Classical CD Reissues
February 2003 - Part 1 of 2
JANACEK QUARTET = The Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon
DGG: MOZART Quartet K. 387 (Hanover, Beethoven-Saal, 8-9 March 1956). HAYDN: Quartet Hob. III:39 The Bird (Hanover, Beethoven-Saal, 9 June 1958); BRAHMS: Piano Quintet Op. 34, with Eva Bernathova (Hanover, Beethoven-Saal, 5-7 June 1958); DVORAK: Piano Quintet Op. 81 (Hanover, Beethoven-Saal, 12-14 February 1957); DVORAK: Quartets Op. 51 & 105 (Hanover, Beethoven-Saal, 16-18 February 1957); SMETANA: Quartet No. 1 From My Life (Hanover, Beethoven-Saal, 31 October, 1 & 3 November, 1956); JANACEK: Quartet No. 2 Intimate Letters (Hanover, Beethoven-Saal, 8-9 March 1956)
Decca: HAYDN Quartets Hob. III:38 The Joke; Hob. III:17 Serenade; Hob. III:76 (Fifths) (Vienna, Sofiensaal, May 1963); DVORAK Quartets Op. 34 & 96 American (West Hampstead/London, Decca Studio No. 3, October 1963);
Westminster: MENDELSSOHN: Octet Op. 20, with Smetana Quartet (Jirí Novak, Lubomir Kostecky, Milan Skampa, Antonin Kohout); BEETHOVEN: Quartet Op. 59No. 2 Razumovsky (Vienna, Konzerthaus, Mozartsaal, June 1959)
DGG Original Masters 474 010-2 (7 CDs):
Deutsche Grammophon introduces its limited-edition Original Masters series with a barrage of five major retrospectives of which this 7-CD collection of the original Janacek Quartets recordings for DG, Decca and Westminster is the most unexpected and, in some ways, the most welcome. Not only does it captures an ensemble of peerless intellectual command and considerable physical beauty in its prime, it traces precisely how recording quality evolved during the time when standards for modern stereo sound were becoming established, and how the improvements in sound quality impacted the perception of artistic achievement.
From 1947 to 1973, the Brno-based quartet was, along with their slightly
older colleagues the Smetana Quartet, the leading representatives of a
middle European tradition which prided itself on rigorous musical integrity infused with energy, color and a certain amount of strait-laced abandon. No wonder that DGG snapped them up in the mid 50s. But due ultimately to the bureaucratic nature of the Communist agenting system, and probably the popularity of more personable competitors, their stay with Western labels was relatively brief. After moving to Westminster and then to Decca, they finished their career recording for Supraphon (released initially in the U.S. on Crossroads) and the Czech radio in Brno (now available on Multisonic).
The Decca sessions of 1963 remain audiophile touchstones, and the two
Westminster recordings are not far behind. Here you can hear the full impact of their playing, as in the famous Octet recording with the Smetana. By contrast, the early sessions for Deutsche Grammophon are astonishingly wooden (particularly Bernathovas piano). But if you have a sense of the quartets sound from their best recordings, you will be able to hear the same musical wonders going on even in the poorest. The flawless remasterings and Tully Potters affectionate, authoritative liner notes complete a job well done.
- Laurence Vittes
MOZART: Symphony No. 35, K. 385 "Haffner," Violin Concerto K. 271A, with Henryk Szeryng, BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 (Grosses Festspielhaus, Aug. 5, 1973); SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto, with Emil Gilels, Symphony No. 4 (Grosses Festspielhaus, Aug. 10, 1975); MOZART: Symphony No. 28 K. 200; BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7, STRAUSS: Tod und Verklärung (Grosses Festspielhaus, Aug. 10, 1977)
London Symphony Orchestra at the Salzburg Festival 1973-1977
Böhm, Gilels, Szeryng
The Andante Collection: Great Orchestras 4983 (4 CDs):
Sumptuously packaged, and priced to match, this 4-disc set documenting the London Symphony's concerts under Karl Böhm at the Salzburg Festival in 1973, 1975 & 1977 (the LSO was the first English orchestra to be invited to the prestigious Austrian event) is highlighted by indispensable performances of Schumann's Piano Concerto with Emil Gilels and the same composer's Fourth Symphony in D Minor.
Schumann was not a composer whom Böhm recorded much, yet his well-known qualities of controlled emphasis on line and insistence on tonal beauty combine in readings that are emotionally urgent and viscerally compelling. Gilels adds an overwhelming presence and command to the Concerto which made me listen to it several times in a row, as I did to the Fourth Symphony which Böhm recorded commercially only once, on a DGG vinyl which has not to my knowledge been released on CD (there is also a live performance with the Vienna Philharmonic on Orfeo).
The other performances are more variable, ranging from a broad and powerful reading of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony to blandly affectionate readings of several Mozart symphonies. In the spurious Violin Concerto (a silly piece which I have come to love), Henryk Szeryng repeats the virtuoso performance he recorded on Philips (conducted more alertly and precisely by Alexander Gibson). The sound throughout is detailed and rich, if dynamically a bit constrained. It is not audiophile in the conventional sense but certainly captures the impact and power of the music that these great musicians were making, sometimes as if their lives were depending on it. The LSO sound more like a great Continental orchestra than a brass-heavy British band; the warmth and humanity of the strings in the second movement of the Brahms is awesome.
The liner notes include a brief but valuable introduction by Tim Page, reminiscences of the concerts themselves by Richard Osborne, and notes on the restoration process. This is one of the most important releases yet in Andante's upscale approach to historical issues.
- Laurence Vittes
Maria Callas - Live in Paris, 1958 = BELLINI: Norma: "Sediziose voci"; "Casta Diva"; "Ah! bello a me rittorna"/VERDI: Il Trovatore: "Vanne, lasciami. . .D'amor sull'ali rosee"; "Miserere"/ROSSINI: Il barbiere di Siviglia: "Una voce poco fa"/PUCCINI: Tosca, Act II (complete)
Maria Callas, soprano
Albert Lance, tenor (Verdi, Puccini)
Jacques Mars, bass (Bellini)
Tito Gobbi, baritone (Puccini)
Georges Sebastien conducts Paris National Opera Orchestra and Chorus
EMI 7243 5 67916 2 73:38:
This concert with the legendary Maria Callas is from December 18, 1958 not long after her hasty retreat from La Scala, after a cancelled performance of Norma; ostensibly due to tracheitis, but just as traceable to tensions between her and manager Ghiringhelli. I have always been of two minds on Callas, openly admiring the musican but reticient about the wobble in her upper register. Of course, the the allure of persona is just as operative here, and Callas was never less than an event. That Callas can mount a thrilling, dramatic introduction and allegro is evident in her formidable "Sull'orrida torre" in Trovatore. Her Norma is thoughtful, poised, tragically resigned to the Druids' fate. Her Rosina from Il Barbiere is alternately coy, demure, and poisonous, all in a mock-heroic guise. I did not know Jacques Mars; his Oroveso is staid enough. Albert Lance is a lyric tenor of some elegance. The Tosca raises the musical level ten times: and I credit most of it to the palpable excitement and arrogant narcissism in Gobbi's Scarpia, which is superb. You can feel Tosca bristle at the thought of this monster's embrace. There are ensemble problems, off-key chorus entries, sloppy intonation, but the musical electricity reminds us just how Callas and "diva" are synonymous. The Tosca should have been recorded on asbestos!
GERALDINE FARRAR: Victor recordings, 1907-09--Romophone 81036 (2 Cds):
These are the last discs we will get from Romophone, the British firm respected for the completeness of their historical releases and the excellence of their sound. They dont say why they are going out of business, but I imagine its because of the increased competition for the decreasing number of great singers whose recordings are yet to be transferred to CD. Anyway, they are closing their doors with a nice sound: Geraldine Farrar (1882-1967) was a very attractive woman with a very attractive voice. A pupil and protégé of Lilli Lehmann, she joined the Met in 1906 and sang there until 1922. She was vivacious, outspoken, extravagant, and sometimes rather vulgar; the newspapers were enamored of her and followed her every move. She had a clear, well-trained voice with great vitality and precision and excelled in the French and Italian lyrical operas; Madam Butterfly and Carmen were her most famous roles, both of which are represented on these discs. She was especially popular among teenage girls, called Gerryflappers, and had a notorious love affair with Toscanini. She wasnt the greatest singer of her time, but she was certainly good enough to be worth hearing; Im sorry to lose Romophone, but theyre leaving us with a valuable release.
Jascha Heifetz, Vol. 3 = PONCE: Estrellita/MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219/SIBELIUS: Violin concerto in D Minor, Op. 47/KORNGOLD: Garden Scene/DRIGO: Valse Bluette/MACDOWELL: To a Wild Rose
Donald Vorhees conducts Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra (Ponce)
Efrem Kurtz conducts New York Philharmonic (Mozart)
Dimitri Mitropoulos conducts New York Philharmonic (Sibelius)
Emanuel Bay, piano/Jack Benny, violin! (MacDowell)
Cembal d'amour CD 118 71:19 (Distrib. Qualiton):
Volume 3 of Mordecai Shehori's restoration of Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987) performances, 1940-1951, culls some appearances from radio's "Concert Hall" introduced by Lionel Barrymore as well as live material from the New York Philharmonic (these have been released prior by Music&Arts). Heifetz is his usual, fluid peak, with suave finesse being the order of the day. The Mozart is stylish enough, but the whole canvas falls so facilely under his hands that it lacks punch. I prefer the Sibelius with the fiery Mitropoulos (this is the only Sibelius of his extant that I know). Some will argue that the great interpretation of the Sibelius is the commercial RCA inscription with Walter Hendl, but I like the raw, earthy manner the performers achieve here. It is altogether on a faster, bolder plane than either of the commercial records with Beecham or Hendl. The Korngold and Drigo selections seem to pay homage more to the world of Leopold Auer and Mischa Elman than to our current penchant for "real" classics. Finally, there is a nine-and-one-half minute of Heifetz with the inimitable Jack Benny, a spoof on "collaboration" that never gets Heifetz to lose that thin upper lip of his. Hilarious. But this disc is more than a sophisticate's party-joke; you buy it for the Sibelius.
BERLIOZ: Roman Carnival Overture, Op. 9; 3 Excerpts from La damnation de Faust, Op. 24/BIZET: 3 Excerpts from Carmen/DELIBES: 3 Excerpts from Lakme/RAVEL: Une barque sur l'ocean; Rapsodie espagnole
Desire-Emile Inghelbrecht conducts French National Radio Orchestra and London Philharmonic Orchestra (Berlioz)
Testament SBT 1265 66:35 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
In conversatiion with Alain Declert, artistic director of the Texas Roundtop Festival last summer, I recall his reminiscing on having heard Desire-Emile Inghelbrecht (1880-1965) conduct in Paris, an experience Declert called "remarkable, for you felt you were hearing French repertoire in its pristine form by a master of the idiom." Coming from a generation contemporary with Pierre Monteux, Roger Desormiere, and Pitro Coppola, Inghelbrecht had an intimate knowledge of the Ravel and Debussy styles: the works recorded here, 1954-1956, capture something of Inghelbrecht's Gallic range, although his calling card, Debussy's opera Pelleas et Melisande, never made it to the recording studio.
Thr opening pieces by Berlioz (1956) are something of an anomaly: the London Philharmonic was in Paris (on tour with Boult and Fistoulari) for the sessions. The Roman Carnival has a great sense of pace, with the bass accents and battery effects (like tambourine) present without becoming obtrusive, since the secret of French rhythm is to soften the pulse. The Damnation of Faust excerpts have the kind of virtuoso color that recalls Mengelberg's account or the short-lived collaboration between Munch and the Philadelphia Orchestra. for the 1955 Delibes excerpts, Inghelbrecht has the Chorale Marcel Briclot for the Act II Air de Danse. The Carmen excerpts, the Act II Prelude and two Entr'actes, have a smooth gloss but less sheer verve than Beecham; Inghelbrecht sounds much like Cluytens or Desormiere here. The Ravel pieces, particularly the Barque sur l'ocean, is a show-stopper, beautifully detailed. While I appreciate the Rapsodie inscribed here (1955), it has not the ferocious flamboyance I hear with Reiner and Munch. Testament restored sound from the Ducretet Thomson originals is excellent.
BEETHOVEN: Symphonies 5 and 7
Philharmonia Orchestra / Otto Klemperer
EMI Classics Great Recordings of the Century 67852 (74 mins.)
Before beginning its famous stereo cycle of the Beethoven symphonies for EMI in 1957, Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra had already recorded in mono the Fidelio and three Leonore overture as well as the Eroica, Fifth and Seventh symphonies. It subsequently turned out that one of the engineers, Christopher Parker, had taped the Seventh in stereo. These early recordings have been released by EMI over the years, in various couplings.
But, although this is not a new release in any real sense, this coupling of the mono Fifth and the stereo Seventh is an opportunity to appreciate the dramatic effects stereo had on artistic results and, perhaps, the artistic process itself. The perceived nature and intensity of the two performances are similar, but the performances seem quite different. Whether that was a result of the sound is not altogether clear, and may never be.
In any event, the Seventh is a Great Recording of the Century without any doubt. There is no mistaking Klemperers heavy footsteps (though not as heavy as they were to become), and his insistence on a seemingly relentless pulse, cumulative momentum and a certain integrity of rhetoric, but the performance also benefits from an intoxicating lyrical swing that became increasingly absent as he grew older. From the surge into the string restatement of the first movement theme after the opening woodwind piping to the inexorable drive in the lower strings that propels a headlong dash to the conclusion of the fourth movement, this is exciting, heady stuff which the stereophonic sense of a large sound stage (including natural placement of the wind and the divided violins) and the brilliant instrumental timbres project with exciting force and beauty.
The Fifth is an apparently more serious affair in which the mono sounds focuses attention more on Klemperers mining of the granite core and power of the music. It is a immense performance, no doubt, but not at the same level as the Seventh, although one may well wonder what it would have sounded like in stereo. Richard Osbornes liner notes address these matters to some extent, but a more detailed recounting of the sessions would have made more absorbing, more informative reading.
(EMI Classics has concurrently issued the 1955 Eroica and the first two Leonore overtures on 67851.)
- Laurence Vittes
Continue to Part 2 Conclusion of Reissues
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