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CLASSICAL CD REISSUES    June 2001
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Celibadache set

MONTEVERDI: Vespro Della Beata Virgine

Miriam Stewart, soprano
Dorothy Clark, contralto
William Miller, tenor
Bruce Foote, baritone
Paul Pettinga, organ
Oratorio Society Chorus/University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra
Leopold Stokowski, conductor

REDISCOVERY 016 57:38

In a conversation with tenor Gerard Souzay, I asked him if he had had the pleasure of working with Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977), the flamboyant, if occasionally garish, conductor of Romantic temperament. "Indeed," asserted Souzay, with obvious affection, "Stokowski and I mounted a performance of Monteverdi's Orfeo outside of Paris in the

late 1950's. And let me say, at the outset, that it was remarkably 'pure' in conception, with authentic instruments and as many of the stylistic details required by Monteverdi's performance-practice as we thought within the taste and patience of the audience." So the association of Monteverdi and Stokowski is not a fluke, and not merely another in the RCA-type of early-music marketings Stokowski did of arranged music for strings with lush harmonizations.

This 1952 inscription of Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers (Magnificat) music comes at a time when the work was receiving attention in New York (under Cantelli) as well; each uses around 40 voices in the choir and an orchestral arrangement for modern instruments by Ghedini. The original concert featured music by Riegger and Beethoven, and the Dean of the Illinois University School of Music tried to induce RCA to record it for commercial release. The University wound up producing the LP version on its own: it has a tight, compressed quality of sound that one might interpret as 'restraint,' but some lovely individual moments, like those of the solo flute and the celli ensembles. The rather tricky and florid rhythms of the work are well handled by the chorus: the taxing organ entries by Paul Pettinga are mostly on cue. I am only mildly enthusiastic about the singers: I find contralto Clark's part harsh and metallic. I rather enjoy tenor Miller. Several of the large ensembles are quite devotional; and they have a hushed, reverent aura that adumbrates what EMI would achieve a generation later under Willcocks.

By the way, this Rediscovery CD is a product of the former Leopold Stokowski Society of America, working with independents out of Dearborn, Michigan. Interested collectors should check their URL for a complete list of reissues, which include revitalized Command Classics LP's and Westminster LP's, featuring conductors Scherchen, Leibowitz, Steinberg, and more Stokowski. Packaging is minimal, but the musical rewards great.

-Gary Lemco

Sergiu Celibidache: Berlin Concerts, 1946-47

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Berlin Radio-Symphony Orchestra

Music and Arts CD-1079 (4) 73:26; 74:20; 75:33; 78:52 (Distrib. Koch)

These discs recapture, in a large measure, the startling sensation Sergiu Celibidache's appearance in Berlin while the fates of the orchestra and its permanent conductor Wilhelm Furtwaengler were in abeyance. Celibidache had led the Soviet division of the Berlin Radio, and he was agreeable to those forces who wanted a 'virgin" or political neutral so far the war had been concerned. The sudden death of Leo Borchard accelerated the need for an interim leader for the Berlin Philharmonic, and Celibidache rose to the occasion with strong ideas on repertory, both new to the orchestra and those old pieces he would remodel in his own, imaginative image.

Much of this material has been available in alternative CD label formats, including Nuovo Era (2301/02) and Tahra, the latter whose set Celibidache: Philharmonie de Berlin (TAH 376/77, distrib. Harmonia Mundi) offers a lovely booklet and essay on the subject of Celibidache, as well as the Haydn, 94th, Brahms 4th, Till Eulenspiegel, Prokofiev 1st, Beethoven Leonore No. 3, and Debussy Fetes. The present set from Music and Arts gives us in addition: Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture, Britten Sinfonia da Requiem, Gliere Concerto for Coloratura Soprano (Erna Berger) and Orchestra, Debussy La Mer, Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Overture, Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B Minor (with de Machula), Prokofiev 2nd Suite from his Romeo and Juliet ballet, and Busoni's Berceuse elegiaque, Op. 42. The Tahra set does gives us Jeux by Debussy (March 20, 1948) that had been on Nuovo Era, along with Tchaikovsky's "Little Russian" Symphony, Stravinsky's Jeu de Cartes, and the Bizet C Major Symphony. The reprocessed sound in the Music and Arts and Tahra sets is, given its RRG sources, spectacular, while the Novo Era is scratchy and distant.

Celibidache emerges as an artist of distinct, even bizarre, temperament. An example of the latter is his November 20, 1946 "Fetes," from the Trois Nocturnes, paced so slowly and with such menace that some listeners may mistake it for an unknown piece. The Dvorak with de Machula (who had played Schumann with Furtwaengler) is a solid, heated rendition, one of several Celibidache performed in this period, with at least another from 1948 with Fournier. Erna Berger provides a light, thoroughly fluent vocalise in Gliere's airy Concerto; why the piece is spread over two sides (when simply switching it, respectively, with the Busoni would have sufficed) is a mystery Music and Arts' packaging person must solve.

The Brahms 4th, the Haydn 94th, the Strauss and the Beethoven are very much in the Great German Tradition, each with something of Furtwaengler's broadness of design, deliberate tempos, and thorough attention to matters of orchestral detail, including some strong articulation of accents in the fugal, stretto section of the Leonore No. 3. The Roman Carnival is quite dark in color; it may have been influenced by Victor de Sabata's 1940's readings in Trieste. The Tchaikovsky Romeo (from March 25, 1946) already has the long, leisurely exposition and lushness of rhetoric that Celibidache would echo 40 years later in Munich. The Prokofiev Symphony, his Romeo, and the Debussy La Mer are slicker in design, more of Toscanini (if her were to do Romeo) and the later Solti. Some of the individual pieces from the ballet, like 'The Montagues and Capulets' and 'Romeo at Juliet's Grave' are pesant, heavy-treaded moments that are panting thickly, a la Stokowski. If anything, these inscriptions (again, like the Fetes) show how responsive the Berlin players could be even when confronted by unorthodox readings. Certainly the appearance of what some critics regard as Busoni's most perfect score, his highly chromatic Berceuse elegique (with the Radio-Symphony Orchestra) from a concert July 24, 1945, demonstrates a degree of nuance and rhythmic subtlety unique for the period. Celibidache championed Busoni's D Major Violin Concerto (with Siegfried Borries, concertmaster) during this period as well, and it has been preserved on both Fonit Cetra and Urania (URN 102, distrib. Qualiton).

There were something like 170 pieces performed by Celibidache and Berlin Philharmonic in the 1945-50 period, so the potential of more fruit from this fascinating tree still exists. Let the restorations continue, and may collectors hie to these gardens of variegated delights!

­Gary Lemco

HAYDN: Cello Concertos in C Major and D Major/BOCCHERINI: Cello Concerto in B-flat Major

Jacqueline du Pre, cello
Sir John Barbirolli conducts London Symphony Orchestra (Haydn D Major)Daniel Barenboim conducts English Chamber Orchestra

EMI 7243 66948 2 8 78:43:

Another of the "Great Recordings of the Century," this disc celebrates the artistry of cello virtuoso Jacqueline du Pre (1945-1987), the enormously gifted prodigy, pupil of Tortelier, Rostropovich and (to a degree) Casals. I have a distinct memory of her playing in Casals' master class on educational TV and his hearty response, "You are ready," meaning it was time for the 16-year-old to play professionally and independently. The unbridled passion she brought to her chosen repertory always generated considerable heat, and these performances of 'classical' music are elegant and fiery, and the sound is refurbished in glorious colors.

Du Pre's marriage in 1966 to pianist-conductor Barenboim proved an enormously fruitful collaboration: some collectors consider their partnership in the Elgar Concerto (with the Chicago Symphony) one of the great landmark inscriptions of the era. Both the 1967 Haydn C Major and the Boccherini exhibit the clarity, polish and precise intonation we expect from du Pre, but there is no shortage of rhythmic bite and elan in ensemble. The 1969 D Major is serenity itself, simply radiating musical self-possession. For another unique look at the wonderful, tragically fated artist (she succumbed to MS), do try the revival of her Dvorak Concerto with the legendary Sergiu Celibidache on DG (469 069-2) from Stockholm 1967 with the Swedish Radio Symphony. Du Pre remains the Princess Diana of Music, a lovely moment in art whose every note of music (and this seems true for Lipatti as well) finds immediate reverence in listeners' hearts.

--Gary Lemco

BEETHOVEN: Sextet in E-flat, Op. 81b/SCHUBERT: Auf dem Strom, Op. 119/MOZART: Divertimento No. 14 in B-flat/HAYDN: Horn Concerto No. 1/COOKE: Arioso and Scherzo/IBERT: Trois pieces breves/MILHAUD: LA Cheminee du Roi Rene, Op. 205

Dennis Brain, horn
English String Quartet (Beethoven), Peter Pears, tenor (Schubert)
Leo Wurmser cond. BBC Midland Orchestra (Haydn), Carter String Trio (Cooke); Noel Newton-Wood and George Malcolm, piano

BBC BBCL 4066-2 78:29 (Distrib. Koch):

This most happy disc celebrates the ever-youthful art of Dennis Brain (1921-1957), perhaps the greatest exponent of the French horn ever to come out of Britain (or anywhere else). Old timers who remember Dave Garroway's hosting the "Today" Show may recall a tired Dennis Brain, after an evening of late-night "partying and spaghetti,"throwing off cascades of sound, roulades and scales, as if it were an effortless lark ofnature. Collectors have their Mozart concertos with Karajan (and a couple with Susskind and Galliera), the Strauss concertos (with Sawallisch), the Hindemith, and the occasional chamber ensemble records with Gieseking and the Philharmonia or Dennis Brain Wind Quintet. The orchestral connoisseur relishes those moments with Beecham's conducting the Berlioz 'Royal Hunt and Storm' from The Trojans (in ever-slower tempos, to throw Brain off, which never happened) and Toscanini's 1952 cycle of Brahms symphonies with Dennis in the major horn solos. At least one semi-private LP showed up in the late 1980's of the Brahms Horn Trio, a staple of Dennis' father, Aubrey. That same LP had Dennis announcing one encore by Marin Marais, "the shortst piece I know," quipped Dennis.

These BBC inscriptions range 1953 (Schubert) to 1957 (Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Ibert, Cooke), with the rest from 1955. They are deft and often dazzling performances, of which the Haydn D Major Concerto is particularly welcome. Schubert's accompanied song "Auf dem Strom" had at least one other performance with tenor Richard Lewis, for those that find the Pears timbre nasally tinny. The long, sensuous melody Dennis weaves renders Rellstab's mealy text even more innocuous. In an arrangement by Anthony Baines, the Mozart Divertimento, K. 270 used to form a regular opener for the Dennis Brain Wind Quintet, with Baines himself at the keyboard, a real delight. Brain had given the world premier of Cook'e Arioso and Scherzo in 1955; it is a tight, well-constructed piece somewhat in the manner of Hindemith, but with more melos. The Ibert and Milhaud works are totally ingratiating: Milhaud's is a suite in 'olden style,' an invocation of Medievalism and 15th Century courtly dances. The Ibert is his frivolous, pert and witty self. Finally, Beethoven's Op. 81b (complement to the Les Adieux Sonata) Sextet in E-flat, with Alan Civil on the second horn, who was to succeed Dennis at the Philharmonia and record the Mozart concertos with Klemperer. The virtuosity of this small double-concerto is not to be missed, especially the hunting-horn cascades in the last-movement Rondo. The disc ends with a small talk by Dennis Brain on the virtues of the older French horn, with examples, one in particular from Benjamin Britten's Serenade. A must CD for the collector of instrumental wizards.

-Gary Lemco

Arthur Grumiaux: The Boston Recordings

Paul Ulanowsky, piano/Gregory Tucker, piano

Parnassus PACD 96028 67:40 (Distrib. Qualiton):

Leslie Gerber and Steven Smolian have resurrected two of the more elusive recordings of Belgian violin virtuoso Arthur Grumiaux (1921-1986), whose smooth elegance won American audiences from 1952 to the end of his career. Grumiaux was long associated with the great Gallic tradition, but he made excursions into Paganini's Fourth Concerto and into much Mozart, particularly as accompanied by the legendary Clara Haskil.Horn player James Stagliano founded Boston Records, and the label produced several items of interest, featuring artists like Paul Wittgenstein, Arthur Grumiaux, and Jorge Bolet. The eight pieces on this merger of two Boston LP's (B 202/203) derive from 1951-52 sessions made around the time of Grumiaux's first American tour. To hear Grumiaux in the Debussy Sonata with Paul Ulanowsky (famed for collaborations with Lotte Lehmann) is a decidedly rare privilege; but so, too, is the union of Grumiaux with MIT's emeritus musician Gregory Tucker, with whom he plays Mozart's Sonatas in G (K. 301) and E Minor (K. 304).

Grumiaux's program begins with a Milstein staple, the Chaconne from Bach's D Minor Partita, played with aplomb and a beautifully proportioned sense of line. Grumiaux went on to record all the Sonatas and Partitas for Philips; but as a precursor of his mature style, this record serves as an excellent vehicle, announcing a major talent with ideas of his own. The little Fiocco 'Allegro' is Grumiaux's homage to a fellow countryman. The two Mozart sonatas, again, have their mature visions in the Grumiaux-Haskil collaborations some five years hence; these are precious, neatly etched readings with light fingers. Boston 203 featured the Ulanowsky session, with Bartok's 6 Roumanian Dances and the Ravel Habanera and Tzigane filling out the angular meditations of the Debussy G Minor Sonata. Ravel's Tzigane is quicksilver grace, lightening-fast and without a blemish. To call Grumiaux a 'smooth operator' trivializes his deeper gifts, but the agility of his fingers demands its due!

-Gary Lemco

ELGAR: Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85/DVORAK: Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104

Andre Navarra, cello
Sir John Barbirolli conducts Halle Orchestra (Elgar)
Rudolf Schwarz conducts National Symphony Orchestra (Dvorak)

Testament SBT 1204 64:54 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

Biarritz-born Andre Navarra (1911-1988) was among a triad of fine, basically Gallic cellists to emerge as dominant musicians after the heyday of Casals and Feuermann, the two others being Paul Tortelier and Pierre Fournier. One might easily add the names of Milos Sadlo and Ludwig Hoelscher to the pantheon of illustrious cellists active 1940-1985. Given that Navarra recorded the Elgar Concerto with John Barbirolli in 1957, it is tempting to compare this resonant but relatively, rhythmically severe treatment with the free-wheeling, romantic approach Barbirolli took later with Jacqueline DuPre. That later inscription aspires to a theatrical monumentality absent in the Navarra reading, where the orchestral accompaniment remains light and gossamer, less portentous than nobly vigorous. Barbirolli, of course, was associated with the Elgar Concerto virtually from its inception, and he lavishes no end of fine detail in the winds and strings, providing a svelt singing line to Navarra's often soaring heights of expression.

The same straightforwardness of approach informs the 1954 Dvorak Concerto, here accompanied by Rudolf Scharz (1905-1994), an able conductor known for his Mahler and Liszt, as well as having accompanied artists like Myra Hess. Navarra manages really lovely playing here, as in the Elgar, and no less gripping moments of ravishing display work. Less prone to distort the rhythm and the phrasing in order to make 'visceral' emotional appeals, a la Rostropovich's post-1960's interpretations, Navarra's tries to achieve 'meaning' through a touch of vibrato, a wisp of extra--or less--bow pressure. Clearly, the influence is that Gallic admonition 'nothing in excess.' Testament remasterings by Paul Baily are exeedingly clean, and once or twice the last movements of both Elgar and Dvorak had me hopping. Solid, good-show music-making. Recommended.

-Gary Lemco

BACH (arr. Busoni): Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, BWV 1052/LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat/BARTOK: Piano Concerto No. 3

Dinu Lipatti, piano
Eduard van Beinum conds. Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam (Bach)Ernest Ansermet conds. Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (Liszt)Paul Sacher conds. Orchestra of the Southwest Radio (Bartok)

EMI 7243 67572 2 69:39:

Another in the recent glut of reissues dedicated to the Roumanian piano legend Dinu Lipatti (1917-1950), this EMI disc compiles three post-War inscriptions that each have had some history in re-release. The most circulated performance is the 1947 Bach Concerto, having had an early incarnation (on CD) with Jecklin; a more recent vintage, worth acquiring if one doesn't have the EMI versions, is on IDI (IDIS 341, via Qualiton), which includes Lipatti's Bach solo piano recordings from 1941 Budapest up to his British-studio Partita in B-flat and chorale pieces from July, 1950. Sound is good, except in the Budapest and Amsterdam inscriptions, which are scratchy and betray occasional flutter.

The EMI Bach cleans up some of the sound, but crackle and wobble still persist. The performance, derived from a radio broadcast (also available on an extended "Q" set from Radio Holland), has moments of exquisite brilliance, and Lipatti's ability to weave through Bach slow movements makes the G Minor Larghetto unforgettable. The Bartok Concerto from Baden-Baden, 1948 has appeared on Tahra 366/367 (distrib. Harmonia Mundi) and has been already reviewed by me. This edition is clean, but the distant sound is still a factor. Lipatti's style is crisp, laconic, and understated. The orchestral contribution is less than luminary, with occasional miscues and shaky intonation. Still, any unpublished concerto recording with Lipatti becomes cultural gold. Finally, the Liszt E-flat, the concerto with which Lipatti made his Bucharest debut in 1933. Distant sound and noisy surfaces notwithstanding, the performance is far too elegant for my taste: it has a Heifetz-like sophistication that simply over-civilizes the juice out of it. Give me the fires of Richter and Cziffra every time. Still, the Bach and Bartok more than compensate, and Lipatti never ceases to evoke wonder at his aristocratic temperament and technique.

-Gary Lemco

Shura Cherkassky: The Historic 1940s Recordings

Ivory Classics 72003 73:23; 67:42 (Distrib. Naxos):

This happy set reinstates some of the more elusive recordings by a no less elusive artist, Russian-American pianist Shura Cherkassky (1909-1995), that mercurial, Cheshire Cat of the keyboard, who delighted in adding intriguing colors to familiar pieces, and who relished introducing a wide-ranging series of programs to his acolytes. The real curios from this restoration-with dreamy, quiet surfaces from Ed Thompson and Victor Ledin-are the shellacs from the Swedish Cupol label of music by Gould, Poulenc, Liszt, Chopin and Rachmaninov, including the Liszt Gnomenreigen Etude the calling-card Polka de W.R.of Rachmaninov. No specific recording dates are given, but I assume the range of dates to be 1942 to 1949, including two sets of Vox records that provide the big Brahms F Minor Sonata, four Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies and pieces by Shostakovich (two preludes, Op. 34), and a host of miniatures by Liadov, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Rebikov, Khachaturian, Glinka, Scriabin and Medtner. The remaining pieces (Saint-Saens, Chaminade, Liszt) derive from Electrola and HMV sources and include a Chopin group of two mazurkas, two impromptus, two etudes, the Fantasie, Op. 49, and the "Heroic" Polonaise.

While it is impossible to review each of the 32 pieces in this set, a few highlights will suffice. Cherkassky always remains a Russian at heart: his lessons with Josef Hofmann only concentrated his ability to color chords and scales in the manner of his teacher, with diaphanous distribution of finger pressure and application of pedal. The Op. 9 Prelude for the Left Hand of Scriabin makes the case for Cherkassky's innate sympathy for the erotic and the neurotic in music. The Brahms F Minor is a uniform conception, big in design and poetical in its Schumannesque Andante espressivo. Biddulph has released Cherkassky's early Cello Sonata by Rachmaninov (with Marcel Hubert, cello), and this set makes an excellent complement. His Saint-Saens Prelude and Fugue from Op. 90 has verve and a thoroughly free motor-rhythm that serves just as well in Gould's Boogie-Woogie Etude, recorded while the work was still a fresh invention for Jose Iturbi! Prokofiev's Suggestion diabolique is edgy and cruel; someone should reinstate Cherkassky's G Minor Concerto he did for HMV. All of the Liszt Rhapsodies, especially the D-flat No. 6, have what the Germans call schwung or that gypsy lilt that many aspire to but few catch, a la Bolet and Byron Janis. All of the Chopin is idiomatic and rhythmically free: the Fantasie-Impromptu always had crisp, thoughtful readings from Cherkassky. The D Major Mazurka, Op. 33, No. 3 is perfect. The Shostakovich C-sharp Minor Prelude is a real find. So many treasures, so little time! Buy it.

-Gary Lemco

FRANCK: Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 14/FAURE: Piano Quintet No. 2 in C minor, Op. 115

Vlado Perlemuter, piano & Quatour Parrenin

INA Memoire Vive IMV003 67:10 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)

Now retired but still acting as a musical resource and mentor, Vlado Perlemuter (b. 1904) is among the last of the 'golden age' pianists, an exact contemporary of Horowitz and Serkin, and himself the beneficiary of the pedagogy of Moszkowski, Cortot, Ravel and Faure. There exists a major source of Perlemuter's repertory on the Nimbus label, for which he recorded Faure, Ravel and Chopin in the 1970's. I first heard him on Vox, playing the two Ravel concertos with Horenstein. Like Cortot, Perlemuter favors the phrase over the long line, and his technique, again like le maitre, is not always note-perfect. But his is a rounded, sensuous tone, and his playing is virtually free of mannerism. Stylistically adept, Perlemuter and the Parrenin Quartet (I recall a Franck Quartet issued on the old Westminster LP label) capture the fin de siecle atmosphere of these two Gallic chamber music staples with an authenticity hard to match.

These performances derive from studio recordings made 1966-67, and the recorded sound is quite polished, with balances favoring a 'symphonic' sound of ensemble. The 1880 Franck Quintet, a passionate piece inspired by Franck's affection for a pupil, Augusta Holmes, still conveys a furor in its tempestuous, even scandalous, evolution. Alternately plaintive and demonized, the piece surges with life; Perlemuter and Parrenin often conspire to make it a rhapsody and a moody, intimate violin sonata. The last movement's galloping crescendi could have provided soundtrack for Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. The Faure comes off, comparatively, as an eminently 'civilized' piece, ethereal, poetic, contrapuntal, and eerily modal. This is music to be heard through a reading of Proust; the Franck requires Baudelaire. The Faure has its passions, but they are subdued, covered by veiled smiles at the follies of life. There is much wisdom, musical and worldly, in these performances, and I suggest their acquisition by the discerning collector.

-Gary Lemco

ALYABIEV: Piano Trio; Piano Quintet; Sonata for Violin and Piano

Emil Gilels, piano
Beethoven String Quartet (Quintet; )Dmitri Tziganov, violin (Trio, Sonata); Sergei Shirinsky, cello (Trio)

DOREMI DHR-7755 49:40 (Distrib. Allegro)

The second in DOREMI's survey of historic chamber-music recordings by Emil Gilels (1916-1985), this CD reinstates records made 1947 (Trio) to 1951 (Sonata), the one-movement Quintet's having been inscribed 1949. For those who know only the great pianist's 1970's ensemble work with the Amadeus String Quartet, these early recordings, in more than acceptable sound, testify to a thoroughly familiar ease of performance-practice between Gilels and the leader of the Beethoven Quartet, Dmitri Tziganov.

The music of Alexander Alyabiev (1787-1851) always comes as a pleasant surprise. I am tempted to call him "the Russian Hummel," because of his dextrous, swift keyboard passagework and his lyrical approach to sonata-form. There are moments of Mozart, moments of Schubert, always graceful, and with a pre-Romantic ethos that one could mistake for the early efforts of Felix Mendelssohn. The composer's life was infinitely more fiery than this music: like Gesualdo, Alyabiev was convicted of homicide and spent some time in Tobolsk. Prior to this disc of chamber muisic, I only knew him by transcriptions of "The Nightingale" played by Cherkassky or Cziffra. The two minor-key pieces, the Trio and the Violin Sonata, while not exactly 'sturm und drang,' have something of a passionate ardor in fits and starts. Tziganov's tone is quite broad and deep, verging on a viola's resonance. I can only imagine what he and Gilels might have made of Beethoven's "Kreutzer'" Sonata.

-Gary Lemco

ARRAU--The Early Years: Music by BALAKIREV, BUSONI, CHOPIN, DEBUSSY, LISZT, SCHUBERT, SCHUMANN, STRAVINSKY--Claudio Arrau, p--Marston 52023 (2 CDs):

These performances, recorded between 1921 and 1939, will be a revelation to those who know Arrau's playing only from the turgid recordings of his last years, and perhaps even to those who are familiar with his work in his prime. They don't have quite the emotional depth and intensity or the burnished tone colors that came later, but they display a winning youthful exuberance, musicality, and technical mastery. The interpretations are highly individual and altogether persuasive, well thought out in every respect. His Liszt is particularly notable, with fast tempos, effortless virtuosity, majestic chordal structures, and a lovely singing bel canto line in lyrical passages; Jeux d'eaux is a special joy, more gracefully liquescent than any version I know. Carnaval is bold and forthright, with not quite enough differentiation among episodes, but Islamey is played almost as fast and with much more musical insight than Barere's famous version. The sound is generally good, as you would expect from Marston transfers. This release offers truly great playing and belongs in every pianophile's collection.

- Alex Morin

Rubinstein plays BRAHMS: Piano Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 5; Capriccio in B Minor, Op. 76, No. 2; Intermezzo in B-flat, Op. 117, No. 2; 3 Rhapsodies

RCA 09026-63021-2 60:07:

The music of Brahms figured deeply in the Rubinstein sensibility, with his having studied with Joachim and playing even the big variations on Handel anf Paganini, which Rubinstein dropped from his repertory prior to any recording. I recall owning a set of 78 rpm discs devoted to Brahms's piano pieces with Rubinstein that included moving accounts from Opp. 76, 79, 118 and 119. Volume 21 from "The Rubinstein Collection" gives us his first inscription (1949) of the F Minor Sonata, and a group of small works taped over the course of a week in August, 1953.

The big work, the F Minor Sonata, receives its first Rubinstein incarnation (LM 1187, OP); Rubinstein would record it again in the early 1960's in more open, richer sound. I have only heard this immense piece in 'live' recital once, by Jorge Bolet. It relies heavily on Schumann, especially in the second movement, a kind of nocturne marked by obsessive sequences. The third movement is a rare instance of a genuine Brahms scherzo, where Rubinstein displays a restrained use of pedal. The last sections attempt something like a 'cyclic' return to earlier materials, and it is easy to hear the influence of Beethoven in relatively young Brahms. Along with the two Rubinstein versions of this piece, the other classic from the period belongs to Solomon, who holds the reins on this often slap-dash work even tighter.

Brahms called his late piano works old bachelor music," and they combine the character-piece with a decided introspective turn. Despite the romantic tendency to 'rhapsodize,' even those pieces remain, ironically, in sonata-form. Rarely could Brahms drop the leash on his emotions, and there is a wistful sadness permeating intermezzos and capriccios, like the rainy-day mood of the Op. 117, No. 2. I like Rubinstein's way with the B Minor and G Minor Rhapsodies, Op. 79; he does not rush the G Minor, and the E-flat from Op. 119 has a rolling pomposity that has the natural benefit of bon vivant Rubinstein's temperament. A recommended installment from Rubinstein's staggering legacy.

-Gary Lemco

R. STRAUSS: Four Last Songs/WAGNER: Wesendonk-Lieder

Jessye Norman, soprano
Kurt Masur conducts Gewandhaus Leipzig Orchestra (Strauss)Sir Colin Davis conducts London Symphony Orchestra (Wagner)

Philips 289 264 742-2 47:55

Culled from two albums cut in 1975 (Wagner) and 1983 (Strauss), this addition to the "50 Great Recordings" series has an exalted voice in the 1948 Four Last Songs, a version competitive with many of the great, classic interpretations: Schwarzkopf/Ackermann (with Dennis Brain's melting horn solos); Popp/Tennstedt; Schwarzkopf/Szell; Schwarzkopf/Karajan; Gueden/Boehm; Janowitz/Celibidache. I recall a moving performance by Heather Harper with the late Rudolf Kempe in New York. Ever since its initial performance with Flagstad and Furtwaengler (in preserved but shoddy sound), this piece has providing a lachrymose and valedictory vehicle for the composer's farewell to the song-cycle form he loved so well and so admired in Mahler. Strauss had only one more song to write, "Malven," which only appeared in the 1990's.

No less moving is Norman's easy command of Wagner's 1858 Wesendonk Lieder, with their obvious adumbrations of Tristan. Norman can pivot on a high C with no effort; she has a deep chest tone when she wants it. The onrush of energy and anxiety she brings to "Stehe still!" is quite breath-taking. My only quibble with any of this high-energy musicianship is that there is simply not enough of it. The original Philips LP of the Strauss had 6 Orchestral Songs on the flip side, including a real tour de force in the Strauss "Wegenlied" (words by Dehmel), a performance even smoother than the classic rendition by Elisabeth Schumann (and a sensually opulent accompaniment by Masur). So, where are they? At 47 minutes, this is a short portion of what could have been a super buy.

-Gary Lemco

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