Beecham conducts R. STRAUSS and BLOCH = R. STRAUSS: Don Quixote; BLOCH: Violin Concerto – Alfred Wallenstein, cello/ Rene Pollain, viola/ Mishel Piastro, v./ Philharmonic Sym. of New York/ Joseph Szigeti, v./ London Philharmonic Orch. (Bloch) – Pristine Audio

Beecham conducts R. STRAUSS and BLOCH = R. STRAUSS: Don Quixote, Op. 35; BLOCH: Violin Concerto – Alfred Wallenstein, cello/ Rene Pollain, viola/ Mishel Piastro, violin/ Philharmonic Sym. of New York/ Joseph Szigeti, v./ London Philharmonic Orch. (Bloch) – Pristine Audio PASC 410, 73:32 [avail. in various formats fr. www.prstineclassical.com] ****:

Mark Obert-Thorn, producer and recording engineer, extends his masterful restoration legacy devoted to Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) to include –  Andrew Rose’s having edited the Bloch – two Beecham premiers: his commercially recorded Don Quixote of Richard Strauss (7 April 1832) and his live performance of the Violin Concerto by Ernest Bloch from Queen’s Hall London (9 March 1939). The former, with the Philharmonic-Symphony of New York, signified a return engagement for Beecham with this ensemble, his having performed – rather less than in consonance – the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in 1928 with a newcomer to the U.S., one willful Vladimir Horowitz. Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti (1892-1973) and Beecham made three commercial discs together – of music by Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Prokofiev – but they never committed the 1938 score to shellacs. The extant performance once had vinyl life from a Sir Thomas Beecham Society issue of 1973.

Cellist Alfred Wallenstein (1898-1983) assumed the principal position of the New York Philharmonic under Arturo Toscanini in 1929.  The performance enjoys Beecham’s sense of the music’s parodic spirit, the constant juxtaposition of Quixote’s grand visions and his brute falls onto hard or ugly reality. Wallenstein’s solo, however, tends to remain rather subdued in sound, and Obert-Thorn speculates that he likely retained his natural position amongst the orchestra members rather than received prime placement close to the microphones. The grandest moment, the Dialogue of Knight and Squire, really features the tutti, but Wallenstein and Mishel Piastro (1891-1970) achieve some nobility of expression in their colloquy. The Knight’s Vigil casts a melancholy lyricism that shows off Wallenstein’s middle and lower register with hints of Quixote’s approaching ride through the air. The brass and wind choirs quite dominate the entire performance, and they assert themselves in The Adventure of the Enchanted Boat, the strings’ finishing off the sequence misterioso. The contrast in the textures becomes evident in the penultimate episode, The Defeat of Don Quixote by the Knight of the White Moon, in which the cello pales against the brass, despite the sincere beauty in Wallenstein’s playing. A true sense of a tragically fatigued spirit marks The Death of Don Quixote, but the sonic grandeur of the solo would have to wait for Emanuel Feuermann’s inscription with Eugene Ormandy in Philadelphia for poetic justice.

Ernest Bloch composed his Violin Concerto in the style of cantorial and “liturgical” syntax we know from his Schelomo. Declamatory and “romanesque” rhetoric merges with Eastern influences to produce heroic gestures in music that shifts the tempo in the course of modal doxology. What makes the writing compelling – the first movement is marked Allegro deciso – remains the colorful scoring, its use of harp, brass, and plaintive woodwinds. If one claimed this music as Respighi’s, I would not care to argue.

Szigeti’s rasping, wiry tone and driving propulsion urge the rhapsodic music forward, although few of the melodies possesses any singing power, in the popular sense. The cadenza seems repetitive and dourly obligated to the Mendelssohn and Brahms cadenzas. The Andante extends the impressionistic, dreamy atmosphere. The violin part exploits Eastern sonorities, much like a muezzin or a cantor in some Hebraic context, despite the fact that the composer disclaimed this intention. The last movement, as in Bartok’s Second Concerto, recasts the Deciso motives from the first movement, along with energetic new material, lyrically extroverted and somewhat playful. Though Szigeti premiered the work – in Cleveland with Mitropoulos – and served as its primary arbiter, as did the devoted Menuhin, the piece has not much history in the active concert programs of major violinists.

—Gary Lemco

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