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January 2001, Part 1 of 2
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Ansermet Conducts Stravinsky: Petrouchka Ballet Suite (1911); The Firebird Suite (1919); Symphony of Psalms (1930). London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir conducted by Ernest Ansermet - Dutton CDBT 9700:

Ansermet made at least three recordings of Stravinsky's Petrouchka: this one in 1946, one in 1950 with the Suisse Romande Orchestra and the famous early stereo 1957 version with the Swiss orchestra that he conducted and recorded with until his death in 1969. Comparing this recording, made in Kingsway Hall in London by the famed engineer Kenneth Wilkinson to the early stereo one is a revelation. The sound of this Dutton transfer is simply superb: integrating a real sense of "hall sound" with orchestral detail that this superb score contains. No apology needs to be made for the lack of stereo. In fact, listening to this recording makes it easy to understand the criticism leveled at early stereo recordings: the spread out image does reveal more detail but monophonic's sense of integrated orchestral presence carries more musical power. But it's the performance that makes this Petrouchka memorable. The London Philharmonic executes Ansermet's dramatic interpretation superbly, much superior to the Suisse Romande's sometimes lackluster playing. It's a tragedy that Ansermet recorded so often with this orchestra despite the superb sonic venue (Victoria Hall in Geneva, Switzerland). While the stereo version is generally more lyrical and spacious with the instrumental choirs bathed in a luxurious, rounded sonic picture, this mono version bristles with energy and dramatic conviction. The rhythmns are sprightly sprung, the dramatic contrast between sections is more clearly dilineated. Shrovtides Fair is a verbally bustling celebration; there is real bite in Petrouchka's appearance after the waltz section and the Russian Dance is terribly exciting. This performance is now one of my favorites.

The Firebird Suite (1919) is no less powerful and just as well recorded. The Dance of the Princesses is resplendent with innocence and the Infernal Dance of King Kastchei bristles with grotesque paganism. The transition from the Lullaby to the joyous finale is a texbook example of how to build tension to a smashing climax. The Symphony of Psalms is the least interesting performance. The London Philharmonic Choir sings radiantly but without the precision our ears have come to expect. Yet this performance ­ surely one of the earliest recorded ­ has enough power and spirituality to project this work's importance in the Stravinsky oeuvres.

A valuable disc, especially to Stravinsky lovers at budget price. Highly recommended.

- Robert Moon


Spanish Guitar Virtuoso: Music by TORROBA, ALBENIZ, TARREGA, TURINA

Angel Romero, guitar

Angel Seraphim 7243 5 74015 24 65:38

The composers on this disc celebrate the long history of Spanish folk and classical guitar music, which has its roots in the tablature tradition of lute and virginal music of the Renaissance and what Spaniards call "deep song." Isaac Albeniz, Francisco Tarrega and others sought to create for guitar literature what Chopin and Szymanowski had established for Polish nationalim through the keyboard, and Wieniawski through his violin works. Inscribed by Angel Romero 1976-78, the 24 pieces on this album capture the passion and sensual evocations of the Spanish countryside and its flamenco ethos.

Several works, like those of Albeniz--Cordoba, Tango and Leyenda--are familiar from piano transcriptions, especially as played by Iturbi and Rubinstein. Their shimmering filigree, with repeated notes, cascades, strumming effects, and brilliant glissandi, all make perfect vehicles for Romero's suave technique and mastery of hand-position and clarity of articulation. Tarrega adds thumping and ponticello effects in his etudes and mazurka-like pieces. Torroba is not afraid of passing dissonances and harmonics to add to the throbbing vitality and primitive emotionalism of its popular sources. His 'characteristic pieces' provide an analogy to what Grieg offers for Norwegian music. Turina makes brilliant fandangos and classical gavottes both at once, melding the popular with the noble style. All in galvanizing, blazing technicolor by Romero. When did I first become attracted to this style of music? When Rita Hayworth serenaded a sleeping Tyrone Power in "Blood and Sand." Caramba!

-Gary Lemco


BACH: Cello Suites 1-6; Various Transcriptions  

Pablo Casals, cello/Nikolai Mednikoff, Blas-Net and Otto Schulf, piano (in Transcriptions)

Naxos 8.110915-16 TT: 148:47 (2 CD's)

Pablo Casals (1876-1973) recorded the six unaccompanied Cello Suites 1936-39 for EMI, and they were revelations in their time. Casals brought a distinctly 19th Century ethos to his performance practice: he used free rubato, glissandi, arbitrary vibrato, portamentos, and varying pulsations to his established tempos. So his version of the Suites was eminently Romantic, with no apologies to current trends. But from the very first notes of the G Major Suite, we are in the throes of a tremendous personality, whose utter conviction to the music at hand and to his especial view of Bach is undeniable. Less than pitch-perfect, often willful as these interpretations are, they attest to a lifetime of devotion and fond study. A good case in point comes from one of the "encores," the transcription of the Adagio in A Minor from the BWV 564 for organ: it has the long line, the deeply melodic approach, even while the rhythm is stretched and distended to suit Casals' own vocal requirements.

Just a quick survey of the highlights of this set must suffice to laud its virtues: the studied effects of the D Minor Suite's Prelude; the dark, labyrinthine yet persuasive way Casals has in the Sarabandes of the Suites in C and C minor; the rough, folk-dance effects he draws from the Courantes and Gigues of each. Underpinning each of the remarkable inscriptions is a severity of tension that cannot be denied. Though the shellacs occasionally betray their wear and crackle, the restorations by Ward Marston are mostly unobtrusive. The playing is so reverently focused, the pusuit of the musical line so intent, that once you are in Casals' world there are few distractions. While time and other perspectives (like those of Starker and Fournier) have removed some of the idolatry for these inscriptions, they still cast a long shadow. To be taken in careful, respectful doses.

-Gary Lemco

BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas: Op. 13 "Pathetique"; Op. 27, No. 2 "Moonlight"; Op. 57 "Appassionata"; Op. 81a "Les Adieux"

Artur Rubinstein, piano

The Rubinstein Collection No. 56 - RCA 09026 63056 75:33

Even in a vast recorded output spanning 1928-76, Artur Rubinstein recorded only seven Beethoven sonatas; this despite having inscribed several of them twice or thrice, and having done alternate concerto cycles with Krips and Barenboim. "A great pianist from the neck up"was an epithet applied to Rubinstein, who took a somewhat precious view of Beethoven: he plays the four sonatas in this reissue for beauty of tone and lushness of sonority. That he can play the notes becomes obvious enough in the last movement of the "Moonl;ight" and the entire "Appassionata," although some will argue with his decisions. His repeat in the first movement of the "Pathetique" makes for a large canvas, played less for drama than poetry. The Op. 81a has a marvelous patina, a real sense of color. So why isn't Rubinstein everyone's favorite Beethoven interpreter?

Having lived with the LP originals of these performances, 1962-63, as well as Rubinstein's earlier, mono LP versions of Op. 31, No.3 and the "Waldstein," I would say that his is a hybrid Beethoven, unsure whether to go for the bravura or the poetry, but very careful of delicacy of effect. These remarks remind me, in kind, of my opinion of Geza Anda's Mozart. When I listen to the theme and variations from "Appassionata" with Rubinstein, I am impressed with the application of color and dynamics to the various voicings and entries; but I no less feel that I am enjoying an etude rather than synthesized vision of a whole work. Each pearl seems complete in itslef, yet the thread gets lost in the details. Not only Chopin, but the Joachim tradition was a vital element in Rubinstein's musical formation, so I wonder if a consistent view of Beethoven went by Rubinstein. That he avoided any of the late sonatas, even the variations--where the Op. 76 would certainly appear to suit his extroverted nature--says something about Rubinstein's cautions about this composer. Still, there are emotionally charged moments and lyric beauty to spare, as in secure familiarity of the Andante cantabile from "Pathetique." Make up your own mind about Rubinstein's Beethoven. You'll hear some wonderful music, whatever the outcome.

-Gary Lemco


BRAHMS: "Double" Concerto in A Minor, Op. 102/MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64/BACH: Violin Concerto in E Major, BWV 1042

Yehudi Menuhin, violin /Mstislav Rostropovich, cello
George Malcolm, continuo and conducting English Chamber Orchestra (Bach)Sir Colin Davis conducts London Symphony

BBC BBCL 4050-2 79:05 (Distrib. Allegro)

Culled from two dates, June 30, 1964 (Brahms, Mendelssohn) and June 23, 1963 (Bach) from

Royal Albert Hall and Aldeburgh, respectively, these live inscriptions capture a less than note-perfect Menuhin in collaboration with an inspired Rostropovich and a stalwart literalist in Colin Davis. Given Menuhin's occasionally shaky intonation, one gravitates to this performance of the Brahms A Minor more for the occasion and its "political" ramification for cultural detente than for sheer digital prowess. Menuhin several times had to manipulate Soviet authorities in order to work with Rostropovich. The result here is a strong, earthy account, with a particularly lyrical second movement, far away from the madding crowd and the iron curtain.

The Mendelssohn and Bach Concertos are old Menuhin staples, and collectors will claim any number of inscriptions and collaborations as their favorite: in Mendelssohn, it will likely be Furtwaengler or Kurtz; in Bach, the Enesco may well remain definitive. Again, in spite of some tenuous articulation, Menuhin projects no end of experience and plaintive tone in the Mendelssohn, a rather streamlined and self-effacing account in relation to the histrionic, exalted Furtwaengler version. The Bach is the most controversial, with its broad, leisurely tempos, its extended ornaments, its lush basso continuo. Wrought in an overtly "romantic" manner, the Bach has little by way of the "authentic" movement in its voluptuous sonority, but it deters the audience not at all. This disc is a major addition to the Menuhin legend and legacy.

- Gary Lemco

Mindru Katz plays BACH: Chorale-Prelude "Nun Komm' der Heiden Heiland"; Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D Minor, S. 903; Toccata in D, S. 912; "Italian" Concerto in F, S. 971; Concerto in F Minor, S. 1056; Concerto in D Minor, S. 152

Mindru Katz, piano/Harry Newstone conducts The Pro Arte Orchestra

Cembal d'amour CD 112 79:32 (Distrib. Qualiton):

The third disc in Mordecai Shehori's mission to restore to the active catalogue the immaculate piano artistry of his teacher, Mindru Katz (1925-1978), this all-Bach program demonstrates anew the impeccable style and fleet grace Katz could impart to polyphonic voices while maintaining a singing, evenly-pulsed melodic line. Like several other releases from Cembal d'amour devoted to Katz, Senofsky and Nadien, this album (licensed through EMI) offers no recording dates; but the sound is quite clean and "present," likely deriving from the late 1950's or early '60's. The work in the two concertos is particularly balanced--listen to the ethereal quality of the A-flat movement of the F Minor--focusing on Katz's clean, rounded articulation and uncanny control of the softer dynamics, especially his mezzo-forte and shades of piano/pianissimo, which are breathtaking.

The most unwieldy piece, the episodic Toccata in D, receives a quicksilver reading, spontaneous, mercurial, explosive, capricious, and a constant challenge to the manual dexterity that Katz imparts to every bar. The approach is virtually Beethoven-like, reaching a "hard-won resolution," a gay, sprightly dance-fugue, after a series of half-starts and meditative asides that never slacken in pulse or rhythmic flexibility throughout Katz's labyrinthine tour. For those reared in the Glenn Gould tradition of detached, staccato "points" of chordal interaction, the Katz approach, with its lean legato and rounded periods, will appear a fresh, revivified presence in the spirit of Bach performance. The Chromatic Fantasy is surprisingly crisp and embellished; and while the Fantasy is soft and dreamlike, the Fugue is slower than is wont among pianists, again looking forward to Beethoven's Op. 111 rather than as a vehicle for bravura and finesse. If one is tempted to call Katz's Bach "Teutonic," the F Major "Concerto" is truly Italianate, a sheer tapestry of cascades, pirouettes, and roulades, with any number of ad libitum ornaments. The study of Katz's approach to non-harmonic notes, grace-notes, appoggiatura and the like, is a dissertation in itself. This album, a delight to the music-lover and the music-scholar alike, is highly recommended.

-Gary Lemco

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