Cantelli: New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, Vol. I = HAYDN: Symphony No. 93 in D Major; MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467; RAVEL: Pavane pour une infant defunte; FALLA: El Sombrero des Tres Picos: Suite No. 2; VIVALDI: Concerto Grosso in d minor, Op. 11, No. 3; BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in c minor, Op. 37; PISTON: Toccata; COPLAND: El Salon Mexico – Walter Gieseking, piano/ New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/ Guido Cantelli – Pristine Audio PASC 501 (2 CDs) TT: 2:26:56 [www.pristineclassical.com] *****:
Two explosive, thoroughly engaging concerts from Carnegie Hall remind us of the glories of Guido Cantelli’s work with the baton.
The legacy of Italian virtuoso conductor and Toscanini protégé Guido Cantelli (1920-1956) finds sonorous revival through Pristine’s Andrew Rose, here offering two, live CBS Radio broadcasts from successive weeks in March, 1955 from Carnegie Hall. It would be too facile to consider the gifted Cantelli a merely “youthful version” of Arturo Toscanini, despite their several, superficial similarities. Cantelli maintained his own ideas in relation to repertory and structure, often – say in his powerful rendition of the Schumann Fourth Symphony – revealing a sense of tempo and transition much closer to the German we associate with Wilhelm Furtwangler. Virtually each of the programs included in this Pristine edition had once appeared through the pirate label AS Disc, though not as part of any chronological or integral format.
Cantelli clearly found the first (1791) of the so-called Salomon Symphonies of Haydn exciting and appealing. Having set the work to a recording for EMI, Cantelli programmed the piece for 6 March 1955. While Cantelli drives the first movement Adagio – Allegro assai with a militant fervor, he does not ignore its waltz-like rhythm that likewise pervades its secondary motif. The prominent bassoon part soon makes another appearance in the affecting, falling-fifths Largo cantabile, an etched performance that makes much of its G Major lyricism. The robust Menuetto in D – likewise given ardent realization by Beecham – enjoys a rustic energy mostly attributable to the bassoons and strong string accents. The last movement, marked Presto ma non troppo, typifies Haydn’s fusion of rondo and sonata-form, rife with humorous touches that exploit sudden stops and starts, as well as dynamic shifts involving the cello. The brightness of the New York Philharmonic strings – likely in debt to its principal conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos for their response – quite carry the day. They will prove equally potent in the opening of the next week’s concert of 13 March, whose Vivaldi d minor Concerto from L’Estro Armonico sweeps us away.
Each of the concerts features a major piano soloist: Walter Gieseking (6 March) in the Mozart C Major Concerto, and Rudolf Firkusny (13 March) in the Beethoven c minor Concerto. Given the distinct temper of each work, it becomes moot to compare the soloists on the basis of their relative power. Cantelli favors both with alert accompaniment, more playful, however, in the Mozart, since Gieseking relishes adding his own fioritura and miniature cadenzas from time to time. The liquid drama Cantelli and Firkusny achieve in the late pages of the Beethoven communicate a decided conviction that all but unleashes the audience from any restraint. The lovely song of the Mozart Andante from the C Major Concerto – whose skip of a seventh became for a generation of film-goers via Elvira Madigan – has a wonderful repose and elegance from Gieseking, who had at first demurred from working with Cantelli because of his awe in Herbert von Karajan. Happily, the collaboration proved significant enough for all principals to generate anther appearance together in the Beethoven Emperor.
Cantelli often went further than Toscanini in programming new, and especially American, music. The Toccata of Walter Piston – written for Charles Munch and the BSO – confirms Aaron Copland’s estimate of him as “one of the most expert craftsmen American music can boast.” The Toccata demands that each of the Philharmonic choirs contribute a highly volatile, virtuoso series of riffs, both as soli and in violent, contrapuntal motion. Despite the fierce energy of the work, it remains tonal and marvelously accessible, a well-oiled mechanism with a sense of soul. Copland’s El Salon Mexico, a product of a 1932 visit to a nightclub, courtesy of friend Carlos Chavez. A string of folk tunes and occasionally inebriated riffs combine for an effective, even explosive, ride into the Mexican national idiom. In both the Piston and Copland works, the Philharmonic brass and battery are in full tilt, truly resonant with the power of a first-class ensemble.
The Ravel and Falla works that conclude the 6 March concert, respectively, sing and dance with the same expressive fervor that the orchestra’s dynamic leader, Mitropoulos, typically instills in his players. Cantelli follows Mitropoulos almost literally in his sequence of Falla excerpts from the Three-Cornered Hat, which Mitropoulos had recorded for CBS. The Ravel Pavane suggests that a “prince” of music, and not only a musical princess, passed from us all too soon.