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Mono Maven
Stereo London Treasury Series
Part 3
Concluding now with Part 3 of my brief investigation
of the London Stereo Treasury.

Review By Leonard Norwitz
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Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. Julius Katchen, piano; The London Symphony Orchestra / Georg Solti, conductor. Balakirev: Islamey Oriental Fantasia. Julius Katchen, piano. London STS 15086 [ZAL-4089-4090]

We take the measure of this popular concerto from the outset. Is the pulse even, building in steady crescendo, or do those famous opening measures find some subtle phrase within?  Most settle for the former; not so, Katchen and Solti - and that pretty much describes the attitude of these artists in this piece altogether: searching for and finding the phrase within the obvious.

 This recording, along with Rubinstein's on RCA Living Stereo, is quite properly among the most critically acclaimed.  Rubinstein may have the last word in poetry, but not necessarily in majesty except in the finale, which Solti (we naturally blame him, don't we?) rushes a bit.  One should own both recordings and perhaps others as well. After all, we can't have too many Rach Seconds. (I've always been fond of the performance by Eugene Istomin and the Philadelphia Orchestra with Ormandy on Columbia mono.)  The London here, of course, is a Decca reissue as is the one that appears on Speakers Corner.  On the Treasury LP, we are treated to a bonus in the Balakirev, a sizeable piece of razzle-dazzle that Katchen tosses off neatly. The presence of Islamey doesn't appear to restrict the overall excellence of the sonics, since there is generally room for an "encore" if the first and second movements are placed on the first side.  As reissues go, this one ranks with the best. 

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"Great Moments From Italian Opera, Vol. 2." London Symphony Orchestra / Pierino Gamba, conductor. London STS 15043 [ZAL-3505/3506]

Here's an inauspicious title for you. I had planned to include it on my next installment of London/Decca monos.  Still might - for that record is, without doubt, one of the most breathtaking mono orchestral recordings around.   As we might guess, it shabby in stereo either.  Each of the program's contrasting interludes vividly captures the drama of opera without words. Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani has rarely been heard more dynamically, or La Traviata's Preludes with more foreboding. Mascagni's Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana is played with the sweetest possible tenderness and elegance. Giuseppe Martucci's rapturous Notturno and Ponchielli's delicious Dance of the Hours are safely in Gamba's hands. (Anthony Collins, on a rare Decca mono, is the only challenge in the Ponchielli to my knowledge.)  Just to keep us on our toes, the mono version of this collection, London LL 1671, is issued under a different title, "Operatic Highlights for Orchestra No. 5."  Mono recordings, by the way, have the same matrix numbers except that the prefix is ARL instead of ZAL.

 

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Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique; Roman Carnival Overture. The Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam / Eduard van Beinum, conductor. London Treasury Series R23205 [ARL-9495/9496]

As you might have noticed from the catalogue number and prefix, this record is not really from the "Stereo Treasury Series."  For one thing, it's mono, and for another, it's a Richmond. Richmond records are simply the mono side of the London Treasury series.  Most Richmond records are clearly marked as such, with "Richmond" prominently on the front or back cover.  This one isn't.  Other than the "R" designation in front of the catalogue number, there is no mention of it.  Despite the publication dates listed on the jacket, this record, like other Richmond records, has no stereo counterpart.  Indeed, I've never seen an electronic stereo Richmond.  So, what you are really getting here is a Decca-pressed reissue of a mono recording (from 1951, I believe.)  The vivacious Roman Carnival Overture is included as a bonus which, given its added length in addition to the vintage of the original recording, accounts for some of the lightness in the bass.

Eduard van Beinum is one of my favorite conductors, and can always be counted on for vital, invigorated readings.  The performances in both overture and symphony prove no exception.  Only the slow movement of the symphony lacks the magic that might be wrought from a slower pace.  Even so, van Beinum maintains an assured, kinetic pulse in keeping with the nature of the other movements.

As noted, the sonics are a mite squeaky on the reissue, lacking some mid and deep bass, but the treble is perhaps surprisingly present as are much of the dynamics from the original.

 

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"Music for Four Harpsichords" ~ by C.P.E. & J.S. Bach.  George Malcolm, Valda Aveling, Geoffrey Parsons and Simon Preston, harpsichords; The English Chamber Orchestra / Raymond Leppard, conductor. London STS 15075 [ZAL-7835-7836]

This joyful menu includes one original and two adapted baroque concoctions for four plucky keyboards accompanied by chamber orchestra plus one twentieth century arrangement for the keyboard quartet alone by George Malcolm on a theme by Mozart.

You might anticipate that this album is a mere compilation of works you know in other forms or from other records, and to an extent, this is the case.  But not entirely.  So let's begin with the two odd pieces by C.P.E. Bach and Malcolm.  The concerto by the younger Bach is actually an arrangement by Raymond Leppard, the conductor on this recording, of that composer's "Concerto for 2 Harpsichords, W.46". The concerto by that most gifted of Johann Sebastian's musical offspring, and which takes up most of the first side, demonstrates the widest range of style and contrast on this record, and shows off some otherwise hidden talents of our fearless leader.  The Malcolm adaptation is from an obscure piece by Mozart: his "Duo for Violin & Viola, K. 424."  George Malcolm, the leader of the keyboard group in all the pieces on this record, delights in urging variation in timbre, mood and tempo, while still keeping the style not too remote from its origins.

The two works by J.S. Bach are the familiar "Concertos for 4 and 3 Harpsichords, BWV 1065 & 1063."  The first is, of course, Bach's marvelous arrangement of Vivaldi's "Concerto for 4 Violins" from his Op. 3, a righteous work in its own right.  The "Concerto for 3 Harpsichords" is presumed to be an original piece, but the program notes raise doubt though, to my knowledge, no "source" has yet been identified.

So the question is: Are the two new pieces worth the price; or, alternatively, are the performances of the more familiar works new to you and/or worth duplicating the music in your collection?  My feeling is that the C.P.E. Bach alone is worth the price of the album.  Leppard plays papa Bach's 3 Harpsichord piece with more dignity than fluff, while maintaining the necessary buoyancy.  As for the Bach/Vivaldi 4 Harpsichord Concerto, it always surprises me with what variety performers approach such an unassuming work, so there's a good reason to get this one, even though the sound strikes me as a bit muted compared to the other works on the record. And, as I keep saying, the price is right.

 

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"Campoli Encores" Music by Brahms, Bach, Schubert, Paganini, et al.  Alfredo Campoli, violin; Norihiko Wada, piano. London STS 15239 [ZAL-10951-10952]

This is a rich, up close and personal recording; revealing almost more than you want to know about the violin.  The piano, thankfully, is comparatively muted.  Campoli, who is credited with his first name in the liner notes this time, is a whiz in the bright work, but not as lovely as I've heard him elsewhere in the pieces that most demand it; the Arioso (from the second movement of Bach's "Fifth Harpsichord Concerto") and Schubert's Ave Maria.  Otherwise the playing in this program is a tour de force.

 

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Haydn: Complete Symphonies Nos. 1-104.  Philharmonia Hungarica / Antal Dorati, conductor. [45 LPs in nine volumes]

What survey, however casual, would be complete without at least mentioning one of the two or three most satisfying compendia ever put to vinyl. I would place Antal Dorati's comprehensive review of the complete Haydn symphonies somewhere between Deutsche Gramophone's achingly beautiful Schubert Lieder collection (on 29 discs over 3 sets) by the inimitable Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore and Telefunken's long-suffering, sometimes magnificent, but occasionally questionable project to record all the Bach Cantatas with Harnoncourt and Leonhardt.  Even though in the Dorati there are times where the playing of the Philharmonia Hungarica suffers from under-rehearsal, there is an evenness of right-headed temperament that makes it a joy to experience.  Some years ago, I began each day with a Haydn symphony from a complete Decca set I had just picked up, playing them in chronological order.  It put a smile on my face every day that lasted hours. I'm sure to be preaching to the choir here; but not to speak of this fine set is, well, unspeakable.

The Dorati/Haydn collection's only release in the U.S. during the early 1970s via the usual distribution channels was on London's budget Stereo Treasury label.  I acquired them as they came out every month or so in their strange order - beginning, as they did, in the middle with the Sturm und Drang symphonies. So it was with some surprise that I learned a couple of years later that English Decca had released them as ffss pressings over the same number of LPs, with sets numbered chronologically.  [Vol. 1 is pictured above]  Naturally, I had to find out if the ffss records were any better than the much cheaper American releases, even though both were pressed by Decca.  Of course, they were; but the London Treasuries were, and remain, a steal at the price.

 

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