SAINT-SAENS: Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor; BLOCH: Schelomo – Hebraic Rhapsody; TCHAIKOVSKY: Variations on a Rococo Theme; MASSENET: Elegie; GREENE: Sing Me to Sleep – Leonard Rose, cello/ Gladys Swartout, soprano/ NY Philharmonic/Mitropoulos – Biddulph

by | Feb 26, 2006 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

SAINT-SAENS: Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 33; BLOCH: Schelomo – Hebraic Rhapsody; TCHAIKOVSKY: Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33; MASSENET: Elegie; GREENE: Sing Me to Sleep – Leonard Rose, cello/ Gladys Swartout, soprano (Massenet)/ Gibner King, piano/ New York Philharmonic/ Dimitri Mitropoulos/ George Szell (Tchaikovsky)

Biddulph 80209-2,  67:18 (Distrib. Albany) ****:

Biddulph restores several of the classic collaborations by cellist Leonard Rose (neé Rosofsky, 1918-1984) which he made for CBS 1949-1952, of which those with the Greek Romantic conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) are especially welcome. A student of his cousin Frank Miller, Rose became a member of Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1938, and in 1939 principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra for Rodzinski.  When Rodzinski moved to New York in 1943, Rose went with him, again as principal cellist. In 1951, Rose embarked on a solo career, although his cello sound could be heard on various CBS and RCA recordings, the more spectacular being with Villa-Lobos and with Leopold Stokowski. “Superstar status tended to elude Leonard,” recalled Bernard Greenhouse at our Atlanta interview years ago. “He was always ambitious, perhaps a tad bitter, but he managed to make an important mark.”

Blessed with a strong, polished technique and a piercing, vibrant tone, Rose projects a clear, strong sound in these transfers, given the sonic beauty of the CBS originals of Saint-Saens and Bloch (ML 4425). Mitropoulos, who had studied with Saint-Saens, remained a fierce advocate of his music on record, transforming what might have remained demure, neo-classic scores into febrile, intense works with which to reckon, as in the tonepoems (ML 5154) and the B Minor Violin Concerto with Francescatti (ML 4315).  I can recall a New York Philharmonic broadcast of the rarely played A Minor Symphony, Op. 55 of raw power, and collectors treasure their off-the-air copies of the G Minor Concerto with soloists Jean Casadesus and Artur Rubinstein.  The A Minor Cello Concerto (21 April 1951) proves a furious albeit lyrical account – fast but melodically indulgent, even playful. The declamatory beauty of Bloch’s Hebraic Rhapsody (21 April 1951) contains what Rose called “two thousand years of suffering,” and he communicates the eerie and poignant plaints of this ravishing work in a manner thoroughly compelling and competitive with that of his great colleagues, Feuermann and Piatagorsky. The New York Philharmonic strings, harp, and brass sections erupt with the same volcanic energy Mitropoulos elicited in Scriabin, Schoenberg, and Mahler.

Leonard Rose and George Szell (1893-1970) collaborated in the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations (edited by Fitzhagen) on 8 January 1952.  They would later redo the work in Cleveland. Szell’s contribution is typical of his best work with the New York Philharmonic in the 1950s, emphasizing clean, rounded phrases, especially in the woodwind detail. The piece permits Rose to show off the delicate side of his playing and temperament along with the staggering bravura, which include some liquid scales and brilliant runs and flute sound. His octave and ponticello passagework is exemplary. The two songs by Massenet and Greene date from 17 May 1949 and feature Rose in an obbligato role for soprano Gladys Swartout (1900-1969).  The acoustic is quite dry, and the soprano’s tone is nasal; she projects a spare vibrato, almost the white tone of Teresa Stich-Randall.  The Greene song is sentimental fluff, perhaps a poor man’s Stephen Foster imitation. It wants to be a lover’s lullaby, and the soprano’s diction is clear. If this song had been programmed into a film with Jeanette Macdonald, it might have been a schmaltzy hit.

–Gary Lemco

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