May 2004, Pt. 1 of 2 [Pt. 2]
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 “Choral”
Agnes Giebel, soprano
Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano
Richard Lewis, tenor
Walter Berry, bass
Otto Klemperer conducts Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra
Testament SBT 1332 68:47 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
Recorded for the BBC Third Programme at the Royal Festival Hall, London, December 27, 1961, this electric performance of Beethoven’s Ninth under the 76-year-old Otto Klemperer is a happy occasion on all counts. The singers are particularly impressive: Richard Lewis’ flexible rhythms in the “Turkish march” section of the finale is rich and breezy; Agnes Giebel hits her notes accurately and with a luster that is rare even for her. Walter Berry’s bass tones in the final quartet have a yearning quality I do not hear often. Having taken the first three movments at a relatively brisk pace, Klemperer urges his own monumentalism on the last movement that gives it an imposing breadth. The hard-edged marcato that he gets from the trumpets and strings in the recitative have urgency and punch. Much can be said as well for the playing of the Philharmonia Orchestra, their flute Gareth Morris, and all the woodwind section in the first movement. The Scherzo is huge, with repeats and with a convulsive power that might owe something to Toscanini. The working out of the third movement’s double-theme-and-variations is quite compelling, since the resonance of the choirs has a clarity of line and haunting affect Klemperer could likewise impart to his Wagner recordings. We can palpably feel Klemperer’s insistence in the repeated phrases as the choral finale moves to its closing peroration, a real tour de force on Klemperer’s part and ample tesitmony to the superior response of his London orchestra and chorus.
ZWILICH: Chamber Symphony; Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra, Symphony No. 2 – The Louisville Orchestra/Lawrence Leighton Smith, Jaime Laredo, violin/Sharon Robinson, cello – First Edition Music FECD-0004:
Ellen Taffe Zwilich’s Chamber Symphony (1979) is playful and unpredictable, with forays into atonality and dissonance. Perhaps she was trying out her wings or careening in several different directions at once. Even though she implies it has elegiac qualities–it was written shortly after her husband’s death–her insistent germination of small unsettling ideas into larger ones conveys heady optimism. Unfortunately, this callow piece is marred by sloppy studio engineering—who is that coughing person and why didn’t they toss him out by his muttonchops? The Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra (1991) is a showcase work for the brilliant violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson. Ever impish and inventive, these two provide a dazzling ride through this piece. Like the fabled light show in Kubrick’s 2001, a Space Odessey, the piece features a wickedly puzzling entertainment arc. When the piece is finished, you may find yourself asking “What was that all about?” Play it again and the meaning will elude you again (like Kubrick’s). Whatever you do next, don’t try to contrast it with the following piece, the more profound and satisfying Symphony No. 2 (1985). Zwilich won the 1983 Pulitzer prize for music for her Symphony No. 1. The current symphony proves the first was no fluke. This work has gigantic themes and a host of intriguing musical devices. She shows an uncommon patience with her thematic development. Indeed, her use of muscular opening themes and her idiomatic brass reminds me a little of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony. Her Lento is deceptively calm at first, but with the sudden intrusion of percussion, detours into darker regions. This energetic CD is well worth a listen.
– Peter Bates
Ferenc Fricsay: A Life in Music = BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21/MENDELSSOHN: A Midsummer Night’s Dream–Incidental Music/PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 1 in D, Op. 25/MAHLER: Rueckert Lieder/RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Scheherazade, Op. 35/ROSSINI (arr. RESPIGHI): La Boutique Fantasque/TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74/J. STRAUSS: Selected Waltzes and Overtures/FALLA: Nights in the Gardens of Spain/FRANCAIX: Concertino for Piano and Orchestra/HONEGGER: Concertino for Piano and Orchestra/FRANCK: Symphonic Variations/RACHMANINOV: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini/EINEM: Intelude from Danton’s Death/HINDEMITH: Symphonic Dances/MARTIN: Petite Symphonie Concertante/HARTMANN: Symphony No. 6/HAYDN: The Seasons–Oratorio
Margrit Weber, piano (Honegger, Francaix, Falla, Rachmaninov)
Maureen Forrester, contralto; Rita Streich, soprano and Diana Eustrati, contralto (Mendelssohn); Rudolf Schulz, violin (Rimsky-Korsakov); Gerty Herzog, piano; Sylvia Kind, harpsichord; Irmgard Helmis, harp (Martin); Maria Stader, soprano; Ernst Haefliger, tenor; Josef Grindl, bass (Haydn);
RIAS Symphony, Berlin/Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (Beethoven, Mendelssohn)
9 DGG CD’s “Original Masters” 474 383-2 79:38; 70:52; 80:01; 72:57; 79:50; 74:30; 74:17; 61:44; 56:59 (Distrib. Universal):
For those who admire the late Hungarian conductor Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963), this comprehensive set will fill in many gaps in his recorded repertory, not the least his 1955 inscription of the Symphony No. 6 by Karl Amadeus Hartmann, a labor of Fricsay’s love for impassioned, if atonal music of the modern German school. Many of the original LPs for this compilation were 45 RPM “Extended Play” discs, like the Prokofiev Classical Symphony from1954, which had limited distribution in the United States. Another rarity is Fricsay’s sole excursion into the music of Gustav Mahler, his September 1958 work in the Five Rueckert Lieder with Maureen Forrester at the peak of her colossal voice, where the opening blend of voice and winds in “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” is especiaolly poignant.
I had a long conversation with cellist Janos Starker on the subject of Fricsay: Starker recalled their meeting just after WW II with a wealthy dowager to discuss “raising the banner of Hungarian music from the ruins” or some such metaphor. Starker also dwelt on Fricsay’s final illness, which “made him a changed man, in whom the difference was palpablei n the qulaity of his music-making.” Both the Tchaikovsky Pathetique Symphony and Haydn’s The Seasons come from the 1959-1961 period where Fricsay’s intimations of mortality figured deeply in his reconsideration of scores he was determined to review before his untimely death. While his early recorded work, 1949-1952, was fleet and brilliant in the manner of the Hungarian Toscanini–witness his lithe approach to Beethoven’s C Major Symphony–his later work slowed down tempos dramatically, so that the sunrise sequence in the Haydn oratorio becomes a paean to life worthy of a Dylan Thomas. Notthat Fricsay had not alreaxy esta! blished himself a master of color and inflection: his Scheharazade with solo Rudolf Schulz is a huge tapestry, asweep with vibrant instrumental blendings, slow tempos, and deliberate retards to extend the story for 1001 Nights!
The music of Gottfried von Einem (1918-1996) was crucial to Fricsay, his having substituted for an indisposed Otto Klemperer for the premier of Danton’s Tod, of which we have an interlude recorded September 22, 1949. Hindemith’s Symphonic Dances, an elusive disc back in 1950, is returned to us with its virtuoso playing by Fricsay’s own hand-picked RIAS ensemble, of which he boasted the greatest brass section in music. Gerty Herzog, pianist and personal friend of Fricsay, who had recorded with him Einem’s Piano Concerto, is here in Frank Martin’s effective Petite Symphonie Concertante from April 1950. While I am glad to have Fricsay’s hoard of Johann Strauss waltzes, polkas, anmd overtures, I miss the splendid Auf der jagd that blitzed my former collection of these items on DGG. Fricsay archives also contain this music sung by tenor Peter Anders in resonant. lovely voice from 1949 that ought to come back to us. And while the 1955 Rossini La Boutique Fantasque is yet anot! her tour de force for Fricsay’s RIAS, so, too, would have been his Petrushka. Recall that harp virtuoso Nicanor Zabaleta said his favorite rendition of Handel’s B-flat Harp Concerto was the one he made with Fricsay, yet to be returned to us.
I want to say a word about the restoration of the Mendelssohn Midsummer Night’s Dream music, about pianist Magrit Weber, and the last disc, Fricsay’s recorded brief of his life with musical examples. The 1950 Mendelssohn sequence enjoys a light hand and a tender heart throughout, a really magical evocation of magical music. The Stader/Eustrati duo is superb, and I wish DGG would honor Eustrati’s work in Rosamunde and other Schubert with Fritz Lehmann. Margrit Weber, a fine pianist honored by Stravinsky with the dideciation of his Schoenbergian Movements for Piano and Orchestra, has several powerful readings with Falla, Francaix, Honegger, Franck, and Rachmaninov, inscribed 1955-1960. The Falla and Franck may be the big winners here. The sensuousness Fricsay conveys in the orchestral tissue of the Franck reawakens our sense of this composer’s erotic approach to late Gallic form, certainly close to D’Indy’s Istar Variations. The last disc, directly transposed from LP 18709 (March 12-13, 1961) is Fricsay’s will and testament of a character molded by music: trained by his father Richard in virtually every orchestral instrument except harp, Fricsay could provide advice on any musical problem of execution. His work as a military bandmaster prior to orchestral directorship imitated the same journeymanship Toscanini and Walter enjoyed. A complete musician, a complete man, it is a pity Fricsay’s tenure with the Houston Symphony ended badly. But this colelctor still hopes for the Boston Symphony recordings to re-emerge on CD; the Brahms B-flat with Geza Anda; the Schumann Spring Symphony; more Mozart and Haydn; and the well-lauded Zabaleta association.
DEBUSSY: La Mer; 3 Nocturnes/RAVEL: Alborada del gracioso; Daphnis et Chloe–Suite No. 2
Carlo Maria Giulini conducts Philharmonia Orchestra
EMI 7243 5 62759 2 76:57:
Carlo Maria Giulini (b. 1914) has another set of inscriptions (1962, 1959, respectively) added to the “Great Recordings of the Century” series. A natural colorist, Giulini plays La Mer as a vivid wind-and-water piece, attentive to the shifts of light and contour provided by the Philharmonia’s wonderful string, woodwind, and brass sections. I miss the extra trumpet flourish some conductors add, a la Triton, at the end of the Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea, but there are shimmering moments to spare in Giulini’s 1962 reading. The Trois Nocturnes, conceived as a series of grisaille (studies in grey tones), are no less vital, with Nuages’ unfolding very broad, in the same school as Celibidache. Fetes keeps moving, and the climactic, passing march and fanfare has pungent energy. The Sirenes brings in the women’s voices, which undulate with enough eroticism to swamp all of our fragile dinghies. The Ravel selections date from 1959, and the Daphnis Suite No. 2 seems to culminate the brassy virtuosity of the Alborada with swirls of color and pagan revels. Heralded individually in their own time as LP’s, the Debussy and Ravel CD confirms the loving relationship Giulini established with the British ensemble, a feeling of both mutual respect and an enthusiasm for making a color palette that would bely any sense of an orchestra’s playing ‘merely’ with a guest-conductor.
BRAHMS: Violin concerto in D Major, Op. 77; “Double” Concerto in A Minor, Op. 102
Jascha Heifetz, violin/Gregor Piatagorsky, cello
Fritz Reiner conducts Chicago Symphony
Alfred Wallenstein conducts RCA Victor Symphony (Op. 102)
RCA 82976-59410-2 69:39:
Restorations from the classic Heifetz legacy recorded 1955 and 1960, with the ever-chaste Jascha Heifetz playing the music of Brahms. Were Heifetz alive today, it would be fascinating to see and hear the commentary on his penchant for de-sentimentalizing and de-mystifying romantic scores. From the opening notes of Reiner’s orchestral introduction to the Violin Concerto, we are in a classical space where no excess finds a home. Heifetz plays a poised, driven performance, all momentum and economical realization of the riffs and sequences that too often turn into molasses. Sizzling propulsion, virtuoso fiddling, and explosive ensemble–these are the components of the interpetation, take it or leave it. Heifetz plays his own cadenza. For the A Minor Concerto, we have the softer influence of conductor Alfred Wallenstein, a former cellist whose most ambitious disc was, if I recall correctly, Liszt’s Dante Symphony with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on American Decca. This reading is a bit more sentimental, although I would not call Piatagorsky’s gorgeous tone in the Andante any bad names. But even he took a harder, cleaner line in his 1951 reading with Milstein, also under the diection of Fritz Reiner. Still, this a golden opportunity to hear Brahms without tears, if you will, unburdened by mawkish affection and totally focused on the musical points at hand.
SMETANA: Overture to the Bartered Bride/DVORAK:
Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88/JANACEK: Sinfonietta
Klaus Tennstedt conducts London Philharmonic
BBC Legends BBCL 4139-2 72:23 (Distrib. Koch):
A unique document, this 2 April 1991 concert from Royal Festival Hall, London, with Klaus Tennstedt (1926-1998) in performance of works he never played again nor had recorded prior. The all-Czech program brings out the virtuoso character of the London Philharmonic, playing a furiously-paced rendition of Smetana’s bustling overture, whose quicksilver buzzing indicates the gossip of officious neighbors. The Dvoral Eighth is a broad, loving conception of a work that had been in his Canadian and Finnish repertory until 1981, when it disappeared and only found resurrection in a Philadelphia program in 1989. The second movement’s thoughtful, reflective character gains much by Tennstedt’s attention to color and harmionic nuance, and the outer movements have the same buoyancy we hear in Talich’s conceptions. Janacek was a staple in Tennstedt’s repertoire, and he programmed the brassy Sinfonietta in Hamburg and Cincinnati in the early 1980s. This evening’s reading is joyous and boisterous, communicating conviction and security in conception and realization that is as warm as it is deft. Anyone wishing to add to the Tennstedt discography will acquire this disc and replay it many times.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35/BRAHMS: Double Concerto in A Minor, Op. 102
Christian Ferras, violin/Paul Tortelier, cello
Constantin Silvestri conducts Philharmonia Orchestra
Paul Kletzki conducts Philharmonia Orchestra (Brahms)
Testament SBT 1337 66:08 (Distrib. Harmonai Mundi):
This time culling materials from the HMV catalogue of recordings by violinist Christian Ferras (1933-1982), Testament has restored the June 26-28, 1957 performance of the Tchaikovsky Concerto with Constantin Silvestri, an exciting albeit slightly cut version that has a ravishing, silken tone from Ferras. I recall years ago playing a student of mine a tape of Ferras’ A Major Soanta by Brahms and hearing the young musician exclaim, “Perfect!” True, Ferras went on to record the Tchaikovsky with Karajan, but this earlier collaboration has an intimacy and erotic appeal that the Karajan replaces with glossy aloofness. Several commentators have noted the lovely woodwind work, especially in the oboe, that marks this performance. The 1962 Brahms Concerto with Paul Tortelier (1914-1990) matches two exponents of the Franco-Belgian school of playing in a work that can easily become Teutonic. With the help of conductor Paul Kletzki, the two soli turn in a performance of singing, lyrical beauty, though for some it may lack the rhythmic punch we get from George Szell and principals Oistrakh and Rostropovich. The first movement, however, I find quite expansive and driven in a manner reminiscent of Alceo Galliera. So, too, the last movement, with its Hungarian-gypsy flavor, moves briskly and has its share of bravura.