Classical CD Reissues
November 2002 - Part 1 of 2
Ataulfo Argenta = LISZT: A Faust Symphony/RAVEL: Alborada del gracioso/SCUBERT: Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D. 944 Great/FALLA: El amor brujo
Ana Maria Iriarte, mezzo-soprano (Falla)/Ataulfo Argenta conducts Paris Conservatory Orchestra/Orchestre des Cento Soli (Ravel, Schubert)
IMG Artists 7243 5 75098 2 4 68:58; 74:53 (Distrib. EMI):
Volume three of Great Conductors of the 20th Century celebrates perhaps the least known of international conductors, the late Ataulfo Argenta (1913-1958), the Spanish talent whose reputation on record rests on collaborations with Alfredo Campoli and Julius Katchen, along with a series of CBS zarzuela inscriptions. A prize winner at the Madrid Conservatory in piano, Argenta went to Kassel and studied conducting with Carl Schuricht. We can hear the latters influence in the 1957 Schubert 9th, which begins ponderously Teutonic and then lifts off into a more Mediterranean sensibility. The 1955 Liszt is songful, if a bit lightweight against the Beecham and Horenstein versions; Argenta uses the original edition that omits the chorus mysticus with tenor from Faust, Part II.
The Ravel (1956) and Falla pieces reveal the sensitive colorist in Argenta, a clear capacity for nuance that might suggest Silvestri or Markevitch as kindred spirits. Since Pathe Marconi owned the license to the Lamoureux Orchestra, Decca had to lease the rights in the 1950s by the use of a pseudonym, the Orchestra of a Hundred Soloists. The Schubert enjoys a lyrical and unmannered approach, perhaps a bit too metronomic in the Andante con moto but exalted in the woodwind trio from the Scherzo. The earliest recording is the 1951 Falla, a deliberate and lean account, not so sensual as Stokowskis two recordings, but alternately loving and liquidly volatile. Argenta died under troubling circumstances from carbon monoxide poisoning, just poised on international success as heir-apparent to Ansermets Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.
SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D. 944 "Great"/CHERUBINI: Anacreon Overture/CORNELIUS: The Barber of Baghdad Overture
Sir Adrian Boult conducts BBC Symphony Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Cherubini)
BBC Legends BBCL 4072-2 72:05 (Distrib. Koch):
Culled from three separate concerts 1954-1969, this disc captures Sir Adrian Boult (1889-1983), whom I often liken to the 'British Toscanini' in more sanguine moments, especially in the 1969 Schubert 9th, which Boult takes in one of his more expansive styles, gently rounding the opening phrases and urging a sense of surprise in the ensuing Allegro. The energy of the performance is enlivened and refreshing, considering the conductor is eighty years old! The last two movements, in particular, enjoy an urgency and a fluid, basic tempo that does not waver. Cherubini's Anacreon remains a curiosity, despite the fact that Mengelberg, Toscanini and Furtwaengler each performed and recorded this piece, which opened the Royal Philharmonic Society back in 1813. This full-blooded reading comes from 1963. Even more rare is the music of Peter Cornelius, more often performed as German light opera and operetta. This 1954 performance with the BBC is a kind of 'reconciliation' piece, with Boult's having been dismissed from the helm of the BBC in 1950. The music tries hard to be Rossini without ever quite making it, but it does exude a pleasant energy. For Boult collectors, the disc provides alternately exciting and unusual fare in good sound.
MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466/BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68
Bruno Walter piano and conductor
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Opus Kura OPK 2022 68:57 (Distrib. Albany):
The Japanese label Opus Kura restores two 1937 vintage performances from Bruno Walter (1876-1962), inscribed just prior to the Anschluss, when he would have to vacate Austria and flee to Paris, then London, and finally make his residence in the USA. The Mozart concerto with Walter's leading from the keyboard shows off his pearly play, his pert sense of ensemble and his natural flair for Vienna-Mozart style. Walter plays the first movement cadenza by Carl Reinecke, a romantic's treatment of the more militant aspects of the piece's minor coloring. Remastering has brightened the piano tone and the inner string line, which in the EMI pressings has been absent.
The Brahms First is a liquid, driven performance, quite bright in color, though I am not terribly keen on the dry acoustic of the Musikverein Saal of the period. Walter manages a Mengelberg-like ritard at the end of the first movement which is worth a listen. The relative flow of the remainder of the symphony has something of Toscanini's influence, perhaps the residue of memories of Fritz Steinbach, the early Brahms acolyte. The performance had a brief life on LP on the Turnabout label. It glows here with a loving presence; and I feel more of a distinct personality in this music than I do with Walter's homogenized readings later in Los Angeles.
MOZART: Concerto No. 10 in E-flat Major for 2 Pianos, K. 365; Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595; Sonata in D Major for 2 Pianos, K. 448
Clifford Curzon, piano/Daniel Barenboim, piano and conducting English Chamber Orchestra/Benjamin Britten, piano (K. 448)
BBC Legends BBCL 4037-3 78:13 (Distrib. Koch):
A plethora of lofty sentiments graces this reissue, another celebration of Clifford Curzon (1907-1982), Mozart pianist par excellence who never commercially recorded the E-flat "Double" Concerto; so this performance from Albert Hall September 11, 1979 is most welcome. Curzon was seventy-two when he collaborated with rising star Barenboim for the two concertos, where Barenboim would accompany as well as lead the orchestra in the staple of Curzon's repertory, the No. 27 in B-flat. Having made no records for the past seven years, Curzon had narrowed his concerto cycle to perhaps six or seven works, and the B-flat retains all the insight of a lifetime.
Given the 'exposed' nature of Mozart's part writing, Curzon manages to imbue the liquid figures and running filigree with a variety of colors. He takes the second piano in the E-flat Concerto; for the June 23, 1960 Aldeburgh Festival performance of the Sonata, one cannot tell who is playing which part. The D Major was perpetually popular with composer-pianist Britten, who paired up with Curzon or Sviatoslav Richter, whoever happened to be available. Bubbling spirits abound, the playing's being both resilient and eminently vocal. Collectors will want to compare these late Curzon readings with those of his chief mentor, Artur Schnabel, to appreciate the inflections of influence. A sturdy, worthy addition to the Curzon discography.
DUTILLEUX: Cello Concerto Tout un monde lointain/LUTOSLAWSKI: Cello Concerto
Mstislav Rostropovich, cello/Serge Baudo conducts Orchestre de Paris (Dutilleux); Witold Lutoslawski conducts Orchestre de Paris
EMI 7243 5 67868 2 52:38:
Recorded November-December 1974, this addition to the Great Recordings of the Century series spotlights the visionary prowess of cellist Rostropovich, who picked up the banner for Dutilleuxs commission for the Lamoureux Orchestra after Igor Markevitch, the original inspirator, was no longer with the ensemble. Lutoslawski himself sent Rostropovich his 1970 concerto, in the full expectation that his duel between cello and orchestra had found its finest exponent.
Two quite different aesthetics dominate these two pieces: often eerie and atmospheric, Dutilleuxs concert takes each of its five movements from a line in Baudelaire. The cello plays a discernible melodic line, while the surrounding orchestral tissue sounds more like a series of intensities or masses of tissue. The second of the two slow movements become quite luminous, and the work ends in an epiphany, a combination of Debussy and Messaien. The Lutoslaski opens with an extended cadenza suddenly punctuated by trumpet riffs. The brass remains adverserial throughout, but the harmonic motion eventually moves up from D to A. Rostropovich plays fully, fervently in both works, and each of his conductors keeps a tight rein on the Orchestre de Paris. EMI sonics are top flight, and these colorful collaborations will display any audiophiles sound system.
BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61/MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216/RAVEL: Tzigane
Zino Francescatti, violin/Andre Cluytens conducts Paris Conservatory Orchestra
Artur Balsam, piano (Ravel)
DOREMI DHR-7812 74:45 (Distrib. Allegro):
I have frequently commented on my affection for the violin artistry of Zino Francescatti (1902-1991), whose suave flair and warm tone made excellent whatever music he favored, particularly that of Paganini, Saint-Saens, Vieuxtemps and the French repertory. But Bach and Beethoven remained Francescatti's "encyclopedia of the soul," and this DOREMI (Zino Francescatti, Vol. 2) restoration of the concert at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, Paris from November 13, 1946 makes more than a fine case for Francescatti's innate nobility of line and graceful elegance in standard Germanic repertory. Moreover, for those collectors of conductor Andre Cluytens, this Beethoven Concerto complements Cluytens' commercial venture with Oistrakh made for EMI some twelve years later and provides a sober tonic for the more flabby collaborations with aging Bruno Walter in the Mozart they did for CBS.
The Beethoven is a thoughtful, studied, lyric reading, Apollonian, and held in tense obedience throughout. The recorded sound is both dry and somewhat thin, so the colors are washed out but without sacrificing the musicality of the whole. The G Major second movement variations of the Beethoven is a musical plateau all its own. Francescatti applies a wide, fast vibrato, and he makes the Kreisler first movement cadenza polyphonically fascinating. The judicious, sec taste of the two French musicians works equally well in the Mozart G Major, which conveys youthful serenity and sheer delight in its own brio. The Ravel recording is a commercial transfer made from the April 13, 1947 Columbia shellacs. It is a colossal etude, rife with Francescatti's natural affinitty for gypsy energies. Except for the cramped sound of the live concert, this is an exceptional restoration.
French Ballet Music = DELIBES: Le Roi samuse/ DEBUSSY: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun; The Prodigal Son: Cortege and Dance-tune/SAINT-SAENS: Dance of the Priestesses of Dagon and Bacchanale from, Samson et Dalila/BERLIOZ: The Damnation of Faust: Dance of the Sylphs; Minuet of the Will o the Wisps/MASSENET: Waltz from Cinderella/GOUNOD: Ballet Music from Faust
Sir Thomas Beecham conducts Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
EMI 7243 5 67900 2 5 70:25:
Another in the Great Recordings of the Century series from EMI, this gem incorporates 1957-59 inscriptions by Beecham used for French collations and for incidental fillers on his Lollipops albums. Particularly explosive are the Saint-Saens excerpts from Samson et Dalila and the entire set from Gounods Faust. The RPO winds and brass vividly project both power and delicacy. I have never been convinced Delibes Le Roi samuse is anything but musical candy, but thats what a lollipop is. The Berlioz fragments are beguiling, certainly; why EMI could not splice one of Beechams performances of the Hungarian March onto the excerpts baffles me. The Debussy pieces are almost too transparent, especially when we hear Monteux, Ansermet or Munch in the Faun. All this is moot when you consider the level of orchestral virtuosity on display here. Along with Beechams Bizet Symphony and his Scheherazade, this is another of his classic renditions, superbly remastered.
A pair of DGGs best LPs in superb new CD reissues in the Originals series...
RUSSO: Street Music; Three Pieces for Blues Band and Orchestra; GERSHWIN: An American in Paris - Corky Siegel, Siegel-Schwall Band/San Francisco Symphony Orch./Seiji Ozawa - DGG 463 665 2:
This unlikely combination of musicians produced probably the most fun I ever had in a symphony hall back in l973, as well as this Legendary Recording from the Deutsche Grammophon Catalog, taped the same week as the live SF concert. I was sitting in the first row on the center aisle on the right and not only did the members of Siegels blues band (really a quartet) have a great time, but the often previously somnambulant-appearing Ozawa was also having a ball too! Russo wasnt trying to top Gershwin in these works - just to create a strongly rhythmic structure for improvisation in all four of his pieces. He wanted the players to be as loose as possible, and though thats not easy for most symphony players, the San Franciscans got it right. Siegel, on harmonica and electric piano, is the soloist in all the Russo works, and the balances are just right. The Gershwin is not bad either, and better sonics than Bernsteins. This was one of the best DGG LPs of the 70s and I still have it. The original-image bit-processing work by DGGs engineers provides a new level of transparency and air often missing from their CDs, but those of you with quality analog front ends and the original LP dont need me to tell you which ultimately sounds the very best. The artwork on the actual CDs of this series is designed to look like the original LPs yellow label, complete with credits and images of grooves around the five-inch disc. Cool.
LEOS JANACEK: Missa Glagolitica (Slavonic Mass); The Diary of One Who Disappeared - Soloists/Bavarian Radio Choir/Bavarian Radio Orch./Rafael Kubelik (Mass); Kay Griffel, contralto/Ernst Haefliger, tenor/Frauenchor/Rafael Kubelik, leader & piano - DGG 463 672-2:
Janacek doesnt receive enough attention in my book for being one of the most strongly individualistic composers of the 20th century (as well as a rotter on the personal level). And his mass has to be the most exciting such work composed in that century (and this 1965 taping vies for being its very best recording). Glagolitic is the ancient Slavonic language in which the work is sung, and musically it has a rough-edged feeling that seems to be both ancient and contemporary at the same time. He chose motifs to create his mass without the gloom of medieval monastery cells; his religious views were more pantheistic if anything. The way the soloists often seem to soar out of the choral parts is thrilling, as is the penultimate movement which proves to be a wild and pathbreaking virtuoso pipe organ solo. The Mass normally has an entire disc to itself; the song cycle is a welcome addition here. Its role of a peasant lad who falls for a beautiful gypsy girl is sung here by the same tenor just heard in the Mass, and Kubelik demonstrates his rarely-heard abilities as an accompanist at the piano. Again, an excellent restoration from DGGs The Originals series, squeezing just about all from the original tapes that can possibly be communicated via the 44.1K format now in its senior years.
- John Sunier
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