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AUDIOPHILE AUDITION - web magazine for music, audio & home theater
 




 July 2004, Pt. 1 of 2 [Pt. 2]

Backhaus in Beethoven P. Con. #3 BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19; Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37

Wilhelm Backhaus, piano
Clemens Kraus conducts Vienna Philharmonic (Op. 19)
Karl Boehm conducts Vienna Philharmonic (Op. 37)
Testament SBT 1334 62:12 (Distrib. Harmonia mundi):

Two classic performances from the Decca catalogue by Wilhelm Backhaus (1885-1969) in the music of Beethoven. The B-flat Concerto with Clemens Krauss (1893-1954) is perhaps the more interesting, deriving from sessions in late May, 1952; recall that few collaborations with Krauss exist on record, though these artists did work together in the Emperor Concerto as well. Some will find the playing of Backhaus austere and chaste; musically correct it certainly is. I find the renditions of both concertos thoughtful and pointed, though lacking in humor for the B-flat. Backhaus, like his contemporary Artur Rubinstein, could play with suave naturalness of expression, passionate but restrained. Vivaciousness there is, and a muscular fervor in the first movement cadenza of the B-flat worth noting. The total agreement of phrase between Boehm and Backhaus (1950) is evident in the C Minor, although the chosen cadenza (Reinecke's, I think) seems somewhat mannered.  Still, the solidity and the security of the playing are always paramount, and Beethoven's powerful communication remains paramount. I do hope Testament will reinstate the Backhaus/Krauss Emperor as part of its Decca restorations.

--Gary Lemco

Svetlanov cond. Balakirev Sym. 2 BALAKIREV: Symphony No. 2 in C Major; Overture on 3 Russian Songs; In Bohemia (Symphonic Poem)

Evgeni Svetlanov conducts The USSR Symphony Orchestra
Moscow Studio Archives MOS20014 55:53 (Distrib. Allegro):

Number 14 of the Svetlanov Edition celebrates the late conductor (1928-2002) in music by the head of The Mighty Handful, here in the lesser known of his two symphonies (1900-1908), which could be called a suite in the manner of Scheherazade, but without the hefty program. The second movement reveals Balakirev's sense of humor, utilizing the comic, drinking song, "Oh, my aching head." The concluding Polacca may owe something to the Tchaikovsky Polish Symphony, although its inventiveness seems to outshine Tchaikovsky's model. The 1859 Overture on 3 Russian Themes just warranted my review in a reissue from Lovro von Matacic on Testament. The Svetlanov has even more pungent sound, along with the Russian's fiery temperament. "In Bohemia," a piece composed in 1866, seems a thorough misnomer, since the tunes are clearly orientalized Russian melodies and offer nothing remotely echoing Smetana or Dvorak except the clear call to musical nationalism.&n! bsp; A charming disc from a Russian conductor who made his country's music a personal mission.

--Gary Lemco

Kubelik cond. Dvorak V. Con. & Sym. No. 7 DVORAK: Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53; Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, Op. 70

Yuuko Shiokawa, violin
Rafael Kubelik conducts Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Orfeo D'Or C 594 031B (Distrib. Qualiton):

This disc splices two individual, Dvorak concerts by the late Rafael Kubelik (1914-1996), with the Violin Concerto's deriving from 2 November 1979, and the Symphony No. 7 from 2 April 1978. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the collaboration between Yuuko Shiokawa and Kubelik is her instrument, the very "Emperor" Stradivarius 1715, formerly owned by Jan Kubelik, the conductor's father, and passed directly to his son. The resulting ensemble is brilliant if unsentimental music-making, with colossal virtuosity that will remind auditors of the famed Milstein/Steinberg rendition, with ravishing violin tone and strength of expression. The orchestral playing is supple and direct, keeping a light hand for the last movement, but still exerting crisp attacks and resounding fortes when required.

If the Violin Concerto of Dvorak pays homage to some German models, the Symphony in D Minor remains clearly Bohemian while maintaining a linear, classical structure akin to Brahms. Kubelik, like Szell and Leitner before him, brought a long association with this work to the podium; and here in the Munich Herkulessaal, he is in full command of the colors and nuances of his Bavarian orchestra. From the early grumblings in the low strings to the final perorations of the Allegro, we are in the throes of a propelled, visionary reading, piping and singing with passion and conviction. Audience applause explodes after each of the performances, ample testimony to the seamless communication between conductor and the the composer's intentions. While the symphony is a fairly common Kubelik staple on disc, collectors will want the splendid rendition of the concerto.

--Gary Lemco

Mischa Elman, Vol. 1 Mischa Elman: Violin Concertos = MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, K .218; Violin Concerto No. 5 in A, K. 219 "Turkish"/BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61/TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35/BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 44; Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26/WIENIAWSKI: Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 22/JOSTEN: Sonatina for Violin and Piano/VITALI: Chaconne/KORNGOLD: Much Ado About Nothing--Suite

Mischa Elman, violin
Sir Adrian Boult conducts London Philharmonic
Josef Krips conducts New Symphony Orchestra (Mozart)
Anatole Fistoulari conducts London Symphony (Bruch No. 2)
Georg Solti conducts London Philharmonic (Beethoven)
Joseph Seiger, piano
Testament SBT4 1343 71:15; 59:04; 65:40; 65:59 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

I heard the legendary Mischa Elman (1891-1967) only once, at Lewisohn Stadium in New York, in the concertos by Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky, under Alfredo Antonini and members of the New York Philharmonic. This was around 1962, so Elman's technique was sorely fading, and one could argue that solid intonation was never his strong suit. Elman made his reputation on the beauty of his tone and the application of continuous vibrato; the latter trait that was already anachronistic when Heifetz startled the world in 1917. When RCA signed Elman under contract, the company crippled his recorded legacy by preferring Heifetz in major concertos, relegating Elman to infrequent collaboration with Desire Defauw or to concert miniatures by Wieniawski and Tchaikovsky (LM 1740), or to the sonatas of Handel, where his accompanist was Wolfgang Rose.

In order to escape his note as a sentimental player of miniatures, Elman moved to Decca, which between 1954-1956 produced a series of concerto inscriptions, some of them quite strong. The renditions of the Tchaikovsky (in the Auer edition) and to Bruch Concertos under Adrian Boult prove the most durable of this collection and also the most voluble. Boult had begun a Tchaikovsky recording with Menuhin, but Menuhin never recorded the first movement cadenza. A natural Tchaikovskian with a penchant for brisk tempos, Boult pushes the piece and Elman manages to keep up, sometimes with nervous results. The opposite occurs in the last movement of the Bruch and the whole of the D Minor Concerto, a work that fairly flies under Heifetz but marches rather heavily with Elman, lacking the song of the G Minor and the folksy tread of the Scottish Fantasy.

Collectors are going to find Elman's renditions effusive or just plain mawkish. His tendency to ritard the ends of phrases and to slide between phrases are strictly a 19th century mannerisms. True, his legato passages and his cantilena are lovely to hear, so the Mozart slow movements retain an allure that is quite individual. But the constant stress on the upbeats, the marcato tempo, the spreading of the vibrato on held notes, can be tiresome. The Wieniawski D Minor, on the other hand, benefits from Elman's approach, since his edition is more complete than that of Heifetz, and the sincerity and idiomatic style is more fulfilling than the Stern-Hilsberg performance from the same era. The Beethoven Concerto with Solti is a kind of anomaly: the Elman cadenzas are peculiar, to say the least, a kind of Schnabel-induced polyphony superimposed on the severe cast of the piece. The approach could be that of Huberman and Szell, except it tries to be more intellectual. I find the Vitale Chaconne no less strangely compelling; not particularly stylistic, but consistent in the kind of musical idiom Elman chooses. I prefer Milstein, Grumiaux, and Bobesco here, but Elman is worth hearing.

The filler pieces feature Elman's Israeli accompanist Joseph Seiger, a good musician and accompanist but no pure virtuoso as Backhaus was (until the Nazis interfered) or Horszowski could be. The Sonatina of Werner Josten (1885-1963) fills out a catalogue long dominated by his Concerto Sacro I-II, as played by Stokowski. The 1939 piece is tonal and witty, and Elman gives it a brisk, lean performance of considerable dignity. The Korngold Suite is light without being dazzling; some may find the rendition too staid compared to the fire Heifetz or Rosand bring to it. What we get is one of Leopold Auer's greatest pupils in the autumn of his illustrious career, elegant within the mercy of his means, singing in his chains like the sea. [Vol. 1 of this set was reviewed here last month.]

--Gary Lemco

Annie Fischer plays Schumann SCHUMANN: Kinderszenen, Op. 15; Kreisleriana, Op. 16; Fantasia in C Major, Op. 17

Annie Fischer, piano
BBC Legends BBCL 4141 79:05 (Distrib. Koch):

The all-Schumann program assembled by the BBC as a tribute to Hungarian virtuoso Annie Fischer (1914-1995) derives from two sessions, 24 February 1971 (Fantasy) and 8 April 1986 (Scenes from Childhood, Kreisleriana). The Kinderszenen and Kreisleriana had been recorded for EMI in 1964 and issued on the 1996 "Artist Profile" (5 68733 2). Fischer was a strong Schumann player, having recorded the Concerto with Klemperer and offering the Carnaval in her tour of Canada in the 1970's. Never was Fischer the perfect mechanism, but we can tolerate the occasional finger slip and smeared chord by Fischer, whose power and poetry more than compensate for the digital errors. By nature an "innocent," Fischer approaches the Op. 15 suite with the requisite ingenuousness, balancing the inwardness of Schumann's fancy with his directness of expression. The Kreisleriana owes its creative impulses to E.T.A. Hoffmann and his own, zany cast of characters. Diabolic and tender at once, the suite has Fischer occasionally scrambling for finger position, but her innate musicality wins us over. Fischer's rendition of the large C Major Fantasy, written as an homage to Beethoven, was new to me. It is not so pointed as Casadesus nor as grand in scope as Horowitz, but it has sensibility to spare, musing with Schlegel and the whole Romantic ethos. Schumann acolytes owe it to themselves to pursue this sleeper disc, whose commercial life I do not predict will last long, but whose impact remains long after it stops spinning on your CD drive.

--Gary Lemco

Ida Haendel plays Sibelius V. Concerto SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47; 2 Serenades, Op. 69; Humoreske No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 89, No. 3

Ida Haendel, violin
Paavo Berglund conducts Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
EMI "Encore" 5 75236 2 50:52:

Recordings from 1975 with the legendary Ida Haendel (b. 1923) in the music of Sibelius, whose music she has championed, having received the Sibelius Medal in 1982. She and conductor Berglund take a broad, extremely spacious approach to the Concerto, stretching the rhythms even more with pregnant ritards than we receive in the equally romantic treatment of Georg Kulenkampff and Wilhelm Furtwaengler. The latter two movements are no less distinguished in their calculated, deliberate rhythms, perhaps a mite heavy and marcato rather than light and lithe, but played with an intensity of conviction that are hard to match. Haendel and Camilla Wicks (who also recorded for EMI, with Sixten Ehrling) are the two women who have made colossal statements with the Sibelius Concerto, though canny collectors would add the elusive Guila Bustabo to this short list. The Serenades of 1912-1913 are lighter and less agitated pieces, in song-form, and Handel was the first to record them. The E-flat Humoreske (1917) is a zesty treatment of two antiphonal chords, played in varying registers and colors, with plenty of syncopation, one of six such finesse pieces of Opp. 87 and 89. Haendel is decidedly "old-school" in her luxurious approach, but her advocates accept her mannerisms as a necessary component of her especial genius.

--Gary Lemco

Oleg Kagan plays Mozart V. Sonata MOZART: Violin Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 378; Violin Sonata in G Major, K. 379

Oleg Kagan, violin
Sviatoslav Richter, piano
Moscow Studio Archives MOS17561 47:14 (Distrib. Allegro):

This lamentably short CD celebrates two of Russia's great virtuoso collaborators, Oleg Kagan (1946-1990) and Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) in the music of Mozart. Kagan was one of David Oistrakh's star pupils, and he and Richter teamed up in the 1970's specifically to play Mozart together. They achieve in these 1982 inscriptions some beautiful balances in the sonatas, where a virtuoso like Heifetz (in K. 378) merely reduced the piano part to a mere shadow of the violin filigree. Mozart greatly expanded the models Johann Christian Bach had provided him in the form, and the B-flat must have given Brahms much to ponder in its ambiguous modulations between F Major and F Minor. The G Major is more unconventional, beginning with a charming, lyrical Adagio with forward-looking harmonies. The variations of the finale have been likened in structure to the famous canon of Pachelbel, of which Mozart was likely unaware. Kagan's tone and technique are smooth as! glass. That Richter can subordinate his colossal, often steely style to the nuances and color demands of the piano part is a testament to his versatility as an artist, his dedication to participate as a musical equal in these studied, intricate works. It still seems to me, though, that another major work by these fine artists could easily have fit onto this disc.

--Gary Lemco

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