Cantelli Conducts = CHERUBINI: Symphony in D Major; R. STRAUSS: Tod und Verklaerung, Op. 24; BUSONI: Berceuse elegiaque; Tanzwalzer – New York Philharmonic/ Guido Cantelli – Pristine Audio PASC 343, 68:01 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
The Guido Cantelli (1920-1956) legacy enjoys a happy restoration from Andrew Rose with this live New York Philharmonic concert from 21 March 1954. The major work, Luigi Cherubini’s Symphony in D Major (1815) may well legitimize for many listeners Beethoven’s accolade of the composer as “the greatest dramatic composer of his time.” The music manages a fascinating cross between Haydn’s nobility of spirit and the eminently relentless energy Beethoven can usher almost at will. Even at the Largo introduction to the Allegro first movement, Cantelli elicits a glowing response from his ensemble, and the Carnegie Hall sonics only embellish the intensity of effect. High, exhilarated spirits reign, rife with Cherubini’s own version of Mannheim Rockets. The moments of counterpoint pile on rather thickly, the technique almost anticipatory of the Berlioz notion of polyphony. The galloping figures ring with bright authority, and the more lyrical figures bask in Mediterranean sunlight.
The second movement, Larghetto cantabile, projects a rather Wordsworthian image of pastoral solitude touched by moments of illuminated grandeur. Cantelli does not particularly linger over the proceedings, yet the sudden surges of energy can still startle and delight us. The Philharmonic woodwinds certainly shine, and the strings, including some resonant bass fiddles, have their own claim to fame. The rather blustery Menuetto receives an impish reading, a subtle synthesis of Haydn and Mendelssohn, metrically intricate at times. The Trio section urges a parlando quality over an ostinato that captures the folk spirit much in the manner of the later Verdi. The robust virility that Cantelli brings to his readings permeates the Finale: Allegro assai, music that proves as nimble as it is buoyantly and confidently carefree. The sheer virtuoso appeal of this Cantelli performance should endear this music as required listening by connoisseurs and initiates alike.
There must be a certain irony in the fact that Mitropoulos performed the Richard Strauss symphonic poem Death and Transfiguration in 1956 as part of the Cantelli Memorial Concert, a point I have made previously in my review of Cantelli’s 27 December 1952 concert with the NBC Symphony (rev. 9 February 2012). In even superior sound to the NBC rendition of Tod und Verklaerung, Cantelli embraces both the fatal menace of the sick room and the ultimate release of a spirit in pain. French horn James Chambers offers some brilliant flourishes in the course of the spasmodic episodes of turmoil and bittersweet recollection. In fact, the entire NY Philharmonic brass section commands the spotlight, offering majestic swaths of sound, aspirations for a sustained epiphany of vision. Winds and harp, a combination rife with Mahler, infiltrates the latter pages, Meno mosso, a section that virtually throbs with luminous intensity. The last pages convince us that the passing of a hero has taken place, and that Promethean impulse belongs to Everyman. An appreciative audience concurs.
Busoni’s Berceuse elegiaque has the subtitle “The man’s cradle song at the gravesite of his mother,” and the piece received its official premier 21 February 1911, as part of the mortally ill Gustav Mahler’s last appearance before an orchestra. Busoni described his work as “Poesy for sixfold string quartet [six violins, six violas, six celli, six double basses] with mutes; three flutes, one oboe, three clarinets, four horns, gong, harp, and celesta.” Often, the strings suggest a cold wind blowing across a desolate landscape or feet treading on a grave. Cantelli and Toscanini each championed this eerie piece, though Cantelli seems not to have rendered it with the NBC. The somewhat unsure audience applauds cautiously.
Busoni’s Op. 53 Dance-Waltzes were written in tribute to Johann Strauss, and Busoni claimed they were inspired by strains of music overheard from a coffee-house. Like Ravel’s La Valse, the swaying rhythms and swirling melodic riffs pay homage to bygone age. A kind of drunken revel infiltrates the dances, and they become rhythmically askew, perhaps a response to the 1920s sensibility of their origin, that post-apocalyptic malaise that defines “the lost generation.” I would rank this Cantelli version and one by Jascha Horenstein as the two dominant realizations of this darkly jesting score.
“Perhaps the most fluently consummate performer on the keyboard of all time…”