berlioz. The fiery exaltation with which Boult infuses the whole is quite breath-taking; it simply abounds with the 'wand of yourh.'

The 1949 A-flat Symphony under Boult is a kind of landmark: having been rather peremptorily dismissed from his tenure with the BBC Symphony, this was Sir Adrian's first recording with the London Philharmonic. He was 60-years-old, and he was out to make a point on the nature of the quality the BBC had thrown up. Boult takes a firm grip on this English bulldog of a symphony (Nikisch once called it the Brahms Fifth) and does not relent. The piece has no program, just an Edwardian, pompous majesty with moments of elegiac beauty. Stately swagger alternates with pantheistic musings. The hint of cyclicism at the end makes for a valedictory peroration. In gloriously restored sound by Paul Baily, this is a pearl for the British record library.

--Gary Lemco

MOZART: Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, K. 183/BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73

Sergiu Celibidache conducts London Philharmonic (Mozart) and Berlin Philharmonic (Brahms)

Urania URN 22.162 62:10 (Distrib. Qualiton):

There may be a misplaced solemnity in Sergiu Celibidache's 1948 reading of Mozart's 'little G Minor' Symphony, given the dark coloring and the majesterial breadth of the second movement Andante, but it is still a version with which to reckon. This commercial recording for London Decca was one of a few the iconoclastic Roumanian made for LP; he recorded some Tchaikovsky (Fifth and Nutcracker) as well as a Mozart "Turkish" Violin Concerto which has not yet resurfaced. The Londoners play most responsively, with an emphatic bass line, molded phrasing in the violas and celli. This is troubled waters, a brooding, disturbing Mozart; none of the sunnier aspects in Bruno Walter's visions.

The Brahms is part of the Celibidache, post-War rebuilding ethos. Deriving from an April 6, 1949 matinee at the Tatania Palast, previously unpublished, the Brahms is expansive, given the conductor's slow, lingering tempos and his penchant for sculpted, rhetorical phrasing. Celibidache sees the second movement Adagio non troppo as the crux of the symphony, kneading it with loving care, applying varying textural emphases to its modal palette. The performance may have been influenced by Furtwaengler's 1945 version with the Vienna Philharmonic, but it has its own moody flavor. The finale is not the headlong rush (as we get from Abendroth) for which some might opt, but a meticulously graded arch that moves inexorably to a swirling climax. Some elegant wind playing here. Until TAHRA or Music&Arts provides a better format, this disc is worth owning.

-Gary Lemco

BARTOK: 15 Hungarian Peasant Songs; Sonatina; Sonata, Sz 80/KODALY: 7 Piano Pieces, Op. 11; Suite from Hary Janos (arr. Foldes)/DOHNANYI: Pastorale-Hungarian Christmas Song/FOLDES: 2 Little Pieces

Andor Foldes, piano

Hungaraton Classic HCD 32055 67:44 (Distrib. Qualiton):

Andor Foldes (1913-1992) was among Europe's finest pianists, a successor to Walter Gieseking at the Saarbrucken Music Academy, a great exponent of the German tradition, particularly in Beethoven, and a true pupil of Dohnanyi, spreading the gospel of Bartok and Kodaly. Among my earliest memories is the Foldes/Lehmann rendition of Beethoven's Choral-Fantasie, Op. 80 as well as several fine DG recordings of Beethoven sonatas, bagatelles, and variations. His work (on Vox) with Roger Desormiere in the Bartok Rhapsody, Op. 1 is still a classic. Foldes always claimed Wilhelm Backhaus and Emil von Sauer as his models of technique and intellect. A friend of Einstein, Werfel, Kokoschka and Helmut Schmidt, Foldes enjoyed a renown that has not endured in the USA. Hopefully, between Hungaraton and DG, his recorded work will rekindle a passion for his clear, incisive playing.

The present compilation from the Great Hungarian Musicians series derives from inscriptions 1957-82, and each is in good to excellent sound. Most of the pieces are dance-like, percussive, rhythmically intricate. Some try to capture the sound of bagpipes or of the Hungarian zither in a ferocious csardas. All of the pieces enjoy what Hungarians call Zal, a combination of spirit and innate temparement. The Bartok readings have the seal of the composer's approval, as does the Hary Suite. There is an authenticity to these inscriptions that quite captivates. For the serious collector of great keyboard personalities in their own repertorial element.

--Gary Lemco


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