CLASSICAL CD REISSUES July-August 2001
[Click on any CD cover to go to its review below]
Klemperer in Hamburg: BACH: Suite No. 3 in D, BWV 1068/BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92/MOZART: Symphony No. 29 in A, K. 201; Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550/BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E Major
Otto Klemperer conducts NDR Symphony Orchestra, 1955-66
Music and Arts CD-1088 (3) 60:47; 50:40; 63:53 (Distrib. Koch):
Music and Arts provides us with two complete concerts by Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) with the NDR Symphony, the organization headed by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, which consistently drew top-flight conductors like Schuricht, Monteux, Knappertsbusch, and Furtwaengler to work with the ensemble. The Bach Suite, Mozart 29th and Beethoven 7th issue from September 28, 1955; the Mozart G Minor and the Bruckner 7th derive from May 3, 1966. The recorded sound is quite pointed, capturing Klemperer's favoring of forward winds and strings in Mozart, with clear delineation of the bass harmonies, especially in the labyrinthine treatment of the Andante of the G Minor Symphony, a performance that makes it popular label, "little G Minor," trite, considering the sonic mass Klemperer attains. Most delightful is Klemperer's savvy and persuasive way with the A Major Symphony, K. 201, with its many hints of the Rococo, its gentle ease of transition and its pert melodies. This might have proved one of those ponderous moments of Klemperer's 'monumental' style, but such is not the case. If anything, the performance is leisurely, confident and youthfully buoyant, a pleasure to compare to the Walter and Cantelli readings which share its avoidance of the heavy foot.
The big work is the Bruckner E Major, his most "Phrygian" of symphonic works, with its flattening both the second and third degrees of the E Major triad at key points in its evolution. This rendition finds Klemperer in not so much a prosaic, but an easy-gaited manner, attempting to let the music unfold graciously and naturally. There are rough edges (as there are in the horn parts of the Bach Suite's Gigue), but the ensemble is comfortable and stylish, with an exalted Adagio. Klemperer stays with the Nowak edition he always favored, again altering the timpani parts at the climax of the slow movement for dramatic effect. Klemperer's association with the Seventh dates back to 1921, when he led a 25th anniversary concert marking the composer's passing. The last movement gains emotional weight by virtue of frequent ritards, which seem to echo Bruckner's own sentiments on the matter in letters from the period. Rife with authenticity and played in the grand manner, Bruckner, Mozart and Bach thrive well in these concerts, which happily avoid the heavy mannerisms of Klemperer's commercial recordings of the same repertory.
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major
Eugen Jochum conducts Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam
Philips 289 464 693-2 76:00:
Taped in Ottobeuren Abbey, Germany May 30-31, 1964, this exemplary reading of Bruckner's Fifth comprises another in Philips' "50 Great Recordings" Series. It features the able leadership of Eugen Jochum (1902-1987), the veteran from the Bavarian (Munich) Radio Symphony, whose work in Bruckner on records goes back to the mid-1930's. The piece (1875-77) marks the mid-point in the composer's symphonic output, a kind of rite-of-passage where his mastery of counterpoint celebrates itself in the epic double fugue of the finale. Noteworthy are the thematic inter-connections between leading motifs in the various movements, with the Adagio and Scherzo's simply moving the same material at different speeds. The Adagio is equally notable for its colossal breadth of melodic statement, mounting in the form of a pendulum-driven arch and reaching for a kind of personal psalmody or doxology in the climaxes. The Concertgebouw Orchestra has substantial history in Bruckner 5th performance-practice: recall a fine, somewhat tailored reading by Eduard van Beinum, as well as the occasional performance under Bernard Haitink and the all-but-forgotten Willem van Otterloo. While Jochum does not linger on expositions to the point of stasis-caveat Celibidache!-his reading paints a broad, opulent canvas with plenty of that fitful dynamism with which the piece starts and stops. Recorded sound and engineering is quite 'present,' particularly in the Concertgebouw strings, winds and brasses, which is where most of Bruckner happens. At the budget price, it's hard to pass on this impressive inscription.
MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 in G Major/BRAHMS: Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53
Eva Maria Rogner, soprano (Mahler)
Ingmart Barth, comtralto (Brahms)
Hans Rosbaud conducts Southwest Sumphony-Orchestra, Baden-Baden (Mahler);Strasbourg Chorus and Symphony Orchestra (Brahms)
Urania URN 22.170 66:07 (Distrib. Qualiton):
Hans Rosbaud (1895-1962) was, much like Dimitri Mitropoulos, a musical ascetic who had mastered a variety of musical styles, and who had competence in symphonic music, opera and musical theater. His penchant for contemporary music is attested by any number of recordings of Schoenberg, Berg, Stockhausen, Nono, and Stravinsky, and includes Moses and Aaron and an elusive rendition of the Reger Piano Concerto with Erik Then-Bergh. His intellectual approach and chastity of musical means captured American audiences as well as his native German admirers; his relatively early death precluded a contract with the Chicago Symphony. Those who know his work in 'classical' music: Mozart piano concertos (with Gieseking) and violin concertos (with Schneiderhahn), along with music by Sibelius, Liszt, Gluck, Mozart opera and Haydn, can appreciate the fiery, nervous quality he brought to standard repertory that revitalized its meaning. Richard Kapp, a pupil and admirer, bemoaned the number of unedited Rosbaud tapes he had in his own possession of music by Messaien, Richard Strauss, Beethoven and Wagner. "Rosbaud's precison, his simplicity of means, the clarity of his line-all were and are models for any conductor to follow," quipped Kapp.
The Mahler 4th derives from 1951, a period when only Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer and Dimitri Mitropoulos programmed Mahler with any frequency. With the Urania label there is always the problem of musical sources: Fred Maroth calls it a "dreck label," with its CEDARizing of LPs rather than going back to the original masters. The sound of both these performances (the Brahms is from 1947) is quite strong, if somewhat tubby. Mahler's pantheistic symphony-it was composed in reverse, with Mahler's having to fit the opening three movements around the finale he had composed while writing the D Minor 3rd Symphony---emerges both songfully and mystically. The second movement, with its evocations of Death's fiddle, has those occasional touches of portamento that alternate the bitter with the langorous, as does the colossal 'Ruhevoll' movement, the spaciousness of which reminds me of its use in a love-scene for Clouzot's rarely seen film, La Prisonniere. Rogner is a light soprano. She does not convey the innocence of a Stich-Randall, but neither is she raspy, a la Desi Halban. The Brahms Rhapsody is painfully dark: it has all the drama of Walter's late version with Mildred Miller, but a better voice in Barth, who manages a shuddery winter's journey in the manner of Ferrier.
These are strong, heady performances of basic repertory Rosbaud never recorded commercially; so, given the caveat attached to the label, admirers of this fine conductor will live with its limitations.
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor/WAGNER: Lohengrin, Prelude, Act I; A Siegfried Idyll; Parsifal: Prelude, Act I
Hans Knappertsbusch conducts Munich Philharmonic
Westminster 289 471211-2 59:35; 64:46 (Distrib. Universal Music):
The coupling of Bruckner and Wagner for a Hans Knappertsbusch (1888-1965) album is typical: Deccca had twice done the same with the conductor's Bruckner 4th and 5th. A philosophy student and then protégé of Hans Richter, Knappertsbusch succeeded Bruno Walter at the Bavarian State Opera; his relationship to Nazism remainsambivalent: while suffering from derogatory treatment by Hitler and the propaganda office, Knappertsbusch was resuscitated for political events around mid-1942. Nevertheless, his repute quickly rekindled after WW II, with his now-famous remark in 1945 Berlin that it was now possible to hear Beethoven the way he was meant to be heard. A purveyor of slow tempos, Knappertsbusch may be seen as a precursor of Celibidache's aesthetics and musical approach; but the latter generates a mystique not always present in Knappertsbusch, whose tensions occasionally slacken. Nevertheless, there are some striking moments, such as his many bouts with Parsifal (eventually at Bayreuth) and with the operas of Richard Strauss. Knappertsbusch was fine in Tristan, and his excerpts with Birgit Nilsson have exalted spaciousness. Music and Arts has revived his Flying Dutchman; and Urania has the best compendia of orchestral Wagner (URN. 127, distrib. Qualiton) taken from various sources with the Suisse Romande, Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic, and the London Philharmonic.
The Westminster Bruckner (rec. 1963) and Wagner (1962) demonstrate the Knappertsbusch capacity for broad variations in tempo and in approach: the Bruckner 8th (recorded around the same period when 'Kna' was working on Fidelio) uses the version favored by Josef Schalk, who had consulted with the first editor, Haas. It streamlines the first movement at points while inflating the Adagio. The Scherzo has a pesant, heavy tread that misses the 'witches' sabbath' energy of Furtwaengler's famed 1949 inscription.
Yet the monumentality of the outer movements, their ease of periodic transition, marks a great temperament in a milieu very much his own. The Wagner tempi are generally quicker than earlier inscriptions, though maintaining the air and pageantry in the Parsifal Prelude, the grand spaciousness in Lohengrin, and the harmonic luxury of the Siegfried Idyll. Westminster's single-mike recording process made its technology competitive with London and Mercury at the time, and the effects are still strong. Bloated, eccentric, personally mannered as Knappertsbusch can be, his art continues to generate a compelling fascination for acquired tastes.
SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D. 944; Overture to 'The Magic Harp,' D. 644/MENDELSSOHN: Scherzo from Octet, Op. 20/BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90; "Double" Concerto in A Minor, Op. 102
Alfredo Campoli, violin; Andre Navarra, cello
Sir John Barbirolli conducts Halle Orchestra
Dutton CDSJB 1020 62:51; 63:48 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
Another rewarding addition to the Sir John Barbirolli legacy from Dutton, in collaboration with the Barbirolli Society, with performances 1949-59, including Barbirolli's Brahms, a composer for whom he had a special affinity. Let me qualify my own predilections for Barbirolli and Brahms by stating that I never relished his piano concertos with Barenboim for EMI, which I find stodgy; and I know of no Violin Concerto with Sir John. The 1952 Brahms Third had lives on British and Ameircan (Bluebird) LP; as either BLP 1015 or LBC 1042, it had currency for its easy gait and length of melodic contour, a la Toscanini. No less able were Barbirolli's late-1960's traversals of Brahms with the Vienna Philharmonic, of which the E Minor Symphony remains one to acquire (or re-issue). The Double Concerto comes from 1959, and it features Andre Navarra, with whom Sir John likewise collaborated in the Elgar Concerto (available on Testament), as well as the reliable Alfredo Campoli, who had made the first inscription of the Arthur Bliss Violin Concerto (1955). Theirs is a rendition played for sweet breadth and affectionate music-making, much in the manner of the Fournier/Oistrakh rendition with Galleria.
New to the CD format are the "Rosamunde" Overture and the Scherzo from Mendelssohn's youthful Octet, performances of quick zest and many colors. Lyricism rather than heroism marks these breezy renditions; so, too, the Great Symphony from 1953 (likewise on Bluebird LP), again favoring the 'Italian' approach to the long line and the galloping rhythmic sway. Very different from Furtwaengler: listen to their respective approaches to the A Minor 'Andante con moto,' where Furtwaengler's climaxes explode, while Barbirolli's sing. A slight hint of a ritard marks the Schubert Scherzo, a reminiscence of the Mengelberg vision? By the last movement, Sir John has his Manchester ensemble in full swing, the woodwinds warbling and rollicking, a jolly good show. Important restorations for any Barbirolli devotee.
MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 29 in D Minor, K. 466/SCARLATTI: 11 Sonatas
Clara Haskil, piano/Winterthur Symphony Orchestra/Henry Swoboda
Westminster 289 471 214 2 68:44 (Distrib. Universal Music):
The re-emergence of the Westminster label on domestic CD (the Japanese outlets have been financially prohibitive) is a major coup for Universal: established 1949-1965, Westminster began as the brainchild of James Grayson, Mischa Naida, and conductor Henry Swoboda. Artists like Hermann Scherchen, Pierre Monteux, Artur Rodzinski, and Erica Morini made fascinating LP's for this label; besides the Vienna connection made many prime players from the Vienna State Opera and Vienna Philharmonic more widely available to the public for a reasonable price. Later, the connection with the British Nixa and Russian Melodiya labels intensified the Scherchen connection, as well as adding Sir Adrian Boult to the roster of eclectic artists, like Erich Leinsdorf , Nicolai Golovanov and Nathan Rachlin.
In this case, we are reunited with one of the most elusive of the Clara Haskil (1895-1960) LP's, her traversal of eleven Scarlatti sonatas from 1950, available on the budget "Collectors' Series" of Westminster. This is the strongest collection of Scarlatti Haskil did; there are occasional sonatas from her recitals in Ludwigsburg and Besancon. Her mastery of the various demands Scarlatti makes-fluid runs in thirds and sixths, cascading arpeggios, bold declamation followed by the softest of piano, lyric phrasing, imitation guitar riffs-all pour forth with seeming effortless artistry. Well sought are her renditions of the K. 132 C Major, with its haunted stops and starts, its elegiac scales, as well as the G Minor, K. 35, with its most diaphanous textures. The original Scarlatti LP ran only 38 minutes; the CD offers the September 1950 D Minor Concerto, a work Haskil played some 50 times, with conductors as wide-ranging as Fricsay, Paumgartner Schuricht, and Markevitch. This D Minor is a hard-driven, stormy affair, somewhat in the manner of the Gieseking/Rosbaud, but less glittery and more muscular. Haskil's first-movement cadenza (Busoni's?) is a veritable maelstrom of emotion, breathing hard. Even the finale, despite its modulation to D Major, never quite chases away the clouds. Good sound, strong performances, and the Scarlatti are restored, buried treasures.
GREAT CHORAL CLASSICS--Robert Shaw, cond/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Choruses--Telarc 80577:
Robert Shaw, who died in 1999, was America's greatest choral conductor. Over his long career, first with the Robert Shaw Chorale, then during his 20 years as Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Choruses, and finally with the Robert Shaw Festival Singers, he built one ensemble after another that was well-balanced and skillfully blended, singing with perfect intonation and great expressiveness. The 13 selections on this disc are drawn from the many recordings he made for Telarc during his tenure in Atlanta and range from Bach and Vivaldi to Poulenc and Bernstein, with Haydn, Schubert, Verdi, Dvorak, Brahms, Fauré, and Orff along the way. I've always found Shaw's interpretations somewhat bland, especially in big dramatic works like Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and the Verdi Requiem, but they're also thoughtful, sensitive to the music, and very beautiful; here that's the case for "Sing to God!" from Haydn's The Creation and Verdi's Te Deum. In music that requires a more measured and lyrical response, he's incomparable, for instance in the rapturous Kyrie from Schubert's Mass No. 2 and "Selig sind der Toten" from Brahms's German Requiem. The recorded sound is superb, as we have come to expect from Telarc. While many of the selections are mere snippets and you're better off listening to the complete works, everything on the disc is beautifully sung and will provide much pleasure.
Heinrich Neuhaus - CHOPIN: 7 Mazurkas; Barcarolle in F# Major; Berceuse in D-flat; 3 Nocturnes; Polonaise-Fantasie, Op. 61; Rondo in E-flat, Op. 16
Russian Piano School RCD 16248 71:05 (Distrib. Albany)
The name of Heinrich Neuhaus (1888-1964) survives mainly through his association with his great pupil Sviatoslav Richter; but Neuhaus was a force with whom to reckon in his own right, a poet of the piano whose work in Chopin, dating back to his genetic past (which on the mother's side was Polish, and Neuhaus a cousin of Karol Szymanowski) and his early boyhood, when he played Chopin in his youthful tours, 1897-1904. Neuhaus took his master's degree in music under the tutelage of Leopold Godowsky, another great interpreter and arranger of Chopin; Neuhaus graduation concerto was the composer's E Minor, in a1915 concert at the Petrograd Conservatory. If these were not credentials enough, all of Neuhaus' teaching tours (1916-18, 1922) included Chopin cycles.
This 'Talents of Russia' CD incorporates a group of Chopin works recorded 1946-1953, and the sound ranges from moderately passable to good. The playing, however, is exceptional, demonstrating a real flair for the style and what Chopinists call 'zal,' emotional sympathy and affection. The Mazurka in C# Minor, Op. 50, No. 3 is an excellent case in point: its constant alternation of the accent between beats two and three, its resistance to any easy formulation of its emotion, whether sanguine or melancholy, lead to infinite choices in nuance and phrasing. Compare Neuhaus to Rubinstein (or Kapell): now glib, now plaintive, now prosaic, now enthralled-the musical light keeps shifting in Chopin's ever-mercurial fashion. The big pieces, the Barcarolle and the Polonaise-Fantasie, cohere nicely, with Neuhaus accenting the early, often broken patterns of rhythm to adumbrate their triumphant development. The E-flat Rondo is a piece Horowitz recorded for CBS late in hi career (it has not resurfaced); Neuhaus has its eclectic form dancing at his fingertips, polished in a way that even Ashkenazy's superior sonics do not quite match. The B Minor Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 3 is a real find, given the kinds of shifting color Neuhaus provides. As with those in F Minor, Op. 55, No. 1 and the E Major, Op. 62, No. 2, one would do well to compare Rubinstein (there exists a wonderful photo of Rubinstein's visiting the sick-bed of the dying Neuhaus) or Cherkassky with this Russian's evocation of soul. A rare treat for the pianistically adventurous.
CHABRIER: L'Etoile--Ninon Vallin, sop/Lise Bratschi, sop/Hugues Cuenod, tenor/Ernest Ansermet, cond/Orchestre de la Suisse Romande -- Cascavelle 2013:
This wacky, black-humored operetta is a minor masterpiece, written by Chabrier in 1877 before he abandoned the law and turned full time to composing. Its silly plot concerns King Ouf the First, who customarily celebrates his birthday with a ritual impalement; a young peddler is picked as the victim, but an astrologer tells the King that the royal line will end with his death, since they share the same star. The score is vivacious and full of color, bubbling over with charming arias, with a splendid finale. The great Ninon Vallin is in excellent voice in the trousers role of the peddler and so is Cuenod as the King; both of them are notable examples of French vocal style at its best. Ansermet keeps all the buffoonery as effervescent as champagne. Unfortunately, there is no libretto and the notes say nothing about the work itself, so in spite of the superb diction of the singers and narrator (Bernard Berthet), much of the humor will be missed by non-French listeners--but the music is so delightful that it's worth hearing anyway. There used to be a good recording led by Gardiner, but it's long been out of print. The sound of this 1941 recording is somewhat dated, but it's likely to set the standard for this work for a long time to come.
BERLIOZ: The Damnation of Faust, Op. 24
Franz Vroons, tenor
Hans Hotter, bass
Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano
Alois Pernerstorfer, tenor
Wilhelm Furtwaengler conducts Orchestra and Chorus, Lucerne Festival
Urania URN 22.173 (2 Cds) 67:28; 77:45 (Distrib. Qualiton):
Recorded live at the Lucerne Festival on August 26, 1950, this document captures conductor Wilhelm Furtwaengler (1886-1954) in the act of presenting a 'dramatic hybrid,' Berlioz' strange adaptation (aka oratorio) of the old Faust legend, a la Goethe (sung in German), with its awkward transpositions to Hungarian battlefields and its inflated pathos, having Faust seek arcane wisdom while bleating sheepishly for Marguerite's approval. The microphone placement and technical restrictions on the recording do not help: occasional flutter, pitch variation, and a tubby bass all tend to distort the orchestral tissue; the emphasis is forward, on the singers, at great cost (as in the Voices of Pandemonium and the Ride to the Abyss, so pointed under Munch and Monteux) to the wonderful colors of Berlioz' orchestration.
I know nothing of Franz Vroons, tenor. His singing (as is virtually true for all these vocalists) feels uncomfortable in this role; his tessitura seems low, more of a high baritone, but without the lyric breadth in the middle voice that makes a characterizaton sympathetic and memorable. Schwarzkopf has one really fine moment in her Part Three aria on th King of Thule, a really soaring sense of grand style. The many orchestral sequences, of which the Will o'the Wisps, the Dance of the Sylphs, and the Hungarian March are famous, tend to be heavy and distantly recorded. Hans Hotter may well be miscast in this treatment: I better recall Justino Diaz in a loving account under Robert Shaw. There is virtually no delight in the performance, no sense of malicious irony or what the Germans call "schadenfreude" in his characterization. Solid singing, though. The entire result is ponderous and heavy; rife with metaphysical significance, perhaps, the vision sinks under its own weight. Furtwaengler devotees need not be daunted; every nuance of the Master demands a collector. If the original tapes of this issue are available, I'd like to hear them, just to clear the mud from the building. A mixed blessing, at best, this 'Damnation.'
Heinrich Schlusnus in Opera
Heinrich Schlusnus, baritone
Richard Strauss, piano
Uncredited Orchestras and Conductors
Nimbus Prima Voce NI 7907 76:07 (Distrib. Allegro)
Among the great 'Berlin' baritones of the last century stands Heinrich Schlusnus (1888-1952), noted for his contributions to the Verdi revival in Germany in the late 1920's, as well as his prominence in Mahler lieder. A former postal-worker with a penchant for singing, Schlusnus came to the attentions of conductors Robert Heger and Clemens Krauss, each of whom employed Schlusnus for work with the Berlin State Opera. Schlusnus became associated with several key roles: Wolfram in Tannhauser and Amfortas in Parsifal; and after 1920 a broad range of Verdi roles: Rigoletto, Don Carlos,
and Iago. His Figaro from Rossini was much admired, as it showed his 'Kavalier Bariton' capacities for spinto and buffo characterizations. Schusnus' brilliant lieder career (some 2000 performances spread out over 20 years, 1918-38) earned him renown as "the German Battistini." His last appearance was as Germont in La Traviata, Koblenz 1951.
The Nimbus compilation gives us 15 opera excerpts 1919-1925, plus six Strauss songs recorded with the composer's accompaniment, 1919-20. The acoustic recordings have extremely limited orchestral timbre; the harp is used extensively to set off Schlusnus' cantilena, and this proves sonically acceptable and ingratiating. In one aria, "Mira d'acerbe. . .Contende il giubilo," (Trovatore) Frida Leider assists, and the effect is quite poignant and exciting, with rapid, florid passagework alternating with fervid declamations of self-sacrifice on the part of Leonora. Annotators have occasionally criticized Schlusnus in his bottom voice, but the selections here do not betray much of a weakness either in timbre or projection. Dappertutto's aria from Tales of Hoffmann has a serpentine melodic line that climaxes on a two G-sharps, splendidly realized. The French language is all rendered in German; but there is little loss of melodic fluency: the Toreador's Song starts off nervously but achieves a swagger easily comparable to Tibbett in his best moments. For Schlusnus' capacity in mezzo-voce, try his ominous "Era la notte" from Otello, Act II, where the allusions to Desdemona's handkerchief suggest a wispiness all their own, a real 'tissue of lies.' For something of Schlusnus' sheer breadth of characterization, I suggest two excellent examples: his 1925 "Bella siccome un angelo" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale, exhibiting some astounding shades of vocal timbre and a soaring G; and the period-piece Marschner's "An jenem Tag" from Hans Heiling, where Ssclusnus must dextrously balance a desire for redemption with an unsubtle threat to his romantic interest. The vocal beauties of the Strauss group will speak for themselves.
- Gary Lemo
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