Classical CD Reissues
March 2003 - Part 1 of 2
Leopold Stokowski conducts = SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39/NIELSEN: Symphony No. 2 "The Four Temperaments"/GRAINGER: Handel in the Strand; Country Gardens; Shepherd's Hey/DUKAS: Fanfare from La Peri/BRAHMS: Tragic Overture, Op. 81/LISZT: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 1 in F Minor/TURINA: La oracion del torero/IBERT: Escales/WAGNER: Symphonic Synthesis from Tristan and Isolde/GLIERE: Russian Sailors' Dance from The Red Poppy
Leopold Stokowski conducts National Philharmonic; Danish State Radio Symphony (Nielsen); French National Radio Orchestra (Ibert); Philadelphia Orchestra (Wagner); Members of the NBC Symphony (Liszt); Symphony Orchestra (Grainger, Gliere, Dukas, Turina)
EMI Great Conductors of the 20th Century 23 5 75480 (2 Cds) 78:43; 78:45:
A much-awaited reissue for the art of Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977), the master of sensuous colors and gradations of sound, the forever-young searcher of first performances. Culled from various labels' archives, the set features the 1967 Nielsen "Four Temperaments" with the Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra, a work Stokowski learned just to have a local work at his disposal for his Danish tour. The 85-year-old conductor disports his players through the Four Humours with piercing attacks and pulsating rhythms. The Sibelius E Minor comes even later in Stokowski's long career, 1976; and here, the 94 year-old manages to shed all evidence of aging, if not idiosyncratic phrasings, for a more than effective performance. Better miked than his prior inscription for RCA in 1950, the 1976 rendition has a high sense of drama, some great intonation from the winds and horns, and a rousing Scherzo. The final instance of Stokowski's glory is from 1977, the CBS Brahms Tragic Overture, which in its LP incarnation was coupled with th D Major Symphony. Stokowski renders a brisk reading that reminds us of the influence of Beethoven's Fifth on this music.
The remainder of the selections come from the 1950-1960 period, when Stokowski was free-lancing with the NBC and assorted groups of players in the New York area. The Lizst Rhapsody (from LM 1868) has a slick patina; the Grainger has the composer at the keyboard, and one can only speculate on the nature of their conversations! The Gliere was part of an all-Russian program (LM-1816) based loosely on Disney's Fantasia; and the Moussorgsky and Borodin pieces deserve to come back to CD. Dukas, Ibert, and Turina were all parts of EMI's ongoing series of Stokowski sonic spectaculars. But the pearl in all this is the Wagner, a lush splicing of the love music of Tristan, Acts II and III, immaculately realized in "the historic return" of Stokowski to the Philadelphia Orchestra, 1960. The LP version coupled it with Falla's "El Amor brujo" with Verrett-Carter. On CD, the erotic wash of the string (free) bowing achieves Wagner's ideal of unending melody in the name of love. Two years later, in 1962, Stokowski formed the American Symphony Orchestra. Would those archives, too, open up for our contemporary delectation!
Otto Klemperer conducts = MOZART: Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K. 504 "Prague"; Symphony No. 25 in G Minor/STRAUSS: Till Eulenspiegel, Op. 28/WEILL: Excerpts from The Threpenny Opera/STRAVINSKY: Pulcinella Suite/BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 36/JANACEK: Sinfonietta
Otto Klemperer conducts Radio-Symphony Orchestra, Berlin; WDR Symphony, Cologne (Strauss, Janacek); Bavarian Radio Symphony (Stravinsky); Berlin State Opera Orchestra (Weill)
EMI Great Conductors of the 20th Century 19 5 75465 2 75:19; 77:00:
This EMI set gives us a different perspective on Otto Klemperer (1885-1973), a series of live and broadcast performances that project speed, athleticism and even intimacy, qualities often lacking in his commercial, Teutonically monumental readings in the 1960's studios. The one early inscription (1931) of Weill captures the reminiscence of Klemperer's happy tenure with the Kroll Opera (which left no records) and progressive programs curtailed by lack of funds and reactonary administration. The 1950 Mozart symphonies and the 1958 Beethoven Second put Klemperer at the helm of Fricsay's responsive RIAS orchestra, where lean, pointed phrases, interior lines, and brisk articulation are the rule, more in keeping with the 1950's Vox recordings Klemperer made with the Vienna Symphony.
No less engaging is the Strauss tone-poem Till Eulenspiegel from 1956, again eschewing the huge arches and over-ripe tonal patina Klemperer cultivated ten years later. Instead, we can hear jerky movements, rough edges, some risks in the rhythm and bowing that make the music exciting, more Celibidache than Karajan. Both Janacek's Sinfonietta and Stravinsky's Pulcinella were Klemperer specialties, pieces he programmed on tour in Holland, in America, and in Hungary. For the Stravinsky, Klemperer has the support of members of the famed Koeckert Quartet, along with the Bavarian (Munich) ensemble hand-picked by Jochum and cultivated by Kubelik. The edgy and ironic reassemblies of Pergolesi tunes finds equally pungent attacks and intricate balances in Janacek's virtuosic Sinfonietta from 1956. Finally, Klemperer's stock-in-trade Beethoven, here the D Major (1958), with fluid lines, a sense of wit, and a sonorous largesse in the Larghetto. I find this Klemperer less imposing and infinitely more likable as a musical personality than in his "official" capacities with EMI.
MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 23 in A, K. 488; Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, K. 218; Recitativo and Rondo: "Ch'io mi scordi di te," K. 505; Horn Concerto No. 3 in E-flat, K. 447
Friedrich Gulda, piano; Arthur Grumiaux, violin
Suzanna Danco, soprano with Maria Bergmann, piano obbligato
Dennis Brain, horn
Hans Rosbaud and Ernest Bour (K. 218) conduct SW German Radio Orchestra, Baden-Baden
Hanssler Classics CD 93.064 74:23 (Distrib. Albany):
Compiled from Mozart performances in Baden-Baden 1953-1962, this exciting and well-balanced disc features some illustrious soloists working with Hans Rosbaud (1895-1962) and his gifted successor Ernest Bour (1913-2001). Rosbaud's lean and revisionist style is still more noted for his modernist scores (Berg, Dallapiccola, Webern, Stravinsky) than for his Mozart, but the Austrian master's work figured prominently on the few recordings Rosbaud made. Before switching to his idiosyncratic versions and vision of jazz, pianist Gulda favored 'classical' music, inscribing the 32 Beethoven sonatas and the C Minor Violin Sonata (with Ricci, still unavailable on CD). Clear, fluent lines and unexaggerated sentiment mark the A Major Concerto from January 1962. Many will recall Suzanne Danco (1911-2000) as Cherubino in Kleiber's distinctive The Marriage of Figaro. She sings the supplemental aria from Idomeneo with elegant reserve that breaks out into fervent protestations of love and devotion. Maria Bergmann (1918-2002), the SouthWest German Radio's in-house pianist, provides the extended piano part that has found equals only in the likes of Geza Anda, Emanuel Ax, and Alfred Brendel. Dennis Brain (1921-1957) concludes the Rosbaud contribution, the two scaling the heights unmolested by earthly concerns. Belgian virtuoso Arthur Grumiaux (1921-1986) joins Bour for a modestly played, but exquisitely poised D Major Concerto, itself conceived in the French taste, and thoroughly supple in Grumiaux's tender hands, the concert from 1959, at the height of Grumiaux's flawless powers.
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21; Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36; Overtures: Leonore No. 2; Fidelio; The Ruins of Athens; The Creatures of Prometheus
Felix Weingartner conducts Vienna Philharmonic (Sym. No. 1; Leonore; Prometheus), London Symphony (Sym. No. 2; Prometheus); London Philharmonic (Fidelio)
Naxos Historical 8.110856 73:37:
Felix Weingartner (1863-1942) stands high among the Golden Age conductors, an exponent of the Austro-Hungarian and German schools of orchestral discipline. Weingartner, along with Toscanini, embodied a literalist reaction to the self indulgent and wayward, romantic realms of interpretation that played havoc with rhythms and instrumentation, under the aegis of personal expression. One of my 78 rpm treasures was Weingartner';s Beethoven 8th; and once, playing it in my ground-floor Bronx apartement, a s,all crowd of elderly matrons gathered to listen, tapping on my window to acknowledge the "pretty music."
This Naxos set provides a first installment of the Weingartner Nine, whose LP incarnations were spread out between the main CBS label and its budget label Haarmony. Both symphonies are lean-machine, sober realizations of the scores. The playing in the D Major is quite deft, the agogic accents in the Scherzo pointed and even explosive. I recall owning the Beethoven Overtures disc on LP (ML 4647), and how articulate the performance of the Leonore No. 2, the most "demonic" of the Fidelio overtures. Within the bounds fo good taste, Weingartner pushes the music forward, the basic pulse asserting itself with undue histrionics. The lighter scores, the overtures to Ruins and Prometheus, have a verve and buoyancy that allow the music to speak for itself. Weingartner had a sense of the dark side, surely: his Liszt A Major Concerto (with Sauer) and his projected recording (Weingartner died before he could fulfill this contract) of more Liszt, the tone-poem Tasso ( a specialty, I understand), along with his early Berlioz, bespeak an artist of emotional range and depth. Mark Obert-Thorne's restorations do this fine artist justice and impress with the nuances they reveal.
Carlo Maria Giulini = ROSSINI: Tancredi Overture/ BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92; Egmont Overture, Op. 84a/RAVEL: Ma Mere L'oye/BIZET: Jeux d'enfants/SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 3 in E flat, Op. 97 "Rhenish"/STRAVINSKY: The Firebird--Suite/STRAUSS: Kaiser-Waltzer, Op. 437
Carlo Maria Giulini conducts Philharmonia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony (Beethoven 7th), Bavarian Radio Symphony )Ravel), Vienna Philharmonic (Strauss), RAI Turin (Beethoven Egmont)
EMI "Great Conductors of the 20th Century" 18 75462 2 76:54; 75:20:
Carlo Maria Giulini (b. 1914) came inot prominence through his opera performances and recordings, embracing a tradition strongly influenced by Victor de Sabata, with no less awareness of the German tradition embodied in Wilhelm Furtwaengler. Giulini has always been parsimonious about recording, but collectors have made a cult of his work, savoring the detail and the understated sensuality of his readings. He caught my ear with his Philharmonia inscription of Tchaikvsky's "Little Russian" Symphony and the EMI Verdi Requiem; later, his collaborations with Michelangeli and Horowitz became immediate classics. This EMI collection gives us commercial and live materials 1956-1979 in vivid sound.
The two big works included are the Chicago Beethoven Seventh from 1971 and the Schumann "Rhenish" (with Mahler's edits) from 1958. Both enjoy Giulini's grand line, his expressive contours. The Allegretto of Beethoven's Seventh, possibly the most tragic music he wrote, has a sensual hue that can only be called bittersweet. The warmth of the Chicago strings is not something Reiner or Solti particularly cultivated. The Rhenish has pomp and flair, akin to Bernstein's wonderful New York Philharmonic reading. While none of Giulini's Los Angeles work is preserved here, his Schumann and Brahms for that organization had the same athleticism. Of the live inscriptions, the Ravel is etched with tender care, a paean to the spirit of childhood, possibly the finest live performance I have heard since Previtali in New York, who remains a kind of secret weapon in Italian conducting.
The other visceral, live issue is the Egmont Overture from RAI, 1968, a propelled reading that belies those critics who find Giulini too glossy, a la Karajan. The Bizet suite gets very fast treatment: I compared this 1956 reading to a live BBC performance by Boult, and Giulini sweeps it away. From the same fertile period with the Philharmonia comes the Firebird Suite, a suave, molded rendition that rivals the Stokowski Berlin Philharmonic for sheen and eroticism. And finally the two later inscriptions, the 1964 Rossini and the 1974 Strauss, each a gracious, occasonally sumptous sound document of a master of color, pace, and inner voicing, where music's capacity to sing is forever foremost.
Sir Adrian Boult = BERLIOZ: Rob Roy Overture/FRANCK: Symphony in D Minor/TCHAIKOVSKY: Theme and Variations from Suite No. 3 in G, OP. 55/BEETHOVEN: Ciolan Overture, Op. 62/SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120/SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 4 in C Minor "Tragic"/WOLF: Italian Serenade/WALTON: "Portsmouth Point" Overtue/SIBELIUS: Prelude from The Tempest, Op. 109a
Sir Adrian Boult conducts London Philharmonic, London Orchestra Society (Franck), New Philharmonia Orchestra (Beethoven) and Philharmonia Orchestra (Wolf)
EMI "Great Conductors of the 20th Century" 16 75459 2 73:43; 75:33:
I like to call Sir Adrian Boult (1889-1983) "the British Toscanini," given the streamlined morphology of Boult's shaping of musical phrases and his penchant for speed. But do not assume there is any less rigor of detail for all the athleticism and vitality of Sir Adrian's style. The opening selection from this fine compilation from 1956-1974, Berlioz' Rob Roy, has all the ingredients of exciting music-making: relentless pace, stunning dialogue between lower strings and pizzicati violins, and a flexibility of rhythm that makes us anticipate at every pause the viola's entry from Harold in Italy, which this work adumbrates. The Schumann D Minor Symphony, like the Franck (with the makeshift orchestra culled from the LPO and the Philharmonia), is all business, no sentimental frills, yet it achieves a wonderful sense of transition in its cyclic deployment of materials from its Scherzo to the final Langsam--Lebhaft. The Wolf Serenade is a rarity, its blithe twinkle making its CD debut. Tchaikovsky's Third Suite is excerpted with the lovely fourth movement, featuring violinist Rodney Friend. The original issue on EMI (CDM 7 63095 2) is worth the effort to find it.
Another Boult rarity is a supercharged Schubert "Tragic" Symphony from 1959, taken from a Concert Hall LP. William Walton, obviously, proved a staple in Boult's repertory: the Portsmouth Point offered here from 1967 comes from a Music for Pleasure LP that included Gershwin's Cuban Overture and was the catch of the program! Boult recorded a fine selection of Sibelius pieces for the Vanguard label, of which the agitated Prelude from The Tempest is a driven example. While Boult never commercially inscribed a Sibelius symphony, aficianados are directed to his Sibelius Seventh with the Royal Philharmonic, still available on BBC (BBCL 4039-2, distrib. Koch). Finally, Beethoven's Coriolan from 1970, ripe and fervent testimony of how Sir Adrian could make Beethoven move. This 2-CD set is a plum for any collection.
MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 in G Major/SCHREKER: Prelude to a Drama
Christine Whittlesey, soprano; Michael Gielen conducts SWR Symphony Orchestra, Baden-Baden
Hanssler CD 93.046 75:28 (Distrib. Albany):
Hanssler has already paid tribute to conductor Michael Gielen (b. 1927) with a 5-CD set (93.056-60, see my Best of the Year list), a cross-section of his fruitful association with the Baden-Baden orchestra that was the testing ground for many adventurous concerts under Hans Rosbaud and Ernest Bour. The present disc gives us Mahler from 1998 and the rarely performed Schreker from 1995, both in brilliant sound.
While the Mahler Fourth is a long-familiar concert staple, even available (via Urania) with Rosbaud, the music of Franz Scheker (1878-1934) is enjoying a slow but steady revival. An acolyte of Wagner as well as of the Viennese tradition, Shreker's music was on the Nazi list of "Degenerate Art," likely due to its blatant eroticism in neo-Scriabinesque colors. The Prelude to a Drama (1914), dedicated to conductor Felix Weingartner, is based on the composer's operatic treatment of Oscar Wilde's "The Princess and the Infanta." In the manner of Tchaikovsky, Shreker here treats only of the atmosphere of the drama, in sonata form. The colors are genuinely eerie, filled with what one contemporary called the composer's "penchant for strange chords." The Mahler is disarmingly stylistic, Viennese, with soprano Whittlesby's approaching my own ideal here, Teresa Stich-Randall, admittedly an acquired taste. Gielen's tasteful use of rubato and portamenti in the Mahler only enhance a deft reading, rife with nuances. With cover art by Van Gogh's "Starry Night," the whole Hanssler production deserves more than "sleeper" kudos on your record shelf.
Continue to Part 2 Conclusion of Reissues
Return to Home Page for March 2003
Back to the Top of This Page
To Index of CD Reviews for This Month