Reiner Rarities, Volume 2 = MOZART: A Musical Joke, K. 522; BRAHMS: Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53; DEBUSSY: Petite Suite; LIEBERMANN: Concerto for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra – Marian Anderson, contralto/ Robert Shaw Chorale of Men’s Voices/NBC Symphony Orchestra (Mozart, Debussy)/ RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra (Brahms)/ Sauter-Finegan Orchestra/ Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Liebermann)/ Fritz Reiner – Pristine Audio PASC 294, 67:20 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Engineer and producer Mark Obert-Thorn extends the recorded legacy of conductor Fritz Reiner (1888-1963) on CD with his second installments of rarities, those items that have not enjoyed any commercial reissue. For this reviewer, the resurface of the lovely rendering of the Debussy Petite Suite (LM 1724; rec. 21 December 1954) has particular force, since it had not been included in the IMG Artists/EMI series devoted to “Great Conductors of the 20th Century.” For audiophiles, the inclusion of the Liebermann Jazz Band Concerto (6 December 1954), transcribed from RCA Victor stereo two-track open-reel tape, has visceral relevance, since its hybrid or “cross-over” character has implications for a host a derivative composition, not the least of which is Leonard Bernstein’s score for West Side Story.
Reiner takes a full-blooded approach to A Musical Joke, K. 5222 of Mozart, an often irreverent 1787 divertimento also known as “A Musical Prank.” Recorded in the Manhattan Center, New York City (16-17 September 1954), the sonic resonance stands out for one of those NBC inscriptions that does not short-change the ensemble’s piquant phrasing and sonority. The weirdly lovely whole-tone passages for Daniel Guilet’s first violin in the third movement throb with vitality even as they parody incompetent instrumentalists. Nothing compares to the polytonal ending for the strings and French horn of the last movement coda, the keys of B-flat Major, A, G, and E-flat Major all asserting their primacy. What cruelly-mocked musical convention in Mozart’s day became the way of life for 20th Century tonality.
The chilling C Minor opening for the Brahms 1869 Alto Rhapsody (20 October 1950)–the third of the three Marian Anderson recorded commercially, the others led by Ormandy and Monteux–has the power we associate with classic renditions by Clemens Krauss and Bruno Walter. The bass line under Anderson’s fateful misanthropy of the Goethe verses jars our senses with the trudging of the spirit through Arctic wilds. Anderson’s sweet upper range adds a bitter pill to the “Menschenhass” (hatred of Mankind) she utters as the legacy of one who has loved not wisely but too well. This performance proves more expansive than her Ormandy version; curiously, RCA only issued the Monteux on CD, in preference to this potent collaboration, in which Robert Shaw’s male chorus provides yet another firm harmonization in their C Major response to the rhetorical question of a fitting psaltery for one’s personal grief and self-imposed solitude.
Debussy’s 1889 four-hand keyboard suite found an able orchestrator in Henri Busser, making the four movements among the most melodically accessible scores in the composer’s youthful output. Reiner’s inscription of the first sequence–En bateau–with its rippling broken chords in harp and strings and pipings from above in whole tones–is pure Reiner magic. We do not often celebrate the transparency the NBC Symphony could project in high gloss. (recorded 21 January 9152 in Carnegie Hall). The Cortege wafts in a panoply of festive colors. Parallel tenths, among other harmonic devices, mark the Menuet, a movement that bears a sonic relation to Ravel’s Mother Goose. An aural refinement defines this performance, an antique exotic beauty we might associate with Ronald Colman on his porch in Shangri-La. The Ballet movement is all hustle and martial rhythms, the energy high and the spirits irrepressible. And this collector is glad to have this back!
Rolf Liebermann (1910-1999) composed his eight-movement Concerto for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra in 1954. It inspired the New York Jazz Gang, which included Wynton Marsalis. Reiner himself supported jazz and Gershwin and new music generally; collectors know well his Gershwin recordings for CBS while he helmed the Pittsburgh Symphony. Reiner recorded the Concerto 6 December 1954 in Orchestra Hall, Chicago. Liebermann took a 12-tone row and created a series of variations in a Stravinsky mode that incorporates the “swing” and “big band” sounds we know from Basie and Ellington. “The Jump” section has oboist Ray Still hopping, and August Herseth’s trumpet could melt concrete. Percussionists will love the Scherzo; then a Blues section ensues, with a sweet series of saxophone riffs Coleman Hawkins would savor. The second Scherzo–with piano obbligato and jabbing sforzati–most imitates Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Winds and aspects of Bartok. A hustling Boogie-Woogie Allegro rescues us from too much modernity, and we suddenly land in an Interludium, a jazzy invocation of musical Limbo–ostinati and pedal points for minimalists to envy. At the last, a hot and sweaty Mambo: Allegro molto, a series of Chita Rivera moves that should have every part of your anatomy in contrary motion. Makes me want to rent and watch The Mambo Kings once more, and not just to see Antonio Banderas and Armand Assante! Whew!
— Gary Lemco
The historic restorations show a renewed vitality.