Mengelberg: New York Recordings: Vol. 1 = TCHAIKOVSKY, WAGNER, J. STRAUSS – Historic-Recordings

by | Jan 12, 2012 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Mengelberg: New York Recordings: Vol. 1 = TCHAIKOVSKY: Marche Slave, OP. 31; WAGNER: Ride of the Valkyries; J. STRAUSS: Artist’s Life Waltz, Op. 316; Tales from the Vienna Woods, Op. 325; R. Strauss: Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40 – Scipione Guidi, violin/ New York Philharmonic/ Philharmonic-Symphony Orch. of New York/ Willem Mengelberg – Historic-Recordings HRCD 00141, 65:58 [] ****:
Master editor and restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn initiates a three-volume project devoted to the New York inscriptions by Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg (1871-1951). For this first installment, we have the Brunswick and RCA label recordings Mengelberg cut 1926-1928 in Carnegie Hall, culminating in the massive Strauss Ein Heldenleben, the Strauss autobiographical symphonic poem dedicated to Mengelberg. Of course, this new transcription of Ein Heldenleben competes with the successful version from Pristine Audio (PASC 104) whose restoration work was performed by Andrew Rose, reviewed in these pages in June 2008.
Mengelberg’s large rhetorical style seems cramped in the two abridged Strauss waltzes, recorded 10 January 1927, although the Viennese warmth of spirit prevails. The Wagner Ride of the Valkyries (4 January 1926) enjoys a strong martial character, appropriately menacing in character and moving with swooping velocity. The Tchaikovsky (4 January 1926 from a French Polydor pressing), always a Mengelberg trump card, suffers from the early electrical cramped acoustic and the confining Chapter Room of Carnegie Hall, but the rendition has a vitality entirely typical of the Mengelberg combination of girth and muscular coordination.
The seller on this disc, then, remains the phenomenal Ein Heldenleben (11-13 December 1928), seamlessly spliced together from U.S, Victor “Z” and “Gold” label pressings, featuring incredible definition among the woodwinds and harp, and any number of refinements in gradations of sound among the strings and brass. The various sections of the tone-poem, dedicated to some self-aggrandizing aspect of the Strauss musical and social persona, incorporate diverse Strauss orchestral and operatic works and a notable quotation or two from the Beethoven Eroica Symphony. The internal flow and flux of the progression from Mengelberg possesses an uncanny naturalness of line despite the “Romantic“ slides and rhythmic indulgences from Mengelberg, the 124 players having been honed into one expressive instrument of motley colors. Scipione’s violin tone, clear and piercing, makes affectionate points in its role as “The Hero’s Companion,” Pauline Strauss. She reappears in the last movement, Mengelberg having directed several moving diminuendi and luftpausen to highlight her ardent character. The reference to the Zarathustra epic at the coda only further illuminates an already transcendent reading of this colossal score.
—Gary Lemco

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