June 2004, Pt. 2 of 2 [Pt. 1]
BENJAMIN LEES: Piano Concerto No. 1 – Joseph Bloch, p./Nat. Orchestral Association/John Barnett (1963); ERNEST GOLD: Marias Regules, p./Nat. Orch. Association/Leon Barzin (1945)- Pierian Recording Society 0100:
Connections between these two interesting concertos are several. As you can see, both involve the National Orchestral Association orchestra. Both composers were pupils of George Antheil and both works were written when the composers were in their early 20s. Both are accessible and enjoyable works with something of a late Romantic approach and good melodic content. Finally, both come from source materials of questionable quality and had to be extensively processed to come up with this recording which audiophiles might consider (especially with the Gold) barely listenable.
The Lees Concerto came from a 7.5 ips quarter-inch tape, but the Gold source was a cassette tape which itself was dubbed from acetates recorded during the performance. Both Waves and CEDAR digital noise reduction was used on both. The Lees is a highly expressive work from the San Francisco-based composer and it is unfortunate that it never got into the American piano concerto repertory. The Gold was panned at its l945 premiere for sounding like movie music. They were right, but it’s enjoyable movie music – sort of like a long Warsaw Concerto – but with less Rachmaninoff influence. Regules was one of the pianists who later toured with the unique Sienna Pianoforte, so she was open to usual musical associations.
– John Sunier
ALBERTO GINASTERA: Ollantay (A Symphonic Triptych); Pampeana No. 3 (A Pastoral Symphony); Jubilum – The Louisville Orchestra/Robert Whitney, Jorge Mester, Akira Endo, conductors – First Edition Music FECD-0015:
These were world premiere recordings of all three works in the series of 158 LPs put out by the Louisville Orchestra. The library is now part of Santa Fe Music Group and being reissued on CD with improved mastering techniques for the best possible sound. The Pastoral Symphony here – a Louisville commission work – is old enough to be mono only. The three-movement work opens with a contemplative Adagio and concludes with a most lovely Largo.
Ginastera, who lived until l983, was Argentina’s leading composer and of a similar nationalistic stature to Villa-Lobos in Brazil and Chavez in Mexico. All of his works incorporate folk idioms but as the years passed he sublimated the folk element more and more into what became serial writing in his later works. These three works cover from his earliest period with more forward folk elements (Ollantay), through the bucolic Pampeana No. 3 (some 12-tone elements) to the more accessible Jubilum, which communicates very directly via its three movements: Fanfare, Chorale, and a spectacular concluding Finale. Sonics are serviceable, even on the mono track.
– John Sunier
Igor Markevitch in Italy = TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36/BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98/MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D Major
Igor Markevitch conducts Turin Radio-Symphony Orchestra
Living Stage LS 1085 65:59; 58:09 (Distrib. Qualiton):
The Mahler First Symphony reissued on tis 2-CD set from Living Stage has already appeared on a deleted Stradivarius CD, the March 10, 1967 performance there coupled with an offering from Carl Schuricht. Markevitch (1912-1983) is not particularly renowned as a Mahler acolyte, and his approach is quite linear, almost hasty; but it still has the idiosyncratic Markevitch attention to woodwind nuances and the constant search for the balletic in the passing figures of Mahler’s cosmic imagination. Perhaps taking a page from the visionary Dimitri Mitropoulos, who also brought Mahler to Italy at the onset of the 1960’s, Markevitch gives the score a herculean drive, with severe, pointed attacks in the Scherzo. The third movement is a bit too fast for my taste: I prefer the “elegy” on Frere Jacques to enjoy and to savor its own ironies. Markevitch substitutes momentum for breadth in the final movement, but the Italian players keep discipline and turn in a stirring peroration.
The Tchaikovsky Fourth derives from the same concert of 10 March 1967, perhaps a fitting tribute to Mahler’s open admiration for the Russian composer, especially the latter’s Pathetique. Like the Markevitch version of the F Minor with the London Symphony he made for Philips, this account is visceral and quick, without sacrificing the occasional moment of grace that slips into the combats with Fate. Good playing from the RAI oboe. Again, the balletic conceit is never far from the Markevitch notion of Tchaikovsky. The real find is the 12 October 1959 Brahms Symphony No. 4, previously unreleased. Brahms is a relative rarity in the Markevitch catalogue, although I do seem to recall DGG’s having a C Minor Symphony with the svelte Franco-Russian conductor. And there is the B-flat Concerto with Arrau on an INA Viva Memoire CD (022) from 1960. The performance opens on a note of noble dignity, and it retains a sense of grand design throughout. Woodwind, horn, and string work is exemplary, although the micing is a bit distant. The mathematician in Markevitch cannot help finding fearful symmetry in the last movement passacaglia, after a genuinely roughhewn scherzo. The Brahms is the motivation for my having secured the set, and I am glad I did.
Mischa Elman plays Violin Sonatas and Violin Encores = BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24 “Spring”; Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 “Kreutzer”/BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 2 in A, Op. 100; Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108/GRIEG: Violin Sonata No. 1 in F, Op. 8; Violin Sonata No. 3 in C Minor , Op. 45/FAURE: Violin Sonata in A, Op. 13/FRANCK: Violin sonata in A/HANDEL: Violin sonata in D, Op. 1, No. 13/DVORAK: Slavonic Fantasy in B Minor/KREISLER: Liebesleid/MENDELSSOHN: May Breezes/MILLER: Cubanaise/ELMAN: Tango/Espejo: Airs tsiganes, Op. 14/SAMMARTINI: Canto amoroso; Passacaglia/BENJAMIN: From San Domingo/WIENIAWSKI: Mazurka, OP. 12, No. 2/SMETANA: Andantino/BACH: Air in D from Suite No. 3/ACHRON: Hebrew Melody/BLOCH: Nigun from Baal Shem
Mischa Elman, violin/Joseph Seiger, piano
Testament SBT4 1344 71:15; 59:04; 65:40; 65:59 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):
The second volume of the Complete Decca Recordings made by Russian violin virtuoso Mischa Elman (1891-1967), these disc contain his 1955-1957 duo works with Israeli pianist Joseph Seiger. Elman left RCA after some 40 years’ service, complaining that that company’s favorite, Jascha Heifetz, was monopolizing the sonata repertory, with a young Henryk Szeryng’s quickly coming on the RCA horizon. Clearly, RCA saw Elman’s style as antiquated, and his few LP transfers from recordings made in the 1940’s were not great sellers. Never a technical marvel, Elman played for emotion and ardent phrasing, pressing heavily on the bow for added vibrato and freely flexing rhythms with portamenti and slides that made glaring syrup of pieces that others played as lean machines.
The April 1955 recordings of Grieg’s first and last sonatas makes an interesting study, given that Heifetz recorded only the second and third; so, just having the F Major in a classic rendition by a supreme, romantic interpreter is worth a listen. Likely, Elman’s rubati and by-the-bar phrasing comes from the same tradition as that of Kreisler, whose mantle Elman sported. Elman uses the belabored Kreisler arrangement of Dvorak melodies for the so-called Slavonic Rhapsody, mostly a cross between “Songs My Mother Taught Me” and a bit from Four Romantic Pieces. The Grieg C Minor gets some fur flying, but Elman never seems totally comfortable with presto passages; he likes to linger, and linger he does in the opening movement of the Handel D Major Sonata, a performance quite mannered when compared to Milstein’s relatively severe account. The Brahms sonatas can bear a degree of rhythmic license: witness Szigeti’s free rhythms in his collaborations with Horszowski for CB! S (ML 5266, OP). Elman plays Brahms in a Viennese, Jewish style that is both anachronistic and charming, especially in the A Major Sonata. The vocal quality of Elman’s playing, its sprezzatura, is markedly an instrumental casting of Caruso’s voice.
Of the two Beethoven sonatas (Decca was already courting Ricci, and slated him for the C Minor Sonata with Gulda), I prefer the “Spring” Sonata, whose easy gait and gemutlichkeit sensibility allows Elman to smile and to sparkle, where the austere lines of the Kreutzer really overwhelm the merely affectionate side of Elman’s temperament. The two Gallic works, the Franck and the Faure, also Heifetz staples, are polite and sober renditions, and they do reveal a high polish and seriousness of purpose. They lack the finesse and directness of attack the “modern” school of players, like Oistrakh or Szeryng, imposes on these works, where the pianist, too, can shine. No, the real Elman is in the encores and miniatures, like Wieniawski’s Chopinesque Mazurka and the Espejo takeoff on Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs. The last two pieces, by Achron and Bloch, are exactly those ethnic and vibrant sensibilities on which Elman’s whole being is immersed, and we can savor his plaintive, emotional style.
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto no. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 “Emperor”; 32 Variations in C Minor/SCHUBERT: Sonata in C Minor, D. 958
John Ogden, piano
Jascha Horenstein conducts BBC Northern Symphony
BBC Legends BBCL 4143-2 77:55 (Distrib. Koch):
Another addition to the legacy of British piano virtuoso John Ogden (1937-1989), the eccentric genius whose talents could waver technically, but not intellectually, here captured in two concerts, from 21 January 1969 (Beethoven Concerto) and 23 January 1972. Most enlightening is the thematic and sonorous similarity between Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C Minor and the C Minor Schubert. In these pieces, auditors will liken Ogden to Sviatoslav Richter in temperament and volcanic impetuosity. Possibly the strongest player to grace the British keyboard tradition, Ogden tries to subdue his vehemence for the Schubert, bringing a kind of threatening, menacing undercurrent to the Adagio of Schubert’s late sonata. The Beethoven Variations have a continuity and forward velocity that cannot be denied.
The collaboration between Ogden and Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973) proves fortuitous in Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, where soloist and conductor are clearly equal partners in forceful, grand rendition of this familiar work. The huge arches pushed by Horenstein make a perfect foil for the brilliant, sometimes pontillistic figurations from Ogden, where the broken, dance-like staccato notes have the same pungency Michelangeli could squeeze from them. A soulful second movement rushes into the Rondo: Allegro with a buoyancy and panache that borders on Liszt. A tour de force on all counts, this disc gives us the John Ogden of sober and efficient musicianship whose communicative power belies the image of his mental breakdowns and nervous inconsistencies.
BEETHOVEN: King Stephan Overture, Op. 117; Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 “Eroica”/R. STRAUSS: Don Juan, Op. 20/TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor: Ist Movement, bars 89-160/WAGNER: Magic Fire Music
Oskar Fried conducts Berlin Opera Orchestra
Richard Strauss conducts Berlin Opera Orchestra
Felix Weingartner conducts Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Arbiter 140 77:45 (Distrib. Qualiton):
Collectors of the “Golden Age Conductors” treasure the surviving work of Oskar Fried (1871-1941), a friend and colleague of Gustav Mahler, whose recording of the Mahler Second Symphony is still regarded as a yardstick by which to measure modern performances. But Fried’s visceral, exciting musicianship extends well into repertory like Liszt’s Mazeppa, Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade. Allan Evans’ Arbriter label now restores the Polydor 1924 acoustic Eroica, the symphony’s first complete, commercial inscription. The approach is disarmingly modern, with the Neue Sachlichkeit (new objectivity) seeming to dominate the conductor’s lean, motoric vision. The King Stephan Overture, from 1925, has power and a magisterial dignity as it accumulates texture and velocity. While the sound is severely circumscribed by the acoustic process, the degree of orchestral nuance is quite rich.
The work of Felix Weingartner (1863-1941) has gained prominence of late via the Naxos survey of his Beethoven cycle. Having known Tchaikovsky personally, Weingartner’s early (1914) American Columbia shellacs of the 170 bars of the Sixth Symphony have something of historical legitimacy par excellence. The Magic Fire sequence from The Valkyrie, also from 1914, though suffering definite crackle, still communicate the suave security of the conductor. Richard Strauss leads his own Don Juan in 1929, the most recent of the offerings on this unique disc, a performance that reveals how much our technology can release in orchestral details from early electrical recordings. Those who cherish the few items we have of luminaries like Artur Nikisch and Max Fiedler will want to hear these testimonies to the often gorgeous discipline of the German School of conducting when the recording process was still in its infancy.
CHOPIN: Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58; Scherzo No. 4 in E Major, Op. 54; Prelude in C# Minor, Op. 45; 24 Preludes, Op. 28
Vlado Perlemuter, piano
BBC Legends BBCL 4138-2 76:34 (Distrib. Koch):
Vlado Perlemuter (1903-2002) was a fine pianist in the French tradition, a pupil of Alfred Cortot who inherited that master’s dislike of practicing and its subsequent faux pas, but whose beauty of tone could be reminiscent of Benno Moiseiwitsch and the Leschetizky school of keyboard playing. His Ravel Concertos with Jascha Horenstein on Vox is a classic of its kind. The BBC has issued an all-Chopin recital, culled from different tapings at the Maida Vale Studios, 1964 (Sonata), 1971 (Scherzo) and 1972 (Preludes). Some of the pieces Perlemuter inscribed around the same time for the Nimbus label, although the B Minor Sonata is new.
From the outset, we are in the throes of a master colorist, an interpreter who likes the left hand to reveal Chopin’s harmonic sophistication and his solid, inner pulsation. Perlmuter’s use of the pedal is no less beguiling, often playing forte over the una corda pedal to produce a more kaleidoscopic sonority in Chopin’s block chords. The rhythm in the B Minor Sonata is supple, though not so pointed in attack as Lipatti. The Largo movement is truly mesmeric, and it equals the wonders Robert Casadesus revealed in his famed CBS account. The E Major Scherzo is all liquidity and motion, easily anticipating the marvels of Debussy. Perlemuter rounds the melodic swell of Chopin’s cantabile sections, turning the piece into a nocturne. Some will liken the C# Minor Prelude to Michelangeli’s rendition for DGG, but I find Perlemuter less the objectivist that Michelangeli embodies. The complete Preludes, Op. 28 are Chopin’s Rosetta Stone for the entire Romantic sensibility. Some of the pieces are abbreviated sonata movements; some are fiery mazurkas; some are nocturnes or punishing etudes. Perlemuter takes us through their circle of fifths with flair and poetry, with the F# Minor’s careering into space, and the set of five at No. 20 seeming a world unto themselves. The fateful hammer blows of the D Minor mark the farewell of a grand tour in a manner noble and passionate. I find this disc captivating, capable of offering innumerable insights as it remains active on my record shelf.