Classical CD Reissues
July-August 2002 - Part 1 of 2
BIZET: La Jolie Fille de Perth-Suite/RAVEL: Alborada del gracioso; Daphnis et Chloe-Suites 1 & 2; Menuet antique; Une barque sur l'ocean/ROUSSEL: The Spider's Feast, Op. 17
Andre Cluytens conducts French Conservatory Orchestra (Roussel) and Orchestre de ORTF
Testament SBT 1238 79:26 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
This is perhaps the most colorful, the most ambitious of the series Testament has devoted to the art of Andre Cluytens (1905-1967), the Belgian-born leader whose tastes for Gallic and Germanic repertory dominated the EMI catalogue from the 1950's through the early and mid-1960's. What I like about this excellent restoration is the sheer breadth of the repertory, the ingenuous colors of Bizet to the more decadent romanticism of Roussel, and the bold, clear lines in Ravel. These inscriptions date 1953-1963, with the Ravel's Daphnis being the earliest. The suites demand the use of the chorus, so we get a good portion of the entire ballet; the Alborada originally came as a filler for the LP set. While the performances were recorded in monaural sound, the orchestral presence is quite strong, with our ears right up against the flailing pizzicati in the Spanish caprice. This is the first CD instantiation of the 1957 Barque sur l'ocean. Definitely lean cuisine. Vibrant orchestral definition marks the 1967 Spider's Feast, whose LP incarnation was a favorite of mine. Butterflies and ephemera-isn't that the point of this slightly erotic ballet? Ravishing restoration by Testament, this is a superb addition to the Cluytens legacy.
GRIEG: Sonatas for Violin and Piano: No. 1 in F, Op. 8; No. 2 in G, Op. 13; No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 45
Olivier Charlier, violin/Brigitte Engerer. Piano
Harmonia Mundi HMA 1951492 68:42:
Grieg's three violin sonatas (1865, 1867, 1887) correspond roughly to his spiritual development, from innocence through national idealism to 20th century modalities.
I was eager to hear this inscription, originally taped in 1993 and here reissued, because Brigitte Engerer has proved to be a thoroughly energetic, thoughtful voice in keyboard literature. Her work in Ravel's violin music with Regis Pasquier finds a tender, but no less ardent, complement with Olivier Charier in Grieg. Particularly ennobled is the F Major Sonata, the least known of the three sonatas, yet the first such piece of ensemble by a Norwegian composer. Its 'springlike' affect has urged more than one commentator to compare it favorable to Beethoven's Op. 24. While the C Minor is the most famous, given its dramatic flair and penchant for emotional crises, the second in G is haunted by all kinds of allusions to native folk tunes. The technical command of the two artists is most riveting, as is the recorded sound. Perfect chamber music fare for a rainy afternoon.
BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3; Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 "Erica/MOZART: Symphony No. 29 in A, K. 201/BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98
Otto Klemperer conducts Orchestra of the Royal Danish Opera
Testament SBT 2242 74:12; 48:00 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) made his debut in Denmark in 1946, when he had begun the life of an itinerant, even making his way to the Hungarian State Opera. These documents derive from sessions taken in 1954 and 1957 (the "Eroica"). Klemperer inspires his Danes to great clarity and orchestral definition: just savor the opening chords of the Eroica. The Mozart 29th, in spite of what I consider a too-pesant tempo at its inception, begins to shine after the opening exposition. Interplay between winds, especially the oboe, and strings is pert and vivacious. The 1954 Brahms Fourth is among the pick of the litter: it has detail, breadth, velocity-especially in the sudden onrush towards the last movement coda-and a real sense of ensemble. By 1957 Klemperer was a sick man, conducting with one arm and demanding physical support to and away from the podium. But like the aging Stokowski, Klemperer sheds years simply by hoisting the baton. The Eroica has many virtues, its athleticism for instance; I like the heroic urgency in the Funeral March that does not degenerate into stolid fortitude. The whole seems forthright and optimistic, in a way that relinquishes that Teutonic monumentalism to which Klemperer's EMI career is wont. While none of these performances can claim 'abandon' as its rubric, within the parameters of a classical approach, there is a definite freedom of purpose.
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 "Eroica"; Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72
Wolfgang Sawallisch conducts RIAS Berlin Symphony
Musica D'Oro CDO 1055 63:40 (Distrib. Allegro):
The Beethoven 3rd Symphony has become something of a Wolfgang Sawallisch (b. 1923) signature-piece; he recently brought it, along with the Philadelphia Orchestra, to the Bay Area at Davis Hall back in February 2002. This performance on Musica D'Oro dates from 1970. It is a rather streamlined affair, though the breadth of the music goes to the Funeral March, which has a Klemperer-like grandiosity. I found the Finale the most gracious movement, with extremely facile transitions between the variations, taken from a simple contredance. The Overture to Leonore comes from a concert in Munich, 1971. It suffers poor mike-placement; I cannot hear the fateful trumpet-call at all. Otherwise, I would have recommended whole-heartedly: it has drama, girth, loving phrasing. But I cannot review what I cannot hear. If you buy this one, it is for the symphony.
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 "Emperor"; Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19
Dame Myra Hess, piano/Sir Malcolm Sargent conducts BBC Orchestra
BBC Legends BBCL 4028-2 77:07 (Distrib. Koch):
Dame Myra Hess (1890-1965) is an icon of British pianism: her studies with Tobias Matthay and her galvanizing concerts at the National Gallery in London during the Blitz are both the stuff of legends. I have consistently found more poetry than virtuosity in her playing, her technique not always up to the stellar repertory she champions. But poetry is worth a great deal, so the missed octaves or a slightly garbled transition passage does not preclude the vivid and exuberant music-making to be found in this "Emperor," the very soul of high spirits. Malcolm Sargent, by the way, is in strong form: his masses of sound are quite pointed, often luxurious. Dame Myra's frenetic opening of the B-flat's final movement does not belie the good taste and spicy humor that peppers that performance. Since neither of these Beethoven concertos enjoys the aegis of a commercial recording, we best bask in what is bequeathed us. There are the Hess benchmarks: a fluid, ripe tone, the accents on passing downbeats, the shape and rich articulation of breathed phrases. Such virtues are hard to ignore, especially when cookie-cutter virtuosity is the norm. May the Myra Hess legacy only increase!
SMETANA: Symphonic Poems: Moldau; From Bohemia's Meadows and Forests; Richard III; Haakon Jarl; Wallenstein's Camp
Rafael Kubelik conducts Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Classica D'Oro CDO 1062 69:54 (Distrib. Allegro):
Sometimes the pirates cull from the pirates: to wit, Rafael Kubelik's 1937/1945 inscriptions of fellow countryman Bedrich Smetana, which appeared on the Lys label and now is duplicated by Classica D'Oro. Given the somewhat cramped and compressed quality of the sonics, these are still vibrant, often colorful readings by the relatively young Czech conductor, trying to emulate his mentor Vaclav Talich. Kubelik (1914-1996) could be irresolute on the podium, earning him the nickname, "the velvet hand in the velvet glove." But as his Meadows and Forests attest, when he gets it going, the fireworks can really fly. Collectors are urged to compare his 1937 readings from MaVlast against Szell's early inscriptions of this repertory with the New York Philharmonic. Even more interesting fare emerges with the Shakespearean and nationalist pieces that have opus numbers, especially Haakon Jarl, taken from Scandinavian folklore. Slavic, modal harmonies seem to thwart Germanic modulatory expectations. Wallenstein's Camp is no less a subject for Vincent D'Indy, and an enterprising conductor might program them together. At least you can hear these early indications of youthful talent, likely genius, piracy notwithstanding. The Moldau is played for glorified sweetness.
DVORAK: Requiem, Op. 89; Symphonic Variations, Op. 78/KODALY: Psalmus Hungaricus, Op. 13
Pilar Lorengar, soprano
Erszebet Komlossy, contralto
Robert Ilosfalvy, tenor
Tom Krause, bass
The Ambrosian Singers
Lajos Kozma, tenor (Kodaly)
London Symphony Orchestra/Istvan Kertesz conductor
Decca Legends 468 487-2 72:51; 68:39 (Distrib. Universal):
Hungarian conductor Istvan Kertesz (1929-1973) was the great next hope after Ferenc Fricsay, a musician of great energy and drive, with a polish and command of the orchestral palette that made him quite special. His recording legacy offers the complete Dvorak symphonies; much of Schubert; some excellent Mozart, including collaborations with Clifford Curzon; and a Bruckner Fourth that promised even richer maturity. Barry Tuckwell told me that among the Hungarians working with the LSO, Kertesz was the favorite of the players: "He knew his scores, and he had a charisma that was unmistakable," proffered Tuckwell.
While the Requiem of Dvorak is less well known than his Stabat Mater, it has the advantage of musical variety and breadth of line; when all is said about the Stabat Mater, it is still a series of adagios cast in a valedictory mood. The Requiem of 1890, a result of the composer's having heard those by Verdi and Brahms, is in two huge parts, the first ending with the Dies Irae; the Offertory then brings aspects of consolation.The Kertesz style (Requiem, 1968; the rest from 1970) is somewhat literalist, but it is not without a warmth of expression that constantly aims at the epic. Kertesz keeps us in touch with the opening, chromatic motto theme that binds the work together. For me, the Recordare has an especial pathos. The Kodaly rivals the Fricsay account (with Haefliger) and an off-air broadcast with Mitropoulos (with David Lloyd), enjoying a transparency of texture, even within the context of declamation and exhortations against political oppression. This is a major restoration from Kertesz' all-too-brief stay with us.
TCHAIKOVSKY: PianoConcerto No. 1 ikn B-flat Minor, Op. 23/SCRIABIN: Piano Concerto in F-sharp Minor, Op. 20
Solomon, piano/Issay Dobrowen conducts Philharmonia Orchestra
Testament SBT 1232 59:33 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
When an artist with the stature of Solomon (1902-1988) plays the Scriabin Concerto, he might almost convince you it is a worthy piece! This 1949 inscription, one of few Western recordings outside of Russia, where Neuhaus or Flier played it occasionally, has been on CD prior, via EMI. The Maharajah of Mysore helped to underwrite the costs of producing what, at the time, was unlikely repertory. Reviews at the time were less than kind about the poor acoustical balances, which sometimes throw the piano into echo-ey relief. The 1949 Tchaikovsky is Solomon's second inscription of this mighty bit of romantic fluff: he recorded it with Hamilton Harty in the 1930's with lesser sonics but with the same aesthetic: refined understatement. There are moments, in the cadenzas for example, where the poetry abounds, the 4-square imitations of the Schumann Concerto notwithstanding. Double octaves, no sweat. For sheer bravura abandon, we still go to Horowitz. But for a patrician's view of these much-scaled heights, Solomon's is a refreshing tonic.
BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op .77/SUK: Four Pieces, Op. 17/CHOPIN: Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp Minor/RAVEL: Tzigane/FALLA: Danse Espagnole/DINICU: Hora Staccato
Ginette Neveu, violin/Jean Neveu, piano/Issay Dobrowen conducts Philharmonia Orchestra
Dutton CDBP 9710 74:50 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
Having recently reviewed the Tahra tribute to Ginette Neveu (1919-1939), to have received this Dutton issue makes a natural complement, since Neveu's traversals of the Brahms and the Sibelius for commercial records remain unique to her legacy. The Brahms dates from 1946, and I like most everything about it, except the finale, which I find a bit abrupt. Dobrowen was often accused of over-sentimentality in his performances, but here his is a firm hand exerting good tension and strong interior lines. The Concerto is played for prowess rather than mere poetry, and that works for me. The cross between dance and march at the end of the Concerto is quite arresting, despite the fleet glibness of the execution. The Suk pieces were something of a signature work for Neveu: she and brother achieve a real sympathy for these color works, which require deft articulation and rapid, alternating positions of the hand. The Chopin arrangement was quite popular a generation ago, with Milstein as well as Neveu. It is a lovely cantabile, with little hints of the mazurka that saturates the Concerto in F Minor. Both Ravel's Tzigane and the Falla have enough bravura to convince us Neveu really did triumph over David Oistrakh at the Wieniawski Competition. The Dinicu is a throw-away, a fiddler's revel a la Heifetz, which Neveu passes off to us peasants. That she was an aristocrat among violinists is never in doubt.
BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100; Sonata-Movement in C Minor; PROKOFIEV: Violin Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 80
Berl Senofsky, violin/Gary Graffman, piano
Bridge 9118 57:09:
This is the third recital program-the other two emanating from the Cembal d'amour label-devoted to the art of Berl Senofsky (b. 1925), the Philadelphia native trained by Leopold Auer and Ivan Galamian, who became assistant concertmaster for George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra and then went on to win the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium Concours in 1955. Only a handful of deleted LP's ever testified to the immense talent of this gifted musician: among them LM 2715 (OP), devoted to trios by Brahms and Beethoven, with pianist Graffman and cellist Shirley Trepel; an LP of Debussy and Faure violin sonatas; and one Epic LP of the Brahms Violin Concerto with the VSO under Rudolf Moralt. Each of those discs demonstrated Senofsky's sweet, compelling violin tone, his nobility of line, and his innate sympathy for the music he plays.
The Bridge recital derives from the Library of Congress, March 14, 1975. Senofsky taught at Peabody 1965-1996, so his playing was somewhat confined to the 'profession,' to the honing of students' skills. A natural Brahms player, Senofsky achieves an unhurried, warm and lofty cantabile for the most 'French' of the three Brahms sonatas. While my favorite rendition remains the Szigeti/Horszowski duo on Mercury, there are many touches here that warrant high praise. Graffman is keen to point out the marvelous harmonies that complement the melodic line; there are occasional old-world refinements, like luftpausen, that are quite Viennese in character. For a more rasping, incisive approach to Brahms, try the C Minor movement Brahms provided as his contribution to a joint effort in sonata-writing by composers Schumann and Dietrich.
Both Senofsky and Graffman have a long association with the music of Prokofiev; one could well wish the 1965 G Minor Violin Concerto from the archives of the American Symphony with Senofsky under Stokowski would resurface. Prokofiev's F Minor Sonata is his only 'real' sonata for violin; the D Major, Op. 94a is a transcription of a flute original. It is a dark, WW II sensibility, composed for its greatest advocate, David Oistrakh. There are moments when Senofsky recalls Oistrakh, to be sure; but his nasal vibrato in this piece has more of the patrician Leonid Kogan. Graffman's undeviating accompaniment is as fine as anyone has provided for this monumental, gloomy, passionate piece. Kudos to the players; even more, to the producers Starobin for restoring this valuable, well-recorded, elaborately mounted recital to us.
BRAHMS: The Four Symphonies
Yevgeny Mravinsky conducts Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra
DOREMI DHR-7798/9 80:44; 72:15 (Distrib. Allegro):
Yevgeny Mravinsky (1903-1988) still represents the acme of orchestral discipline in Russian conducting, even if his immaculately precise effects were achieved, to quote Kurt Sanderling, "through sheer terror." With the exception of the Brahms C Minor Symphony, which derives from 1949 tapes, the other symphonies were recorded 1973 (the E Minor) to 1978 (the D Major), with the F Major's source a concert of November 30, 1971. I have commented on the C Minor as transferred by Urania directly from the Melodiya LP, rather than from the tape master. DOREMI's is the cleaner of the two transfers.
Mravinsky's is a Romantic's Brahms, to be sure, but it is cast from a glacial viewpoint, Brahms from the deeps of Jupiter. Particularly 'objectified' is the D Major, a performance from June 12, 1978 given in Vienna, well-heralded in its LP incarnation as a touchstone of the Mravinsky style. The approach is a broad one, with high intensity in the lower strings, the violas and cellos, that cast a somber hue over the few smiles that peek through. I find the F Major really thrilling, its ambiguities of F Minor/Major exploited by Mravinsky's literalist approach. It reminds me of Adrian Boult, only stonier, set in granite. I imagine that Mravinsky heard Brahms via Malko and Coates, maybe what was left of Fried's career in Russia. There are moments in the E Minor that certify Toscanini's influence, but the virtuoso elements, with a real histrionicism in the Andante, mark this performance. Not for the faint-hearted, these are colossal Brahms interpretations.
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