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Classical CD Reissues  November 2001
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BRAHMS: Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25/SCHUMANN: Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44

Artur Balsam, piano/The Budapest String Quartet

Bridge 9110 67:35 (Distrib. Albany):

Culled from the Library of Congress concerts from 1951 (Brahms) and 1953 (Schumann), this remarkable reissue, in solid sound, unites the Budapest String Quartet (with Jac Gorodetzky in the second violin part in Schumann) with the great master Artur Balsam (1906-1994). Balsam is known for his accompaniments for the great violinists: Stern, Szigeti, Francescatti, Milstein, Oistrakh, Shumsky, Fuchs. I recall, however, a rare little "Concert Classics" LP with Balsam and conductor Walter Goehr in Beethoven's B-flat Concerto, delicately played. Balsam had first joined the Budapest ensemble in 1946. His rendering of the Schumann adds to the extant Curzon and Serkin collaborations a sort of compromise approach, neither demonic (Serkin) nor lyrically demure (Curzon), but a broad, muscular reading much like the Demus/Vienna Konzerthaus Quartet readings (in Brahms) from roughly the same period.

All of these artists are fully conversant in the Brahms style, with Balsam's having assisted Milstein (and Szymon Goldberg) in the first and last of the violin sonatas. The funeral march from the Schumann Quintet possesses lovely balance, not too pesant, but shmmering with nervous expectancy. Those who know the Schnabel/Pro Arte Quartet finale from the Quintet will appreciate the same Viennese lilt and grace Balsam brings to his part. While those who love the G Minor Brahms Quartet look to the gypsy-rondo finale for musical after-burners, the Budapest's methodical build-ups and releases to the sectionalized 'march' in the big Andante is a musical find worth the whole restoration. Bridge can take a well-earned bow on this one.

--Gary Lemco


Max Fiedler conducts BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77/SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 38 "Spring'

Siegfried Borries, violin (cadenza: Joachim)/Berlin Radio Orchestra

Music & Arts CD-1092 72:17 (Distrib. Koch):

Max Fiedler (1859-1939) enjoys a legendary status among Brahms interpreters, some of which is earned, some apocryphal. My own first encounter with Fielder was by way of his 1939 Brahms B-flat Concerto with Elly Ney with the Berlin Philharmonic on a Heliodor LP. Fiedler is one of those tempo-rubato conductors that Felix Weingartner derided as being in the manner of Steinbach and Bulow. It was Fritz Steinbach who influenced both Fiedler and Toscanini in their approach to Brahms. That Brahms himself 'endorsed' the Fiedler view of his music is unlikely, though the manner is quite sound. The soloist in the 1936 (radio transcription) Brahms Violin Concerto is Siegfreid Borries (1912-1980), whose sweet tone LP record collectors will recall from his Bluebird rendition of the Mendelssohn Concerto under Celibidache (LBC 1049, OP). Some modern collectors of CD's own the Nuova Era or Urania Busoni D Major concerto with Borries and Celibidache as well. In spite of unreverberant sonics, the playing of Brahms is natural, albeit rife with portamentos (slides) and rhythmic flexibilities endemic to the old style. The orchestral support is lush and vivid, a strong statement that rivals the Kreisler/Blech inscription made some ten years prior. The Hungarian rondo really makes some fur fly, belying Fiedler's age, which he sheds at the instant he picks up the baton.

Something of Fiedler's willfulness as an interpreter permeates his (radio transcription) of the Schumann "Spring" Symphony, with its grand ritards, adumbrating both Furtwaengler and Bernstein in their approach to the monumentality of the opening, followed by the most headlong rush of primal energies, some of its threatening to undo the horn parts. The particularly broad, almost static, approach to the Larghetto will either enthrall or enrage purists; in any case, it is a marvel of concentrated playing. The last two movements enjoy both propulsion and serene tension, a security of approach-however unique-that bears repeated hearing, given that Fiedler's only contemporary rival that endured on disc was the 1929 Chicago version under Frederick Stock. A collectors' item in every sense.

--Gary Lemco


JOHANNES BRAHMS: A German Requiem

Two live performances conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler

CD No. 1: Stockholm, 19 November 1948
Stockholm Konsertförenings Orkester
Musikalista Sällskapet Kör
Kerstin Lindberg-Torlind, soprano
Bernhard Sönnerstedt, baritone
CD No. 2: Lucerne, 20 August 1947
Orchester der Luzerner Festwochen
Chor der Luzerner Festwochen
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano
Hans Hotter, baritone

Music & Arts 1085:

Three recordings of Brahms's German Requiem conducted by Furtwängler exist, and Music & Arts has issued the two best ones on this set. The third performance (not on this set) was given on January 25, 1951, in Vienna, with soloists Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Irmgard Seefried.

Of these two, the performance on the second CD is by far the superior one, although both recordings leave a lot to be desired, particularly in the sound department. The Stockholm performance (CD 1) was preserved on acetate and consequently sounds noisy and remote, its loud sections muddy. Sound aside, this is not your typical performance by one of the twentieth century's preeminent conductors. Until almost the very end, the orchestra is plodding and somnolent, qualities not normally associated with Furtwängler. The orchestra may be partly to blame, but Furtwängler is such an able conductor that he has elicited better playing from other, equally provincial orchestras. Lindberg-Torlind's singing is somewhat ragged, with slight intonation problems. Clearly she is not up to the task. Sönnerstedt is quite able and sweet, but the best part is the chorus, which sounds big and secure. Unfortunately, the track numbers on this CD don't match the liner notes, so listening to the seven movements on ten tracks instead of seven was a bit like navigating in a fog.

In the Lucerne performance (CD 2) Furtwängler's fluid and profound approach to music is evident despite the hissing, crackling, and wobbly pitch (this recording was taken from 78 RPM lacquer discs). His poetic way of shaping the music is irresistible and worth the discomfort. The music soars with intense pathos. Hotter's singing in the third and sixth movements is masterly. Hotter has always been an intelligent, expressive, and heroic singer, and this is no exception. Schwarzkopf's singing is nonpareil in its plangent sweetness and ardor.

This set is strictly for collectors of historical performances and for those who must have every recording of Furtwängler. For an excellent introduction to Brahms's biggest choral work, the listener might be better off with Klemperer's 1961 recording on EMI, also with Schwarzkopf (although here she sounds more artificial).

-Dalia Geffen

BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61/BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77

Nathan Milstein, violin
William Steinberg conducts Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

EMI 7243 5 67584 2 75:33:

These two performances, from 1954-55, were originally offered via a 6-CD set devoted to "The Art of Nathan Milstein" on EMI (0 777 64830-2), which celebrated 70 years of music making. Milstein (1903-1992) was like Jascha Heifetz among the great Leopold Auer pupils; and when it came to the Beethoven Concerto, Milstein had his own ideas about attacks and phrases, even supplying his own cadenzas (as well as in Brahms). He once purported having beaten Heifetz at ping-pong (no mean feat) after playing the Mendelssohn Concerto with Toscanini. A ferocious collaborator, Milstein was notorious for driving his accompanying conductors, some of whom-like Fistoulari-had 'soft' personalities that virtually disappeared when Milstein started to play. Happily, William Steinberg (1899-1978) was made of sterner stuff, and his inscriptions with Milstein enjoy that happy balance of forces that qualify these concertos for "Great Recordings of the Century."

Milstein is simply in superb form in the Beethoven, beginning with the murderous half-steps and moving to an exalted melodic statement, maintaining an unfailing tension throughout. The G Major theme-and-variations are hauntingly lovely; the rondo-finale is fiery and fleet at once. The Brahms is one of many that have survived the test of time: the Brahms Milstein did for DG with Jochum even won the heart of fellow violinist Henryk Szeryng. Considered audiophile worthy when first released, the digital remastering has only added more sheen to already brilliant gems. Any collector of great virtuosity will covet these searing interpretations.

--Gary Lemco

MOZART: Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551 "Jupiter"; Clarinet Concerto in A, K. 622; Bassoon Concerto in B-flat, K. 191

Jack Brymer, clarinet
Gwydion Broooke, bassoon
Sir Thomas Beecham conducts Royal Philharmonic

EMI 7243 5 67601 2 79:49:

Inscribed 1957-59, we find Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) in his most happy medium, the recording studio, in the autumn of his years and still enjoying his favorite composer (along with Handel). Beecham recorded several of the Mozart concertos, including a Piano Concerto 12 with Loius Kentner, the G Major Violin Concerto with Da Vito, and the Flute and Harp Concerto in 1947. He chose members of his elite Royal Philharmonic as soloists, insisting that they knew the Mozart style and his own manner so efficiently that a minimum of discussion was necessary. The "Jupiter" was an old Beecham standby; notwithstanding his editorial touches here and there, it always had an enormous impact even in his 1930's version with the London Philharmonic. This present version shared an Angel LP with the Divertimento, K. 131 (yet to be reissued). Some brass additions (and tympani roll) in the final fugue add to the joyful fury of the whole.

The Clarinet Concerto is a genial, natural performance; apparently, it was cut in a single recording session without interruption. For those raised on British clarinet playing, a la Reginald Kell, the style will be most familiar. The Bassoon Concerto has few rivals in the recording field: a Toscanini and a Rodzinski performance come to mind, but these are not active in the catalogue. Brooke and Beecham seem to have a jolly good time of it, and so will you. The volume of music, the quality of the playing, the budget price, the super sound: why think twice about owning it?

--Gary Lemco

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 "Choral"

Elisabeth Soderstrom, soprano
Regina Resnik, contralto
Jon Vickers, tenor
David Ward, bass
Pierre Monteux conducts London Symphony Orchestra and London Bach Choir

Westminster 289 471216-2 68:32 (Distrib. Universal):

Recorded in 1962, when Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) was actively alternating between engagements in England, Germany and the U.S., this famous version of the Ninth still holds up. It had become quite a pre-occupation of record collectors to find a 'complete nine' with Monteux, gravitating to his San Francisco performances of the D Major, and the London Decca versions of the Fourth and Fifth, the Philips Concertgebouw "Eroica," the Vienna Philharmonic versions of the First and Eighth, etc. When the Ninth appeared, it was on two fine, stereo LP's, the symphony's being filled out by a long rehearsal sequence. Monteux was well noted for his conviction in the music of Beethoven and Brahms: it is not a ponderous, Teutonic Beethoven, but an airy, streamlined affair, transparent and lyrical. If Monteux misses the thunder and metaphysics o Furtwaengler and Horenstein, he still communicates suppleness and grace. And as elastic as the singing line is, Monteux does not sacrifice a sure sense of architecture, particularly in the Adagio and in the sectionalized dramatics (literally a microcosm of the whole) in the fourth movement. Monteux's soloists-many of whom served him with equal felicity in Berlioz' Romeo and Juliet Symphony-are in great voice, especially Soderstrom and Vickers. This is a Ninth of spirit and musical naturalness, resonant with the conductor's savvy personality. Add it to your shopping cart.

- - Gary Lemco

HEINRICH SCHLUSNUS, baritone: Opera Arias & Songs--Nimbus 7907:

Schlusnus (1888-1952) was among the greatest baritones of the period between the two world wars. He was a high-voiced baritone, what might be called a "mezzotenor", and ideal for Verdi roles, though he sang the French and German repertory just as well. His low register was rather weak, but in the middle and at the top of his range he produced an effortless flow of beautiful sound, even and always lyrical and tasteful. There are gems all through this recital: for instance a suave "Avant de quitter" from Faust, a tender "Deh, vieni alla finestra" from Don Giovanni, and a very exciting duet from Il Trovatore with the great soprano Frida Leider. (Everything is sung in German, which he somehow makes as smooth and fluent as French or Italian). Schlusnus was as skillful a recitalist as he was in opera, and as a bonus, the disc includes six songs by Richard Strauss with the composer at the piano, and they are as warm and engaging as everything else. The sound of these recordings from 1919-20 and 1925 is dated, as you would expect, but entirely listenable--and you should certainly listen to them!

-Alex Morin

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