18 Classical Reissue Reviews Part 2

by | Apr 1, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

April 2005, Pt. 2 of 2 [Pt. 1]

Moura Lympany in Rachmaninov & KhachaturianMoura Lympany Decca Recordings 1951-1952 = RACHMANINOV: 24 Preludes; Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30/KHACHATURIAN: Piano Concerto in D-flat Major

Moura Lympany, piano Anthony Collins conducts New Symphony Orchestra of London Anatole Fistoulari conducts London Philharmonic (Khachaturian)
Decca Original Masters 475 6368 75:39; 69:59 (Distrib. Universal)****:

Only a few issues ago, I reviewed the Testament installment of the January 1951 Rachmaninov Preludes with Dame Moura Lympany (nee Mary Gertrude Johnstone), here issued by the parent company. To date, no company has remastered Moura Lympay’s first integral Rachmaninov Preludes from 1941. A gifted pupil of Tobias Matthay, Lympany possessed a powerhouse technique, girded by a facile legato, a lovely jeu perle, and quicksilver runs and octaves. Lympany’s fondness for Russian music made her a counterpart and contemporary of William Kapell in America, each of whom championed the Khachaturian Concerto only a few years (in Lympany’s case 1940) after Lev Oborin had given its premier in the Soviet Union. For the Rachmaninov Third (recorded 1952), Lympany and Anthony Collins use the heavily edited version the composer authorized for his own inscription with Ormandy. In her later days, Lympany favored the longer version, still favoring the original and shorter cadenza. Again, to lament the remaining Russian repertory Lympany recorded (like Rachmaninov’s Concertos in F-sharp minor and C Minor), I ask EMI to consider reissuing her work with Sir Malcolm Sargent and Nicolai Malko.

Having earlier made my judgments on the complete set of Rachmaninov Preludes, I need not reiterate my every word. The playing is absolutely apt to the nostalgic, occasionally explosive style of the two sets, with a sense of inner space for the weightier moments, like the B Minor, Op. 32, No. 10. The ease of transition in the G Minor, Op. 23, No. 5 is noteworthy, as are the exotic colors in the C minor and E Major pieces. The Concerto has a competent but somewhat pedestrian colorist in Anthony Collins, who made some reputation (I think inflated) in music by Sibelius and Vaughan Williams. But Lympany’s drive and affecting lyricism are never less than charming and compelling, whether in the intimate or Herculean passages. One critic I knew used to call Anatole Fistoulari “the world’s greatest non-conductor,” but that is a bit unkind. Fistoulari made some inscriptions for MGM Records that really ought to come back. True, with volcanic talents like Milstein and Lympany his contribution seems weak tea, but for the Khachaturian Concerto (recorded October-November 1952) he has a few kaleidoscopic moments that cannot be dismissed as lackluster. The piano part under Lympanhy quite bristles at times and her line is as grand as anything in Artur Rubinstein, her hero. A strong set by a living legend of the keyboard.

–Gary Lemco

Andre Previn conducts Romeo & Juliet balletPROKOFIEV: Romeo and Juliet–Ballet, Op. 64

Andre Previn conducts London Symphony Orchestra
EMI Classics 7243 5 862254 2 74:26; 74:16****:

Recorded June 1973, this is a finely honed, sonically powerful version of the Prokofiev’s 1935 ballet on Shakespeare’s ultimate romantic lyrical tragedy. Even taking individual moments and measuring them against my favorite excerpted suite by Dimitri Mitropolous (who infused the music with metaphysical pain), the Previn ingratiates itself through its stately energy, pageantry, and tender intimacy. The London Symphony is among the great virtuoso ensembles, with principals like Barry Tuckwell and Alan Civil leading the brass. The constant alternation of playful wit, sudden outbursts of violence, and exquisite eroticism finds pellucid realization under Previn’s guiding hand.

The scale of the playing is matched by the careful delicacy of the score’s phrase and color, which in spite of the modern orchestration still suggest a Medieval setting, a suite in olden style. Recordings of the entire ballet came relatively late, so we have no complete inscriptions by such masters of the style as Munch, Golovanov, Mravinsky, Mitropoulos, Malko, not even Ansermet nor Markevitch. So among the more recent candidates like Ashkenazy, Gergiev, Maazel, and Previn, collectors may as well gauge the orchestra and the fidelity of sound as the arbiters of musical efficacy, and this set is competitive with any on the market.

–Gary Lemco

Berman plays Liszt with MaagLISZT: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major; Mephisto Waltz No. 1; Heroide funebre – Symphonic Poem No. 8

Lazar Berman, piano/Peter Maag conducts Orchestra Sinfonica RAI di Torino
Arts Archives 43041-2 56:25 (Distrib. Albany)****:

The often underestimated Swiss conductor Peter Maag (1919-2001) makes sparks fly in live performances of music by Franz Liszt taped April 9, 1976 and March 21, 1978 (Symphonic Poem No. 8) in Turin. The album may well stand as a memorial tribute to pianist Lazar Berman (1930-2005), whose wonderful technique at the keyboard seemed to synthesize the soft, liquid palette of Emil Gilels and rock-like objectivity of Sviatoslav Richter. Both the E-flat Concerto and the Mephisto Waltz No. 1 are relatively standard fare; and even with the sizzling playing by Berman and RAI Turin, we are gratified musically but little wiser for the music’s interior mysteries.

The Heroide funebre, on the other hand, is an entirely musical matter of some note. Composed in 1848 to celebrate the general spirit of European rebellion, the composition is huge, the kind of canvas that competes with Smetana’s The High Castle from Ma Vlast for scale and heroic impulse. A cross between moments from Eine Faust-Symphonie and the melos of the A-flat Liebestraum, the music has an episodic grandeur, a sporadic series of convulsive gestures which remind me of Berlioz’ strange opus, Symphonie funebre et triumphale. The sensibilities of the two composers being so alike, this kinship is likely old news to musicologists. But unless one has traversed the complete Liszt tone poems by way of Masur or Haitink, this gloomy but exalted piece should come as a massive surprise, a forerunner in many ways of the Mahler temperament.

– Gary Lemco

Emil Telmanyi in Nielsen V. ConcertoNIELSEN: Violin Concerto, Op. 33; A Saga-Dream, Op. 39; Clarinet Concerto, Op. 57

Emil Telmanyi, violin/Louis Cahuzac, clarinet/Egisto Tango conducts The Royal Danish Orchestra/John Frandsen conducts The Royal Danish Orchestra (Clarinet Concerto)
Dutton CDBP 9744 67:16 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:

Marvelously quiet restorations from Michael Dutton of essential Nielsen repertory, recorded 1942 and 1947 by two leading Nielsen exponents; three, if we include Italian conductor Egisto Tango. Emil Telmanyi (1892-1988), a Hungarian musician who settled in Copenhagen and married Nielsen’s daughter Anne Marie (until 1933), championed Nielsen’s music with accompanists like Erno Dohnanyi and Victor Schiolor. The collaborations with Schiolor in the two Violin Sonatas have yet to be restored to the CD catalogue. The Violin Concerto of 1911 has the same intensity, forward motion, and sprawling largesse as the more famous Menuhin/Woldike version of a few years later. While there are a few errant entries and missed notes, the conception is aristocratic from first to last, the huge Praeludium on a sustained pedal-point lyrical and expansive. The sudden onrush of the Allegro cavalleresco and its subsequent, intermittent explosions seem as inevitably planned as they are exciting. The last movement, sporting uneven/even Bartok-like metrics, comes off as a quiet virtuoso showpiece that now transcends its rather provincial origins.

Louis Cahuzac (1880-1960) took on the Clarinet Concerto after the death of its intended recording artist, Age Oxenvad. Cahuzac enjoyed the reputation as the dean of French clarinetists, and he brings a real searching quality to the score, which relishes huge trills and turns and jazzy riffs. Clarinet and un-credited side drum often combine for Stravinskian exercises in color and witty banter. The cadenza keeps interrupting itself in a jerky, dotted pattern, then extends itself lyrically with other members of the winds and strings. A relatively young John Frandsen leads the tricky, busy score without any trace of accent. The Saga-Dream tonepoem (1908), a moody piece with definite hearkening back to Sibelius, came to most collectors through the efforts of Jascha Horenstein. A series of gloomy, morose brass intoning and eerily ambiguous string and wind harmonies might make this piece kin to The Oceanides of Sibelius. As a musical curio directed by Maestro Tango, it makes a few fascinating points.

–Gary Lemco

Aaron Rosand in NorwayAaron Rosand in Norway

SINDING: Suite in A Minor, Op. 10; SAINT-SAENS: Havanaise in E for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 83; Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, Op. 28; EGGE: Violin Concerto, Op. 26; LALO: Smyphonie espagnole, Op. 21; TCHAIKOVSKY: Serenade Melancolique in B Minor, Op. 26; SIBELIUS: Humoresque No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 87, No. 1; SARASATE: Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20/BULL: Saeterjentens Sandag

Sverre Brulund conducts Norwegian Radio Orchestra Karsten Andersen conducts Bergen Philharmonic (Egge) Robert Levin, piano (Bull)
VAI Audio VAIA Stereo 1240 (2 discs) 62:11; 57:48****:

I first discovered the ravishing artistry of Aaron Rosand (b. 1927) in his Vox record of the six Sibelius humoresques, which was the first inscription of those charming and snappy pieces. Mr. Rosand applies his deftly colorist touches to the first of these skittish, atmospheric studies. A Philadelphia native, Mr. Rosand’s pedagogy, which includes studies with Efrem Zimbalist, makes his a natural heir to the great Oscar Shumsky. The compilation here offered by VAI includes a series of concerts Rosand gave in Norway, 1975-1980, although in his notes Rosand states that his collaborations in Norway actually extended over a ten year period.

The major work that Rosand wishes to promote is the neo-romantic Concerto by Klaus Egge (1906-1979), a piece Rosand learned in 1974 because he felt its natural lyricism and technical challenges insure it a permanent place in the repertory. In three movements, the half-hour concerto is relatively traditional in form, with a melodic contour that suggests a cross between Lars-Erik Larson and Busoni. The Sinding Suite is an old Heifetz staple that sizzles when played by talents like Heifetz, Perlman, and Rosand, whose tone throughout remains rich and supple, with that special crisp bite and bow pressure that makes his sound unique. The Lalo Symphonie is cut along the same lines as his earlier inscription for Vox, with only a hint of broader tempos.

The Tchaikovsky Serenade is modestly wrought but eminently soaring and passionate, akin to the readings we have from Leonid Kogan. Saint-Saens and Sarasate are Rosand specialties, with my having been particularly fond of the swift momentum Rosand achieved in his early recording of Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy. The little Ole Bull piece celebrates the spirit of the Norwegian people, and it appropriately concludes the recital. Karsten Andersen, who accompanies Rosand for his rare excursion into contemporary music, made his own mark in having recorded the Grieg youthful C Minor Symphony some years ago for Decca. Having this set is like welcoming an old, beloved friend back into my home.

–Gary Lemco

Stokowski cond. Samson & DelilahSAINT-SAENS: Samson and Delilah, Op. 47–excerpts/TCHAIKOVSKY: Tatiana’s Letter Scene from Evgeny Onegin, Op. 24

Rise Stevens,Delilah/Robert Merrill, High Priest/Jan Peerce, Samson/Licia Albanese, Tatiana/Robert Shaw Chorale/NBC Symphony Orchestra/His Symphony Orchestra (NY Philh. Members)/Leopold Stokowski
Cala CACD0540 76:35****:

To hear the legendary Leopold Stokowski (1882 -1977) in the opera pit was a rare and always exciting occasion. But even as far back as the early 1930s Stokowski revealed his innate capacities for opera in his production of Berg’s Wozzeck, with a young Nelson Eddy in the title role. (!) Opera lovers will recall stagings of Carmen, Orfeo, Boris Gudonov, Turandot and periodic encounters with Wagner, all as part and parcel of the Stokowski ethos.

The Saint-Saens opera, recorded from 7-14, 1954, is, if I recall correctly, the second session devoted to this music – the first having been criticized for its overemphasis on the orchestral part. Jan Peerce is in good hearty voice for Samson, but Rise Strevens clearly commands the eight vocal scenes, with her Mon couer s’ouvre a ta voix occupying central place among stellar realizations. The fourth aria in the excerpt, La victoire facile, where Robert Merril makes a virile presence, has its first appearance on CD, having been omitted from the RCA LP (LM 1848) and only available first on the LP issued by the Leopold Stokowski Society. By the time we get to the ever-thrilling Bacchanale, we are convinced that Stokowski is as natural an opera conductor as he is an orchestral colorist. The one excerpt from Tchaikovsky Eugene Onegin (February 6, 1951) had Licia Albanese learn her part especially in Russian, which she handles lyrically, with only a trace of an accent. Issued by RCA as a ten inch LP (LM 142), the flip side included Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5 – an obvious challenge to the dominance of the Bidu Sayao performance on CBS. The other famous performance of the Tatiana music was that of Ljuba Welitsch on CBS, sung in German. So Stokowski had musically trumped the competition and added a lovely string to his own harp. Supple, light but psychologically apt, the orchestral tissue captures Tatiana’s flighty but delicately tragic character, as she more and more urgently entreats her lover to rescue her soul.

–Gary Lemco

Stokowsk cond. Shostakovich 5thSHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47; VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Symphony No. 8 in D Minor

Leopold Stokowski conducts London Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Orchestra (Vaughan Williams)
BBC Legends BBCL 4165-2 71:38 (Distrib. Koch)****:

Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) captured in two Royal Albert Hall concerts he gave within two days of each other (September 15 and September 17, 1964) with two different orchestras, makes for one exciting and energized program! While it was Sir John Barbirolli to whom the Vaughan Williams Eighth is dedicated and who gave the world premier, Stokowski quickly picked up the score after its American debut under Eugene Ormandy (October 5, 1956). Stokowski’s reading (previously issued by Music&Arts CD-770) unfolds in a relaxed, even playful manner, allowing its occasionally brazen colors full scope.

The Shostakovich of September 17 is Stokowski’s last performance in Britain of his favorite symphony by this composer. Somewhat literalist in approach, the reading still has a tremendous scale and cumulative impact, with Stokowski’s turning the LSO brass loose for the final peroration. The usual Stokowski molding of interior lines in the first and third movements combines refinement with temperament. The Allegretto has enough bite and incisiveness of attack to make us wish Stokowski had inscribed the composer’s model, the Mahler D Major Symphony. The monumental sway of this interpretation clearly impressed the London audience, who urged a repeat of part of the last movement, and then the Vaughan Williams Greensleeves Fantasy.

–Gary Lemco

Cellist Guilhermina SuggiaHAYDN: Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major; BRUCH: Kol Nidrei; LALO: Cello Concerto in D Minor; SAMMARTINI: Sonata in G Major

Guilhermina Suggia, cello/John Barbirolli conducts Orchestra/Pedro deFreitas Branco conducts London Symphony (Lalo)/George Reeves, piano (Sammartini)
Dutton CDBP 9748 69:47 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:

At one time acknowledged “the Princess of Cellists,” Portuguese artist Guilhermina Suggia (1888-1950) now occupies rather an obscure place in the collectors’ repertory given the dearth of her recorded legacy. Having married Pablo Casals (1906-1912), Suggio easily became an acolyte of his 19th Century style, rife with broad portmamenti and luftpausen, the cello equivalent to Mengelberg’s conducting tradition. She seems to have been first to record the Haydn D Major Concerto (July 12-13, 1928), with John Barbirolli and what well might be his own Chamber Orchestra. The cadenzas are those of Casals, and typically, they appear old-school and unstylish today.

Barbirolli, too, allows his orchestra rhythmic latitudes that are no longer politically correct but lovely, anyway. That Suggia can play her instrument, however, is not in doubt. Her Lalo Concerto 19 November 1946) with compatriot conductor Pedro de Freitas Branco (1896-1963) (while not the first inscription of the work – it follows those of Navarra and Marechal) comes on the heels of the November 18 concert at Royal Albert Hall, one of the conductor’s few excursions to Britain. Lyrical and dramatic at once, packing a fast vibrato, Suggia makes great Iberian sense of the Lalo, since it utters all kinds of phrases echoed in Sarasate. No conductor bears credit for the old Casals staple Kol Nidre from 1927 (Casals had performed it with Landon Ronald, who likewise praised Suggia) – again likely the plaintive piece’s first recording. The musically innocuous Sammartini Sonata (1927) is arranged by J. Salmon and has the reliable George Reeves at the keyboard. The Vivace movement indicates the facility Suggia possessed, but for sheer musicality the Lalo wins the berries.

–Gary Lemco

Toscanini cond. Grieg, Sibelius, Franck, RavelArturo Toscanini = GRIEG: Holberg Suite, Op. 40; SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 63 (and rehearsal); FRANCK: Les Eolides;RAVEL: La Valse; BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor: First Movement; ROSSINI: William Tell Overture/Garibaldi War Hymn/Star Spangled Banner

Arturo Toscanini conducts NBC Symphony Orchestra
Guild GHCD 2298/9 68:50; 69:41 (Distrib. Albany)****:

The complete concert of 27 April 1940 (the season finale) with Arturo Toscanini has something of the political urgency of the times: Norway had just been invaded by Germany; and Russia, then in a pact with the Axis, had already invaded Finland. France’s succumbing to the Nazi yoke would soon occur. Artistic solidarity provides the theme for Toscanini, whose conscientious readings of those countries’ composers music (in good mono sound) would bespeak an indomitable spirit of hope.

In spite of some quick tempos, the Holberg Suite in Olden Style enjoys a rich sonic patina and virtuoso playing. The NBC lower strings add more than their fair share of the poignancy, especially in the Air, which achieves a monumental level of expression. The little Rigaudon at the end may not sound so folksy and rustic as is today’s wont, but what Toscanini lacks in phony authenticity he more than compensates for in suave musical communication. Sibelius’ A Minor Symphony is often ceded as his most innately intellectual and challenging major work. Toscanini gives it a vivid albeit rather bleak coloring, his predilection for glockenspiel effects notwithstanding. The harmonic rigor of the piece comes through, its insistence on cumulative half-steps and repeated notes to achieve some fateful grip on experience. What one most retains is the monumental tension of the score, a visceral wrenching of his nerves and sense of security, in the midst of indefinable emotions that progress through a veil. The rehearsal segment from April 25 has the maestro working in large canvasses, presenting his notion of the architecture of the last movement to his orchestra, and then dissecting details of entry and color with minimal explication, until he is satisfied. Control over mixed palettes and interior pulse marks the performance of Les Eolides as well, Franck’s moody and waltz depiction of the mythical winds of the gods in A Major. Toscanini plays La Valse as both a dynamic onslaught on a dying form and a series of orchestral variations over a single theme and unified pulse, making its inevitable explosion even more dramatic than has been heard under lesser talents.

Four pieces comprise the “Concert for the Liberation of Italy,” 9 September 1943, not the least of which is a whiplash Beethoven 5th Allegro con brio in graduated crescendi, the playing ablaze with intensity. Elements like the oboe adagio solo at bar 268 and the flute legato at 310-312 are only a few of the miracles of articulated magic of this reading, which manages to combine elegance and frenzy at the same time, with Toscanini’s cutting the rests at the coda for a headlong rush to a triumphant peroration. The Rossini overture has its own claim as a call to freedom, with William Tell’s slaying of Austrian tyrant Hermann Gessler. The lovely cello line and clarity of the English horn solo we can attribute to Tocanini’s own background on the cello, as well as his intimate knowledge of the Rossini style. At the breakneck finale, Toscanini manages a clarity of detail from his strings&Mac226; articulation that defies the tradition of letting the elements fall apart for the sake of histrionics. The two hymns at the conclusion obviously reflect Toscanini’s own sympathies, the hope that moral rectitude will soon reign in a world gone mad.

–Gary Lemco