Medici Masters MM014-2, 72:51 [Distr. by Naxos] ***:
Splendid readings from the passionate Greek conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) from Cologne, Germany, 1954-1960, the Scottish Symphony (24 October 1960) performed only a month before Mitropoulos’untimely demise in Italy. If we take the collaboration on the Reformation Symphony (19 July 1957) as indicative of the Mitropoulos style, we bask in a richly layered, often polyphonic sound, but never wanting for that most valuable of all assets in a conductor, a true legato. The inflamed nature of the string line seems a consistent trait in all Mitropoulos realizations, his ability to keep the treble always singing, a Toscanini influence; but Mitropoulos’ hunger for harmonic and textural intricacies derived from his German studies with Gilson and Busoni.
Anyone whose taste runs to Mendelssohn will cherish these inflamed readings; recall that Mendelssohn figured actively in Mitropoulos’ recorded repertory, running to these symphonies with both the New York Philharmonic (Scottish and Reformation) and Minneapolis Symphony (Scottish), the Capriccio Brillante (Graudan), the Violin Concerto (Francescatti), and two overtures, Ruy Blas and The Hebrides. Am I correct that an unissued Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage lies in the CBS vaults? Mitropoulos’ tempos for the A Minor Symphony run rather briskly, but his articulation of the Vivace non troppo, with its “Scotch snap” and war-chants, has soul and energy. The Adagio is huge, but not architectural in the manner of Klemperer; rather, the sense of yearning and imminent tragedy is never far from the Mitropoulos ethos. The last movements of both the Scottish and Reformation Symphonies convey illumined pageantry, a lust for spirituality, especially given Mendelssohn’s own pyrotechnics on A Mighty Fortress is Our God. The homogeneity of sound, the discipline of pizzicato passages–a point over which Herbert von Karajan never ceased brooding–testify to the willful, directed energy Mitropoulos could command, how incredibly aggressive he could be.
The Reformation communicates a balance of solemnity and accelerated, personal passion. Ever driven, the symphony under Mitropoulos loses the “Victorianism” that often plagues Mendelssohn’s polite works. The final work, Milhaud’s setting of Couperin’s own elegance and pomp, is a piece Mitropoulos played to great effect with the New York Philharmonic–it appeared on a 10” LP–showing off the contrapuntal gymnastics that Mitropoulos sought with the same piercing enthusiasm in the modern scores of Schoenberg, Berg, and Malipiero. A fine restoration to come back to repeatedly.