Classical CD Reissues, Part 2
for January 2003
BRUCH: Violin Concerto No.1 in G Minor, Op. 26/ELGAR: Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op. 61
Yehudi Menuhin, violin
Sir Landon Ronald conducting London Symphony (Bruch)
Sir Edward Elgar conducting London Symphony
Naxos Historical 8.110902 73:05:
I met Yehudi Menuhin for the first time pursuant to his performance of the Elgar Concerto with Robert Shaw in Atlanta. By then, around 1982, Menuhin had lived with the work for 50 years and had somewhat streamlined his approach with faster tempos than those inscribed in July, 1932, when he and composer collaborated for their historic sessions. Listening to these restorations by Mark Obert-Thorne, I try to bring the same skepticism that many musicians, Fritz Busch included, manifested when first confronted with the wunderkind phenomenon, a 15-year-old's performance of the Bruch Concerto. But time and again, one is simply dazzled by the fiery and thoughtful approach of the young Menuhin in these 1931-32 recordings: razor-sharp intonation, tremendous vitality and fluidity of line, an alternately sweet and rasping tone that drives to a musical point. True, this "spontaneous" musicality Menuhin had to re-invent later, by design, perhaps to the killing of the golden goose, so to speak. But the whiplash pungency of the Bruch and the broad, flowing, deliberately "Brahmsian" lines of the Elgar remain for our delectation and marvel. At the time of their work together, Elgar felt himself the inferior musician, practicing in Paris for the big event. The charm and ingenuousness of that meeting still haunt the acetates from which this CD derives.
Yevgeny Mravinsky Conducts = TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6; Francesca da Rimini/SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 5/ BERLIOZ: "Un bal" from Symphonie fantastique/WEBER: Invitation to the Dance; Overture to Oberon
Yevgeny Mravinsky conducts USSR State Symphony (Tchaikovsky, Berlioz); Moscow Philharmonic (Francesca); Leningrad Philharmonic (Shostakovich, Weber)
DOREMI DHR-7810/11 67:04; 72:08 (Distrib. Allegro):
DOREMI revives very early recordings (1938-1951) from Yevgeny Mravinsky (1903-1988), whose repertory was singularly small but which he meticulously considered in great detail. In fact, the 1938 Shostakovich Fifth reveals, along with the Weber pieces, a quality of color we do not often ascribe to Mravinsky, beter known for his grand, rhythmic assaults and driving tempos. Many of these transfers from shellacs have the diminished sonic patina we hear on old Melodiya LP's; the orchestral detail is distant, the miking often too far forward. But the application of strings, winds, harp and solo violin, especially in the Shostakovich Allegretto movement, can be nothing short of startling. Both Tchaikovsky works and the Berlioz excerpt allow us to hear Mravinsky elicit the same discipline he achieved in Leningrad. The 1949 "Pathetique" is rather swift; I assume we are hearing the influence of Oskar Fried's conducting in the USSR. Mravinsky seems to have maintained the same proportions throughout his several readings of Francesca da Rimini, only this 1940 performance is a bit more streamlined than his 1963 inscription. The real winners may well be the Weber items, with some really suave and uncommonly sensuous lilts invested into the Op. 65 Invitation to the Dance, with broad tempos and a few moments of old-world rubato. Oberon was a concert staple with Mravinsky, and this 1951 rendition is all fond romance. Forthat collector who likes to trace the lineage of a favorite, often volatile performer, these DOREMI pressings have a fascinating value.
BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77/MOZART: Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat, K. 364
David Oistrakh, violin, viola and cond. Berlin Philh./Igor Oistrakh, violin (Mozart)/Otto Klemperer conducts French Nat. Radio Orch.
EMI Classics 74724 72:34
David Oistrakh and Otto Klemperer recorded the Brahms Concerto in 1960; the LP was issued in 1961, around the same time another equally herculean conception of the Concerto arrived on DGG, with Milstein and Jochum. I recall being impressed with each performance, each with its own personality, each on a monumental scale. EMI likely wanted to complement Klemperer's Beethoven Violin concerto with Menuhin; also, Oistrakh is teamed withthe French National Radio, the same ensemble that accompanied him in the Beethoven with Cluytens conducting. Happily, in spite of all the EMI inbreeding, this Brahms is a tour de force, with Oistrakh's intonation squarely in the middle of the musical marshmallow, his tone gorgeous. Some may find the gypsy rondo a bit staid and refined, at least against the Hubermann and Ricci versions of this piece. David and son Igor combined for the Mozart in 1972, with David's leading the Berliners from the viola part. They make plangent, dignified sense of this glorious virtuoso work, where the violin part enters the first movement from somewhere around Venus. Given the budget repackaging of these sonorous and often voluptuous performances, collectors need not go anywhere else for some definitive moments in these ageless masterpieces.
Sviatoslav Richter Archives, Vol. 9 = MIASKOVSKY: Piano Sonata No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 19/SHOSTAKOVICH: 4 Preludes and Fugues from Op. 87/PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonata No. 8 in B-flat Major, Op. 84
DOREMI DHR-7806 69:23 (Distrib. Allegro):
Volume 9 in Jacob Harnoy's retrospective of the keyboard titan Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) offers a recital featured in Richter's tours between 1973 75, where the element of emotional disturbance seems most pronounced. This 1974 Moscow concert captures Richter in fine sound, assuming percussive, austere, even bleak harmonies are to your taste. Miaskovsky's Third Sonata is the real find here: known more for his many and variegated symphonies (of which the Sixth reigns supreme) than his piano works, Miaskovsky fell into relative darkness during Stalin's rule. Dmitri Paperno has much good to say of him in Notes of a Moscow Pianist. The C Minor Sonata (in one movement) was written around 1920, so it has a "Lost Generation" feel all its own, thick and layered, a cross between Scriabin and Medtner. The textures lighten slightly for the Shostakovich preludes and fugues, but while they may laugh, they "smile no more." Richter's icy statements a la Bach by way of Baba Yar don't help much. The Prokofiev Eighth Sonata (1944) completes the "War Trilogy" sensibilities the composer felt, a solemn prayer to eventual victory and emotional validation. The range of emotion, from lyrical introspection to vehement, even quicksilver, fury, is pretty wild. Quite a ride, Darkman!
SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54/SCHUBERT: Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major, D. 898
Artur Schnabel, piano
Pierre Monteux conducts New York Philharmonic
Joseph Szigeti, violin/Piere Fournier, cello
Music&Arts CD-1111 64:49 (Distrib. Albany):
I discovered Artur Schnabel (1882-1951) relatively early in my collecting career, inheriting the Beethoven Fourth Concerto on 78 rpm with Malcolm Sargent. In college, I was able to program 90 minutes for my radio program on WHRW-FM (SUNY Binghamton) using the G Minor Piano Quartet of Mozart with the Pro Arte, the first movement of the "Emperor" Concerto (with Frederick Stock), and smaller pieces from Brahms, Schubert (Impromptus) and Schumann (Kinderszenen). I still admire the combination of discipline and fluidity of touch in Schnabel; although I did have a sobering talk with Dimitri Bashkirov on the subject of Schnabel, where we both lamented the ways in which he simply ignores the lengthy, often Byzantine, written indications he provides to Beethoven edition, responding totally emotionally to the scores. I was also at the University of Maryland when Karl Ulrich Schnabel, Harris Goldsmith, and Claude Frank presented a symposium on Schnabel, occasionally illuminated by a musical example of the Master's advice in phrasing.
This Music&Arts issue of the Schumann Concerto from 1943 with the venerable Monteux more than complements the long-standing pirate performance of the concerto with the less charismatic Alfred Wallenstein (in Los Angeles) from 1945. The four-square nature of the Concerto (every phrase is twice-repeated) is soon forgotten by the mesmerizing legato in Schnabel's approach, a quality I evident even in his somewhat Bismarckian run of the Piano Quintet for EMI. The Schubert Trio coems from London's Central Hall, October 1, 1947, and is in good sound for the period. I always enjoy Joseph Szigeti, despite his "cat gut" sound, since his attacks are always direct and resonant. I still await the reissue of the wonderful Brahms recordings he did for CBS (with Horszowski, ML 5266) and Mercury, especially the Horn Trio with John Barrows that coupled the A Major Sonata with Horszowski. Pierre Fournier remains the most dependable of the second generation cellists after Casals and Feurermann, a sweet man with a sweet tone. Schnabel and he went on to record the complete Beethoven sonatas for EMI. What I especially like in this Schubert are the tempos and the proportions given to the breadth of the metric units. These three musicians manage a real menage a trois here, and lovers of old-world chamber-music making are in for infinite delights. A major restoration from three legendary artists.
SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 959; Wanderer Fantasy in C Major, D. 760 - Zeynep Ucbasaran, piano
Eroica JDT 3108 61:37:
Recorded at the Music Academy of West Santa Barbara, CA between September 18 22 of 2002, this disc shows off the versatility of Turkish pianist Zeynap Ucbasaran, who claims pedagogy from Istanbul, Freiburg, and the University of Southern California. She takes on the most Apollinian of Schubert's three late (1828) piano sonatas, the A Major, whose second movement Andantino features some haunting writing melodically and polyphonically, with a kind of ferocious homage a Bach. She keeps a light hand on the proceedings, emphasizing the lyeical energies in this monumental piece. I found myself much admiring her technique, often forgetting about the import of the music. It is poetic playing without the poetry. Having just auditioned Eduard Erdmann in this piece (Tahra TAH 218/219), I much prefer his dry, Kempff-like objectivity, along with dropped notes, to this bit of pretty correctness. The Wanderer Fantasy is a genuine bravura piece, so to underplay it like Edwin Fischer takes a masterly hand ot two, else it sounds anemic. Gary Graffman took the opposite view and played it as a spitfire percussion piece, lyrical in spite of itself. Again, I find Ucbasaran gifted, in the sense of a good pedagogue and academic's making music correctly and professionally. I am sure her students will all want copies of this one.
BACH: St. Matthew Passion
Elfriede Troetschel, soprano
Diana Eustrati, alto
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone (Jesus)
Helmut Krebs, tenor (Evangelist)
Friedrich Haertel, bass
Fritz Lehmann conducts Berlin Radio Orchestra and Choir; St. Hedwig's Cathedral Choir
Music&Arts CD-1091 68:43; 64:37; 66:01 (Distrib. Albany):
This restoration of the April 9-10, 1949 performance by Fritz Lehmann of Bach's St. Matthew Passion (original version) required much effort and pain, the French Discophiles and American Vox LP versions having become increasingly scarce in acceptable condition. Notwithstanding the age of the tape masters from the German Radio, this 50-year-old interpretation owes its consistency of vision to the under-rated Fritz Lehmann (1904-1956), who has received little attention from CD companies commerical and private. Lehmann's understated approach is likely a product of the Neue Sachlichkeit (new "plain-speaking") responsible for the Bauhaus movement. Lehmann caught my attention early in my record-collecting career with his Dvorak album on American Decca, the Serenade in E and two Slavonic Rhapsodies, Op. 45 with the Bamberg Symphony. Lehmann was the first to traverse Dvorak's Legends, Op. 59. His work with pianist Carl Seemann needs to come back; I recall a powerful Brahms Tragic Overture that complemented the Jochum F Major Symphony for Decca. His Beethoven "Choral Fantasy" with Andor Foldes was a classic. He did a number of Bach cantatas with Krebs, Haefliger and Fischer-Dieskau. On CD, only DGG has brought back his monumental 1955 Brahms Requiem (289 457 710-2) from Berlin.
Lehmann's approach, while not "spare" or "authentic," cuts back on weight and sonic density, even reducing the number of ornaments and non-harmonic notes offered by soloists. I like the casting of Greek alto Diane Eustrati (b. 1916), who made an excellent recording of the complete Schubert Rosamunde with Lehmann around 1955. I find her "Erbarme dich" convincing, even if without a sense of bravura; but it is clean stylistically, without the excesses (although fond I am) that characterize the Mengelberg version. Helmut Krebs is less impressive as the Evangelist than say, Walter Ludwig, but his articulation and singing have a directness and sincerity that can be affecting, despite the monochrome of his voice. I did not previously know soprano Elfriede Troetschel's work: to me, she seems miscast, especially in ensemble pieces, where her tempos wobble.
Collectors will gravitate to this document for another stellar personality, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Jesus. I recently reassessed his work with Fricsay in the 1948 Don Carlos.. In German singing and Verdi (if only DGG would reissue for American distribution his all-Verdi arias with Fricsay), Fischer Dieskau is exemplary, a natural, with a slightly drier, light tone and mid range tessitura that strains a bit in the lower registers. I always felt that too much Wagner killed his voice. But his Jesus, surrounded by that "halo of strings," proffers a singular spirituality that cannot be denied. For the occasional bad choice of tempo, the thin recorded sound, the uneven distribution of tonal weight to the choruses, these are forgivable foibles in an otherwise rare and historic experience.
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