Celibidache conducts BrucknerFranck / Saint-Saens / Ravel 
Reiner conducts Strauss / Bruckner Symphony No. 9Furtwaengler conducts BeethovenElgar / Faure / Delius / RavelRabin plays Paganini/ Milstein plays Back
Milstein plays Handel, Mozart, ProkifievLeginska: The Complete Columbia MastersChaliapinDame Clara Butt

red line

Celibidache conducts Bruckner
Celibidache conducts BRUCKNER: Symphonies Nos. 3 in D Minor (rec. 1980); No. 4 in E-flat "Romantic" (rec. 1969); No. 5 in B-flat (1981)/MOZART: Symphony No. 35 in D, K. 385 "Haffner" (rec. 1976): plus Rehearsal Disc: BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 Fourth Movement

DGG 459 663-2 (4 CDs) 61:14; 69:02; 58:44/41:21; 39:19

DG and artistic collaborator Serge Ioan Celibidache continue to issue, en masse, conductor Serge Celibidache's airchecks with the Stuttgart Radio and the Swedish Radio orchestras: here, have the "official" releases (as opposed to "pirate" versions, such as the D Minor on the "Bells of Saint Florian label) taken from live performances during Celibidache's ten year (1971-81) reign over the Stuttgart Radio-Symphony. Celibidache always eschewed commercial recordings, claiming electronic recording devices distorted the sound image he created, even adding false harmonics. No less idiosyncratic was Celibidache's preference for Bruckner over Mahler; he claimed Mahler lacked a sense of form. Well, if it's form you want from Bruckner (Brahms gave Bruckner "form," calling his symphonies "boa constrictors"), you've got it: Celibidache's renditions are among the slowest, most languid of interpretations: the Fifth alone runs 83 minutes, and the audience barely coughs!

Let me state at the outset that although these are heavy, thickly textured readings, verging on becoming ponderously sunk in musical molasses, they are often brilliant and lovely paeans to Celibidache's concept, and his patient working methods with a totally receptive ensemble. The "Romantic" Symphony stands out as colossal and flowingly lyrical at once. Often construed as a composer in "musical periods," that is, in broad melodic statements that dead-end until another series of melodic groups succeeds, Bruckner's hymn-like structures are difficult to shape. Often, as a listener, I prefer to hear just one movement occasionally. To be able to hold one's musical and dramatic attention, and to elicit a real sense of musical duration, is quite a feat. Celibidache molds some mighty sounds out of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony, easily compatible with the strong work (and no less mannered) than that with the Munich Philharmonic on EMI.

The Third Symphony (performed in an abridgement of the composer's second version) betrays any number of debts to Wagner, but its latter movements possess some personality of their own. The textures are all adapted from the organ positif, building up or layering individual, orchestral choirs in a sort of polyphonic motet, symphonic style. Celibidache's rival here, if he had been partial to this composer, would have been Stokowski, since their orchestral aesthetic is almost identical. Stokowski liked Mahler better. When either turns to 'classical' music, as in Celibidache's "Haffner" Symphony, the effect is over-ripe, almost musically precious. But for sheer beauty of tone, for epic sonority, these performances capture a kind of purity of ethos that is hard to match. The adagios of each symphony are herculean, and the outer movements often attain a ferocious momentum that belies their gravity. Add to these qualities their innately vocal, sung or danced character, and you have an authenticity of expression for the ages. Whatever your personal predilection in Bruckner interpretation, the Celibidache experience demands a hearing.

-Gary Lemco

Reiner conducts Strauss / Bruckner Symphony No. 9
Fritz Reiner conducts RICHARD STRAUSS: Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40; Don Juan, Op. 20; Don Quixote, Op. 35; Der Buerger als Edelmann, Op. 60/MAHLER: Songs of a Wayfarer

Gregor Piatagorsky, cello (Don Quixote)/Carol Brice,mezzo-soprano (Mahler)/Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Biddulph BID 83067/68 2 CD's 74:42; 69:32 (Distrib. Albany)

Inscribed 1941-47, these are Reiner's fine Pittsburgh renditions of Strauss, virtually all of which he would re-record with the Chicago Symphony over the next ten years. The Don Juan has appeared on CD through a radiothon fund-raiser for the Pittsburgh Symphony. To reverse chronology for a moment, I spoke to the late Carol Brice when she appeared in Atlanta for a concert performance of Porgy and Bess; she signed my copy of the 1946 Mahler songs (their first American recording) on Columbia LP, and we mentioned her collaboration with Reiner for Falla's El Amor Brujo, both of which she said were "happy experiences, with none of the rancor that saturates others' anecdotes of Reiner."

The two big works here reinstated are the epic 1947 A Hero's Life, in a lyrical, restrained version, and the loving performance of Don Quixote with Piatagorsky,. Temianka and Bakaleinikoff from 1941. Note that Sir Thomas Beecham matched the Heldenleben and Quixote (with Tortelier) performances for RCA at the exact time (1947), though his first Quixote (with Alfred Wallenstein) dates around 1935. Given that Columbia shellacs were never top of the line, the hiss and swish have been minimalized. The 'Vision' section from Quixote is extraordinarily beautiful, perhaps the best single cut from any Pittsburgh Symphony record of the entire period prior to William Steinberg's tenure. Each of these renditions has wit, verve and a natural Strauss style (Reiner's knowledge of Strauss dated back to a 1916 Salome). Along with renditions by Clemens Krauss, I would put these inscriptions on a par with the definitive Strauss, given that the Chicago Reiners are a breed apart. While Mengelberg, Beecham and Karajan mounted grander, more sweeping readings of Ein Heldenleben, this one (with Hugo Kolberg, violin, in the "Pauline" sections) has a personal momentum that remains quite affecting, and the critics really do 'snicker' in their musical derisions. Solid restorations devoted to a major Strauss interpreter.

-Gary Lemco

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor

Carl Schuricht conducts Bavarian Radio Orchestra

Orfeo D'Or C 548 001 B 56:57 (Distrib. Qualiton)

Still more Bruckner! Taken from a Munich concert given March 8, 1963, this disc captures the singular power of Carl Schuricht (1880-1967) in his last creative period. It was in memory of Schuricht and his association with the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra that Celibidache gave his own Bruckner cycle with that ensemble in 1971. Danzig-born Schuricht belonged to a family of organ-builders, so the massive, layered sound of Bruckner came naturally to Schuricht's essentially Prussian temperament. Though Schuricht inherited no great ensemble to make his name, he remains a respected member of the German tradition, pursuing Brahms and Schumann, Beethoven and Reger, and having recorded with Backhaus; he appeared often in Vienna and Salzburg, where Orfeo has unearthed a fine Mozart B-flat Concerto, K. 595, with Robert Casadesus.

This rendition of Bruckner's last, incomplete symphony comes as a refreshing tonic to those heavy, 'profound' interpretations with which we are glutted by Wand and Boulez. Relatively streamlined, this version sparkles at key moments, as in the pizzicati of the Scherzo with its F-sharp Major trio, and it sings wistfully of 'Himmel hoch' in the opening and third movements. The chastity of means, the rather cool, detached, sonic patina is a far cry from Celibidache or Furtwaengler's ethos in this music. Highly architectural, Schuricht blends the interrupted periods in this music into an over-riding arch, moving inexorably towards the E Major declaration of spiritual renewal. Lean, sweet, seamless executed, this self-effacing Bruckner Ninth is right up there among the more self-serving interpretatons by often less genial spirits.

-Gary Lemco

Furtwaengler conducts Beethoven
Furtwaengler conducts BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, Op. 55 "Eroica"; Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67; Symphony No. 6 in F Mjaor, Op. 68 Pastoral"; Symphony No. 9 in d minor, Op. 125 "Choral"/BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68; Haydn Variations, Op. 56a

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
North-German Radio Orchestra, Hamburg (Brahms)
Philharmonia of London (Beethoven Ninth)

TAHRA Furt 1054/7 4 CD's 54:37; 78:56; 74:52; 68:21 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)

Reissued on Tahra from its own refurbished masters, these are post-war Furtwaengler inscriptions of awesome power and execution, now in sound that has removed artificial reverberation, compressed acoustics, and dynamic buzzes and tape hiss. The 1951 Hamburg concert, given at the behest of resident conductor Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, is particularly rewarding for Brahms enthusiasts.

The program included a 'Double' Concerto, which has unfortunately been lost. But the lyric sweep of the Haydn Variations, the close attention to orchestral detail and niceties of rhythm, color and dynamic nuance, make this a true document in the best sense. No less impressive is the C Minor Symphony, clearly unfolded as a direct spiritual extension of Beethoven's Ninth, whose 1954 rendition with an illustrious cast of vocalists-Schwarzkopf, Cavelti, Haefliger, and Edelmann-from the Lucerne Festival, is equally monumental.

The May 23, 1954 concert, including Beethoven's Fifth and Sixth is taken from Berlin Philharmonic tapes, and they are in very good sound. They are the last such inscriptions of the Maestro with his beloved players. Tempos are quite broad, with the counter-theme's achieving a kind of resigned complement to the rhythmic subject. The dynamism provided in the later two movements is worthy not only of Furtwaengler, but of the famed Erich Kleiber account with the Concertgebouw. True to all Furtwaengler conceptions, the transition to the large-hewn C Major Allegro is dramatized, spacious tension. No less visceral, in a different plane, is the Pastoral Symphony, with liquid phrasing, literally, in the oboe at the storm's conclusion, and an elegant, clearly defined pulse running through the first two movements. The concluding Hymn of Praise seems, in retrospect, like a real swan-song from conductor and orchestra alike.

The Ninth Symphony with the Philharmonia has had some life on CD; it appeared on a deleted Hunt release. This concert of August 22, 1954 projects a powerful presence; and its playing is cleaner, more roundly intoned than the famed Bayreuth Festival inscription from 1951, especially in the very slow third movement. The Philharmonia woodwind players, not the least of whom is Dennis Brain, offer some astonishing versatility in the Scherzo, as well as in the evolving two themes of the mighty third movement variations. Some will interpolate Furtwaengler's own spiritual history into the outer movements: whether intimations of mortality or a reconciliation with post-War history, the tragically grand dimensions of his reading warrant the epithet, "heroic." Tahra has mounted a prized set of Furtwaengler performances, impressively cased and annotated with passion as well as pedantry. No serious devotee of this artist will be without it.

-Gary Lemco

Franck / Saint-Saens / Ravel
FRANCK: Symphonic Variations / SAINT-SAENS: Piano Concerto No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 44; Etude en forme de Valse / RAVEL: Concerto for Piano, Left Hand

Alfred Cortot, piano
Landon Ronald conducts London Philharmonic (Franck)
Charles Munch conducts Paris Conservatory Orchestra

Naxos Historical 8.110613 59:38

This is the second Naxos CD to celebrate the complete recorded piano concerto repertory with Alfred Cortot (1877-1962), the tireless musician, musicologist and conductor whose many-sided career left him little time for practice. The Gallic fare offered here comprises real staples in Cortot's arsenal, particularly the Franck which he, Louis Diemer, and Robert Casadesus virtually inscribed in definitive performances. The Cortot recording, from 1934, is the second he made (the first in 1927), and it retains a freshness and pulsation that attest to a thorough familiarity with its intricacies of emotional progression. The second section or 'episode' seems to suspend time and enter the world of Bergson's "duration."

If the Franck seems a better-prepared rendition, technically, the Saint-Saens (1935) and Ravel (1939) confirm Cortot's reputation for slovenly finger-work in the name of 'inspiration.' I first heard the Saint-Saens Fourth with Cortot on a deleted Rococo LP with poor side splices. The musical pleasures of the Concerto remain, despite the digital [fingers - not bytes - Ed.] inaccuracies: the poetic phrasing, the often thrilling runs, the sense of an unfolding, tightly-knit, cyclic form to the whole. Given the relative youth of Charles Munch (recently a violinist in Furtwaengler's Berlin Philharmonic), his personality is less aggressive than his later wont, content to follow le maitre at the keyboard. The Ravel Concerto is given rather a feisty performance, often cranky and fidgety, but full of color and a kind of sloppy panache, like Jackson Pollock's copying Mondrian. Cortot appears happiest in his free-wheeling cadenza, where he can show off his energy and his flights of fancy in the grand manner. The little 1931 etude, Cortot'second inscription (the first is offered on a Music & Arts CD), is a charmed, scintillating whirlwind, lively and playful. Mark Obert-Thorme's transfers from shellacs are quiet and more than passably intimate, as such elevated salon music should be.

-Gary Lemco

Elgar / Faure / Delius / Ravel
ELGAR: Chanson de Matin; Chanson de Nuit/FAURE: Masques et Bergamasques, Op. 112/DELIUS: On Hearingthe First Cuckoo in Spring/RAVEL: Pavane for a Dead Princess/WARLOCK: Capriol Suite/BUTTERWORTH:The Banks of Green Willow/SATIE: Two Gymnopedies

Sir Charles Groves conducts The English Sinfonia

IMP Classics PCD 2017 62:00 (Distrib. Allegro)

This disc of 1988 inscriptions is a companion to the 1989 collation with Groves and the Royal Philharmonic, also on Carlton IMP Classics (30367 00682): the all-British program includes Elgar's E Minor Serenade, Vaughn-Williams' Tallis Fantasia, Britten's Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge, and Tippett's Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli. In both discs'instances, the music-making is light, quick-silver and definitely up-tempo. Even the Tallis Fantasia, which can be played for the solemn mysteries a la Mitropoulos, finds itself fluent and soberly finished under Groves. The Faure is a lovely opener, lyrical and vibrant; the concept sounds similar to that of Ansermet on Decca, but even more polished. The Warlock Capriol is a set of six character pieces based on 16th Century French dance tunes (collected by Arbeau). I first learned the piece from a fine Capitol LP with Sir Malcolm Sargent. This rendition is just as good. The most opulent sound graces Butterworth's Banks of Green Willow from 1913, a lovely performance that only makes us mourn the loss of this gifted composer at age 31 at Pozieres in WW I. Ravel, Satie and Elgar each receive the same careful, loving treatment: the disc is simply a testament to melodic, appealing music. The Britten Variations on the companion disc is more than a routine run-through of popular, relatively contemporary British music: it is a real tour de force, cogent and pungent at once, a rival (and more) to the famed Karajan interpretation from the 1950's. Recommend you own them both.

-Gary Lemco

Paganini - Rabin / Bach - Milstein
PAGANINI: 24 Caprices, Op. 1

Michael Rabin, violin

EMI 7243 5 67462 2 69:34

Recorded in 1958, this classic captures Michael Rabin (1936-1972) at the peak of his relatively brief career, after he had performed with Mitropoulos in the Glazounov Concerto and had already inscribed eleven of the solo Paganini caprices in 1950 at the tender age of 14 (on Sony MHK 60894). A specialist in romantic repertory, Rabin made several distinctive records, of which the Wieniawski F-sharp Concerto is a standout, as well as his Glazounov. His firm tone, silken phrasing, and big sonority bespoke a major musical personality in the grand tradition. His untimely death (a purported suicide) robbed us all of a talent of gigantic promise.

"The only difference between a caprice and love-affair is that a caprice lasts a little longer," quips Oscar Wilde (in Dorian Gray). The Paganini 1820 caprices were conceived as his own, ideal set of studies, to be played for the glorification of the practitioner, dedicated "Agli artist." That Wilde's Dorian (or his intitiator in satyr's mysteries, Lord Henry Wotton) cites the "diabolic" hegemony of the caprice over love only extends the myth of Paganini's Faust-like deal to secure his talent through supernatural means. Rabin's means, while perhaps more mortal, are no less awesome: trilled octaves, saltato bowing, harmonics, blisteringly fast grace-notes, glissandi, sustained cantalena, double and triple-stopping, tremolos, antiphons, fast alternation of pizzicati and arco bowing, etc. The album is a compendium of fiddlers' secrets, brilliantly realized. Along with more recent surveys by Midori, Ruggiero Ricci and Salvatore Accardo, this still reigns pre-eminent.

-Gary Lemco

BACH: Sonatas (3) for Unaccompanied Violin

Nathan Milstein, violin

EMI 7243 5 66869 2 2 57:12

The Bach Sonatas with Nathan Milstein (1903-1992), recorded 1954-56, are the companion of the single disc of the solo Partitas (7243 66870 2 8) also on EMI. These were Milstein's first complete inscriptions for LP, although he had performed the Bach solo works independently for years and would re-record them a generation later for DG. These are big pieces for big minds armed with big technique: Milstein's C Major Sonata, BWV 1005 was the most polished of its time, even more technically secure than Szigeti, more emotionally risky than Szeryng. That Milstein had an unconventional bow-grip only increases the natural tension of his playing. Each of the sonatas has a splendid fugue; in the C Major, the fugue is colossal. Milstein can shift tone, touch, vibrato and bow pressure to create a real sense of antiphony in his voicings. The playing is polyphonic in every sense. To say merely that these performances hold up over time trivializes their import; they are archetypal renditions of hard-won, hard-fought realization. Edward Melkus called them "manly" and "forthright." I call them invincible. The later inscriptions take a new, alternate approach, more studied but also a bit more labored. Keep this one and the Patititas close.

-Gary Lemco

Milstein plays Handel, Mozart, Prokifiev
Nathan Milstein plays HANDEL, MOZART, PROKOFIEV

Nathan Milstein,violin
Artur Balsam and Leon Pommers, piano

EMI 7243 67316 2 2 72:21

Here is Milstein (1903-1992) in his prime period, 1955 Handel and Prokofiev (with Balsam) to 1957-58 (Mozart with Pommers). I recall not only seeing and speaking to Milstein after a performance of the Beethoven Concerto in Atlanta, but of asking another violinist (from another musical culture entirely), Edward Melkus, what he thought of Milstein. "A wonderful artist; very different approach [to Bach] from my own, but very masculine, authentic musicianship." The Mozart sonatas Milstein plays are from his Mannheim period, around 1778: the C Major, K. 296; the E Minor,K. 304; and the G Major, K. 301. I find them French, stylistically, with shades of Lully and Leclair. Like all Milstein performances they are deft, light, but pushed without compromise. Milstein was always murder on accompanists, whether keyboard or full orchestra.

The opening piece, the Handel,Op.1 in D, is the most oft-performed by the older generation of violinsts of Heifetz and Elman's era. It is not an 'authentic' performance style, but it is rapt and highly polished, noble declamation. Curiously, like the Prokofiev, the original design for the Handel was as a flute sonata; in Prokofiev's case, the composer re-set the piece as Op. 92a for Oistrakh in 1944. Milstein, unlike Oistrakh, never seems to have played the first, F Minor Sonata, Op. 80. Milstein negotiates its rhythmic syncopations and melodic curlicues with his usual aplomb and dazzling agility. No surprises, just the most secure, suave violin playing under the sun. Ever the great communicator, Milstein. A basic for any record collector.

-Gary Lemco

Leginska: The Complete Columbia Masters
Ethel Leginska, piano: The Complete Columbia Masters, 1926-28: SCHUBERT, CHOPIN, RACHMANINOV, LISZT

Ivory Classics 72002 72:44 (Distrib. Naxos)

Ethel Leginska (nee Liggins) was born 1886 in Hull, Yorkshire, England and died in Los Angeles, 1970 after along bout with Alzheimer's. But in those eighty plus years, Leginska made herself a musical dynamo, "the Paderewski of women pianists," who was keyboard virtuoso, conductor, arranger, composer and impraesario. Her studies were prodigious, including several years with Theodor Leschetizky, composition with Rubin Goldmark and Ernest Bloch, and opera conducting with Robert Heger. Engaged as a conductor at various festivals, including the Montreal Opera Company, 1932-33, Leginska broke through sexual and artistic discrimination and pioneered the feminist spirit in matters of the spirit: "Why are we so docile and obedient in abiding by our traditions? If only we women would sometimes rebel. . ."she stated in a 1917 interview.

Her establishment of the New Venture in Music in 1943 Los Angeles spotlighted new, talented artists and gained the support of eminent conductors, Monteux, Walter, Koussevitzky, Coates (a personal friend and dedicatee of her Cradle Song), Reiner, Klemperer and others. Along with Arrau and Brailowsky, she programmed the entire works of Chopin in six recitals (without intermission!). The 1935 Chicago premier of her opera Gale had John Charles Thomas in the cast.

Ivory has assembled all of the surviving masters of Leginska's Columbia shellacs recorded in New York between 1926-28; other records she cut were destroyed for no good reason. The Schubert Impromptus, Op. 142 are the most famous of the current issues: of all of Leginska's records, the Schuberts had been mentioned to me in my college days by Lance G. Hill, who owned a 78 rpm set. Leginska's playing is very sure, deft, and straightforward; she does not take repeats, a practice common to virtually all these inscriptions. I find the playing direct, chaste, unmannered. It may not have quite the poetry of Schnabel or Fischer, but it is noble and clear-headed. The fourth of the Moments musicaux is taken in the manner of a Bach etude, extremely polished and anticipatory of her Chopin style. Her dynamic range is strong, with fine pianissimos and a grand sense of attack in block chords and sforzato passages.

Of bravura there is no lack: Leginska gives us the 8th Hungarian Rhapsody of Liszt (abbreviated), Chopin's "Military" Polonaise, and two popular Rachmaninov preludes, the G Minor and the ubiquitous C-sharp Minor. Once Leginska sets a right tempo, there is little deviation. Witness her Marche Militiare, Op. 51, No. 1 of Schubert, with its trumpet effects and lilted swagger beneath the martial top-rhythm. Leginska's piano tone is richly colored, given the limitation of the technology at the time. Restorations have some surface hiss, but the musicianship sails on through. A major personality, certainly; more innately gifted than Myra Hess, but less remembered, Ethel Leginska might now, via Ivory classics, regain some small portion of her honor due. Recommended.

-Gary Lemco

Chaliapin: Songs and arias 1902-1908--Feodor Chaliapin, bass--Arbiter 125

Chaliapin (1873-1938) was probably the greatest singing actor in vocal history. Of peasant origins, poorly educated (he had only four years of formal schooling), and largely self-taught, his ability over a 40-year career to invest his performances with extraordinary variety and vitality led to great international fame. This disc, containing 24 folk songs, art songs, and opera arias recorded in 1902 and 1907/8, presents him in all his youthful vigor. Even then, he was more concerned with dramatic expression than beauty of tone, but his singing was already distinctive and memorable. Some of what you hear has no more than a rather crude forcefulness, but he was also capable of floating a gently lyrical pianissimo of great beauty (as in the folk song "Nochenko"). His interpretations became more subtle and imaginative as he matured, but his 1908 'La calumnia' from Rossini's Barber of Seville is as wonderfully pompous and engaging as any you will hear. There is a good deal of surface noise to put up with, but the transfers are excellent and the voice emerges with life-like clarity. This is Vol. 1 of Arbiter's "Chaliapin Collection", which will contain all his recordings in chronological order, and it (and presumably the subsequent volumes) should be in every collection of great vocal artistry.

-Alex Morin

Dame Clara Butt
CLARA BUTT: The Acoustic Years--Marston 52029 (2 CDs)

It's hard to know what to say about Dame Clara Butt, an icon of British singing for the first decades of the last century. In her early years she sang in oratorios and occasionally in opera, but made her reputation in concert tours that took her throughout the Empire, and occasionally (and very successfully) to the US, singing lugubrious and patriotic ballads suited to the taste of the time. Tall and statuesque, she had a good dramatic sense, and was the first to use a spotlight at her appearances. But what of her voice? An exceptionally powerful contralto with some technical facility, she displayed startling (and frequently imitated) breaks between registers; her deep tones sound like a bass trombone in full cry, her upper notes are weak. Her interpretations are likely to seem tasteless and even ludicrous to modern ears--but still, there was a kind of nobility in her sincerity, warmth, and emotional force. I suppose the 50 selections on these two discs, recorded between 1909 and 1925, offer no more than a relic of a best-forgotten past, but they may very well be interesting to the curious.

-Alex Morin

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