January-February 2005, Pt. 1 of 2 [Pt. 2]
Mahler: Symphony No. 9 in D Major
Karel Ancerl conducts Czech Philharmonic
Supraphon SU 3693-2 011 78:51 (Distrib. Qualiton)****:
The 33rd in the ongoing Ancerl Edition from Supraphon celebrating the distinguished work of Karel Ancerl (1908-1973) and his work with the Czech Philharmonic, here in the Mahler Ninth (1909) inscribed April 7-15, 1966. Mahler himself found Czech music-making to his taste, having led the ensemble in Bratislava with rewarding success. Moved by Tchaikovsky’s model in his Pathetique Symphony to place the Adagio as the last movement, an existential commentary on the implacability of fate, Mahler seems to have reacted against the grandiosity of the Symphony of a Thousand, instead allowing the Ninth to express meditative and anguished states of mind. The use of the Abschied motif from The Song of the Earth, the intrusion of grotesqueries, its disruptive and frenzied moments of emotional paroxysm, all contribute to the immensity of parting from the whirl of life.
Karel Ancerl and the Czech Philharmonic deliver a thoughtful, carefully etched performance, often intimate in the manner of chamber music but frenzied and convulsive in the Rondo–Burleske in which Mahler rages at the dying of the light. I can see where some auditors might find this reading too perfect, too contrived and lacking in a sense of spontaneity. But as a vehicle for Ancerl, who himself suffered great torment and loss in the throes of World War II and into the ravages of his homeland by the Soviets, this inscription is for him, as for Mahler, a synthesis and distillation of experience. Ancerl emigrated from Czechoslavakia only two years after having made this record so we may well project a sense of kindred sympathies in the D Major Symphony of Mahler that transcends the written notes.
BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 “Appassionata;” LISZT: Sonata in B Minor; Apres un lecture du Dante
Claudio Arrau, piano
Orfeo C 611 031B 74:22 (Distrib. Qualiton)****:
A concert from the Salzburg Festpielehaus 15 August 1982, where the 79-year-old Claudio Arrau (1903-1991), in his final appearance at the Salzburg Festival, presides in his imperious demeanor over the music of Beethoven and Liszt. Omitted because of time limitations on the CD is the Beethoven Les Adieux Sonata which complemented the B Minor Sonata of Liszt. Though not in impeccable form–there are a number of finger-slips in the B Minor Sonata–Arrau’s grasp of architecture and dynamic nuances is peerless. The impressionistic figures in the Dante Sonata, with its use of F# Major to suggest the path to illumined spirituality, enjoy a luminosity rare in any version of this tempestuous work. The B Minor Sonata is large, swallowed in one massive gulp by Arrau.
The Appassionata, a work Arrau traversed many times (including in his integral set for Philips and often for CBS) has a directness of approach that rather daunts we listeners. It is not a warm reading, but rather a somber, graduated experiment in tone-color and chains of semi-quavers played as sweeping etudes. Always an intellectual pianist, Arrau intrudes pregnant caesuras when he deems them dramatically necessary. I found the Dante Sonata perhaps the most compelling of the three offerings, but the whole recital is a feast of somber focused experience. A very intense hour and a quarter indeed, to spend with the Chilean master.
Jussi Bjoerling Sings Lieder
Jussi Bjoerling, tenor/Frederick Schauwecker, piano/Harry Ebert, piano/Nils Grevillius, piano/Orchestra conducted by Sune Waldimir –
Great Opera Performances GOP (3 discs) 66.310, 48:47; 64:27 (Distrib. Albany)****:
Inscribed 1930-1952, this compilation celebrates the illustrious voice of Swedish sensation Jussi Bjoerling (1911-1960) in thirty-six selections taken from his lieder repertory. The New York recital from 1952 with Frederick Schauwecker has had several incarnations, and collectors have already gravitated to the RCA Bjoerling Rediscovered issue from earlier in 2004. The earliest record in this set is Elgar’s Salut d’amour, Op. 12, from 8 October 1930 with Nils Grevillius – a tender evocation we only know from violin transcriptions; even here, we have an anonymous violin obbligato. The 15 July 1939 Stockholm recital with Harry Ebert opens with a lilting rendition of Beethoven’s Adelaide, Op. 46, then a group of six Schubert lieder, of which Fruehlingsglaube allows us to savor Bjoerling’s mezzo-voce, his German accent clearly infused with Swedish. From two dates in October, 1933, we have songs by Sibelius and Jules Sylvain, of which Black Roses of Sibelius stands out. From New York, on 1 March 1940, we have one Sibelius song Sigh, Rushes, Sigh, that might have a tinge of the coming fury of world politics.
The sheer flexibility of tone, the supple strength that never tires in spite of phrase lengths, consistently wins our admiration. Bjoerling’s sense of drama is all in the voice–he was an indifferent actor–try his Wanderers Nachtlied for thoughtful lyricism. The 1952 recital is more adventuresome than the earlier work: we have Die Mainacht of Brahms that makes a palpable impression, as do the Richard Strauss songs and Rachmaninov’s Lilacs. Only one Italian contribution, Tosti’s Ideale, graces the recital, but the last notes gently soar into the stratosphere. One favorite, En Svane of Grieg, seems to have been an atmospheric favorite of Bjoerling and Kirstin Flagstad alike. Bjoerling’s rendition of Schubert Die Allmacht has a resonance that must be informed by his personal religious faith. The individual songs by Liszt, Hugo Wolf, and Sjoberg give us collectors a bit more musical geography to roam. The little plaint, Schubert’s An Sylvia from 1939, has to be the slowest version Bjoerling delivered, but for those who relish every sound this astounding vocal talent uttered, it is sustained magic.
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37; Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58; Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 “Emperor”; Piano Sonata No. 24 in F# Major, Op. 78; Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op. 110
Claudio Arrau, piano Otto Klemperer conducts Philharmonia Orchestra
Testament SBT 1351 73:06; 71:07 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:
Live recordings from Royal Festival Hall, London made 11 October-15 November, 1957, with Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau and one of the towering Beethoven conductors, Otto Klemperer. Arrau’s general influence on Klemperer was to slow down the usually quick tempos he took for the concertos. Arrau and Klemperer had worked together prior in Cologne, 1954, playing the Chopin E Minor Concerto – a surprisingly stylistic collabroation in spite of the fact that Arrau had “to teach” Chopin to Klemperer. The two musical giants share a penchant for the grand line and exalted sentiments. There may have been an extra sense of valediction in the partnership, since the Philharmonia organization was still mourning the loss of its principal horn Dennis Brain to a car accident in September.
The two Beethoven sonatas, recorded for British Columbia in May 1957, capture an athletic aggressive pianist in the throes of the music he cherishes. Arrau, a student of Martin Krause, had imbibed the Germanic tradition to a degree that belied his Latin origins. Armed with a spectacular technique and a piercing musical intellect, Arrau can balance his studied tempos with a sense of improvisation, especially in Beethoven’s late style, where his experiments with two-movement form would seem to urge a more plastic approach to classical architecture. As for the concertos, we have a rare glimpse into Klemperer’s broad canvas for the C Minor Concerto with a pulverizing cadenza by Arrau in the first movement. The Fourth and Emperor Concertos are massive in scale, a mixture of fireworks and intense pensive scrutiny. Major unearthings by the BBC, these performances add only more luster to the two grand masters of the Beethoven ethos. This is a spectacular restoration.
MEDTNER: The Complete Solo Piano Recordings, Volume 3
Nicolas Medtner, piano
Appian APR 5548 62:29 (Distrib. Albany)****:
This is the last in the APR series of restorations devoted to the art of Nicolas Medtner (1887-1951), who remains a maverick among the great Russian composers – the incarnation of a salon style that lies between Rachmaninov, Brahms, and Scriabin. All of the reissues derive from 1947 sessions for HMV, all funded by the Maharaja of Mysore, an ardent admirer of Russian music who underwrote inscriptions of Medtner’s music and the Scriabin Concerto with Solomon. The Appian reissue also restores three previously unpublished inscriptions: the Novelle in C Minor, Op. 17, No. 2; the Hymn in Praise of Toil, Op. 49, No.1; and Primavera, Op. 39, No. 3.
Medtner himself was a formidable pianist, actually earning a substantial living as a concert artist until a chronic heart condition forced him away from the performing circuit in 1942. He had been fond of performing Beethoven, especially sonatas and the G Major Concerto. His music does not reveal many debts to Beethoven but rather to Schumann’s character-pieces and maerchen, which in Medtner’s case he calls skazka – Russian fairy-tales. The F Minor, Op. 26, No. 3 is a brisk Chopinesque etude. The Novelle in C Minor is a blood-brother to Rachmaninov’s popular Prelude in G Minor. The big pieces are the Sonata tragica in C Minor, Op. 39, No. 5 and the Sonata-Ballada in F Sharp, Op. 27. The latter is a sprawling piece, with some blazing passages balanced by diaphanous runs in the Scriabin manner with impressionistic touches from Debussy. The opening piece, Canzona matinata, Op. 39, No. 4, has an Italian flavor but few of Medtner’s melodies stand out as memorable. His pieces are lyrical but anonymous. They contain suave, often punishing and brilliant filigree, but the effect is one of color-etudes rendered fluently, perhaps after the style of Liapunov. For those who favor sophisticated salon music played authentically, this is a collector’s item. Else, it is merely a luscious curiosity.
RAVEL: Piano Trio in A Minor/RACHMANINOV: Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 9 “Elegiac”
The Oistrakh Trio
Preiser 90596 72:17 (Distrib. Albany)****:
Established in 1941, the Oistrakh Trio centers around its virtuoso violinist David Oistrakh (1908-1974) and his excellent partners, cellist Sviatoslav Knushevitsky and pianist Lev Oborin. There are no dates given for these two performances or early 1960s, since they betray none of the awful tape hiss nor tinny reproduction of piano tone that 1940s Melodiyas tend to promote. The 1914 Ravel Trio enjoys meticulous attention to details of rhythm and tonal balance, with tender delicacy of affect. While the first movement is marked Modere, the thick layering of its 8/8 metrics into polyphonic textures becomes quite energized in the course of its development. The Passacaille movement moves so slowly as to become a study in graduated dynamics and tonal colors. The Anime finale has the same kind of tricky 5/4 and 7/4 metrics we see in Prokofiev. Lev Oborin’s piano part grumbles beneath the feverish upper patina with smeared harmonies reminiscent of La Valse. When Oistrakh’s violin emerges out of the morass, it sings a kind of Oriental lilt both effervescent and flamboyant, urging the whole ensemble to a whirling conclusion.
Rachmaninov’s 1893 Piano Trio in E-flat bears the same relationship to Tchaikovsky that Tchiakovsky’s own A Minor Trio bears to Nicholas Rubinstein: both are elegies to the memory of a fellow artist. The scale of the piece is huge, its first two movements of some twenty minutes duration and a concluding Allegro risoluto that lasts seven and one-half minutes. Besides utilizing a massive theme-and-variations as had Tchaikovsky, the first movement possesses a liturgical character Rachmaninov utilized in his actual religious music – as in his Vespers, Op. 37. Knushevitsky’s cello has many excellent singing lines, as does Oistrakh. The declamatory piano part several times recalls moments in Tchaikovsky’s Trio. The lyrical sections are played with a conviction of expression and orchestral sonority which place the piece on a par with any of the virtuoso concertos. In spite of the work’s episodic architecture, the Oistrakh Trio manages to hold the tensions to produce a riveting account of enduring significance.
FRANCK: Violin Sonata in A Major; FAURE: Violin Sonata No. 1 in A, Op. 13
Lola Bobescu ,violin/Jacques Genty, piano
Testament SBT 1360 52:18 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:
Prior to my auditioning this reissue of her 1950 collaborations with her pianist-husband Jacques Genty from December 1950, I knew only one inscription by Lola Bobescu (1919-2003), that of the Vitale Chaconne on Philips. Roumanian by birth, Bobescu followed the path set prior by Georges Enescu, cultivating the Franco-Belgium tradition in music; and she and Enescu made a reputation in 1935 with the concerto by Golestan. With fellow countryman and legendary virtuoso Dinu Lipatti, Bobescu formed a duo partnership that assured her recognition in the highest circles. She met pianist-conductor Jaques Genty (b. 1921) in 1945 and married him in 1948. In this reissue from originally ten-inch LPs, we hear two thoroughly compatible musicians in salon repertory that is second nature. Bobescu always had a pliant technique and a sweet one. Her burnished tone and fiery approach make the Faure a personal statement of vibrant beauty. We can hope that Testament will take its cue from Japanese reissue companies and revive her inscriptions of Bach, Schubert, Saint-Saens, Bartok, Golestan, and Stravinsky.
BOCCHERINI: Cello Concerto No. 9 in B-flat/VIVALDI: Cello Concerto in E Minor/ COUPERIN: Pieces en concert from Les gouts reunis/HAYDN: Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major
Pierre Fournier, cello/Karl Munchinger conducts Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra
Testament SBT 1359 72:56 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:
This collation of cello concertos under the elegant hand of Pierre Fournier (1906-1986) is a bit of an anomaly: we have the prince of cellists at the peak of his form, 1952-1953, engaged in realizing some of the more vulgar and spurious editions of antiquated repertory. It would be more to the artist&Mac226;s credit to resurrect any of his collaborations with the pianist Solomon and violinist Zino Francescatti, if they exist. The Vivaldi “concerto” is a reconstruction of a Sonata in E, RV 40 by Vincent d’Indy. The Boccherini is an amalgam by German cellist Friedrich Gruetzmacher, who spliced outer movements from one concerto to a middle movement from another. Fournier had abandoned the garish Geveart edition of the Haydn D Major Concerto after 1951; he went on to record a more scholarly version with Munchinger just prior to colleague Maurice Gendron’s efforts in the same direction. The pianist Paul Bazelaire arranged the Couperin pieces to display Fournier’s light wrist and bow action in works that delight in transparency and delicate effects. Fournier and Munchinger inscribed all of the recordings in Victoria Hall, Geneva – home of Ansermet’s beloved Suisse Romande Orchestra – and the sound has both warmth and glamour. Less a disc for purists than for collectors of Fournier, the disc is lovely enough to transcend its being musically anachronistic.