Mitropoulos in Minneapolis = Works of BACH, GRIEG, MOZART, COUPERIN, SIEGMESITER, WEINBERGER & GOULD – Minneapolis Sym. Orch./Dimitri Mitropoulos – Historic-Recordings

by | Mar 25, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Mitropoulos in Minneapolis = GRIEG: 2 Elegiac Melodies, Op. 34; BACH (arr. Weiner): Toccata, Adagio and Fugue, BWV 564; Wir glauben all’an einem Gott, BWV 680; MOZART: 2 Entr’actes from Thamos, King of Egypt, K. 345; COUPERIN (arr. Milhaud): La Sultane:  Overture and Allegro; SIEGMEISTER: Ozark Set; WEINBERGER: Schwanda the Bagpiper: Polka and Fugue; GOULD: Minstrel Show – Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra/Dimitri Mitropoulos

Historic-Recordings HRCD 00060, 71:30 [] ****:

An article in a 1946 magazine credited Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) with having made Minneapolis one of the great music capitals of the world. Having originally filled in at the Boston Symphony for Serge Koussevitzky, Mitropoulos made enough of a sensation–with his propulsive, energetic style–to have himself perennially un-invited to Boston after his second phenomenal appearance.  But the departure of Eugene Ormandy opened the Minneapolis venue for Mitropoulos who, after moving into a university dormitory room and advocating that he could live on $3000 a year while donating the rest of his $25,000 salary to various musical and philanthropic causes, immediately assaulted the Minneapolis Symphony with his own ideas of programming.

These 1940-1947 inscriptions attest to the variety and cosmopolitan flair with which Mitropoulos peppered his repertory. Whereas Koussevitzky recorded only The Last Spring from Grieg’s Op. 34, Mitropoulos (3 December 1940) gives us ardent renditions of Heart Wounds and The Last Spring, in wrenching string tones. The Leo Weiner transcription of Bach’s organ spectacular, the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue (3-4 December 1940) seems to align Mitropoulos with the Stokowski camp for orchestrated thick-textured Bach, but the scoring actually plays like a (Yale) wind-band version accompanied by strings and tympani. The Adagio resonates more with the Romantic temper. The Fugue offers Mitropoulos that febrile complexity that always asked for his special focus.

Mozart’s Thamos, King of Egypt (1774) barely receives any attention even today, so its two entr’actes (27 December 1940) having appeared on record from Minneapolis must have made quite a splash. The sudden thrusts of energy and thick, Masonic scoring bestow a potent dignity on this music, the Minneapolis woodwinds bearing a considerable burden for melodic and harmonic contours. The oboe work in the second of the excerpts possesses a nasal linear poignancy.  The Boessenroth transcription of the Bach chorale-prelude “We All Believe in One God” (6 April 1942) appears in the context of the Battle of Midway (literally two months later), an affirmation of faith from a conductor whose mystical merger of music and religion remained fanatical.

Mitropoulos left us three inscriptions of the poignant La Sultane Overture and Allegro, and this early account (2 March 1945) already testifies to the anguished sonority Mitropoulos could elicit from his string section. A pity that Columbia wartime shellacs were always problematic. The dotted rhythms of the Allegro chug forward with gritty impetus, the bass line etched forcefully under the glitter pomp of the upper voices. The four-movement Ozark Set of Elie Siegmeister (2 March 1945) projects a kind proletarian American folk music we know from Copland and Thomson. The “Camp Meeting” movement might have had Steinbeck in mind. The third movement – "Lazy Afternoon" – proves quite touching, a natural idyll whose transparent scoring could teach a generation of Hollywood composers sonorities of the Old West.  The “Saturday Night” hoe-down has our feet tapping and would have made good company for a Jabez Stone party in The Devil and Daniel Webster.  Mitropoulos relished American scores, and he makes them hustle and swing.

The set concludes with Mitropoulos and the Minneapolis’ switch to a quieter-surfaced RCA Victor, opening with another intricate score Mitropoulos favored, the 1926 Polka and Fugue by Weinberger (20 January 1947), whose harmonies take Goldmark and Smetana further into processional chromatics. Morton Gould and Mitropoulos remained devoted friends: the Minstrel Show (20 January 1947) utilizes vaudeville and semi-jazzy riffs to capture the rustic capricious humor and jerky energy of folk theater; but the melodic tissue finds a nobility which many other conductors would miss.

The items on this disc had a prior incarnation on the Nickson-Hill label, but HR makes no acknowledgement of any debt to the American label.  

— Gary Lemco

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