Classical CD Reissues
October 2003 - Part 1 of 2
RAVEL: Piano Concerto in D for the Left Hand/STRAUSS: An Alpine Symphony, Op. 64
Robert Casadesus, piano
Dimitri Mitropoulos conducts Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Orfeo C 586 021B 63:22 (Distrib. Qualiton):
Culled from two separate concerts, 28 August 1957 (Ravel) and 19 August 1956 (Strauss), these performances capture the art of Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896 1960) in masterly form, offering the Salzburg Festival distinctly unusual fare which the conductor never recorded commercially. The 1956 concert (also with Casadesus in Mozart's C Minor Concerto)included the Overture to Mozart's The Clemency of Titus that has still to be issued. Mitropoulos has a great affinity for the music of Ravel, despite having made only one commercial inscription, Le Tombeau de Couperin, for CBS with the Minneapolis Symphony. To hear the Left Hand Concerto with his veteran partner Robert Casadesus is a virile delight, their interplay in the work's alternately jazzy and Mediterranean sensibilities scintillating, sensuous and audacious. The Strauss is second nature to Mitropoulos, an inveterate mountain-climber himself whose affinity to the Sunrise, Dangerous Moments, Vision and Mountain Storm are evident in the lushness and luminescence of the Vienna strings and brass. Again, Mitropoulos did not record this overwrought bit of program music commercially, although a New York Philharmonic performance exists, formerly on the Hunt (Arkadia) label. The entire disc is a real coup of orchestral and instrumental discipline, a testament to a virtuoso conductor who could rouse a resident ensemble to surpass itself.
SATIE: Gymnopedies Nos. 1 &3/BRITTEN: Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20/DVORAK: Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, Op. 70
Sir John Barbirolli conducts Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam
Testament SBT 1252 67:29 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
It had been forty-eight years since John Barbirolli performed in Amsterdam (January 22, 1969), having played cello as part of a string quartet in 1912. Barbirolli's relatively romantic, old-world sensibility provided an exhilarating tonic to the literalism of the Concertgebouw's chief conductor Bernard Haitink; and Barbirolli spent twelve hours of rehearsal retraining the ensemble to loosen its musical corsets. The present Testament CD captures the entire evening except for the opening Verdi Overture to La Forza del Destino, which seems to have been lost.
The two Satie moments under Barbirolli, in the Debussy orchestration, were new to Amsterdam. Their plangent, pointillistic sensuality is palpable in the wind and string playing. The soft ambiance Barbirolli achieves is certified by a letter he wrote at the time, lauding the "chamber music" feeling he and the Concertgebouw were able to share. The Britten Sinfonia da Requiem was a Barbirolli staple, his having debuted the piece with the New York Philharmonic on March 30, 1941 (still available on NMC Archive Series D030). An anti-war memorial ostensibly written for the 2600th anniversary of the Japanese Empire, the piece did not find favor with its commissioners. Barbirolli's 1941 tempos, too, were criticized by the composer as being rather slow in the outer movements. Here, a leaner vision prevails, without sacrificing the severity of the emotional tenor of the work. Those who know Barbirolli's way with Mahler will find any number of parallel sentiments running through this score.
The Dvorak D Minor is music made the old-fashioned way, in the best sense. Broad tempos, sterling, individual voicings from winds, horns, and strings, and an unbuttoned final Allegro with some real swagger to the bucolic filigree, raise up even one more notch the emotional excitement palpable at the Concertgebouw. The expressive warmth of the entire concert is really its signature, lovingly mounted by Dutch Radio for our perennial delight.
POULENC: Les Biches--Ballet Suite/ DELIBES: Suites from Sylvia and Coppelia
Roger Desormiere conducts Paris Conservatory Orchestra
Testament SBT 1295 74:42 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
My first encounter with the work of under-rated Roger Desormiere (1898-1963) was on the Parliament LP label, where he and the Czech Philharmonic made some lasting impressions in Debussy's La Mer and two of the Nocturnes. Sensuality and color, the excitement in details were what struck me. Then, in my music pre-1750 mode, I blundered on the RCA LP collation of "Ancient Music" in which Desormiere led pieces by Rameau. Then, I discovered the EMI ballet work Desormiere directed in music by Tchaikovsky and Glazounov. My verdict was that this suave talent rivalled Markevitch and Monteux in clarity of line and in rhythmic articulation. My last LP engagement with Desormiere was also the most esoteric: a performance taped live in 1937 of Koechlin's combination water and light show, entitled Les Eaux vives, an obviously aquatic piece illuminated by Koechlin's weirdly compelling harmonies.
Testament has revived Desormiere's Decca LP's made 1950-1951, at the peak of his powers, just a year or two prior to the paralyzing stroke that rendered him, like the pianist Solomon, incapable of physical performance. Known for his musical interest in Sauguet and Stravinsky, Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande, and for his Bartok (especially the Second Concerto with Foldes), Desormiere had been an indefatigable worker and craftsman in music avant-garde and ancient. Karl Haas once played Desormiere's angular suite from Les Biches without mentioning his name. Having worked with Diaghilev at the Ballets Russes, Desormiere was a past master at Poulenc and Satie, Milhaud and Prokofiev. While I am not partial to the music of Leo Delibes, Desormiere gives the two ballet suites light feet, grace and unassuming pageantry. The companion to the disc of Tchaikovsky, Tommasini, Poulenc, and Ippolitov-Ivanov (SBT 1309), this disc is a bracing, short course in the balletic talent whose breadth is no less operatic.
BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77/MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216
Christian Ferras, violin
Carl Schuricht conducts Vienna Philharmonic
Karl Munchinger conducts Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra (Mozart)
Testament SBT 1293 64:09 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
The second of two recent Testament issues devoted to Christian Ferras (1933-1982), these inscriptions from 1954 capture him in an expansive and lyrical mode, where the Brahms has panache and fire to spare. Ferras, after having won the Scheveningen Competition in 1948, came to the attention of Yehudi Menuhin, and the two performed and recorded together, sharing their mutual affection for and influence from Georges Enesco. Later, he became a favorite of Karajan, and his style adopted the silky, if dispassionate, luster to fit that Maestro's musical persona. Here, under the warmer personality Schuricht (1880-1967), Ferras luxuriates in the Brahms sentiment and poised emotionalism, and the dialogues in the Adagio are noble, indeed. The Mozart allows Ferras to exploit his Francophile sense of grace, wit and charm. Karl Munchinger (1915-1990), renowned as a Bach specialist, reveals a liquid, perky and stylish hand in underpinning and expounding on his soloist's motifs.
This is an altogether happy disc, superbly played, with excellent sonics for the period. It celebrates a brilliant virtuoso whose personal flaws unfortunately overwhelmed his remarkable gifts.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36/BORODIN: Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor; In the Steppes of Central Asia
Ferenc Fricsay conducts RIAS Symphony, Berlin and Berlin Philharmonic (Polvtsain Dances)
Archipel Records ARPCD 0075 60:53 (Distrib. Qualiton):
Recorded 1950-1952, the inscriptions made for DGG have been remastered with a vengeance, giving us a vivid sound picture of Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963) and his way with emotionally charged, colorful music. With the addition of this disc to the connoisseur's collection, we have the last three Tchaikovsky symphonies under Fricsay: the Pathetique in two formats for DG (495 159-2), and the Fifth on Urania (22.130, coupled to the Violin Concerto with Menuhin). Given the driven intensity of every Fricsay account, I would like to see his excerpts from Swan Lake restored to the CD catalogue post haste. Budget DG has already issued his balletic interludes from Evgeny Onegin. The F Minor Symphony is as brilliant as it is streamlined, played for virtuosity of rhythm and articulation of strings, winds and brass. The Pizzicato ostinato third movement is a whirlwind affair. The two Borodin pieces are equally to be marveled at: The Steppes of Central Asia is much faster than either Stokowski's or Mitropoulos' contemporary accounts; but its high, inverted pedal whistles across the plain over a panoply of motley colors with no loss of oriental melos. One guest who audited the Polovtsian Dances while I had it on the speakers exclaimed, "What wonderful 'Ali Baba' music!" Further comment is unnecessary.
Karajan: Famous Overtures = MOZART: Die Zauberfloete/BEETHOVEN: Coriolan; Egmont/WEBER: Der Freischuetz; Euryanthe; Oberon; MENDELSSOHN: Der Hebriden/WAGNER: Parsifal/ROSSINI: William Tell; La Gazza Ladra/VERDI: La Traviata; La Forza del Destino/OFFENBACH: Orpheus in the Underworld; Barcarolle/SUPPE: Light Cavalry/J. STRAUSS: Der Fledermaus; Der Zigeunerbaron/ LEONCAVALLO: Pagliacci: Intermezzo/MASCAGNI: Cavalleria Rusticana: Intermezzo
Herbert von Karajan conducts Berlin Philharmonic
DGG 474 275-2 78:17; 78:36 (Distrib. Universal):
One of eleven DGG sets devoted to "The Karajan Collection," this set is spectacular by any audiophile's standards. Recorded 1965-1980, we hear Karajan and his disciplined Berlin Philharmonic in ostensibly lighter fare, although the frequent explosions and eruptions of sound often belie their "populist" character. Suppe's Light Cavalry is a case in point, from the opening brass fanfare to the deft, detached string pizzicati, the sheer, electric level of execution is phenomenal. Never one to tolerate a rough edge or a harsh sound, Karajan gets liquid phrase endings from Beethoven's surging Coriolan and Wagner's ethereal Parsifal, and the deep basses of Freischuetz have the Black Forest on your doorstep. The orchestral patina, the luster and shimmer of the each choir, were the envies of the conducting world, and we can hear why. No concertmaster is listed for the Offenbach, but I assume the pearly violin soli belong to Michel Schwalbe. The fugal passages in Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture are not only clear but dramatically pungent, the sound more resonant than the inscriptions left by Furtwaengler and Schuricht. All eleven DGG sets are "the best of Karajan," who along with Leonard Bernstein, shared the Popedom of music with a style entirely his own.
PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26/BARTOK: Piano Concerto No. 3; 8 Excerpts from Mikrokosmos, Book VI
Julius Katchen, piano
Ernest Ansermet conducts Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Testament SBT 1300 66:30 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
Known for his thorough-going interest in the music of Brahms, Julius Katchen (1926-1969) was an American virtuoso and contemporary of the more flamboyant William Kapell, and their musical interests were not dissimilar. Katchen's was a more classical style, but equally muscular and aggressive. If Kapell gravitated towards Copland, Katchen found a sympathetic spirit in Rorem. Both artists gave fire and panache to Prokofiev's Third Concerto. Katchen's recording in this set is his earlier of two, this made in November 1953 with Ernest Ansermet, always a sympathetic reader of the iconoclastic Russian. Katchen executes some graceful filigree in the second movement theme-and variations, and he gets the blood racing in the finale. The Bartok, from October 1953, tries to balance a Hungarian ethos with French taste, in the manner of the Annie Fischer/Igor Markevitch inscription. The second movement nocturne is particularly refined, with Ansermet's orchestral tissue's having a balletic character. The Mikrokosmos group shows off Katchen's relishing all kinds of eccentric accents and irregular metric units, free dissonances and displaced intervals. Even in the course of punishing acrobatics, Katchen manages a semblance of warmth and grace in what are Bartok's experiments for his larger forms. Assuming Testament will continue to issue Katchen's Decca originals, might we hope for the return of the Katchen/Monteux Brahms' D Minor Concerto?
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