SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61; PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major – Vienna Philharmonic/Dimitri Mitropoulos – Orfeo D’Or

by | Jul 6, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61; PROKOFIEV:
Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major – Vienna Philharmonic/Dimitri
Mitropoulos – Orfeo D’Or C627 041B  77:06  (Distrib.

The concert of 21 August 1954 marked the debut of Greek conductor
Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) with the Vienna Philharmonic, given to
us here almost in its entirety, lacking only the Milhaud arrangement of
Couperin’s La Sultane–Introduction and Allegro.  Despite his
occasionally programming other Schumann symphonies–the Spring and the
Rhenish (there seem to be no extant versions of the D Minor)–the C
Major Symphony consistently captured Mitropoulos’ imagination, with his
having inscribed it with Minneapolis Symphony and taking it on tour
with the New York Philharmonic for his 1 October 1955 performance at
the Orpheus Theater in Athens. Even Leonard Bernstein confessed to me
the influence of the Mitropoulos approach in his own conception of the
C Major: “While the individual phrasings and nuances are my own, the
overall feel and gestalt of the piece are Dimitri’s. He always managed
to convey both its militancy and its lyricism without having the whole
degenerate into a simple march.” Mitropoulos’ handling of the Scherzo
is particularly deft, with its two trios which can easily become
maudlin. The quicksilver polish of the Vienna Philharmonic soon
transforms into a lament of tragic resignation in the affecting Adagio
expressive, only to find renewed faith in the spirit for the blazing
Allegro molto vivace which closes the work.

The find of the evening for the visiting Salzburg audience is clearly
the Prokofiev B-flat Symphony (1944), making its debut at the Festival.
Marked by a superb arioso, lyrical vitality as well as a sharp,
vitriolic humor that characterize all of Mitropoulos’ readings of this
composer, the VPO shines as a real virtuoso ensemble, perhaps nowhere
as obviously as in the Allegro marcato, whose slow-to-hysterical
buildup for the return after the trio section always proved a dramatic
tour de force for personalities like Mitropoulos and Celibidache. The
canvas is large, with long singing lines in the opening and third
movements, the pizzicato figures‚ making a vivid contrast with the
extended string and woodwind lines in the Andante. The intrusive
sforzati and discordant brass sonorities ultimately meld into a
unified, tragic vision of transcendence working through an era of
hostile forces. The peerless authority from the podium is matched by
the infinite degrees of nuance from the VPO, a sterling moment of
collaboration which was to repeated many times until the conductor’s
untimely demise in Milan, 1960.

–Gary Lemco

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