Classical CD Reissues  
January 2003 - Part 1 of 2

Karel Ancerl conducts = SHOSTAKOVICH: Festive Overture, Op. 96/NOVAK: In the Tatras, Op. 26/KREJCI: Serenade for Orchestra/JANACEK: Taras Bulba/MACHA: Variations on a Theme by and on the Death of Jan Rychlik/SMETANA: The Moldau/DVORAK: Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88; Slavonic Dance in G Minor, Op. 48, No. 8/MARTINU: Symphony No. 5

Karel Ancerl conducts Czech Philharmonic; Vienna Philharmonic (Smetana; Dvorak Op. 46); Concertgebouw Orchestra (Dvorak Sym #8); Toronto Symphony (Martinu)

EMI Great Conductors of the 20th Century Vol. 1 7243 5 75091 2 76:37; 78:58:

I first heard Karel Ancerl (1905-1973) in music from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet Ballet for the Parliament label on LP - strong playing, I thought, from a student of Talich and a survivor of the Nazi death camp at Terezin. I then gleaned what was Ancerl's first recording (1950) with the Czech Philharmonic, the tone-poem In the Tatra Mountains by Vitezslav Novak, coupled on Supraphon LP with Talich's recording of the Slovak Suite, Op. 32.  The piece, here included, is a landscape in the manner of Liadov's "Enchanted Lake" which expands to the dimensions of the Strauss Alpine Symphony for storm effects. The works by Shostakovich, Krejci and Macha testify to the political pressures put upon Czech musicians to support the Stalinist aesthetic creed. Krejci's Serenade, recorded 1957, shows him to be a jazzy spirit akin to the France's Poulenc, quick spirits with a light touch. The Otmar Macha work, a dark memorial, comes from 1968 and "Pague Spring," where the intense chromaticism has the feel of Penderecki's Lidice threnody.

The second disc of recordings, 1958-1971, has a more international, more commercial-export sensibility, with standard fare like Smetana's ubiquitous The Moldau from Vienna. Collectors may well recall the first complete Ma Vlast in Boston (August 8, 1969) under Ancerl from Tanglewood, replete with local thunderstorm. The Concertgebouw performance of the G Major Dvorak from 1970 has a prior incarnation on the Tahra label, which has been extremely active in Ancerl restorations, including a complete set of Slavonic Dances (TAH 118). So, too, the alternately mystical and nervously minimalist Fifth Symphony of Martinu from Ancerl's Toronto tenure, 1971, which appeared on the CBC's own label. Each of these works displays Ancerl's fine orchestral discipline and ear for rhythmic complexity, all in glowing colors. The happy combination of native Czech talent and more cosmopolitan fare would be much to Ancerl's taste for a tribute, I think.

--Gary Lemco

BEETHOVEN: 5 Overtures/BACH: Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D, BWV 1068

Rudolf Kempe conducts Berlin Philharmonic

Testament SBT 1271 67:38 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):


Inscribed 1956-57, these performances show off Rudolf Kempe (1911-1976) in repertory he knew well: the Beethoven overtures are recorded in stereo, while the Bach is in monaural sound. But don't let the designation "Mono" dissuade you as to the colossal intensity of these performances because they are superb. The Prometheus Overture is among the most pungent accounts I have heard; how long Kempe musthave worked on the opening attack heaven only knows, but the effect is a knockout. Kempe always manages to achieve the same luster out of the Berlin Philharmonic as Karajan, but without the cold, detached gloss that characterizes that worthy meister.  The Fidelio, Coriolan, and Egmont overtures similarly share the searching, luminous intensity of approach; perhaps we are hearing some of the influence that Fricsay likewise achieved in German ensembles of the period. The big piece here is the Leonore No. 3, here graded and palpably nuanced to its herculean peroration. The Bach Suite is shimmering; and while purists will avoid its clearly romantic perspective, a la Furtwaengler, music lovers owe it repeated listenings. This is virile, assertive Bach that makes a statement. Definitely for the Kempe collector.

--Gary Lemco

SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 38 "Spring"/DVORAK: Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 "From the New World"

Rudolf Kempe conducts Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Testament SBT 1269 71:07 (Distr. Harmonia Mundi):

I only saw and met Rudolf Kempe (1911-1976) once, in 1968, when he and the Royal Philharmonic sojourned to New York City as part of the "Visiting Orchestras" Series. I recall a vivid "Four Last Songs" of Strauss with Heather Harper that stays with me. I asked Kempe about his stylistic influences, and he replied that his long years as a symphony oboist served him well; but he was no less admiring of the occasional appearances conductor Carl Schuricht in Germany, which impressed him mightily.

Testament has resurrected a number of collaborations with Karajan's Berlin Philharmonic from the middle and late 1950's, of which the Schumann First (1955) and Dvorak Ninth (1957) are but two. Kempe cherished Dvorak's music, but he never inscribed any but the E Minor Symphony. Comparing this studio version with his live account with his BBC Symphony (his last official post) rendition from 27 August 1975 (on BBC Legends BBCL 4056) finds a general sameness of conception, with small fluctuations of tempo in the interior movements, while the outer movements remain virtually intact. The approach is, like all of Kempe's work, propulsive, assured, linear: it reminds one of George Szell with an even richer sonic patina, but not so slick as Karajan's. The Largo receives every attention, from molded phrases in the oboe and string parts, to a ravishing sense of melodic contour and brilliant blending of colors. The Schumann First is delivered with loving tenderness, but few commercial recordings have equalled the Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic for sheer pantheism and rhythmic abandon.  I compared this version with the Bamberg Symphony account from 14 February 1959 (on Melodram GM 4.0049) and again found great consistency of tempo; Kempe definitely favors an audience presence. I would recommend this Testament combination more for the Dvorak, although the Schumann is gracious enough.

--Gary Lemco

Erich Kleiber conducts = BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 "Eroica"; Egmont Overture/BORODIN: Symhpony No. 2 in B Minor/WEBER: Konzertstueck in F Minor/FALLA: Excerpts from La Vida Breve/CORELLI: "Christmas" Concerto/SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 5/STRAUSS: Gypsy Baron Overture; Tales From the Vienna Woods Waltz/DVORAK: Carnival Overture; Wedding Dance from The Wood Dove/TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor

Erich Kleiber conducts NBC Symphony, 1947-1948
Claudio Arrau, piano (Weber)

Music & Arts CD-1112 50:57; 56:16; 55:26 (Distrib. Albany):


Erich Kleiber (1890-1956) remains a unique voice in orchestral conducting: although associated with several ensembles in the course of his life, he never established an extended tenure, in spite of a fabled baton technique and a vast repertory that extended from the baroque period through the knotty scores of Berg, Dallapiccola and Strauss. His Beethoven interpretations rank among the mighty, especially his legendary Beethoven Fifth inscribed with the Concertgebouw Orchestra for Decca. Some of his last work, with the Cologne Radio-Symphony, has gleaned a cult-like status, as with his Dvorak Cello Concerto with Antonio Janigro. Kleiber favors a lean, athletic approach in all things; but his incisive drive is fostered by a clear, articulate notion of a work's harmonic structure, with a sensitivity for shifts in rhythm and color.

This Music&Arts collation offers several appearances with the NBC Symphony that have earlier appeared via the pirate label Urania. These are in superior sound, and the Weber Konzertstueck benefits from better processing and pitch adjustments. Kleiber had appeared with the New York Philharmonic for the 1930-31 season, and his electric energy obviously impressed Toscanini enough to warrant the NBC invitations; these, in spite of the fact that Kleiber was openly vocal in his dislike of American symphony practices regarding rehearsal time, recording contracts, and cramped, conservative programming. Something of Kleiber's hot blood can be heard in the Russian and Slavic selections in these discs, where the Dvorak Carnival Overture rushes forward, blazing with dance rhythms that exceed the Talich account of this whirlwind score. The Tchaikovsky Fourth of January 3, 1948 compares more than favorably with the famous 1941 Stokowski inscription with the NBC, and it is more faithful to the score. While the Corelli "Christmas" Concerto is hardly authentic by today's standards, it has a devotion and polish again close to Stokowski, who took on the piece later for Vanguard records, albeit with more freedom in the continuo part. The Borodin is a piece possessed, with vivid accents and a haunting third movement, whose French horn and wind parts allow the NBC players to shine. The only competitior of the period was the Mitropoulos version with a less than accurate ensemble in the Minneapolis Symphony. The same boldness and directness of attack informs the Strauss waltz and the sensuous, lilting rhythms of the Falla. The venerable Arrau is soloist in the Weber; I heard him do this piece as late as 1984, when he and Robert Shaw played it in Atlanta. Despite an increasing slowness in tempos, the piece always managed from Arrau a fleet grandeur, the kind of poise Robert Casadesus also fostered on this bravura work.

Poise and exceeding glibness of form mark the Schubert and Beethoven performances garnered here. The Schubert Fifth (from December 27, 1947) enjoys lyrical transparency; it is a piece the conductor knows well. The Beethoven Eroica, though tailored for the one-hour NBC programming, has great resilience and fluency, in spite of the scratching of repeats. The Funeral March emerges as pivotal, clear, expansive, detailed, poised, noble. Kleiber always elicits fluid and plastic movement from his ensembles; I know of no Kleiber rendition of anything that drags, ever. Muscularity of design, clean articulation of inner parts, the man was a master of his idiom. Only his uncompromising nature kept him from more worldly success; in music, he had few peers.

--Gary Lemco

PAGANINI: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D, Op. 6/LALO: Symphonie espagnole in D Minor, Op. 21

Leonid Kogan, violin/Charles Bruck conducts Paris Conservatory Orchestra

Testament SBT 1226 68:36 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

Another in the 6-CD retrospective of Leonid Kogan (1924-1982) and his early EMI recordings, this compilation captures the patrician Kogan in three days' work, February 21-23, 1955, with the Roumanian Charles Bruck (1911-1995) in virtuoso repertory. The Paganini Concerto is important for its being the first uncut, recorded version of the score in the West (after the Kogan/Nebolsin for Melodiya), so Bruck can excel in the operatic ritornelli that pepper its labyrinthine weavings. While Menuhin did more to restore the original length than most, he too maintained several cuts, and Menuhin's technique was past the feisty inflections Kogan manages with ease. The cadenza by Emile Sauret offers some dazzle all its own. Following Menuhin, Kogan opts for the five movement version of the Lalo (so did Oistrakh and Szeryng) that proffers the Intermezzo in the form of a habanera. Kogan redid the Lalo with Kondrashin in stereo in 1959, so the Bruck quickly fell into the cracks. But the astonishing sizzle, the sheer bravura of Kogan's bowing in this 1955 rendition, here restored, is not to be denied. The intimacy Kogan achieves in the second subject of the opening Allegro non troppo alone is worth the price of admission.

--Gary Lemco

Nicolai Malko Conducts = GLINKA: Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture/BORODIN: Symphony No. 2 in B Minor/RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Cortege and Dance of the Tumblers from The Snow Maiden/TCHAIKOVSKY: Nutcracker Suite--5 selections/PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 7 in C# Minor, Op. 131/HAYDN: Symphony No. 92 in G "Oxford"/SUPPE: Poet and Peasant Overture/DVORAK: Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 "From the New World"/NIELSEN: Maskarade Overture

Nicolai Malko conducts Philharmonia Orchestra; Royal Danish Orchestra (Haydn); Danish State Radio Orchestra (Nielsen)

EMI Great Conductors of the 20th Century Vol. 11 7243 5 75121 2 79:01; 78:30:

In 1985, I was a dinner guest of Berthe Malko, widow of the famed conductor Nicolai Malko (1883-1961), whose reputation came to me second-hand, from his pupil Helen Quach, who had led a youth orchestra from Formosa in Atlanta. In the course of enjoying the piroschki, along with Mr. Volkov of the Shostakovich Testimony fame, we discussed Malko's conducting style and his propensity for both orchestra building and the training of future conductors. "Malko was noted for only one thing," remarked Mrs. Malko, "and that was the premier of the Shostakovich First Symphony. But he trained Shostakovich and Prokofiev to conduct their own work. His work in Denmark established the Malko Competition." Berthe Malko eventually sent me the list for the Competition candidates to conduct, which included the Dvorak Cello Concerto--First Movement, and the Haikii of Messaien.

In this IMG/EMI tribute we only get two instances of Malko's work in Denmark, a solid, even spunky reading of Haydn's "Oxford" Symphony from 1953 and a whiplash run of Maskarade from 1947. Several of Malko's early collaborations from Denmark are still to be had via "Great Musicians in Copenhagen" on Danacord. The Philharmonia Orchestra and Malko made a natural pair, and their rendition of the Borodin B Minor symphony is a classic, essily competitive with versions by Lambert, Mitropoulos, and Kubelik. The good catch here is the Prokofiev 7th Symphony, which Malko gave in Yorkshire with success, and his LP version on RCA (with a fascinatingly slow-paced "Classical" Symphony) was one of my treasures. Dvorak was a Malko specialty; although his Slavonic Dances have not come back, two versions of the "New World" exist: this, from 1956, has superb interior lines along with forward motion. And while I am delighted to have the "filler" pieces--Rimsky-Korsakov, Suppe, Glinka, and Tchaikovsky- I would like to see his Rachmaninov with Moura Lympany come back, as well as his Caucasian Sketches and Tchaikovsky Fourth.

Malko never played those little games more "successful" conductors make to secure big orchestras and record contracts; but his work, right up to some as yet-unissued work from Sydney, Australia, has that workmanship and security of style that always mark his special musical personality. Don't let this set get away from you.

--Gary Lemco

Igor Markevitch = TCHAIKOVSKY: "Manfred" Symphony, Op. 58/GLINKA: A Life for the Tsar: Overture and 3 Dances/VERDI: La Forza del destino--Overture/DEBUSSY: La Mer/CHABRIER: Espana Rhapsody/RAVEL: Daphnis et Chloe--Suite No. 2/R. STRAUSS: Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Op. 28

Igor Markevitch conducts London Symphony (Tchaikovsky); Lamoureux Orchestra (Glinka, Debussy); Feench National Radio Orchestra (Strauss); New Philharmonia Orchestra (Verdi);
North German Radio Orchestra (Ravel); Spanish Radio-Television Orchestra (Chabrier)

EMI "Great Conductors of the 20th Century" Vol. 12 7243 5 75124 2 77:49; 74:50:

Igor Markevitch (1912-1983) was one of two major artists (the other was Sir Clifford Curzon) scheduled to appear with the Atlanta Symphony when his death precluded any chance to interview this major conducting artist. A master of rhythmic complexity and clear orchestral definition, Markevitch had impressed me countless times with his strong playing in Beethoven, Verdi, Mozart (especially with Clara Haskil), and an occasional modern score by Dallapiccola or Berg. Markevitch had begun his career as a pianist (under Cortot) and composer, often compared to Igor Stravinsky. After 1970, Markevitch had no permanent post in spite of continued recording contracts with diverse ensembles; one nasty rumor had him working for the East German Intelligence Agency as a cultural operative. Were Markevitch's recordings of Roussel, Berwald, and Gounod meant to be subversive?

Two of the more collectible items in this EMI/IMG tribute, 1956-1967, are the live, Hamburg performance (1960) of Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe--Suite 2, with its whirling, lush figures and piercing wind parts; and the 1956 performance with the French Radio of Till Eulenspiegel, the only Richard Strauss we have by Markevitch, smart, pert, witty, polished. Next in point of interest are the excerpts from the 1957 production with the Belgrade Opera of Glinka's A Life for the Tsar, at the time a real coup for EMI. The Debussy La Mer !1959), much in the Toscanini tradition of this piece, had been coupled on Heliodor LP with Roussel's Bacchus et Ariane. The latest record we get here is the Verdi Overture to La forza del destino, a solid, pointed inscription again with Toscanini's sense of attack and dynamics. Markevitch, like Malko and to a degree, Issay Dobrowen, combined a Franco-Slavic tradition: his survey of the complete Tchaikovsky's symphonies with the London Symphony is the most balletic of visions--to wit, try comparing the last movement "orgy" from Manfred with the Battle of the Mouse King and Nutcracker Prince from Op. 71. Finally, the Espana (1966) with the Spanish Radio-TV Orchestra that produced some Falla and zarzuela records with Markevitch, too. Brilliant colors, incisive rhythms, all the same ingredients that mark his Rimsky Korsakov and Stravinsky records--the reasons we buy Markevitch performances in the first place.

--Gary Lemco

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