Reiner Rarities, Vol. 3 = Works of DEBUSSY, RAVEL, BERLIOZ, HONEGGER – Pristine Audio

Reiner Rarities, Vol. 3 = DEBUSSY: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun; Nocturnes: Nuages et Fetes; Danse; RAVEL: Daphnis and Chloe – Suite No. 2; La Valse; HONEGGER: Concertino for Piano and Orchestra; BERLIOZ: Damnation of Faust, Op. 24 – Hungarian March – Oscar Levant, piano/ Philharmonic-Symphony of New York/ Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/ CBS Orchestra/ Fritz Reiner – Pristine Audio PASC 438, 72:20 [avail. in various formats at www.pristineclassical.com] ****: 

The third in the Pristine cycle of rare performances and repertory led by Hungarian conductor Fritz Reiner (1888-1963), this installment assembled and edited by Mark Obert-Thorn contains some fine delicacies, all derived from splendid French repertory.  Years ago, in a conversation with vocalist Florence Kopleff, the subject of Reiner’s devotion to French music included her recollection of a fine Chicago performance of the Berlioz Romeo and Juliet Symphony which stood out as among those major works for which RCA never contracted with Reiner to record. But the from first notes of the Debussy works in New York (rec. 22 November 1938), we realize that Reiner’s affinity for this music proves natural and spontaneous.

In his editorial remarks, Mark Obert-Thorn speculates that principal flute John Amans provides the solo for The Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, whose unhurried pace and lushness of texture do much to align this inscription with the later “The Reiner Sound” for RCA.  Wonderful wind and harp response mark Reiner’s Nuages, as well, the essential grisaille character of the whole miraculously inflected. Fetes, on the other hand, enjoys a bravura character, especially in the brass, harp, winds, cymbals, and tympani. The swirling, plastic rhythms grant us a strong indication of what Reiner’s La Mer might have projected in this period of recording. The upper winds literally scintillate with energy for the resounding march that invades then retreats from our witness.

The Pittsburgh legacy with Reiner has to my mind consistently been under-valued. Debussy’s Danse – orchestrated by Ravel(Tarantelle styrienne, rec. 1 April 1947) derives from the same session as Ravel’s La Valse. The sheer muscular hustle of the Debussy piece captures the interplay of the brass and battery, and the elastic banter of the woodwinds over string pizzicatos, beautifully. We could wish the microphone placement for the middle sections winds were more prominent. Ravel’s La Valse finds Reiner in a patient mood, evolving the neurosis of the dance incrementally, with pungent nervous strands of kaleidoscopic sound that will eventually coalesce into their spectacular apotheosis and explosive collapse of the Viennese art-form.  The sound restoration in La Valse quite takes us by storm.
The rousing performance of the Berlioz Hungarian March (15 November 1941) comes to a surprise ending with a “rare” diminuendo.

The most elusive of the restorations also provides the longest sequence: the Ravel Daphnis et Chloe – Suite No. 2 (2 September 1945) originally inscribed as a V-Disc (from broadcast acetates for the Armed Forces). Here, the intense sensuousness of the Reiner sound pours forth, with astonishing interior voices in the Lever de jour section that rival our “traditional” interpreters Munch, Monteux, and Martinon. Reiner’s “concession” to the Romantic in Ravel appears in the occasional portmentos that underline some cadences, but the unfolding lyricism of the mythic couple remains generally chaste and pungently clear.  For the 6 July 1949 inscription from CBS of the Honeggar 1924 Concertino, Reiner has the pianist Oscar Levant (1906-1972) for a witty and impish contributor to the jazzy effects. The Larghetto includes some fine interplay between the CBS oboe and Levant over ghostly strings and under acerbic brass riffs. The last movement suggests what Levant might have done with the Ravel G Major Concerto. A thoroughly enjoyable addition to the Reiner CD discography, this French collection.

—Gary Lemco

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