Classical CD Reissues  
June 2003 - Part 1 of 2

STRAVINSKY: The Essential Igor Stravinsky = Fireworks; excerpts from the following: The Firebird; Petruska; Le Sacre du Printemps; Suite No. 1 for Small Orchestra; Histoire du Soldat; Pulcinella; Octet for Winds; Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments; Symphony of Psalms; Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra; Pastorale; Jeu de Cartes; Dumbarton Oaks; Symphony in C; The Star Spangled Banner (arr. Stravinsky); Four Norwegian Moods; Circus Polka; Scherzo a la Russe; Symphony in Three Movements; Ebony Concerto; The Rake’s Progress; Tango; Greeting Prelude; Monumentum pro Gesualdo; Elegy for JFK; Fanfare for a New Theatre; Requiem Canticles; The Owl and the Pussycat; Bonus Track - Stravinsky in His Own Words, Narrated by John McClure; Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Igor Stravinsky, Conductor – Sony Legacy 089910:
Starting in the late 50’s and continuing through the 60’s Columbia recorded Igor Stravinsky conducting many of his works with the Columbia Symphony (a pick-up orchestra that mostly consisted of members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic); they did the same with Bruno Walter. The sessions weren’t very high-profile, so not much effort was put into utilizing the latest multi-miking techniques that were beginning to be so in vogue. A few mikes were set up and the orchestra played – with the end result being some of the most well-recorded and least gimmicked sessions Columbia generated from that era. These discs contain mostly excerpts from many of those sessions; other Stravinsky works conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas and Esa Pekka Salonen round things out. Fortunately, Sony has chosen to offer complete movements of the individual works rather than the usual fade-in and fade-out so common with discs such as these, and it gives the CD much more of a feel of continuity throughout.

Although many will argue that the composer isn’t usually the best choice as the conductor, Stravinsky here offers mostly compelling versions of his best known works; the many lesser-known pieces included here are well executed also. Stravinsky never could be pigeon-holed into any one category; stylistically, the selections here are all over the map, from his ground-breaking ballet scores (Firebird, Petrushka, Le Sacre de Printemps) to more neo-classically influenced works (Pulcinella), as well as many jazz-influenced pieces (Ebony Concerto). We also get a snippet of Stravinsky speaking about the creative process during Le Sacre du Printemps which is quite interesting.

The recordings are presented here in what is probably the the best Redbook CD sound they’ve ever received. Except for the handful of early mono recordings, they all possess a full-bodied orchestral sound with plenty of warmth and minimal hiss. Comparing the only SACD currently available of these works conducted by the composer (Firebird/Le Sacre) was enlightening with the SACD the clear winner hands down, but only by a slim margin. These discs will serve as a great introduction to many Stravinsky works you may not be familiar with, and should only serve to peak your curiosity to hear more. Very highly recommended!

- Tom Gibbs

HENRY COWELL: Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 3; Ongaku for Orchestra; Sinfonietta; Symphony No. 11; Thesis (Symphony No. 15) – Louisville Orchestra/Robert Whitney, Conductor - First Edition FECD 0003:

GEORGE CRUMB: Variazioni; Echoes of Time and the River (Echoes III) – Louisville Orchestra/David Gilbert, Jorge Mester, Conductors - First Edition FECD 0008:

ROY HARRIS: Kentucky Spring; Concerto for Violin and Orchestra; Symphony No. 5 - Gregory Fulkerson, Violin; Louisville Orchestra/Robert Whitney, Lawrence Leighton Smith, Conductors - First Edition FECD 0005:

ALAN HOVHANESS: Concerto for Orchestra No. 7; Symphony No. 15; Magnificat for Four Solo Voices, Chorus and Orchestra – Louisville Orchestra - First Edition FECD 0006:

The Santa Fe Music Group has begun to reissue the recordings of the First Edition label, which was created in the early fifties by the Louisville Orchestra to document their recordings, and each disc is devoted to an individual composer. The project was an ambitious one from the start, with the intention of bringing recognition to Louisville and the orchestra by commissioning new works from prominent composers of the day, and many world premieres of various works were given in Louisville. The recordings were made by Columbia Records engineers on site, and were then taken to Columbia’s studios in New York for final mixing and mastering. The early recordings are single-point mono, and are among the best sounding mono recordings of the era. The soundstage is broad and expansive, and the sound is astonishingly clear with wide dynamic range and virtually no hiss – these recordings may be even better than the highly-touted Mercurys from the same era! [Or the remastering engineer made very judicious use of the CEDAR or similar noise-reduction process - Ed.] The stereo recordings are even more of a treat, and all the CDs are encoded with HDCD.

The discs by Roy Harris and Henry Cowell each contain music that most squarely could be categorized as ‘American.’ Cowell’s Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 3 rings as true as anything from the pen of Aaron Copland. Much of Cowell’s work, however, shows eastern influences throughout – he was very adept at combining the best of western classical music with eastern tradition, as in the Ongaku for Orchestra. Roy Harris’ Kentucky Spring possesses a quiet majesty that ought to garner more favorable comparisons to that most famous of American springs, namely Appalachian Spring. His Symphony No. 5, composed during World War II at a time when the tide was beginning to turn in favor of the Allies, was written to honor the Russian army’s contribution to the war, and he was even invited to Russia to conduct the symphony afterward.

George Crumb’s disc is the briefest of the four releases (45 minutes), mainly because he wrote so very little orchestral music; he mostly preferred to concentrate on small ensembles. His music is probably the least accessible (but no less essential) of the works presented here, often bordering on serialism. His Variazioni uses percussive effects that recall Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste. Echoes of Time and the River (for which Crumb won the Pulitzer Prize for Music) is reminiscent of works by Berg and Ligeti, especially during the vocalizations scattered throughout the piece.

Alan Hovhaness’ works would probably strike most listeners as having the most familiar ring to them; he’s probably the most prolific (and to his detractors, the most generic) of all the composers represented here. All of his works are embedded with eastern Asian influences and tend to share commonalities; to paraphrase one of my contemporaries, “It’s easy to criticize 99 percent of one’s work as sounding ‘all alike,’ when you haven’t heard 99 percent of it.” This disc offers a generous serving of Hovhaness’ art and bears up well to repeat listenings.

The recorded works on these first four releases, with the possible exception of the Hovhaness Symphony No. 15 and Roy Harris’ Kentucky Spring, are virtually unheard in today’s world, with very little airplay on classical radio and are infrequently programmed by modern orchestras. These badly neglected works deserve to be heard by a wider audience, and these excellent releases should help to accomplish that.

- Tom Gibbs

The Gould Variations: The Best of Glenn Gould's Bach

Glenn Gould, piano and organ
Sony SM2K 89344 (CD-ROM) 79:44; 30:52:

Along with the extensive "Glenn Gould Edition," Sony has given us a handsome cross-section of  Bach according to the idiosyncratic, sometimes exasperating Glenn Gould (1932-1982), whose non-legato, harpsichord-sonority approach to the keyboard works startled and delighted, shocked and dismayed a generation of music lovers. The second of the discs, devoted to Gould's organ rendition of The Art of Fugue excerpts, has a multi-media CD-ROM component, with Gould's discussing for the CBC Bach's final work, five musical examples of the fugues, brief biographies of Bach and Gould, and a Gould discography.

All of the Bach piano works on the first CD are taken from LP originals. Happily, I did not previously own all of the LPs, so I newly discovered Bach's A Minor Aria and Variations in the Italian Manner, BWV 989, in a deft and fluid performance, as are most of Gould's Bach interpretations. If he shares a sense of tempo with anyone, it might be with Gieseking, given Gould's penchant for no pedal and the clear delineation of the left hand polyphony. So far as Gould the organist is concerned, I believe he had little to no training in organ and never practiced; his entire no-pedal approach creates a dry, hard-edged, pointillistic canvas that complements, curiously, Charles Rosen's equally austere approach to The Art of Fugue in the piano version.

That we get to see Gould is an important aspect of this edition: Gould was something to see (I did, twice) as well as hear before he retired from the concert stage. The fidgeting, the loud singing accompaniment to his own playing, the spilled glasses of water on the keyboard, the willfulness against the set tempo of a conductor, each of these trademarks made Gould a genius/bete noir of the concert circuit. Whatever the sensational aspects of his 'cult' persona, Gould could be an incisive, explosive Bach player. The sheer clarity he brings to fugues and fughettas in Bach, the huge arches and spinning-out of filigree at breathless pace, the urgency of the numbers, make for a colossal impact. Come to your own conclusions; Gould wouldn't have it any other way.

--Gary Lemco

GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16/SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54; Papillons, Op. 2

Sviatoslav Richter, piano/Lovro von Matacic conducts Orchestre National de l'Opera Monte Carlo - EMI Classics 5 67987 2 73:49:

This Great Recording of the Century pairs the two familiar A Minor concertos, here played in granite and steel by the late Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) in 1974 with the under-rated Lovro von Matacic (1899 1985), whose work in Beethoven and Bruckner ranks among the more fervent middle-European concepts. Richter was quite fond of the Grieg Concerto, perhaps the most perfect, romantic example of the form in all piano literature. Richter made an equally impressive, albeit lither, 1968 account with conductor David Oistrakh in Bergen, Norway. Richter's broad approach has more in common with Solomon than with Lipatti, whose serenely 'passive' stance shines like an Eastern idol.

The Schumann is no less broad an account, although not so stretched in tempo as the recent reissue of Barenboim with Celibidache from Munich, 1991. Richter was a natural Schumannist, given his penchant for the long line, a vision singularly martial, from Florestan rather than the dreamy Eusebius. The first movement cadenza is as mighty as anything in Serkin's several inscriptions. The Op. 2 Papillons are from a live recital in Florence, 1962 and appeared on Angel LP as "Richter in Italy" (36102) along with the Third Sonata and Carnival-Jest from Vienna. Brisk tempos, incisive attacks, buoyancy, and airy gregariousness mark this rendition, which eschews the Richter sullenness and solemnity that too often color Richter's sensibility. Polished, secure musicianship all the way.

--Gary Lemco

Horowitz Rediscovered = SCHUMANN: Blumenstueck in D-flat, Op. 19; Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 14; Traumerei from Kinderszenen, Op. 15/LISZT: Valse oubliee No. 1; Au Bord d'une source/RACHMANINOV: Prelude in G; Etudes-tableaux in E-flat Minor and D Major/CHOPIN: Waltz in A minor, Op. 34, No. 2; Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor, Op. 20/DEBUSSY: Serenade for the Doll/MOSZKOWSKI: Etincelles, Op. 36, No. 6
RCA 82876-50749-2 40:34; 45:33:

Producer Jon Samuels has an exemplary restoration in this recital from 16 November 1975 from Carnegie Hall, splicing disparate tapes from this otherwise lost concert of Horowitz ten years after his 1965 "Historic Return." Collectors never need an excuse to hoard more Horowitz, but the addition of three big pieces to the recorded legacy--the Blumenstueck; the Etudes tableaux, Op. 39, Nos. 5 and 9--are pure magnetism. Horowitz is in top form: the Chopin pieces are alternately intimate (Waltz in A Minor) and pungently incandescent (Scherzo in B Minor), as well as ferociously on target digitally. The Schumann has that erotic, idiosyncratic touch of mannerism of which Horowitz was capable, a labyrinthine, quirky sense of detail that often exploits colors for their own sake. I found myself getting lost in the mazy motions of the Presto Possible section of the Op. 14 Sonata.

The Rachmaninov and Liszt selections are echt Horowitz, with some deft and light feet dancing around Au Bord d'une source, a sylvan interpretation rivaling Kempff's famous account. The encores are the same miniatures on which Horowitz consistently lavished singular attention: the cautious optimism of Schumann's Dreams, and the prancing Serenade for the Doll from The Children's Corner. Horowitz himself announces "Moszkowski" and sails off with a scintillating Etincelles. The concluding Etude-tableau in D is a real warhorse for Horowitz, aggressive and bold in its octaves, just a hair away from Moussorgsky's harmonic audacity. The New York audience gobbles every note greedily, exploding in applause, and well they might: it's good to have the Maestro back in town.

--Gary Lemco

The Incomparable Rudolf Serkin = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109; Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat, Op. 110; Piano Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111/BRAHMS: Cello Sonata No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 38/MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 16 in  D Major, K. 451

With Mstislav Rostropovich, cello/Claudio Abbado conducts Chamber Orchestra of Europe - DGG 474 328-2 66:57; 52:03:

I first encountered Rudolf Serkin on LP, with the CBS pick-of-the-month Beethoven famous three sonatas (Pathetique, Moonlight and Appassionata). Then, it was two of the Beethoven concertos with Ormandy (ML 5038). By then, Serkin (1903-1991) and his percussive but poetic style had impressed me, especially the strength and dynamic flexibility of his trills. I still think his interpretation of Schubert's Moments musicaux is the best on records and should come back; and his late recording of the Schubert A Major Sonata, D. 959 is superb. At Queens College, Serkin played the Chopin Preludes, repertory he did not record. CBS has yet to reissue Bach's Capriccio on the Departure of His Beloved Brother, a classic of its kind. And the Serkin-Szell traversals of Mozart concertos were in a league of their own.

This DGG collation presents the autumn of Serkin's active career, when he toured with the Beethoven last sonatas--I heard him and met him after this program in Atlanta--the inwardness and musical pontification were thick enough to cut with a knife. Serkin often admitted his admiration for Vladimir Horowitz (the sheer will to technical mastery) despite their temperamental differences. The Beethoven inscribed here is from Vienna 1987. The earliest recording is of the Brahms E Minor Sonata with Rostropovich, recorded at the Kennedy Center in 1982; an aggressive, pungent attack, urging and passionate in all details. "Architecture with passion" was one of his mottos.

In our Atlanta interview, Serkin recalled playing the Reger Concerto (another major gap in CBS reissues) with Mitropoulos in Minneapolis. "We had to repeat the finale, the audience liked it so much." Serkin and Mitropoulos collaborated in a mesmerizing 1955 performance of Mozart's D Major Concerto, K. 451 with the New York Philharmonic. The 1988 account with Abbado is not so hysterical and electrifying, but the jubilation of the piece - its open, bravura showmanship - still shines; it is old age remembering the playfulness of youth.  Beautifully balanced, with delicious orchestral detail in the Mozart, this is a sincere if partial tribute to a titan of the keyboard.

--Gary Lemco

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