July-August 2004, Pt. 2 of 2 [Pt. 1]
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 3 in D Minor/WAGNER: A Siegfried Idyll
Hans Knappertsbusch conducts Vienna Philharmonic
Testament SBT 1339 73:22 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
While Hans Knappertsbusch (1888-1965) came to the music of Bruckner relatively late in his career, in 1931, he soon established himself as an acolyte of the composer, regularly programming these knotty works after 1940. Modern scholarship is less kind to Knappertsbusch as a Bruckner conductor, finding fault with his chosen editions, which in this case (the 1890 version) exercises several cuts in the final Allegro movement. The recording, from April 1-3, 1954, has its compensations, which include absolutely seamless transitions, such as they are, in this heavily Wagner-allusive symphony. The first desk players include Willy Boskovsky, Walter Barylli, and Fritz Sedlak, veterans all, and thoroughly committed to the Vienna sound. The orchestral luster and resonance are superb, perhaps nowhere so clearly as in the first movement’s opening tremolos and repeated figures in the strings, which drip with mysticism. The Wagner Siegfried Idyll, recorded one year later in early April, 1955, is no less slickly rendered, but I find the elongated rhythmic phrases and lingering caesuras devoid of driven tension, simply too slack. I do not mind slow tempos–Mahler often admonished interpreters to slow down if the audience seemed bored–but this piece becomes so dreamy I lose any sense of the drama behind the music. For sheer orchestral execution and beauty of sound, however, Knappertsbusch was a past master.
MOZART: Music for Piano, Four Hands: Sonata in D, K. 381; Sonata in C, K. 521; Adagio and Allegro in F Minor, K. 594; Sonata in B-flat, K, 358; Sonata in F Major,K. 497
Nadia Reisenberg and Artur Balsam, piano
Bridge 9148 77:33 (Distrib. Albany):
I have had the pleasure of working with radio producer Robert Sherman of WQXR-FM in New York, the son of pianist Nadia Reisenberg (1904-1983), an outstanding musician who worked with conductor Alfred Wallenstein and the WOR Symphony Orchestra in the complete Mozart concertos. Reisenberg, who adored playing chamber music with musicians on the order of Joseph Schuster and Benny Goodman, teamed up with Artur Balsam (b. 1906) to record a set of Mozart’s four-hand music for the Musical Heritage Society, and Bridge has procured the rights to reissue them on CD. The liner notes for the biographical portion of the text are by Robert Sherman.
Mozart’s four-hand music falls roughly into a fifteen-year period, 1772-1787, with the large works coming around 1784-85, with the Sonata in D, K. 448 (not included here) and the fine, Italianate Sonata in C, K. 521. Mozart and his sister, Nannerl, played these to great effect for the Salzburg devotees of the father, Leopold’s, pupils and family. While Leopold gave credit to Wolfgang for having invented the form, it seems Johann Christian Bach was the real innovator here, writing several in 1757, with the eight-year-old Mozart’s being invited to play with the Master in 1765.
Reisenberg and Balsam, the latter of whom was famous for his work with Nathan Milstein, make wonderful sense of everything they play. Cascading runs and trills, syncopated passages, martial riffs and long, lingering legato passages, each enjoy the joie de vivre of two, experienced artists in their medium of choice. The F Minor Adagio and Allegro, written for mechanical organ, is an empfindsamkeit offering, highly plaintive and chromatic, knotty and challenging in filigree, and rather somber in its conclusion. Those who admire the Jupiter Symphony finale will find hints of one of its themes in the staccato third movement from the B-flat Sonata, K. 358 (1774). Finally, the Sonata in F, K. 497 (1786), which some take to be Mozart’s supreme effort in the genre, as it enjoys a thorough balancing of both voices, primo and secondo, each passing counterpoint and melodic impulses in a musical complex worthy of instrumental, operatic figurations.
MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595; Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622; Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, K. 183
Robert Casadesus, piano
Benny Goodman, clarinet
John Barbirolli conducts New York Philharmonic
Dutton CDJSB 1026 73:24 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
The second in “The Columbia Masters” series from Dutton, in collaboration with the Sir John Barbirolli Society, has a previously unissued recording of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with John Barbirolli and Benny Goodman from December 16, 1940, just one year prior to America’s entry into WW II and around two years after Goodman made his famed jazz concert at Carnegie Hall. Mozart had already been a staple of Barbirolli’s repertory, accompanying the likes of Schnabel and Heifetz, and his work with Goodman has the same airy, polished quality we hear in most of his sturdy collaborative efforts. The Goodman portion of the rendition resounds with sincerity, although the fluency of the playing and the shifts in registration occasionally seem strained. The lyric quality of the Philharmonic is refined, and the performance of 3 November 1940 with Robert Casadesus (which had a brief life on the Lys label) testifies to the smooth patina of sound Barbirolli could garne! r from his strings and winds. The G Minor Symphony dates from the same session as the Piano Concerto, and it has a ripe, aggressive tenor that will remind auditors of the Toscanini influence on the orchestra.
The “collectible” interest in this disc, beyond the clean restorations of some stylish music-making, is the accompanying booklet, with its striking photos from Lady Barbirolli’s personal library, as well as selected letters from John Barbirolli pertinent to the cabal critic Olin Downes instigated against Barbirolli’s tenure with the Philharmonic. Barbirolli consistently lauds the orchestra, whose good will he seems to have won, despite the constant invidious comparisons with Toscanini, and the latter’s own pernicious habit of scheduling the same repertory with the NBC so critics could extend the controversy. The ultimate arbiter are the shellacs that preserve a splendid sense of ensemble and the Mozart style, neither of which suffered under Barbirolli’s quite colorful leadership with the New York Philharmonic during the days of political intrigue on many fronts.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Swan Lake–Ballet, Op. 20
Norman Carol, violin
William Stokking, cello
Wolfgang Sawallisch conducts Philadelphia Orchestra
EMI 7243 5 85541 2 79:13; 79:37:
Recorded 1993-1994 at Memorial Hall, Philadelphia, this inscription is one of the most complete editions of the Tchaikovsky ballet you will encounter, brilliantly conducted by Sawallisch (b. 1923 and issued in honor of his 80th birthday) and recorded by engineer John Kurlander. Particularly intact are the various, national dances from Act III, when Siegfried dances with Odile, whom Rotbart has transformed into a likeness of the beloved Odette. The appendiced Entree, 5 Variations and Coda for dancer Anna Sobeschchanskaja that Tchaikovsky wrote for the ballet’s fourth performance is included.
Norman Carol provides the violin soli (collectors may recall his splendid solo disc on RCA Bluebird LBC 1055), and he has earnest, lucid ensemble assistance from William Stokking, cello and harpist Margarita Csonska Montanaro. In the Danse neapolitaine, we hear trumpet solo Frank Kaderbarek in virtuoso tonguing and blazing tone. The Philadelphia string tone is luminous, the drive of the performance is passionate. Both Stokowski and Ormandy paid their respective honors to this score in excerpts, leaving it to Antal Dorati and Ernest Ansermet to pay tribute to the entire score. EMI herein fills in the the gap for those who favor this country’s richest orchestral sound, and audiophiles will have any number of tracks to show off their high end. I can only hope DGG finds the excerpts Ferenc Fricsay recorded of Swan Lake excerpts with RIAS Berlin, for in terms of pure passion, only his reading can rival this superb account by Sawallisch.
Willem Breuker Kollektief – “With Strings Attached” REVUELTAS: Sensemaya; GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue; ALFRED JANSON: Passacaglia Vendetta; GROFE: Metropolis; ANDERSON: The Typewriter; SATIE: Parade – with the Vera Beths String Quartet and The Mondriaan Strings – BHHAAST CD 0203:
If you’re not a jazz fan the first thing you should do is enter Willem Breuker in our site search engine to see some of our past reviews of the Amsterdam-based band which usually falls more comfortably into the jazz classification. Although they make a point of being comfortable anywhere. Breuker has here taken four modern classical favorites, added a Leroy Anderson pop concert tidbit and an original 20-minute work for the his band with string section, and come up with some of the most interesting arrangements of the familiar works one could possibly hear. Breuker is a whiz on all reed instruments so naturally he plays the heck out of the clarinet part in Rhapsody in Blue. The Revueltas descriptive work on the Mayan serpent has never slithered around so lasciviously as it does in Breuker’s arrangement. And Satie’s already tongue-in-cheek ballet music for Parade gets additional musical hijinks courtesy of the Kollektief. Janson is a Norwegian composer who shares with Brueker an interest in just about every form of music possible. He is also a noted accordionist and performs himself in his quirky Passacaglia. I put this review in reissues because most of the selections were recorded for LP release some time ago, but the Janson work is a new recording just for the CD reissue.
– John Sunier
ALEXANDER TCHEREPNIN: Piano Concerto No. 2; Symphony No. 2; Suite for Orchestra Op. 87 – Tcherepnin, piano/The Louisville Orchestra/Robert Whitney – First Edition Music FECD-0024:
These are all world premiere recordings and were taped in l954 thru l965 as part of the Louisville Symphony modern music LP subscription series. The Suite was also commissioned by the Orchestra. Only the Symphony is in stereo, and the liner notes are by the composer. Tcherepnin was an important Russian composer who lived until 1977 and had been a U.S. citizen since 1958. He was married to a Chinese pianist and taught many Asian composers. He evolved his own approach to composing, using a 9-step scale subdivided into 3 equal sections, as well as a type of rhythmic polyphony. But he also explored both Asian and European folk music, Russian song, and electronic music. The piano concerto makes use of the 9-step scale and is in one movement with a dozen variations on the main theme. The Symphony came at the end of WW II and just after the composer’s father had died in Paris. Though without a program, it reflects the agony of the war years and controversial feelings of the postwar period. The Suite is a portrait of a generic Town and each of the four movements deals with aspects of a town. First is a morning Idylle, next Conflicts, third is Nostalgia – about the loneliness someone can feel in a new town, and lastly a Rondo expresses the composer’s feelings in the midst of the activity of a big city. The remastering work on this series is excellent but can’t do a great deal for some of the rather dull-sounding mono material such as the suite.
– John Sunier