Artur Rodzinski: Complete Chicago Symphony Recordings = WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde: Prelude, Act I; Prelude, Act III; Liebestod, Act III; R. STRAUSS: Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30; KHACHATURIAN: Gayaneh – Suite; MENDELSSOHN: Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56 “Scottish”; BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21; Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72a – Chicago Symphony Orchestra/ Tonkuenstler Orchester (Beethoven)/ Artur Rodzinski – Pristine Audio PASC 569 (2 CDs) TT: 2 hr 14:57 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
The volatile conductor Artur Rodzinski (1892-1958), though he enjoyed but a brief career in Chicago, 1947-1948 – he became notorious for spending large sums of money for opera in concert form – did manage to record a precious few items for RCA Victor, which engineer and restoration producer Mark Obert-Thorn has assembled for this historic set. In addition, Obert-Thorn restores the rare documents Rodzinski made for Don Gabor’s budget Remington label, the curious Beethoven First Symphony and Leonore Overture No. 3 made 7-9 March 1952, originally issued as performed by the “Austrian Symphony” led by “Conductor X” because of an imperious ban by James Petrillo, head of the American Federation of Musicians.
For this reviewer, who commented upon the release of the majority of this repertory from historic recordings.co.uk (HRCD 0052) on 21 December 2010, the new experiences lay in the Tristan Prelude and Love-Death, which Rodzinski wanted to record shortly after his complete opera in Chicago. The passion and sweep of the famous diptych do rival aspects of my preferred Knappertsbusch reading, though the latter has Birgit Nilsson realizing Isolde’s fateful apotheosis to the couple’s tragic fate. I feel that my original comments – with some edits – still apply for the rest:
The Also Sprach Zarathustra (18 November 1947) displays great rhythmic elasticity and dynamic girth; like Koussevitzky (1930), Rodzinski likes a ritard in the opening C-G-C motif. The various sections expand the breadth of the piece, culminating in the liberating The Dance Song, which sails and twitters and purrs with vocal virtuosity in woodwinds and violin solo (John Weicher). The original RCA side breaks and noisy surfaces find seamless remastering here, and the performance at key points earns the epithet “elegant.” The figures assume a decidedly Viennese character, a bit of schlogabers and pastry. Before the intentionally harmonic ambiguity of the last pages, the athletic character of the playing emerges in strings, brass, and tympani. (We must note that the next great recorded Zarathustra, too, would come from Chicago, this time under the peerless Fritz Reiner.) I might add that Obert-Thorn’s engineering has raised the CSO bass level and brass work clarity significantly, to dramatic effect. The Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften sequence literally throbs with melodic flexion and linear plasticity. The high string and woodwind line at the latter section of Von der Wissenschaft proves no less seductive.
The Tristan Act III Prelude may not quite plumb the depths of despondency as does Furtwaengler, but it quite suffices to invoke the mysticism and fatal longing in this part of the drama: Tristan’s wound and the imminent love-death. Rodzinski omits the pastoral element, the Shepherd’s melody, unfortunately. The Mendelssohn Scottish Symphony (13 December 1947) must compensate, then. The first movement Rodzinski takes rather broadly, but the linear momentum complements the expansiveness of the concept, and we find ourselves muttering Scottish war chants among the highlands before we quite know it. The CSO string cellos and basses prove sonically acute and imposing, providing a deep resonance for the furies riding above; and the legato phrasing from the same string players haunts us with its warm clarity. The Vivace non troppo second movement shimmers in its highland reel, again marked by hints of a martial flavor. Rodzinski has powerful competition in the third movement – Klemperer, Mitropoulos, and Maag to name but three equally convincing interpreters – yet Rodzinski’s sinewy, rounded phrases sway with natural affection for this nationalistic score. The trumpets and woodwinds might be calling to the clans for war counsel. The finale turns the Scottish patriots loose in spectacular colors, only to become decidedly Germanic in the last pages. Sterling performances, beautifully mounted.
The bonus of this edition lies in the restoration of the Beethoven works, a decided addition to the Rodzinski recorded legacy currently available. The Beethoven First Symphony, auspiciously announcing a new century, 1800, retains its ability to startle us, opening with a wrong chord on G and resolving to the subdominant, only to expand into a grand, leisurely Adagio that Rodzinski invests with spacious anticipation. The slightly dizzy Allegro con brio brims over with self-confidence witty, bristling verve.
As for the Khachaturian suite, the first such music I have heard realized by Rodzinski, it seems totally idiomatic to the high, erotic spirits of its creator, equally resonant in the strings, winds, and percussion as the Indianapolis Symphony makes this score under Sevitzky. I am reminded that Rodzinski impresses me just as well in his London-based recording of the Ippolitov-Ivanov Caucasian Sketches, given Rodzinski’s penchant for national colors. Listening to these vital pieces and their inspired contours, I am busy asking myself why Joseph Petrillo thought so much of himself.