Rodzinski at the NBC, Volume 3 = HAYDN: Symphony No. 100 in G Major “Military”; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98; R. STRAUSS: Dance of the 7 Veils from Salome, Op. 54 – NBC Symphony Orchestra/ Artur Rodzinski – Pristine Audio PASC 669 (75:55) [pristineclassical.com] ****:
Producer and Restoration Editor Andrew Rose continues his revival of conductor Artur Rodzinski (1892-1958) and his work with the NBC Symphony prior to Arturo Toscanini’s accession to the Music Directorship with the concert of 18 December 1937, what constitutes the sixth such presentation of the orchestra, which Rodzinski had “crafted and recruited himself.” The works of Haydn and Brahms significantly enlarge the Rodzinski recorded legacy, since he left no commercial recordings of these symphonies.
The music of Haydn under Rodzinski’s baton has not previously been available, so far as I know. He opens the 1794 “Military” Symphony with an extremely slow 2/2 Adagio, almost dire in its solemn affect; then, after pregnant pauses and tolling cadences, do the NBC flutes and oboes break into a jovial dance, the strings responding an octave lower, and the whole moving to a secondary tune in D. The use of sonata form flows so effortlessly here, in the eighth of Haydn’s “London Symphonies,” we forget that mastery of instrumental structure at play. A light hand guides the frolic, with its tutti codetta that adds a decisive spice to the proceedings.
The eponymous “militancy” derives from the second movement Allegretto, which divides the violas and clarinets and adds the janissary elements that “defined” Eastern or Turkish music for Haydn and Mozart: cymbals, triangle, and bass or snare drum. The minor key Trio section indulges in its own humor, marked by the bassoon. Rodzinski highlights the sudden eruption bugle call (in the NBC trumpet) and tympany roll in A-flat. In contrast, the Minuet seems relatively tame, a Moderato in genial spirits, especially in the NBC strings and winds. The Trio proves no less gracious, lilting in a galant style and puffing with mock, galloping pomp. The Finale: Presto grants us a quicksilver sea of colors in rondo-sonata form. The NBC timpani comes to the fore yet again, initiating a series of bold, minor-key modulations from the ensemble. In another tour de force of instrumental imagination, Haydn brings back the Turkish color gambit from movement two, a romp in heated figures that obviously impressed the audience with the NBC’s magical response to Haydn’s virtuoso demands.
Before the Brahms symphony, the announcer alerts the audience of Maestro Toscanini’s advent to the NBC throne for Christmas, the culmination of all musical and publicity preparations. Toscanini is himself part of the attending audience. Rodzinski recorded only the first two Brahms symphonies for Columbia Records with the New York Philharmonic. Will some hidden, sound archive reveal a Brahms Third Symphony with Rodzinski some day?
Rodzinski takes the opening Allegro non troppo briskly, reducing the sense of melancholy but investing the rising and falling thirds and sixths with a decided momentum. Still, an austere grandeur, a valedictory pageantry, arises. The NBC woodwinds and low strings in their alert attacks propel the music forward, even as some bucolic elements infiltrate the texture. The slow transition to the recapitulation is quite marked, singing in autumnal harmonies that define the late Brahms style, and then proc, eeding with vigor to the secondary subject, with its “tango” rhythm. The massive coda, rife with polyphony and cross-rhythms, moves to potent (though muffled, due to a damaged lacquer) conclusion.
Unfortunately, the sound distortion intrudes into the opening fanfare for the Andante moderato in its Phrygian modality. The distortion clears away, and we can savor the melting blend of NBC strings, horns, and woodwinds at their best. Even the intrusive, staccato punctuations and “academic,” contrapuntal outbursts from the orchestra do not disrupt the rapt, palliative effect of this haunting movement, clearly demonstrating the NBC’s capacity for epic, lyrical expression. If the dominant mood of the first two movements has been tragic, there have been moments of heartfelt consolation.
The ensuing Scherzo, a rarity for a Brahms symphony, erupts with a hearty vigor, athletic, propelled and witty. The rocket figures in the strings come off with exemplary accuracy. Even the little thump in pizzicato makes its presence known. The brass returns with a vengeance for the da capo, a last gasp at emotional relief before the strictures of the final movement, the Brahms compulsion for antique modes of musical expression that call for the last movement passacaglia. The source of the ostinato motif for the 32 variants derives from J.S. Bach, his Cantata No. 150, Nach Dir, Herr, verlanget mich —“I long to be near you, Lord.” The gambit remains a curiosity, since Dvorak, for all his respect for the Hamburg master, could find no germ of religious devotion in the Brahms soul. Perhaps this almost stolid concession to musical architecture owes a debt to Pascal’s wager, a gamble on the benefits of faith, despite rational skepticism. Rodzinski moves to the extended coda with a fury much in the Toscanini tradition, regally ablaze with what one might daresay label, Verdian ardor.
The subsequent “flood of applause” eventually yields to the final number on the program, “The Dance of the Seven Veils” from the Strauss opera Salome. Its languorous combination of waltz and Eastern colors never fails to elicit the sensuous wiles of its eponymous Princess, intent to seduce Herod’s approval for her vengeance on John the Baptist. Strauss here initiated his repute for “purple passagework” in music, the colorations evocative of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, at once. Bernard Herrmann capitalized on its motions for poor Susan Alexander’s operatic debut in Citizen Kane, which made the prompter wince. The last pages of Salome’s dance whirl in controlled frenzy. Here, in Rodzinski’s last, pre-Toscanini appearance with this select ensemble, he proves his own, immense capacity for building a mighty color instrument.
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