Classical CD Reissues, Part 2
for March 2002
MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 in G Major
Elisabeth Lindermeier, soprano
Otto Klemperer conducts Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Melodram GM 4.0057 54:48 (Distrib. Albany):
Taped 19 October 1956, this Mahler Fourth, led by a mellow, intensely personal Otto Klemperer seems infinitely more musical here than in his commercial recording with Schwarzkopf, who for my money, was never able to capture the ingenuous innocence required in the last movement's unearthly hymn to victual sacrifice. It was the Bavarian Radio Symphony, after all, that went on to inscribe the first complete Mahler cycle under Kubelik. So, this Mahler Fourth emerges with many luxuriant moments, as in the trio section of the dirge-like Scherzo, with its scordatura violin. The third movement is properly marked "Ruhevoll. Poco Adagio," a broad, mystical point of repose, with evanescent strings and winds, once used for a very sexy love-scene in Clousseau's La Prisonierre.
Recall that this symphony was composed in reverse: the last movement, with its poem taken from "Des Knaben Wunderhorn," had been left over from Mahler's Third Symphony. The entire symphony plays as a studied meditation on mortality and fleeting, pantheistic hopes for the soul's continuance. Klemperer doesn't mind the lingering phrase, the exalted spirit, but without either the breathless quality that plagued his Vox recordings with the Vienna Symphony, or the thoroughly monumental, golem-like structures he favored later with EMI. Ms. Lindermeier's is a pleasant, light voice, lithe, with good control on slides and changes of register. Off-air sound quality is good, even generous. My personal favorite, granted my idiosyncracies, is the Otterloo recording for Epic around the same period, with a matchless Teresa Stich-Randall. Even Heaven is a matter of taste.
BRAHMS: Tragic Overture, Op. 81; Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68; Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77; Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90
Nathan Milstein, violin
Pierre Monteux conducts Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, 1950-63
TAHRA TAH 2.175-6, 56:31; 74:51 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
If this is the collector's first incarnation of this extensive collaboration between Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) and his favorite composer, Brahms, well and good. The performances, however, have had prior reissues on TAHRA itself (in a 5-CD set devoted to Monteux) and on Music & Arts (the Violin Concerto is included in a 3-CD tribute to Nathan Milstein). The updated sound quality in this new set is superb: the 1962 Tragic Overture (which sounds like Jochum) has both tonal weight and silken transparency of texture, the latter quality being Monteux's defining emblem. Monteux was doing a lot of Brahms in the early '60's: there exist tapes of Boston Symphony traversals of the C Minor and E Minor symphonies; the BBC (BBCL 4058-2, Distrib. Koch) has recently brought out an F Major coupled with the Schumann D Minor, clear evidence that this Gallic master had the most catholic range in French conducting.
Monteux began his association with the Concertgebouw in 1924, at Mengelberg's invitation. By the 1960's he had given 240 concerts with the orchestra and been its associate conductor from 1924-1939! Commercially, Monteux inscribed a Brahms Second that earned praise from critics Thomson and Schonberg as indicative of Monteux's sensitivity in this repertory. He recorded the Brahms Violin Concerto with Szeryng, a performance that came out on RCA's budget line and then disappeared. Monteux recorded the D Minor Piano Concerto with Katchen and the London Symphony. The C Minor Symphony here recorded from November 20, 1963 enjoys very broad lines, with quick rhythmic thrusts at key changes. Interior wind and string lines are well defined, a testament to Monteux's days in the viola section.
The Violin Concerto is from October 12, 1950, with Milstein at the top of his form, blistering in speed, suave in registration shifts and slides, adding his own cadenza in the last movement. Milstein is always a hard driver; he eschews pure 'intellectuality' for a severely disciplined, passionate approach. The Hungarian Rondo takes off. The F Major (October 30, 1960) is immensely satisfying, a gemutlich compromise in its major/minor partialities. Some exquisite singing in the interior movements, incorrectly titled "Scherzo" in the liner notes. Critics often 'disparage' Monteux as a purveyor of clarity to the detriment of Herculean power, but the C Minor should dispel such generalizations. Put on the opening movement for unwary connoisseurs and enjoy the educated guesses!
The Art of Pollini
Maurizio Pollini, piano (1972-1998)
DGG 289 471000-2 , 76:35 (Distrib. Universal):
Culled from 13 distinct albums over a course of twenty-six years, The Art of Pollini traces something of the intellectual line this artist has followed since he switched his allegiance from EMI back in 1971. This album is the sampler, and it ranges from Stravinsky to Brahms, Schubert to Debussy and Webern. One of the great pupils of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Pollini packs a very hard patina that some find totally un-ingratiating. It is Horowitz without tears, a dextrous, hard-edged, bell-like tone and sound-construct that favors impeccable clarity. His American equivalents are Charles Rosen (intellectually) and John Browning (for percussive power).
Some of the individual albums have achieved a classic status of their kind: the 1975 Chopin complete Etudes, for instance, from which we get the so-called "Winter Wind," Op. 25, No. 11. The 1976 collaboration with Karl Bohm (and the Vienna Philh.) in the Mozart Concerto No. 23 in A is among the most songful, given the grace of its F-sharp Minor Adagio, which comes off with music-box efficiency. For bold proclamation, we have both the opening movement of Beethoven's Op. 111 and the Funeral March from Chopin's Second Sonata. Beautiful control, cold as ice. Pollini the pointillist we hear in one Schoenberg piece from Op. 19 and the 'sehr schnell' from Webern's Op. 27 Variations. That Pollini can play tenderly occurs at least once, in Schumann's C Major Arabeske, Op. 18, though a bit breathless. The longest chunk is from his latest Brahms D Minor Concerto with Abbado (and the Berlin Philh.), the Rondo, played for high voltage. The one Debussy Etude (No. 8 "Pour les agrements") say it all: Pollini may be the purest technician alive; if only music were all technique. Your choice.
RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18; Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 (Rec. 1937-1948)
Benno Moiseiwitsch, piano
Sir Malcolm Sargent conducts Philharmonia Orchestra (Op. 1)
Walter Goehr conducts Liverpool Philharmonic (Op. 18)
Basil Cameron conducts Liverpool Philharmonic (Op. 43)
Naxos 8.110676, 78:12:
Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963) gained the respect of Serge Rachmaninov himself as his most natural acolyte. Moiseiwitsch was another of the Vienna-school of Theodor Leschetizky, with its emphasis on tonal beauty and dynamic restraint. The First Conceerto, as restored by Ward Marston, is superlatively colored, extremely fluid playing, rife with jeu perle. While Rachmaninov called the early concerto "not very difficult," several pianists have choked on the passing 9/8 passage in the last movement. Having set up residence in London after the Russian Revolution, Moiseiwitsch was a friend and amanuensis to Malcolm Sargent, who accompanies beautifully. The C Minor Concerto has a relatively young Walter Goehr's conducting a balanced, thoughtful reading, with a last movement fugato section that took several takes to achieve synchronicity between piano and strings. The extended trill near the end of the brief cadenza of the second movement is breath-taking. The 1938 Rhapsody might well be the choicest plum of the set, along with Op. 1. Nothing if not a guarded sensualist, Moiseiwitsch plays the Rhapsody for its 'dramatic' sub-text, an extended love-story on the Paganini legend. The famed Variation 18, Andante cantabile, simply melts with nostalgic passion, having begun its mysterious, waltz-like tremors at Variation 16, Allegretto. The fourth in Naxos' series devoted to Moiseiwitsch, this may be the finest of the set.
SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61; Manfred, Op. 115 (Abridged, Ed. Scherchen)
Leopold Stokowski conducts Symphony Orchestra (Op. 61)
David Carlile Hermges, narrator
Hermann Scherchen conducts Vienna Radio Orchestra and Academy Choir
Rediscovery RD 036 75:09:
I had the pleasure of hearing Stokowski conduct the Schumann Second at Carnegie Hall in 1966, with the American Symphony Orchestra. It was a score he knew well; Stokowski liked Schumann, although there are only a handful of testaments in his discography: a Cello Concerto with Fournier from the New York Philharmonic; a Schumann Fourth owned by the Suisse Romande; and the RCA recording from 1950 that here appears, played by New York Philharmonic musicians buttressed by members from the MET and some freelancers. The whole conception is of a piece, with tempestuous inner voicing from violas and cellos, a real sense of drama even in the polyphonic rhetoric of the Scherzo, with its two trios. The last two movements are a consecutive tour de force: the Adagio is a pre-Mahler outpouring of Romantic Agony, with a huge orchestral trill. The finale has a furious momentum, a superb oboe part, and an unerring rhythmic propulsion. Here is one of those instances where an independent record producer has taken the initiative while RCA sits on (or in) the vaults.
Schumann's treatment of Byron's lyrical 'monodrama' Manfred held a weird fascination for conductor Scherchen (as it did for Beecham), and for composer Tchaikovsky. This 1964 Vienna arrangement is the second recorded version Scherchen did; the first was in Leipzig, 1960. Alternating between male narrator, orchestra and a Chorus of Spirits, the poem recounts the wanderings of an alienated hero whose melancholy search for moments of immortality are to bring him solace for some nameless Original Sin. Schumann chose the "there are more things in Heaven and Earth" motif from Hamlet as the rubric for this Faustian quest for preternatural wisdom. After a blistering Overture, the remainder of the incidental music acts as a lyrical, punctuated movie-score, interjections of emotion rather than any extended statement. Echoes of Der Freischuetz abound: "forgive me or condemn me," says Manfred, says Scherchen. Narrator Hermges has a distinctive voice, not unlike Sir Alec Guinness at times. Rediscovery restoration is quite vivid, the over-miked distortions to which the original Westmnister LP was privy eliminated, though Manfred's meditations in caves and valleys still rings 'gimmicky.' A musical curio; buy the album for the first five bands.
Bach Up Your CD Drive With These Two...
BACH-VIVALDI: Four Concerti for Organ. BACH: Partita BWV 768 & 2 Choral Preludes - Anton Heiller, organ - Amadeus AMD 7018:
These superlative l965 performances are being issued on a new sub-label reserved for some of the very best recordings from the early history of Vanguard Records. Similar remastering gear is used as with some of the recent Vanguard reissues (including the SACDs) and it includes Super Bit Mapping and 24-bit processing. All four three-movement concertos are glorious works combining the best of both composers and few other versions have had the snap and verve of Heiller's treatments. Now the sonics finally match the performances in this iteration.
The Perfect J.S. Bach - Collection - Angel 67728:
This may be the only Composer's Big Hits album I've ever reviewed - seems as though with Bach doing that is neither corny or kitschy. 16 tracks here, ranging from l957 to the near-present, with several from Neville Marriner and the St. Martin in the Fields band, one from guitarist Christopher Parkening and one of Stoky's lushly overblown Bach arrangements, plus several organists. Of course the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is here, opening with the original organ version and ending with the orchestral arrangement. There also are some less familiar hits, such as a movement from the Oboe and Violin Concerto in D Minor. This 78 minutes in Bach's perfectly balanced musical world would be appropriate for either the newcomer to classical music or the experienced Bachian.
- John Sunier
An Important Pair of Historic Chamber Music Releases...
The Original Philadelphia Woodwind Quintet - "French" - MILHAUD: Le Cheminee du Roi Rene; JOLIVET: Pastorales de Noel; FRANCAIX: Divertissement; POULENC: Sextour; IBERT: Trois Pieces Breves - Boston Records BR 1061:
These historic recordings were selected from the 40 different works these wind players from the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded for Columbia Records between l953 and 1967. All five works are quintessential French woodwind classics and are the exact recorded versions some of us grew up with and are thrilling to hear again after all these years in such skillfully enhanced sound. A couple of the selections come from before the stereo era, but the 1960 Poulenc Sextet - a wonderfully witty chamber work - is not only in stereo but feature the composer playing the piano part! The CD is dedicated to the memory of the group's bassoonist, Sol Schoenbach. Other well-known names in the Quintet were flutist William Kincaid, Oboeist John de Lancie and French hornist Mason Jones.
SCHUBERT: Sonata in A Minor; BOCCHERINI: Sonata No. 6 in A Major; SAMMARTINI: Sonata in G Major - Leonard Rose, cello; Leonid Hambro, piano - Sony Classical SMK 89749:
More gems from the vaults of Columbia Records, these selections were recorded in l953 and are brought to glorious life in this reissue. Rose was Yo-Yo Ma's childhood teacher and surely that connection was one of the reasons for this reissue. His cello sings captivatingly in Schubert's beautiful Arpegggione sonata and the two fillers. Evidently all three were on the original mono LP because the total time is only 38 minutes. The CD reproduces the original LP cover and on the actual CD the original LP label. The back sleeve notes are reproduced in a reduction which of course requires a magnifying glass. But the nostalgia element will be strong for those of use who remember the original vinyl version.
- John Sunier
Music from the Slavic World in our next two albums...
JANACEK: Sinfonietta; Lachian Dances; Taras Bulba; Opera Preludes; the Cunning Little Vixen Suite; The Makropoulos Case (Symphonic Synthesis) - Czech State Philharmonic, Brno/Jose Serebrier - Reference Recordings RR-2103 (2 HDCD Cds):
The third in a series of two-fers (for the price of one) from this label offers music of the appealing Czech composer previously released on separate CDs as well as on audiophile LPs. Most are familiar works, but conductor Serebrier's own transcription of Janacek's music for his opera The Makropoulos Case is a recording premiere. The composer's best known work is probably the Sinfonietta; this version features an enlarged brass section for a spectacular effect. Czech folk dances are the source for the energetic Lachian Dances. The CDs only qualify for the Reissue section due to their being compilations - certainly not for compromises in fidelity due to earlier recording quality.
PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No. 3; Visions fugitives Op. 22; Suggestion diabolique; Eight Piano Pieces - Sergey Prokofiev, piano/London Symphony/Piero Cappola - Naxos Historical 8.110670:
This is one of the great recordings of piano concertos featuring as soloist the composer of the work himself. Prokofiev was just as superb as Rachmaninoff at performing his own music. The opening Andante sets the expectant mood leading up to the virtuosity of the rest of the concerto. The original HMV recording session dates from l932 in London and has been reissued numerous times, but never have I heard such clean and listenable sonics out of it as this vivid effort from engineer Mark Obert-Thorn. The selected Fugitive Visions are delivered with an emphasis on their acerbic wit that is often missing in more modern recordings.
- Gary Lemco
Yah, these last two CDs don't really fit in Classical but neither are they Jazz; so...
A Richard Rodgers Centennial Celebration with The Sound of His Music - compilation - DRG Records 5254:
Groucho Marx once said that Rodgers and Hammerstein looked like a couple of chiropractors. Well, the famous Broadway team may not have cracked jokes or spines but they turned out some of the finest music for the musical stage for nearly six decades. DRG scoured their library of studio recordings, original cast albums, and cabaret performances for the 21 separate Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes in this great collection. The earliest dates from l937 - Josephine Baker's There's a Small Hotel, sung in French. Among the highlights for me were Lena Horne's Fallin in Love with Love, Elaine Stritch's You Took Advantage of Me, and Eartha Kitt's Why Can't I?
- John Sunier
Eternelle Edith Piaf: 18 Songs, 1947-1963
EMI 7243 5 30284 2 53:48:
French chanteuse Edith Giovanna Gassion (1915-1963) assumed the name Edith Piaf in the late 1930's, when she became the Gallic equivalent of America's Billie Holliday and Germany's Marlene Dietrich, a singer with a perpetual life-story, from abandoned child to intrepid fighter for the Resistance. "La Mome" Piaf became a legend for her turbulent life and blistering affairs as much as for the classic poise of her music and the thousand-dollars-a-night salary. Virgil Thomson wrote the ultimate portrait of her musical character: he describes her stationary stance, her hard-edged diction, the brilliance of her musical attacks, the rapid patter in staccato, the cutting, razor-sharp intonation. Listen to her quasi-martial effects in "La goulante du pauvre Jean," its swagger, its incisive sense of irony. All of her paeans to Paris, like "La vie en reve," the cabaret-style "Milord," and "Sous le ciel de Paris," have a wistful grace, a knowing sensuality. Many of the love songs remark on Piaf's liaisons as well as her politics: the last recording, "L'accordeoniste," though from 1963, dates back to her fateful meeting with Jewish composer Michel Emer in 1940, when his life was in danger from pro-Nazi sympathizers. She gives us one other Emer hit, "A quoi ca sert l'amour?" Her 1960 rendition of "Non je ne regrette rien" says it all: an aggressive affirmation of a musical life. Hopefully, this is the first of many Piaf albums in your collection.
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