“The playing shimmers with a voluptuous, old-world energy…”
Mengelberg: Concertgebouw Orchestra Telefunken Recordings, Vol. 2 = Works by VIVALDI; BACH; BEETHOVEN; SCHUBERT; BRAHMS; R. STRAUSS; DEBUSSY – Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/ Willem Mengelberg – Pristine Audio PASC 664 (2 CDs: 2:37:06) [Complete content listing below][pristineclassical.com] *****:
The Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, under the stern directorship of Willem Mengelberg (1871-1951), boasted a discipline that ranked with the most prestigious ensembles of its era, which with Mengelberg, lasted from 1921-1945. Restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn continues his superb sound transfers of the Mengelberg legacy – in honor of the 150th anniversary of his birth 28 March 1871 – with the Telefunken label, these from 1937-1938, that include repeats of the music of Bach and Vivaldi, due either to sonic issues in the original shellacs or to political issues evolving from the editions Mengelberg used and their unacceptability to German authorities.
The Vivaldi performances, from December 1937 and December 1938, respectively, enjoy a plastic, spontaneous musicality, deft and transparent, despite the occasional tempo fluctuations in the anachronistic reading that owes nothing to the authenticity movement, except the appearance of a harpsichord continuo. The Bach “Air” has its familiar resonance and reverence, slow but stately, with a vibrant sound. The wonder moment for this auditor arrives in the 8 November 1938 second movement Andante cantabile con moto from the Beethoven C Major Symphony, in which Mengelberg’s shifts and demands on their homogeneity of execution receive sterling response, in spite of their idiosyncrasies. The last movement, too, enjoys a thrusting energy, a sheer, exuberant energy in the Mannheim rockets and bustling woodwind figures.
Mengelberg’s explosive opening foray for the Symphony No. 8 in F (9 November 1938) makes a vivacious, witty case for Beethoven’s favoring it among his symphonies. The constantly shifting array of orchestral textures in the Allegro vivace e con brio plays like a symphonic etude, a study in ensemble response. The tympanic assault keeps the steady charge of frenetic figures in a directed tension to the climactic cadences, with whipping glissandos, luftpausen, and portamentos enough to enrage any staid music school. Throughout this colossal reading, we have the feeling of Beethoven’s impetuosity, his carefully crafted sense of rebellion within the confines of established forms. Delicacy, as well as rough-house humor, dominates the clever assault on Maazel’s metronome in the Allegretto scherzando. The COA brass work makes its presence known in the last two movements, a sign of their authority in the Schubert, Brahms, and Strauss works on Disc 2. The incisive string work in the last movement, Allegro vivace, unorthodox as it evolves, has all of the inspired eccentricity of a galvanized, willful realization by a musician with his own ideas, his own tradition. I would rather take it than leave it.
If I must “complain” of Disc 2, it assembles too many pieces of divergent energies to play in one sitting. This emotional potpourri recalls the programming of Dimitri Mitropoulos, who too converged works in one concert with competing, even contrary, impulses. The relatively traditional reading of Schubert’s Rosamunde Overture (30 November 1938) shows off the COA string and wind line to advantage, Schubert’s melodies and galloping rhythms both lyric and dramatic, in fine balance. Listen to the exemplary trumpet work to appreciate the level of virtuosity under Mengelberg’s command.
The Brahms 1885 E Minor Symphony (rec. 30 November 1938) adds a monumental girth to the selections in this set: Mengelberg’s conception contrasts greatly with the approach set by Toscanini, Weingartner, Boult, and those who follow in the Steinbach tradition. The affective point of departure bears a closer sympathy with Leopold Stokowski, subjective and rhetorically ostentatious. The “tango” sequence in the first movement, for instance, has to tolerate a break in the line that Mengelberg willfully repeats. But the evolution to the coda becomes a massive exercise in disparate impulses raised to a new pitch of contrapuntal resolution. The ceremonial, Phrygian-mode Andante moderato, plays like a composition in itself, a study in periodic, orchestral choirs, wherein the string line achieves an exaltation beyond words. The COA basses and cellos need not fear competition from Koussevitzky and his vaunted BSO. The Allegro giocoso retrieves its rough, peasant humor after perhaps too much civilization has enervated its force. The brass and tympanic fanfare that opens the last movement, Allegro energetico e passionato, enters that contradictory Brahms world that moves into the future by anachronistic means. A forward drive and a sweeping landscape unfold before us, sometimes subversive in its flute-dominated lyricism. When the allegro resumes, the musical line has become a catapult to transmute the chorale by Bach (from Cantata 150) into a force of contrapuntal obsession.
Despite both the long familiarity of Mengelberg with composer Richard Strauss, the Don Juan rec. 8 November 1938) exists as one of only three scores the conductor led commercially. And in spite of the absolutely stunning execution, mechanically and sonically, in this restoration, it comes as an anticlimax after the Brahms, so it must be savored in its true, bravura glory away from the rest of this disc. For glorious it is, with creamy lines in the strings and elevated, heroic grandeur in the brass as a tempestuous realization of Lenau’s poetry, which actually focuses on the more tragic side of the myth. As a piece of orchestral virtuosity, this reading exceeds the standard “classics” from Koussevitzky, Reiner, Stokowski, and Solti. So, too, Mengelberg’s sole incursion into the music of Debussy (1 December 1938), the 1894 haunted score to Stéphane Mallarmé’s 1865 symbolist poem. The quietly revolutionary aspect of the music extends our sense of a program anticlimax, a subtle, sensuously evocative music that occupies its own, exotic space. The playing shimmers with a voluptuous, old-world energy well suited to the Mengelberg ethos.
Mengelberg: Concertgebouw Orchestra Telefunken Recordings, Vol. 2 =
VIVALDI: Concerto in A Minor, Op. 3/8 from L’estro armónico (2 recordings);
BACH: Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068 (2 recordings);
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21; Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93;
SCHUBERT: Rosamunde – Overture;
BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98;
R. STRAUSS: Don Juan, Op. 20;
DEBUSSY: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
More information at Pristine Audio Website: