TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, “Pathetique;” BACH: Air from Suite No. 3 in D Major; VIVALDI: Concerto Grosso in A Minor, Op. 3, No. 8 — Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/Willem Mengelberg — Opus Kura

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

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 “Pathetique;”
BACH: Air from Suite No. 3 in D Major; VIVALDI: Concerto Grosso in A
Minor, Op. 3, No. 8 — Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/Willem
Mengelberg

Opus Kura OPK 2011  57:40 (Distrib. Albany) ****:

More newly energized inscriptions from Willem Mengelberg (1871-1951),
whose readings with his Concertgebouw Orchestra provided one of the
supreme models of orchestral discipline for European ensemble. The
style is, of course, archly Romantic, with slides and a freewheeling
rhythmic license; but the plastic approach to melodic extension is
always musical. Each of these recordings dates from December 1937; and
Opus Kura has paid special attention to preserving the orchestra’s deep
bass lines, even at the cost of retaining some surface hiss. The Bach
Air on the G string is an amazing tribute to the orchestra’s
discipline, responding with all kinds of luftpausen and interior
crescendi in the middle of phrases. I recall conductor David Randolph’s
fierce opposition to just this kind of subjective distortion of the
musical line in Mengelberg’s 1939 reading of Bach’s St. Matthew
Passion. The piece even opens with a brief riff from a piano in the
continuo.

The Vivaldi, however, is a Baroque horse of a different color: here,
Mengelberg calls for a harpsichord in the basso continuo, and the lines
are clear and evanescent, much closer to current standards of Baroque
practice while still functioning within Mengelberg’s Romantic
aesthetic. Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique was a Mengelberg specialty: he used
to claim that his idiosyncratic rhythms and dynamics had been given the
sanction of the composer’s brother, Modeste. Ironically, whenever
Mengelberg took licenses with Bach, the musicians would quip that he
took his authority from Modeste Bach!  For all of the agogic and
tempo fluctuations in the reading, the Pathetique moves rather briskly,
with a kind of grim resignation dominating the emotional tenor of the
whole. The new mastering of the Telefunken shellacs reveals no end of
bass and brass colorations, as equally poignant as the treble slides
and willful rubato that permeates key dramatic moments. The last
movement Adagio lamentoso achieves a kind of defiant fury, a cosmic
battle, rare in anyone’s realization of this oft-played score. The
visceral intensity of the conception is unyielding, a clear model for
the Mravinsky and even Gergiev histrionics. A remarkable document,
certainly, for students of great orchestral ensemble.

–Gary Lemco

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