Classical CD Reissues, Part 2   July-Aug. 2003

SPOHR: Nonet in F Major, Op. 31/BEETHOVEN: Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20

Vienna Octet - Testament SBT 1261 74:39 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

The recording career of the Vienna Octet (1947-1972) is an illustrious history of post-World War II reconstruction, musically and morally. Founded by clarinet virtuoso Alfred Boskovsky and his older brother, violinist Willi Boskovsky, the original eight players could expand to ten (for the Britten Sinfonietta) or contract (for Mozart's Kegelstatt Trio) as the musical occasion warranted. The Decca Record label, which coveted extended contracts with the Vienna Philharmonic, took on the Boskovskys' talented corps of players in order to secure the orchestra as a whole. With Josef Veleba's French horn, Nikolaus Huebner's cello, and the pivoting sound of Johann Krump's double-bass, the ensemble could negotiate any number of elegant or countrified sounds, from Schubert's eponymous Octet to the chamber arrangements of Strauss waltzes.

The two items included here were recorded1952 (Spohr) and 1954 (Beethoven). The Spohr is a happy piece, a product of the Biedermeyer era (1815-1848) and its call for amateur and middle-class musicianship of high order. The pert Scherzo stands out with its two trios, the first of which has some dazzling pizzicato effects. Beethoven's Septet was his first major, popular piece, a commercial success whose Menuetto and Trio made its way into one of his Op. 49 sonatas. The Vienna Octet takes it as a frumpy, little march. The middle Tema and variazioni allows each of the winds (along with Willi Boskovky's concertante violin) to shine in its own distinctive timbre. Karl Mayrhoffer's oboe and Rudolf Hanzl's bassoon solos are not to be denied their just recognition. Elegant, lithe virtuosity, precise playing, and poised textural balances are the distinctive qualities of these inscriptions, a model for European ensembles for a generation.

--Gary Lemco

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37/TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23

Solomon, piano; Eduard van Beinum conducts Concertgebouw Orchestra (Beethoven)/Hans Schweiger conducts Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra (Tchaikovsky) - APR 5651 67:01 (Distrib. Albany):

Entitled Solomon: Concert Recordings I, this fine disc promises to be the first of several dedicated to the art of Solomon Cutner (1902-1988), whose tragic tale of a brilliant career shattered by illness is all too familiar. Both of these live performances come from 1952, at both ends of that year: the Tchaikovsky from Solomon's annual tours of the US 1949 1953, from 29/30 January in Kansas City. The Beethoven, from December 18, 1952, marks Solomon's only appearance at the Concertgebouw, in a radio performance that has been included on a Q-Disc set from Philips (97015) and is now remastered in even quieter sound for APR by Bryan Crimp.

Solomon obviously enjoyed working with Eduard van Beinum: the entire approach is relaxed and secure, with Solomon's opting for a hybrid cadenza that eschews pure bravura in favor of splicing a bit of Clara Schumann with his own improvisation on the percussive last beats of the opening theme. The playing is pearly, sensitively nuanced and fleet, with the Largo's being especially polished. High spirits and bubbly humor mark the finale. The Tchaikovsky points to Solomon's rare manner of taking a throughbred's command of the occasion when a lackluster collaboration threatened. Given the two relatively tame inscriptions Solomon made (with Harty and with Menges) commercially of the Tchaikovsky B-flat Minor, this supercharged conception has the earmarks of a British Horowitz. There are moments of grand leisure as well in this performance, and clear articulation of the octave passages moving to an architectural period. Schweiger and his orchestra do their best to keep up, but one senses that Solomon could leave them in the dust anytime he chose.

--Gary Lemco

The Very Best of Fritz Wunderlich
EMI 7243 5 75915 2 77:37; 76:17:

I recall introducing the art of tenor Fritz Wunderlich (1930-1966) to two actor friends of mine, the late George Ellis and Henry Brandon. In Ellis' case, I played him Horch, die Lerche singt im Hain from Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor (conducted Robert Heger). The immediate delight in Ellis' face was a palpable joy to behold. "What a voice!" In Brandon's case, the effect was over long distance, since Brandon lived in California, and I had had to send him a Seraphim LP. "This is Tauber reborn!" exclaimed Brandon (nee, Kleinbach) in his Christmas card to me.

Indeed, Fritz Wunderlich was a vocal phenomenon whose international career was well on its way when tragic fate intervened just prior to his MET debut. A voice sweet as honey, strong as steel, and trained with a fine dramatic sense for characterization, Wunderlich would have been the greatest lyric Mozart tenor since McCormack; and his only serious, artistic rival, Peter Anders, had died in a car crash in 1954. The present EMI collection has many of the great Wunderlich staples, like the heavenly Dein ist men ganzes Herz from Lehar's The Land of Smiles and the sweeping waltz from Fall's The Rose of Stambul. I miss the extended version of Granada that Wunderlich did with a jazz band for Eurodisc; now, that had power and sexy style to spare. Also, no label has yet restored his contribution to an Archive LP entitled "The Earliest German Lieder" of songs by Isaac and Fincke. All selections on the 2-CD set are sung in German except Handel's lovely Ombra mai fu from Xerxes. Wunderlich did record some popular songs in his especial English, and these too should be restored. The reason to buy this set always remains Lensky's Aria from Evgeny Onegin: if ever a singer and a song were meant for each other, this is the paragon example.

--Gary Lemco

MOUSSORGSKY: Boris Godunov excerpts/WAGNER: Parsifal: Good Friday Spell and Synthesis, Act III (arr. Stokowski)

Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, bass/Lawrence Mason, tenor/Raymond Cauwet, boy soprano/San Francisco Opera Chorus and Boys Chorus; San Francisco Symphony Orchestra/New York Philharmonic and NBC Symphony members (uncred., in Wagner)
Leopold Stokowski conducting

Cala CACD0535 79:34

Conductor Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) was least known for his operatic excursions, but indeed there were occasional and memorable instances: his 1931 Wozzeck; his Carmen; his MET Turandot; his frequent incursions into the Wagner oeuvre on record with Lawrence Tibbett and Agnes Davis. Cala, with the sponsorship of the Leopold Stokowski Society, herein resurrects for your delectation the 1952 Boris Godunov with Rossi-Lemeni (LM 1764) that had prior, uncut existence on the Society LP.

The sound quality comes first, as it well should when it comes to Stokowski: if you listen to the Coronation Scene and the Clock Scene on full volume, watch out! Remember what Sibelius said when Beecham complained about the loudness of his gramaphone: "I like to hear everything!" The vivid sonic aura is only enhanced by Rossi-Lemeni's characterization - a stirring mix of ambition and remorse, passionate sensuality and fear of the hereafter. Lemeni-Rossi also does Varlaam's Song of the slaughter at Kazan, a whiplash rendition that has a sweep and irony that goes beyond my other favorite, the Christoff-Dobrowen inscription for EMI. The various choral sections--for, after all, the chorus is the hero of this psychological drama--have both urgency and intimacy, given Stokowski's penchant for treating opera as a symphony with vocal obbligati.

Stokowski recorded the Parsifal excerpts a few months in 1952 before the Moussorgsky; they appeared on RCA LP 1730; the conductor later inscribed much of the same arrangement with the Houston Symphony for Everest Records. If Wagner meant this music to have an 'ascetic' content, forget it! Stokowski squeezes the sap from the Cedars of Lebanon in every bar, the free-bowing of the strings reducing even further the sense of earthly mortality. Stokowski's view of Parsifal is simply Tristan gone to the chapel for a quick fix. Among the best of the CD's I have yet heard for 2003, Cala can take pride in this one--it is great.

--Gary Lemco

SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43/BORODIN: In the Steppes of Central Asia/STRAVINSKY: Firebird Suite

Leopold Stokowski conducts NBC Symphony (Sibelius) and New York Philharmonic - Rediscovery RD 061 72:37 (

Originally taped by RCA 1950-1954, these excursions into Slavic/Scandinavian music by Leopold Stokowski are among his most colorful and sensuous recordings. The Borodin from 1953 was included on LM 1816 as part of the Fantasia revival, and featured Stokowski's own arrangement of Moussorgsky's A Night on Bald Mountain. It is Stokowski's only inscription of Borodin's lovely color piece, rife with orientalisms and beautiful woodwind solos by Robert Bloom and Mitch Miller's oboe. The Firebird recording from 1950 is one of nine Stokowski led over the years; I am still waiting for Capitol to reissue the version with the Berlin Philharmonic.

This reading is utterly smooth and fleet, with whiplash playing from horns, strings and tympani. Between the sheer evocativeness of the score and its reliance on Rimsky-Korsakov's influences, I only wish Stokowski had recorded Korsakov's own Sinfonietta, Op. 31. The big work is the Sibelius D Major, taken from LM 1854, taped September 15-16, 1954. I find the performance, for all its lyric tenderness and heroic gestures, rather restrained, at least compared to the 1950 Koussevitzky interpretation. This is grand landscape music, infused with brooding sentiment and passionate outbursts. Stokowski lingers most of all in the Andante, where his individual players, especially the oboe, can intermingle kaleidoscopic colors. The Rediscovery remastering is excellent, the sonics "orthophonic" in RCA's best sense. I am hoping either Redicovery or Cala will reissue the Albanese-Stokowski performance of Tatiana's Letter Scene from Eugen Onegin as part of an extended tribute to the Maestro's way with Russian fare.

--Gary Lemco

LISZT: La Leggierezza; Un Sospiro; Funerailles; Paysage; Ricordanza; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 4; Sonetto 47 del Petrarca; Sonetto 123 del Petrarca; Valse Oubliee No. 1; Mephisto Polka; 3 Paganini Etudes

Earl Wild, piano - Ivory Classics 73002 72:13 (Distrib. Albany):

Vintage Earl Wild (b. 1915) in the music with which he is most readily associated, the world of Franz Liszt. Culled from recitals in three venues- Chicago, London, and Tokyo--this disc traverses 1973-1983 virtuosity; and I must say Wild is in brilliant form. What I find even more notable than the "mere" digital accuracy and explosive propulsion is the degree of mellowness this disc finds in Wild. There is none of the nervous mannerism that sometimes plagues his performances. This is a secure artist lovingly plying the craft of the composer whose spirit of color and formal audacity echo Wild's own tenmperament. The Sonetto 123 of Petrarch is a case in point: plastic rhythm and pearly legato mark the entire concept. The opening concert etudes (from Chicago, 1973) enjoy a grand leisure and some individual pedalling from Wild. The quirky Mephisto Polka is an added plum; on the other side of the musical spectrum is a beautifully harmonized E-flat Rhapsody. The big piece is the Funerailles, often seen as a momento mori for Chopin, but here played in the spirit of a ballade, with alternate wistfulness and steamy passion. The last three cuts, the Paganini Studies, are from Tokyo, where Wild decides to beat Nojima at his own game, conjuring a demonic La Campanella to leave your fingers bouncing long after this stunning disc has stopped spinning in your sound system.

--Gary Lemco

MENDELSSOHN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25; Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 40; Rondo Brillante in E-flat, Op. 29/IRELAND: The Holy Boy; April/SCOTT: Lotus Land; Danse negre

John Ogden, piano/ Aldo Ceccato conducts London Symphony Orchestra - Testament SBT 1288 70:31 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

I vividly recall having heard John Ogden (1937-1989) in Atlanta, where he played a whiplash Ravel G Major Concerto and then disappeared, refusing any interview or post-concert chat. Troubled by mental illness, Ogden was protected by his wife Brenda Lucas, who wrote in collaboration with Michael Kerr the tragic story of John Ogden, Virtuoso, which was converted into a movie for television with Alfredo Molina.

The Mendelssohn works were recorded by Ogden in 1969, some seven years after his sharing the top prize (with Vladimir Ashkenazy) at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition. The concertos are remarkable for their fleetness and light feet. Unlike the Rudolf Serkin inscriptions, these give us the legato and lyrical side of these alternately thunderous and evanescent pieces. British pianists seem to gravitate to these Mendelssohn staples: I now have heard Ogden, Ian Hobson, and Peter Katin play all of these pieces. Ogden achieves terrific velocity in the rapid passages and deft, loving figurations in the songful moments. The element of relaxation is palpable in these collaborations, a far cry from the tension Ogden brings to the Busoni Concerto or the famous aircheck of the Brahms D Minor with Stokowski.

The encores date from 1972. Ireland's prelude The Holy Boy is the soul of surface simplicity, with some daring harmonic shifts. April is landscape music, sentimental in the manner of Grainger. The Cyril Scott pieces are miniatures exercises in the exotic, Debussy and Ketelby rather safely mixed into a gentle potion to which Ogen bestows his own charm.

--Gary Lemco

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