Classical CD Reissues, Part 2   
for February 2003

The Kempe Reissues Series on Testament continues with the next three discs...
Rudolf Kempe conducts Overtures = MENDELSSOHN: The Hebrides, Op. 26/WEBER: Oberon/REZNICEK: Donna Diana/NICOLAI: The Merry Wives of Windsor/SCHUBERT: Overture and Incidental Music from Rosamunde/SMETANA: The Bartered Bride/SUPPE: Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna/STRAUSS: Leichtes Blut--Polka

Rudolf Kempe/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Testament SBT 1276 74:44 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

Culled from the EMI archives, 1958-1961, this is one of eight Testament issues devoted to the art of Rudolf Kempe (1910-1976), whose recorded art combined the German tradition embodied by Furtwaengler and Keilberth with the cosmopolitanism of Sir Thomas Beecham, whose Royal Philharmonic Kempe inherited in 1961 and worked with until 1975. These Vienna performances all enjoy Kempe's individual blend of thorough musicianship and touch of academicism that keeps his interpretations just a hair short of Furtwaengler's more visionary mysticism.

This is not to say that the performances are not idiomatic, for indeed they are: the Reznicek has the color and interior voices (especially the muted trumpets) that equal the stellar performances of Beecham, Stock and Karajan. The Schubert excerpts have already been available via Testament's "Vienna Philharmonic on Holiday" with Kempe (SBT 1127) from the exact sessions of December 1961, The Suppe overture was no less a Beecham spectacular, and Kempe's energized rendition is no less supercharged with string and wind color. The Mendelssohn, Nicolai, and Weber overtures all have Furtwaengler equivalents, and Kempe's tempos are just a bit broader than those. The Weber relishes the aura of the Black Forest (by way of Shakespeare), while the Mendelssohn shows off the composer's shimmering, orchestral counterpoint. Kempe's own calling-card, the Smetana Overture to the Bartered Bride (his recording of the complete opera is definitive), has girth and timbre to spare. The program ends with a polka, Johann Strauss, Jr.'s Leichtes Blut, a familiar favorite of a very different German conductor, Hans Knappertsbush. Here, it whistles and sizzles in fine fettle and great recorded sound.

--Gary Lemco

MOZART: Overtures: Le nozze di Figaro; Cosi fan tutte; Die Zauberfloete; Idomeneo; Serenade No. 13 in G "Eine kleine Nachtmusik"/HAYDN: Symphony No 104 in D "London"

Rudolf Kempe conducts Philharmonia Orchestra
Testament SBT 1273 64:29 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

Except for Rudolf Kempe's 1955 inscription of the Mozart Requiem (EMI CDH 65202) with Elisabeth Grummer and Helmut Krebs, I had not heard anything else of Kempe's Mozart prior to this reissue of his 1955 Mozart overtures and the G Major Serenade. I find Kempe's Mozart full-blooded and rather thick in the textures; it seems the natural extension of the tradition set by Furtwaengler and Jochum, maybe something of the linear approach of Rosbaud's literalism. The real find for me is the Overture to Idomeneo, not just because its musical values appropriate Gluck and fascinated Busoni, but its chromatic contours and nervous classicism carry the storm and stress that appeals to Kempe. The Overture to Cosi fan tutte is just as compelling, allowing Kempe's background in the oboe section to light up the woodwind interplay that sets the tone for this rather monothematic outline of the opera's entanglements. The polyphony of The Magic Flute has an aura of mysticism we hear in Furtwaengler; and this same richly textured counterpoint lifts the spirit of the Haydn "London" Symphony (1956) as well. The Serenade's outer movements are taken more marcato than in some performances, but still in the fluid sense of 'allegro,' unlike Beecham's awkward canter. The broadest treatment comes in the Andante of the Haydn: the pulse almost seems to stop until the second subject rises up in a noble manner which some may find inflated. The entire Haydn is lyrical and strong in the legato aspects of the Philharmonia's string sound. For Kempe enthusiasts, this disc is likely to have a cult appeal, as it marks a special rapport between this German musician and his British ensemble that more than extends the tradition Karajan had established here.

-- Gary Lemco

WAGNER: Lohengrin: Prelude, Act I and Act III; Parsifal: Prelude, Act I and Good Friday Music; Tristan and Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod

Rudolf Kempe conducts Vienna Philharmonic
Testament SBT 1274 59:08 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)

This reissue of Capitol SG 7180 (LP version) reminds us that Rudolf Kempe (1910-1976) made his international reputation in the music of Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner, the latter having benefitted from Kempe's way with Die Meistersinger from 1949 on to his production of Lohengrin in 1962. In the Vienna Philharmonic, which met with Kempe first in February1958, the conductor had an ensemble well familiar with the Wagner style, having played with Furtwaengler certainly, but also with Knappertsbusch, whose Tristan excerpts with Birgit Nilsson (for London Decca) were just as spectacular as the vocal contribution. The silken playing of the Lohengrin, Act I Prelude and the extremely broad approach to the Parsifal Prelude, whose tempos stretch beyond Knappertsbusch into Celibidache territory, reveal a master of color and blended ensemble among the best of the lot. The Tristan splice of Act I Prelude and Isolde's Love-Death has eminent appeal in the harps, strings and winds, with a patina easily the rival of what Stokowski achieved in his Philadelphia performance of 1960. As I have noted elsewhere, Kempe attains the same orchestral luster as Karajan, but it has a warmth we rarely if ever hear from Karajan. The Vienna strings simply shimmer with luminosity; the muted horns and piercing oboe playing has an aura of devotion that compels comparison with Furtwaengler's best Wagner playing. More than impressive, this is the stuff of great music making.

--Gary Lemco

Hans Knappertsbusch conducts = WAGNER: A Siegfried Idyll/MOZART: Clarinet Concerto in A, K. 622/SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in B Minor "Unfinished"/SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120/BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F, Op. 90

Wolfgang Schroeder, clarinet/Munich Philharmonic/Bavarian State Orchestra (Schubert)/Stuttgart Radio Symphony (Brahms)
Melodram GM 4.0063 (2) 73:10; 7310 (Distrib. Albany):

This set is taken from performances late (1958-1963) in the career of Hans Knappertsbusch (1888-1965), when his penchant for slow tempos was well ingrained. This is easily heard in the Brahms Third from November 15, 1963, where the opening Allegro con brio plays at almost 13 minutes, without the help of the exposition repeat. The inflated arches will put the rendition along with the Bernstein inscription with the Vienna Philharmonic (and the infamous Glenn Gould D Minor Concerto) as prime examples of over-ripe Brahms. But if you like your autumnal emotions languid, you've come to the right place.

The exception to these remarks is the February 10, 1958 Schubert B Minor Symphony, all business and hard-driven. Knappertsbusch has the Bavarian strings pushing the tempos without losing the edgy undercurrent of emotion that belies its otherwise sentimental pathos. The Schumann Fourth, Wagner Siegfried Idyll and Mozart concerto all derive from the same concert of January 6, 1962 from the German Museum, Munich. This concert was available on Melodram's LP label, and I recall being very impressed with the Mozart, which has a grand leisure and strong playing from solo Wolfgang Schroeder. Wagner's Idyll was something of a signature piece for Knappertsbusch, who combines its dreaminess with the evocations of the Black Forest. The Schumann is broad as well, but not to the distortion of its vivid, cyclic character. I get the sense that the Bavarian and Stuttgart ensembles enjoy the grand seigneur approach in these works, interpretations maintained in character with Celibidache's collaboration with the same orchestras in the next generation. Each of the performances is in mono sound, but clean and well defined.

--Gary Lemco

TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35/BRAHMS: Violin concerto in D, Op. 77

Erica Morini, violin
Jascha Horenstein conducts French National Radio Orchestra (Tchaikovsky); George Szell conducts New York Philharmonic (Brahms)

Music&Arts CD-1116 67:58 (Distrib. Albany):

Erica Morini (1904-1995) was perhaps the most illustrious of the women violinists practicing their art through the first seventy years of the last century. While some might claim Guila Bustabo as a serious rival, Morini made her mark in both solo and chamber music contexts, and her full blooded approach had the same mesmerizing effect as any of her male counterparts; Morini's aesthetic and approach seem particularly akin to those of her colleague, Nathan Milstein. While this Music&Arts disc does not add anything new in terms of repertory, the Tchaikovsky collaboration with Horenstein (from Paris 12/19/57) provides a blazing moment of ensemble. The Brahms with Szell (from New York 12/14/52) has had prior life on CD, via Nuovo Era.

Both of these performances have their commercial counterpart on Westminster, from Morini's collaborations with Artur Rodzinski and the Royal Philharmonic, performances slightly broader in the Brahms, virtually the same (i.e., highly cut) in the Tchaikovsky. Once Morini sets the tempo, she is unyielding, driving ever forward in the manner of Milstein. I believe this is the first Tchaikovsky I have heard from Horenstein, and it is febrile and energized. The Brahms is a kind of old world approach, with big arches in the conception. The audience applauds after each movement, appreciating the spectacular vitality of the ensemble. In both concertos, Morini's tone is fine and rasping, a style close to Hubermann's but without the intonation problems. The nervous edginess of the playing really strikes flint on the last movement of each concerto, and you'll be applauding with the originals auditors of these fine concerts. Music&Arts sound restoration (by Maggi Payne) has made the best of some deteriorated surfaces.

--Gary Lemco

Artur Rubinstein plays=CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21; Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23; Mazurka in C, Op. 56, No. 3; Scherzo No. 4 in E Major, Op. 54;
3 Etudes, Op. 10; Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise brillante, Op. 22

Artur Rubinstein, piano/Carlo Maria Giulini conducts Philharmonia Orchestra
BBC Legends BBCL 4105-2 77:37 (Distrib. Koch):

Culled from two appearances in Britain, this disc celebrates the natural pianism of Artur Rubinstein (1887-1982), whose Germanic training under Joachim and Barth did not diminish, in the popular mind, his affinity for the music of Chopin. The collaboration with Giulini dates from May 16, 1961, and it exhibits the same muscular, sinewy tension they achieved in their classic, commercial inscription of the Schumann Concerto for RCA. The suppleness and security of the playing are matched by the joie de vivre that marked Rubinstein the man, the eternal bon vivant. If the second movement basks in the extended spirit of the nocturne, the last movement pulsates with mazurka rhythms that enjoy all kinds of minor inflections the performers can provide. For the solo pieces, recorded October 6, 1959, the real find are the three etudes from Op. 10, pieces Rubinstein never inscribed commercially, and only the Last Concert for Israel offers us another, the C-sharp minor from the same set. Rubinstein plays without ostentation, without self-consciousness. The G Minor Ballade remained Rubinstein's signature piece, its Neapolitan harmonies Chopin's equivalent for the Appassionata Sonata. The skittish E Major Scherzo receives an exalted melos; the dark Mazurka in C may not revel in the quirkiness Horowitz could elicit, but it has a staunch character. The big Andante and Grande Polonaise has a ripeness and delicacy closer to Hofmann than to Horowitz, but it is vintage Rubinstein, who proves musically satisfying always. For Rubinstein collectors, this may prove the first of many fine additions via the BBC.

--Gary Lemco

Joseph Szigeti, violin = MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, K. 218/BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61

Sir Thomas Beecham conducts London Philharmonic (Mozart)
Bruno Walter conducts British Symphony Orchestra (Beethoven)
Opus Kura OPK 2029 67:01 (Distrib. Albany):

Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti (1892-1973) was more of a musician than a fiddler, a natural soloist and chamber music player whose influence extended from Bela Bartok and Pablo Casals to Andre Previn, and whose authority in the music of Beethoven, Brahms, Bloch, and Bartok was almost unrivaled. While his thin, nasal, cut-gutty tone was not especially ingratiating, his wiry sound still managed to convey a noble, musical line, often quite fiery. Opus Kura is busily refurbishing his early Columbia and HMV inscriptions, using Japanese pressings in good sound, although the orchestral backup can be somewhat faded.

The 1934 Mozart Fourth Concerto is one of a trinity of recordings Szigeti and Beecham made, the other two being the Mendelssohn and the Prokofiev D Major, the latter of which was something of a coup for Beecham. The Mozart, which Beecham also recorded with Heifetz, is familiar territory; they take the Andante more at an Adagio pace than say, Talich did with Jiri Novak, but it is standard procedure. The sensibility is late Victorian, but the sounds are lovely. Szigeti improvises his own cadenzas, and his sound is relatively glossy--the editors of the disc go so far as to compare his tone to Kreisler's. The Beethoven Concerto dates from 1932, and it contributes to the few outstanding discs Walter made in Britain before the Anschluss and his flight to Paris and then the U.S. The Concerto is cut rather lean, with a rhythmic rigor and directness lacking in the account with Francescatti Walter did for CBS almost thirty years later. Always an intellectual's violinist, Szigeti does more than manage the punishing half steps and rapid figurations, he constantly moves to a melodic cadence with care and tenderness. Even the occasional surface swish cannot detract from the nobility of Szigeti's line. The miking is clearly towards the violin, so those who favor the big orchestral explosion will have to look elsewhere. But for polished examples of Szigeti in his prime, these are exemplary restorations.

--Gary Lemco

Arturo Tocanini conducts Music from Russia = TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 "Pathetique"; "Manfred" Symphony in B Minor, Op. 58/PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 1 in D, Op. 25 "Classical"/MOUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel)/GLINKA: Jota Aragonaise

Arturo Toscanini conducts NBC Symphony
Music&Arts CD-1115 (2) 61:50; 76:42 (Distrib. Albany):

These concerts, 1947-48, belie Toscanini's somewhat negative feelings about the music of Tchaikovsky, whom he called "the Leoncavallo of the classics." If any of the composer's scroes had a dramatic allure for Toscanini, it was the Manfred Symphony, which Toscanini called "a perfect score," then proceeded to cut it drastically for his concert peformances and recordings. In spite of Toscanini's personal ambivalnece, the concert of February 28, 1948 (which includes the Glinka Jota) has dynamic and color effects to spare, in spite of the abbreviated aspects of the edition, particularly in the last movement. The approach is direct and linear, with constant urging of the bridge passages toward the melodic kernel, as in the second movement confrontation between Manfred and the Mountain Spirit. The strings and winds of the NBC are held by a taut rein, even while Toscanini pushes the tempo relentlessly.

It was Toscanini's RCA recording of the Moussorgsky Pictures (LM 1838) that was my own introduction to this piece, a kind of Dantesque journey of a musical persona from the demonized world ("Gnomus") through the material world ("Limoges") to the underworld and finally into the Kingdom of Heaven. Few conductors can elicit the gondola song of "The Old Castle" with equally song-like timbre. The pace is noticeably quick here (February 14, 1948) with real virtuosity in Samuel Goldenberg, the journey to the Catacombs, and this hair-raising depiction of Baba-Yaga in jolly good sound. Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony (February 15, 1947) is the Maestro's only incursion into this ironist's work. The pace is quicker than his commercial recording, but it neither as fluent as Koussevitzky nor as stalwartly noble as Malko. The Glinka Jota occurred the same day as the Manfred; it is quicksilver, brilliant, colored in Latin flavors, rife with Southern health. The Tchaikovsky Pathetique from November 15, 1947 has the linear detail of the commercial record, with whiplash tempos after the extended introduction in movement one. While the interior movements are alternately lyrical and dramatic, they too are streamlined to move to the tragic finale, which Toscanini takes in a singularly broad manner, allowing his basses and low winds and horns some rhythmic license.

While I hope that Music&Arts reinstates Toscanini's version of The Voyevode, Op. 3, this set will endure as a strong memento of the Maestro's rediscovery of Russians after the Second World War.

--Gary Lemco

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