Transferred for high definition from a Command Classics 4-track prerecorded tape, this “sleeper” performance from Belgian maestro Andre Vandernoot (1927-1991) is a wake-up call for anyone’s record library. I am reminded of my reaction years ago, watching veteran actor Keye Luke in Woody Allen’s Alice, that there are no necessarily second-rate character actors, merely second-rate roles for them to play; and when given a real opportunity, seasoned talent will rise beyond our expectations. Keye Luke had been forced to play parodies of Chinese sons in Charlie Chan melodramas. In Alice, he turns in a suave performance of seamless agility.
So, too, Vandernoot could boast a mere accompanist’s role in many inscriptions, like those he made with Hungarian piano virtuoso Gyorgy Cziffra. Here, in Berlioz’ egomaniacal declaration of artistic and personal obsession, Vandernoot, like Prometheus Unbound, has a sonic vehicle worthy of his talents. It’s as if we listeners had been installed comfortably (or perhaps jarringly) in the midst of The Orchestra National’s woodwind section, quite close to the brass and battery, and now can experience every fingered note, every roll of the tympani, every blast from the trumpets or piercing cry from the English horn and E-flat clarinet. “Melodies so intense as to defy normal harmonization,” Robert Schumann proclaimed Berlioz’ 1830 piece of demonic possession. Vandernoot and company make us realize every disjointed harmony, every juxtaposition of beauty and spite that run through this epic work, mounted by HDTT in thrilling sonic VistaVision. The brass punctuations at the fugue on the Dies Irae and Black Sabbath figure almost blew my speakers to perdition, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The tittering woodwinds in the final pages lead right to Richard Strauss and Ein Heldenleben, a performance by–Beecham?–that would make for a spectacularly natural successor to this magnificently wild ride. By the way, HDTT has upgraded its cover art, and now includes liner notes and biographical information on selected artists.
– Gary Lemco