Classical CD Reissues, Part 2
for June 2002
SATIE: L'uvre pour piano (5 discs). Aldo Ciccolini. EMI Classics 5 74534 2:
I've been waiting for this re-release a long time. Recorded from 1967 to 1971, Aldo Ciccolini's interpretation of most of Satie's piano music is, as the Brits say, "spot on." Satie's deceptively simple melodies demand style--but not too much--and idiosyncrasy--but just a dollop. Otherwise you end up with a self-conscious and disappointing collection like Jean-Pierre Armengaud's sporadic renditions (Mandala MAN 4975/79), which I reviewed last year. Even Ciccolini's interpretation of "En habit de cheval," a piece normally done with two pianists but in this case overdubbed, commands vast amazement. His take on "Sports et divertissments" is filled with playful wit and abrupt surprises.
As I listened to "Chapitres tournés en tous sens" I felt like I was hearing it for the first time. Other performers often have trouble respecting its delicate shadings and dips of melancholy. "Embryons deséchés" (love that nasty title) features Ciccolini's quirky sense of rubato and mock solemnity. "Trois Sarabandes" may represent Satie's "wallpaper music" at its best, but it reminds me of indolent afternoons on the coast of Nice sipping l'eau minerale. Of course Ciccolini is not content to repeat the flamboyance of others when he approaches the warhorses. "Trois Gymnopedies" is quiet and delicate, with subtle variations among the pieces that many performers overlook. And the "Trois Gnossiennes!" Ciccolini is not too heavy on the pedal with these either. His refined rendition is like a tour through a museum of glass flowers. He is the guide inducing us to linger over some exhibits more than others, and never do we have the sense that he is rushing us. I have only touched on the contents of this splendid five-disc set. One of Satie's cryptic instructions, "arm yourself with clairvoyance," is truly heeded by Ciccolini. Five stars.
Josef Hofmann - BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58/CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11
Josef Hofmann, piano
Dimitri Mitropoulos conducts NY Philharmonic (Beethoven)
Sir John Barbirolli conducts NY Philharmonic (Chopin)
Urania URN 22.208 64:02 (Distrib. Qualiton):
Perhaps possessing the purist piano mechanism ever known, Josef Hofmann (1876-1957) made relatively few commercial recordings; when he did record, he gravitated to a small clutch of miniatures and color pieces, rarely even to a full-length sonata. So the addition of two concertos, even from 'pirate' sources, comes as a welcome display (despite some pre-and post-echo) of the pianist's awesome prowess: his unwavering sense of rhythm, his uncanny degrees of nuance and transparent color, the ferocity of his octaves, the delicacy of pianissimo, the security of his singing line. The Chopin Concerto from March 13, 1938 is the natural vehicle for all of Hofmann's virtues, with its soaring abandon, its infinite panache. Barbirolli keeps the orchestral tissue minimal, giving Hofmann the same license conductors afforded Heifetz. The sound reproduction is quite good, except for some 20 seconds of bad surface swish in the last pages of the third movement.
The Beethoven Fourth provides some indication of Hofmann's limits as a musician-not as a technician-in music that demands a different aesthetic than a merely virtuoso sense of color. The concert derives from a broadcast of August 22, 1943, with Mitropoulos' exerting a strong discipline on the thematic line. Hofmann is in a more rhetorical mood, though his playing still has immaculate octaves, runs and roulades. The dreamy, poetical sensibility finds itself under artificial restraints, and the tension is palpable. Despite some crackly transcription sound, the musicality comes through. The cadenzas-Hofamnn's own-bespeak a natural inclination to improvise or 'vocalize' on a given theme. What we hear is not so much a great performance as a great personality. If you are inquisitive to hear the John Barrymore of pianists, Hofmann is your man.
Lympany plays CHOPIN: 19 Nocturnes; 14 Waltzes - Moura Lympany, piano. Dutton 2CDBP 9715 TT: 2 hrs. 16:19 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
Moura Lympany (b. 1916, nee Limpenny) is still among the survivors of the generation of musicians trained under Tobias Matthay, lik Myra Hess and Clifford Curzon. Her long association with the Khachaturian Concerto is well known; but her commitment to Rachmaninov (three recordings of the complete preludes, the first in 1945) and to Rawsthorne are no less vital to her catholic musical tastes. Many of her collaborations, those with Malcolm Sargent and Nicolai Malko, still await reissue. A lucid tone, a tendency to brilliance and bravura flourishes, an easy, poetic style, all mark her playing.
While Lympany's intellectualism may not be that of Harriet Cohen, her forthright virtuosity reminds one of the late Gina Bachauer, a union of power and poetry. Lympany can put over a Liszt concerto, the Litolff Scherzo, or a Brahms intermezzo with the same polished nuance. The all-Chopin recital reinstated here derives from 1958 (Waltzes) and 1960 (Nocturnes) inscriptions, and they attest to an artist in the full bloom of maturity.
Much like Artur Rubinstein, Lympany has the ability to let much of this music 'play itself,' without intrusions of 'personality.' I find her Op. 55, No. 2 E-flat Nocturne, that same piece from which Ignaz Friedman mined so much gold, if not straightforward and ingenuous, at least fluid and quietly polyphonic. While her left hand is always busy, she never distorts the upper line nor the intrinsic pulse of a piece once set in motion, as in the B Major, Op. 62, No. 1. Her laying out of the A-flat Major, Op. 32, No. 2 is absolutely songful: the middle, etude-like section and its ternary transition back to the original material seamless, the ornaments a natural extension of the aria and its variants. For those who enjoy a tight rein on rubato in Chopin, try the dyad of nocturnes, Op. 37; for passionate, high drama, her C Minor, Op. 48, No. 1 rivals Moravec. The Waltzes provide vehicles for Lympany the extrovert, her often buoyant spirit. Even the giant, A Minor, Op. 34, No. 2, carries a dignified pathos that does not delve into self-pity. Dubbed Dame Moura Lympany in 1989 for her service to music, we can hear what we owe her. Even the cover of this album, taken from the Capitol Records Chopin Waltzes (SG 7169), contributes to the sober nostalgia of this set.
BACH: Partita No. 2 in D Minor for Solo Violin, BWV 1004; Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006/PAGANINI: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D, Op. 6
Zino Francescatti, violin
Alfred Wallenstein conducts Los Angeles Philharmonic
DOREMI DHR-7780 72:36 (Distrib. Allegro):
My first great love among violinists, Zino Francescatti (1902-1991) stands out for his sweet tone and exuberant style, which I heard as a beardless youth in the Brahms Concerto (1959) under Bernstein and subsequently in the B Minor Saint-Saens under Szell. Largely trained by his parents, Francescatti could trace his artistic lineage back to Paganini; and in so doing, Francescatti expressed not only that master's bravura sensibilities but the uncanny lyricism as well.
The recordings on this reissue date 1946-1952, and they embrace two partitas of Bach, whom Francescatti worshipped as Gospel. He made one commercial record of Bach unaccompanied works for CBS (ML 4915, OP) and the E Major Concerto with Szell; his last records for DGG were of Bach, including the "Double" Concerto with Regis Pasquier. Francescatti's Bach is full-blooded, assertive, muscular and eminently polyphonic, as well as tonally warm and throaty. He voices the Gavotte from the E Major Partita as to render it a real dialogue in two voices, with a viola-like registration at the lower end. The great Chaconne from the D Minor, the acid test of solo violin playing, has showmanship as well as detail and a pointed, unflagging melodic line. Francescatti favored the truncated version of the Paganini D Major's opening movement tutti; he did the same thing in his commercial recording under Ormandy (ML 4315, OP). Francescatti plays the entire concerto as an extended coloratura aria, reminding us that Italy is a country of singers. A leisurely breadth informs the first two movements; the last movement picks up the playful jester, the dazzling displayer of digital pyrotechnics. Recorded sound is surprisingly 'present' in the Concerto, taken from a 1946 Standard Hour broadcast, so this disc makes a fine adjunct to the mainstream Francescatti library.
RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30/PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 16
Shura Cherkassky, piano
Rudolf Schwarz conducts BBC Symphony (Rachmaninov)
Kent Nagano conducts London Philharmonic (Prokofiev)
BBC Legends BBCL 4092-2 76:09 (Distrib. Koch):
I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Shura Cherkassky (1909-1995) play the Prokofiev G Minor Concerto with the New York Philharmonic under Josef Krips back in the early 1960's; I recall what a sense of revelation I felt, listening to this little man at the keyboard making such wonderful and strange music! Time has not really mellowed my appreciation of the Concerto, which still communicates a daring, restless, relentless spirit. The BBC has now integrated two splendid Cherkassky performances: the Rachmaninov Third from 1957, the Prokofiev from late in Cherkassky's stellar career, 1991, when he himself was 81years old.
For me, Cherkassky has always been the "Cheshire Cat" of pianists, the supreme colorist with a mercurial, impetuous personality. One never knows what to expect; Cherkassky often surprised himself as well as accompanists by diverging in concert from any rehearsal strategies. Given that the "Rach Three" was composed for Josef Hofmann (who never played it), having his most gifted pupil, Cherkassky, play it here, is as close as we get to the composer's intentions, except for the last page of this performance, which simply goes wild. But the ravishing piano tone, the fullness of the sonorities, the fleshing out of the left-hand figures, all testify to a natural Rachmaninov stylist. Conductor Schwarz does a fine job in keeping up, or trying to keep with, Cherkassky. Having been unable to acquire Cherkassky's 1956 LP version of the Prokofiev G Minor, the collaboration with Nagano arrives most welcome to our archives. The richness of color, the sensuality of texture, the singular presence of the recording, all bespeak a natural sympathy with this difficult music, played in bravura style with amazing fervor. Definitely up there for Best of the Year honors.
Andor Foldes - The Tono Recordings, 1950-51: BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13; Piano Sonata No. 24 in F# Major, Op. 78; Piano Sonata No. 25 in G, Op. 79/SCHUMANN: Abegg Variations, Op. 1; Papillons, Op. 2; Aufschwung from Op. 12/BRAHMS: Rhapsody in G Minor, Op. 79, No. 2; Intermezzo in E-flat, Op. 117, No. 1/CHOPIN: Waltz No. 2 in A-flat, Op. 34, No. 1; Polonaise No. 3 in A, Op. 40, No. 1
APR 5580 72:05 (Distrib. Albany):
Among the most traveled of piano virtuosos, Andor Foldes (1913-1992) made a number of recordings for Danish Tono after WW II, in order to make his basic repertory familiar to Scandinavian audiences. Beethoven formed a crucial part of the Foldes legacy, and between Tono and DGG (LP's, not yet CD's) one can amass a sizable number of sonatas and sets of variations, played in a liquid but muscular fashion, extremely supple and still poetic, sensitive readings. His Andante cantabile from the Pathetique never descends into bathos, and his Op. 78 is lean and aggressive, reminiscent to this auditor of the Robert Goldsand recording that provided my first impression of this miniature powerhouse. The same exuberant energy characterizes the G Major, Op. 79, opening like a zany lion and venturing into the ether.
For most Foldes collectors, the real find is his Schumann, which is thoroughly idiomatic; Foldes even presented Papillons as an encore to a concert held in the composer's native Zwickau! As with many of the Schumann suites for piano, the trick is to play each pearl decisively while maintaining a sense of the necklace. The Abegg Variations easily compare to Clara Haskil's aerial readings of this piece, with its inside jokes to Schumann's alternately skittish and wistful, amorous adventures. The Brahms Rhapsody is strong if a bit too fast. The Intermezzo in E-flat has all the noble introspection Schnabel brought to the piece. Fleetness and grandeur of line mark Foldes' Chopin, which is more Slavic in sentiment than German. A consistently satisfying pianist, Foldes should enjoy the same revival we accord to Rubinstein and Horowitz.
GEORGE LONDON: Opera arias and songs--EMI 467904:
George London (1919-85) was tall, dark, and handsome, and his magnetic presence and glorious bass-baritone voice made him an international favorite from his debut at the Met and Bayreuth in 1951 until his premature retirement because of vocal difficulties; he had a subsequent career as an artistic adminstrator, and in 1975 became director of the Washington Opera. However, this release in Decca's "The Singers" series does not adequately reflect his prodigious talents. It offers four Wagner arias (from Der Fliegende Holländer, Die Meistersinger, and Die Walküre), and his power, musical understanding, and vocal beauty make them truly memorable, but the rest of the selections are all from Broadway musicals. These are deftly idiomatic and very entertaining--but what about his Boris, his Mefistofele, his Don Giovanni? He was a fine actor as well as a great singer, and his characterizations of these roles are among the very best on record. Still, it's useful to have this enduring testimony to the work of a superb artist.
GUNDULA JANOWITZ: Opera arias and lieder--EMI 467910:
The German lyric soprano Gundula Janowitz (b 1937) was unusual in that her pure, silvery voice was equally effective in big dramatic roles and when throttled down for the intimacy of lieder. On this release in Decca's "The Singers" series, for instance, she delivers a gorgeous account of "Leise, leise" from Weber's Die Freischutz and an exquisitely beautiful "Dich, teure Halle" from Tannhäuser, firm, shining, and trance-like. Then we get a rollicking version of Schubert's "Die Forelle", and her famous recording of Strauss's "Four Last Songs" with Karajan is glowing and rapturous, with an especially radiant "September" to enthrall us. She was a remarkable singer with musical intelligence, great beauty of tone, and dramatic intensity when needed, and this disc is a fitting tribute to her artistry.
MARIO DEL MONACO--Opera arias and songs--Decca 467919:
Tenor Mario del Monaco (1915-82) was a small man with a big voice, and his vigorous singing and attractive stage presence made him something of a superstar in his time. He sang regularly at the Met from 1951 to 1959, where he took on many of the dramatic Italian roles. His naturally thrilling voice was imperfect--he rarely sang below mezzo-forte and had a disagreeable tendency to flatten his vowels--but he had great power and a thrilling intensity. In this disc in Decca's "The Singers" series, for example, there are quite beautiful--if too loud--accounts of "Rachel, quand du Seigneur" from Halévy's La Juive and "In fernem Land" from Lohengrin. Bizet's "Agnus Dei" and Franck's "Panis angelicus" are pretty soupy stuff, but he invests them with compelling fervor. He wasn't a really great singer, but at his heroic best he's considerable fun to hear.
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