by | Dec 21, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Fitelberg conducts = RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Tsar Saltan Suite, Op. 57; TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 3 in D Major, Op. 29 “Polish”; SZYMANOWSKI: Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35 – Eugenia Uminska, violin/ Philharmonia Orchestra/ Grzegorz Fienberg – Dutton CDBP 9808, 77:18 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Grzegorz Fitelberg (1879-1953) ranks among the greats of Russo-Polish music-making, a good friend of such luminaries as Karol Szymanowski, Paul Kochanski, Heinrich Neuhaus, and Artur Rubinstein. Fitelberg made his debut as a conductor in 1908 with the Warsaw Philharmonia, And he soon toured Berlin, Vienna, and St. Petersburg; he became a conductor for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe, 1921-9123. A strong advocate for new Polish composition, he, Kochanski, and Rubinstein organized a huge festival at the Champs-Elysees, Paris. Fitelberg fled to America and organized an all-Polish festival at Carnegie Hall 4 May 1944. The present disc compiles inscriptions Fitelberg made in London, 1946-1948.
The brilliant performance of the Tsar Saltan Suite (15 April 1946) pre-dates that by Issay Dobrowen and the same Philharmonia Orchestra by some five years, and it testifies to a Rimsky-Korsakov interpreter of the first order. The rhythmic urgency and color vitality quite belies the age of the recording; as per expectation, Michael Dutton’s transfers remain quietly immaculate. Since much of the score derives its source from Wagner, especially his “Forest Murmurs” and “Magic Fire Music,” more’s the pity we do not have a second disc featuring the Fitelberg Die Meistersinger Prelude, Act I.
The knottiest of the Tchaikovsky symphonies, the so-called 1875 “Polish” Symphony (rec. 9-10 March 1946) cannot decide if it exists as an orchestral suite, a ballet, or a loosely German structure in five movements. Beecham gave this work a college try; in America, Hans Kindler set it to shellacs. Tchaikovsky gave the work two scherzos, much in the style of Schumann‘s Rhenish, which he admired. Fitelberg imparts a verve and buoyant spirit to the opening movement, allowing for its natural infusion of the composer’s melancholia, via the oboe tune. The Philharmonia strings, winds, and horns prove their mettle time and again: recall the orchestra was producer Walter Legge’s stellar vehicle for Karajan’s return to the musical fold. The second movement, a combination of Weber and Glinka, makes the Teutonic connection clear, marked Alla Tedesca, “in the German style.” The Philharmonia woodwinds, horns answering, intone the plangent melody that comprises the Andante elegiaco. For the Scherzo proper, Tchaikovsky takes his cue from breezy Mendelssohn and his own cantata for the bi-centennial of Peter the Great’s birth. Fitelberg injects a muscular energy into the finale, a Polonaise “Germanized” by Tchaikovsky’s penchant for formal fugal treatment.
Polish violinist Eugenia Uminska (1904-1980) likely deserves a movie script, since her life reads like a series of Hollywood adventures. A pupil of Sevcik and Enescu, she fought against the fascists in the Polish resistance; after WW II, she returned to Krakow to engage in major chamber music ensembles. Her performance of the 1916 Szymanowski First Concerto (22 September 1948) was called “authoritative” by contemporary critics. Loosely based on a poem by Micinski, the concerto is cast in one continuous movement whose sound effects eschew traditional tonality for a series of “oriental,” demented, or exotic colors in which the violin appears as an apparition or Stravinsky’s firebird. The poem refers to a wedding of “amorous conflagration,” and Uminska’s soaring vocal line proves equal to the task, imparting a fiercely rasping sweetness, if the paradox means anything. The central section assumes a dreamy character, the violin in concert with the harp and battery, the modalities rife with Debussy and the erotic side of Bartok. Fitelberg draws out the magically exuberant passion emblazoned into this often mesmerizing work, and we have found a conductor virtually unknown but truly worthy of the distinction often attributed to his reputation.
—Gary Lemco

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