Fritz Reiner = PROKOFIEV: Peter and the Wolf; MOZART: The Impraesario– Overture; SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor; TCHAIKOVSKY: Marche Miniature; DEBUSSY: Fetes; BACH: Fugue in G Minor – NBC Sym./NY Philharmonic/ Chicago Sym. – Guild

by | May 23, 2008 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Fritz Reiner Conducts = PROKOFIEV: Peter and the Wolf, Op. 67; MOZART: The Impraesario– Overture, K. 486; SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 54; TCHAIKOVSKY: Marche Miniature from Suite No. 1, Op. 43; DEBUSSY: Fetes; BACH: Fugue in G Minor (arr. Caillet) – NBC Symphony Orchestra (Mozart, Prokofiev)/New York Philharmonic (Shostakovich)/ Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner

Guild GHCD 2333,  77:37 (Distrib. Albany) ****:

Classic renditions by the master of sang-froid Fritz Reiner (1888-1963) in music inscribed in concert 1947-1957.  Certainly the volatile opening Impraesario Overture with the NBC Symphony (1947) ranks as a connoisseur’s item, the woodwind and tympanic attacks never less than musical grenades covered in Italian floral arrangements. The sound actually seems to improve as the music (briskly) proceeds, the audience heartily moved by Reiner’s frenzied energy.  The collaboration with heldentenor Lauritz Melchior and the NBC (19 June 1949) for Prokofiev’s political allegory Peter and the Wolf has already appeared on pirate CD; but this incarnation proves mellow and sonically acute, especially in the flute, clarinet, and horn parts. Melchior’s spoken English lisps and swoops, in the manner of a cuddly uncle, but Melchior projects his characterizations with bemused fervor, tongue in cheek but aware that self-interest will compel otherwise predatory nations to unite against a common enemy.

The big work is the B Minor Shostakovich Symphony No. 6, Op. 54 (15 August 1943), given a haunted, bleak panorama with the New York Philharmonic, as the music requires. Reiner proceeded to record the work in Pittsburgh for CBS in March, 1945; here, the alternately darkly contrapuntal and lyrical elements find a poignant balance, and the New York Philharmonic cello section achieves a luster we could easily accept as having come from Boston under Koussevitzky. We might recall that of all the orchestras Reiner led, it was the Philadelphia he most coveted.  The opening movement, a grand Largo, projects a magisterial, tragic passion, an elegy for the state of the world. Mahler’s Ninth (in the relative major) is nigh, trills and pedal points diaphanously eating our hearts out. The pressure on our chests dissipates somewhat with the Allegro movement, a scherzo-waltz that occasionally shrieks in the 20th Century. Piccolo, battery and horns flare out, the strings and harp trying to placate us with a troubled song that soon bursts into blatant militarism that does not permit the light da capo much sincerity. The final Presto comes off rather a tight-lipped frolic; but for sheer musical execution, Reiner has the NY Phil in bravura throttle, the figures of the Op. 96 Festive Overture already in the wind.

The last three selections derive from CSO archives – the Tchaikovsky and Debussy (13 March 1957) spirited readings in high gloss. So far as I know, Reiner never recorded anything beyond the little March from Suite No. 1 of Tchaikovsky. Fetes moves briskly without sacrificing color, the piece conceived as one of a set of grisailles, or studies in gray. Finally, an arrangement by Philadelphia Orchestra collaborator Lucien Caillet of Bach’s “little” Fugue in G Minor (29 November 1957), a solidly lush reading every bit as exciting as a Stokowski transcription-performance – the last repetition of the theme a triumph of sound and orchestral discipline from a master of  both.

— Gary Lemco

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