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Cantelli: New York Phil. Orch. = CRESTON: Dance Overture; SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 4; BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4, No. 5; VIVALDI: Concerto Grosso; R. STRAUSS: Don Juan, Op. 20 – Wilhelm Backhaus (piano)/ Walter Gieseking (piano)/ New York Philharmonic/ Guido Cantelli – Pristine 

Cantelli: New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Vol. 2 = CRESTON: Dance Overture; SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 4 in d minor, Op. 120; BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58; VIVALDI: Concerto Grosso in d minor, Op. 11, No. 3, RV 565; BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 “Emperor”; R. STRAUSS: Don Juan, Op. 20 – Wilhelm Backhaus, piano (Op. 58)/ Walter Gieseking, piano (Op. 73)/ New York Philharmonic/ Guido Cantelli- Pristine Audio PASC 510 (2 CDs) TT: 2:23:36 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

Pristine’s Andrew Rose restores two Cantelli concerts in New York that exemplify his kinetic, ardent style.

Guido Cantelli (1920-1956) appears before the Carnegie Hall audience in two successive New York concerts, 18 and 25 March 1956.  Cantelli complained bitterly about the lack of cooperation afforded him by “Murderers’ Row”—the Philharmonic players—but no less so than for their regular conductor, Dimitri Mitropoulos, they grudgingly gave much of their expert musicianship to the performances gleaned on this compilation restored by Andrew Rose.  Like Mitropoulos, Cantelli did not shy away from contemporary American scores, and his opening Dance Overture by Paul Creston, which includes some syncopated clapping by the players, has character and energy to spare. I recall how delighted I’d been to acquire the performance on the pirate AS Disc label; and now, in XR processed sound from Pristine, Creston’s happy polyphony resounds from every corner of my earphones.

The Vivaldi concerto from L’Estro Armonico in d minor (25 March) enjoys the plastic intensity the New York Philharmonic strings attained under Mitropoulos and certified in such classic readings as the Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia and Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht. The buoyancy of the movements captures and maintains our attention, and the innate Romanticism of the approach only increases the music’s impact despite any objection from “period”pedants.

Cantelli’s way with the Schumann 1851 Fourth Symphony has always had a natural persuasiveness, an artful balance between his Italian literalism and the expansive vision allotted the Furtwaengler approach. The 18 March reading enjoys a lyrical fluency of articulation, and a vivid sense of drama. The music itself seems cut from one flexible cloth, a remarkably compact exploitation of motifs proffered early and altered in a fashion obligated to Beethoven’s Fifth.  The first movement achieves a finely-wrought line and athletic tempo. Purists will frown at the long interval before the opening of the Romanze, which Schumann meant to follow attacca. The Scherzo has movement and girth, well supported by the Philharmonic tympani. The Romanze material reappears in the Lebhaft third movement; and Schumann  utilizes the motif to create the astonishing transition into the last movement, which Cantelli—like Furtwaengler—accomplishes with hypnotic power and so onward to the splendid fanfares that drive the last movement. The counterpoints and antiphons that run through the finale project a fluid verve and clarity of voicing that becomes entirely infectious, in the brass particularly. The coda literally surges with abundant, virtuosic life, hardly indicative of the shattered spiritual condition of the composer at this point in his tragic career.

For the two Beethoven concertos, each has a stellar personality at the keyboard who brings his own lyric gift to the work at hand. Wilhelm Backhaus (1884-1969) turns his cool, objective style to the service of the Piano Concerto No. 4 (18 March), which in several respects becomes a soft, Apollinian version of the Fifth Symphony. The Philharmonic strings and woodwinds accompany Backhaus alertly and poignantly, while he maintains a firm pulse which does not lack for fluid motion and articulate, piercing runs or deft adjustments in dynamics.  Backhaus’ first movement cadenza, rather brisk, comes across as a stunning etude in graded dynamics and huge rolling chords set against pungent interjections that center on the “fate” rhythm. The deliberate, slow tempo of the Andante con moto and brass flourishes in the last movement Rondo – Vivace insure that Cantelli’s contribution to the musical moment has been felt deeply, all sending the audience into appreciative bliss.

The great colorist Walter Gieseking (1895-1956) appears in the mighty Emperor Concerto (25 March), although his technique proves less than perfect from the outset. Claudio Arrau became quite outspoken on the subject of Gieseking in Beethoven performance, claiming that Gieseking’s tonal weight proved consistently unstylistic. Still, Cantelli seems quite prepared to propel his Philharmonic forces with an authoritative vigor we would hear again when Casadesus and Mitropoulos recorded the work in Paris. In moments of relative repose, however, Gieseking naturally applies his delicious pedal effects—and jeu perle—that enthrall us each time. The first movement recapitulation achieves a striking monumentality, perhaps urging Gieseking forward a bit too quickly for his technique, but the sparks do fly. Cantelli molds the opening of the Adagio un poco mosso into sweet cream, and this plastic, serenely balanced movement—aided by wonderful interjections from the Philharmonic woodwinds—may well redeem the entire performance. Gieseking’s thrust for the Rondo – Allegro has plenty of volatile energy, and the Philharmonic strings and brass eagerly reply. When Gieseking plays leggiero, the effect is magic.  The last page, with Gieseking and a subdued tympani, explodes into a dance-fanfare that New York found delicious.

The Don Juan (March 25) of Richard Strauss confirms Cantelli’s vivid, kinetic power over his selected ensemble, which delivers a limber, eminently athletic tone-poem after Lenau. With the news of Cantelli’s untimely demise in a plane crash on 24 November 1956, New York Philharmonic Music Director Dimitri Mitropoulos programmed another Richard Strauss work, Death and Transfiguration, in memoriam.

—Gary Lemco

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