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Classical CD Reissues

JANACEK QUARTET = The Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon

DGG: MOZART Quartet K. 387 (Hanover, Beethoven-Saal, 8-9 March 1956). HAYDN: Quartet Hob. III:39 “The Bird” (Hanover, Beethoven-Saal, 9 June 1958); BRAHMS: Piano Quintet Op. 34, with Eva Bernathova (Hanover, Beethoven-Saal, 5-7 June 1958); DVORAK: Piano Quintet Op. 81 (Hanover, Beethoven-Saal, 12-14 February 1957); DVORAK: Quartets Op. 51 & 105 (Hanover, Beethoven-Saal, 16-18 February 1957); SMETANA: Quartet No. 1 “From My Life” (Hanover, Beethoven-Saal, 31 October, 1 & 3 November, 1956); JANACEK: Quartet No. 2 “Intimate Letters” (Hanover, Beethoven-Saal, 8-9 March 1956)

Decca: HAYDN Quartets Hob. III:38 “The Joke”; Hob. III:17 “Serenade”; Hob. III:76 (“Fifths”) (Vienna, Sofiensaal, May 1963); DVORAK Quartets Op. 34 & 96 “American” (West Hampstead/London, Decca Studio No. 3, October 1963);
Westminster: MENDELSSOHN: Octet Op. 20, with Smetana Quartet (Jirí Novak, Lubomir Kostecky, Milan Skampa, Antonin Kohout); BEETHOVEN: Quartet Op. 59No. 2 “Razumovsky” (Vienna, Konzerthaus, Mozartsaal, June 1959)

DGG Original Masters 474 010-2 (7 CDs):

Deutsche Grammophon introduces its limited-edition Original Masters series with a barrage of five major retrospectives of which this 7-CD collection of the original Janacek Quartet’s recordings for DG, Decca and Westminster is the most unexpected and, in some ways, the most welcome. Not only does it captures an ensemble of peerless intellectual command and considerable physical beauty in its prime, it traces precisely how recording quality evolved during the time when standards for modern stereo sound were becoming established, and how the improvements in sound quality impacted the perception of artistic achievement.

From 1947 to 1973, the Brno-based quartet was, along with their slightly older colleagues the Smetana Quartet, the leading representatives of a middle European tradition which prided itself on rigorous musical integrity infused with energy, color and a certain amount of strait-laced abandon. No wonder that DGG snapped them up in the mid ‘50s. But due ultimately to the bureaucratic nature of the Communist agenting system, and probably the popularity of more personable competitors, their stay with Western labels was relatively brief. After moving to Westminster and then to Decca, they finished their career recording for Supraphon (released initially in the U.S. on Crossroads) and the Czech radio in Brno (now available on Multisonic).

The Decca sessions of 1963 remain audiophile touchstones, and the two Westminster recordings are not far behind. Here you can hear the full impact of their playing, as in the famous Octet recording with the Smetana. By contrast, the early sessions for Deutsche Grammophon are astonishingly wooden (particularly Bernathova’s piano). But if you have a sense of the quartet’s sound from their best recordings, you will be able to hear the same musical wonders going on even in the poorest. The flawless remasterings and Tully Potter’s affectionate, authoritative liner notes complete a job well done.

- Laurence Vittes


MOZART: Symphony No. 35, K. 385 "Haffner," Violin Concerto K. 271A, with Henryk Szeryng, BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 (Grosses Festspielhaus, Aug. 5, 1973); SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto, with Emil Gilels, Symphony No. 4 (Grosses Festspielhaus, Aug. 10, 1975); MOZART: Symphony No. 28 K. 200; BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7, STRAUSS: Tod und Verklärung (Grosses Festspielhaus, Aug. 10, 1977)
London Symphony Orchestra at the Salzburg Festival 1973-1977
Böhm, Gilels, Szeryng

The Andante Collection: Great Orchestras 4983 (4 CDs):

Sumptuously packaged, and priced to match, this 4-disc set documenting the London Symphony's concerts under Karl Böhm at the Salzburg Festival in 1973, 1975 & 1977 (the LSO was the first English orchestra to be invited to the prestigious Austrian event) is highlighted by indispensable performances of Schumann's Piano Concerto with Emil Gilels and the same composer's Fourth Symphony in D Minor.

Schumann was not a composer whom Böhm recorded much, yet his well-known qualities of controlled emphasis on line and insistence on tonal beauty combine in readings that are emotionally urgent and viscerally compelling. Gilels adds an overwhelming presence and command to the Concerto which made me listen to it several times in a row, as I did to the Fourth Symphony which Böhm recorded commercially only once, on a DGG vinyl which has not to my knowledge been released on CD (there is also a live performance with the Vienna Philharmonic on Orfeo).

The other performances are more variable, ranging from a broad and powerful reading of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony to blandly affectionate readings of several Mozart symphonies. In the spurious Violin Concerto (a silly piece which I have come to love), Henryk Szeryng repeats the virtuoso performance he recorded on Philips (conducted more alertly and precisely by Alexander Gibson). The sound throughout is detailed and rich, if dynamically a bit constrained. It is not audiophile in the conventional sense but certainly captures the impact and power of the music that these great musicians were making, sometimes as if their lives were depending on it. The LSO sound more like a great Continental orchestra than a brass-heavy British band; the warmth and humanity of the strings in the second movement of the Brahms is awesome.

The liner notes include a brief but valuable introduction by Tim Page, reminiscences of the concerts themselves by Richard Osborne, and notes on the restoration process. This is one of the most important releases yet in Andante's upscale approach to historical issues.

- Laurence Vittes


Maria Callas - Live in Paris, 1958 = BELLINI: Norma: "Sediziose voci"; "Casta Diva"; "Ah! bello a me rittorna"/VERDI: Il Trovatore: "Vanne, lasciami. . .D'amor sull'ali rosee"; "Miserere"/ROSSINI: Il barbiere di Siviglia: "Una voce poco fa"/PUCCINI: Tosca, Act II (complete)

Maria Callas, soprano
Albert Lance, tenor (Verdi, Puccini)
Jacques Mars, bass (Bellini)
Tito Gobbi, baritone (Puccini)
Georges Sebastien conducts Paris National Opera Orchestra and Chorus
EMI 7243 5 67916 2 73:38:

This concert with the legendary Maria Callas is from December 18, 1958 not long after her hasty retreat from La Scala, after a cancelled performance of Norma; ostensibly due to tracheitis, but just as traceable to tensions between her and manager Ghiringhelli. I have always been of two minds on Callas, openly admiring the musican but reticient about the wobble in her upper register. Of course, the the allure of persona is just as operative here, and Callas was never less than an event. That Callas can mount a thrilling, dramatic introduction and allegro is evident in her formidable "Sull'orrida torre" in Trovatore. Her Norma is thoughtful, poised, tragically resigned to the Druids' fate. Her Rosina from Il Barbiere is alternately coy, demure, and poisonous, all in a mock-heroic guise. I did not know Jacques Mars; his Oroveso is staid enough. Albert Lance is a lyric tenor of some elegance. The Tosca raises the musical level ten times: and I credit most of it to the palpable excitement and arrogant narcissism in Gobbi's Scarpia, which is superb. You can feel Tosca bristle at the thought of this monster's embrace. There are ensemble problems, off-key chorus entries, sloppy intonation, but the musical electricity reminds us just how Callas and "diva" are synonymous. The Tosca should have been recorded on asbestos!

--Gary Lemco


GERALDINE FARRAR: Victor recordings, 1907-09--Romophone 81036 (2 Cds):

These are the last discs we will get from Romophone, the British firm respected for the completeness of their historical releases and the excellence of their sound. They don’t say why they are going out of business, but I imagine it’s because of the increased competition for the decreasing number of great singers whose recordings are yet to be transferred to CD. Anyway, they are closing their doors with a nice sound: Geraldine Farrar (1882-1967) was a very attractive woman with a very attractive voice. A pupil and protégé of Lilli Lehmann, she joined the Met in 1906 and sang there until 1922. She was vivacious, outspoken, extravagant, and sometimes rather vulgar; the newspapers were enamored of her and followed her every move. She had a clear, well-trained voice with great vitality and precision and excelled in the French and Italian lyrical operas; Madam Butterfly and Carmen were her most famous roles, both of which are represented on these discs. She was especially popular among teenage girls, called “Gerryflappers”, and had a notorious love affair with Toscanini. She wasn’t the greatest singer of her time, but she was certainly good enough to be worth hearing; I’m sorry to lose Romophone, but they’re leaving us with a valuable release.


Jascha Heifetz, Vol. 3 = PONCE: Estrellita/MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219/SIBELIUS: Violin concerto in D Minor, Op. 47/KORNGOLD: Garden Scene/DRIGO: Valse Bluette/MACDOWELL: To a Wild Rose

Donald Vorhees conducts Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra (Ponce)
Efrem Kurtz conducts New York Philharmonic (Mozart)
Dimitri Mitropoulos conducts New York Philharmonic (Sibelius)
Emanuel Bay, piano/Jack Benny, violin! (MacDowell)
Cembal d'amour CD 118 71:19 (Distrib. Qualiton):

Volume 3 of Mordecai Shehori's restoration of Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987) performances, 1940-1951, culls some appearances from radio's "Concert Hall" introduced by Lionel Barrymore as well as live material from the New York Philharmonic (these have been released prior by Music&Arts). Heifetz is his usual, fluid peak, with suave finesse being the order of the day. The Mozart is stylish enough, but the whole canvas falls so facilely under his hands that it lacks punch. I prefer the Sibelius with the fiery Mitropoulos (this is the only Sibelius of his extant that I know). Some will argue that the great interpretation of the Sibelius is the commercial RCA inscription with Walter Hendl, but I like the raw, earthy manner the performers achieve here. It is altogether on a faster, bolder plane than either of the commercial records with Beecham or Hendl. The Korngold and Drigo selections seem to pay homage more to the world of Leopold Auer and Mischa Elman than to our current penchant for "real" classics. Finally, there is a nine-and-one-half minute of Heifetz with the inimitable Jack Benny, a spoof on "collaboration" that never gets Heifetz to lose that thin upper lip of his. Hilarious. But this disc is more than a sophisticate's party-joke; you buy it for the Sibelius.

--Gary Lemco


BERLIOZ: Roman Carnival Overture, Op. 9; 3 Excerpts from La damnation de Faust, Op. 24/BIZET: 3 Excerpts from Carmen/DELIBES: 3 Excerpts from Lakme/RAVEL: Une barque sur l'ocean; Rapsodie espagnole

Desire-Emile Inghelbrecht conducts French National Radio Orchestra and London Philharmonic Orchestra (Berlioz)
Testament SBT 1265  66:35 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

In conversatiion with Alain Declert, artistic director of the Texas Roundtop Festival last summer, I recall his reminiscing on having heard Desire-Emile Inghelbrecht (1880-1965) conduct in Paris, an experience Declert called "remarkable, for you felt you were hearing French repertoire in its pristine form by a master of the idiom." Coming from a generation contemporary with Pierre Monteux, Roger Desormiere, and Pitro Coppola, Inghelbrecht had an intimate knowledge of the Ravel and Debussy styles: the works recorded here, 1954-1956, capture something of Inghelbrecht's Gallic range, although his calling card, Debussy's opera Pelleas et Melisande, never made it to the recording studio.

Thr opening pieces by Berlioz (1956) are something of an anomaly: the London Philharmonic was in Paris (on tour with Boult and Fistoulari) for the sessions. The Roman Carnival has a great sense of pace, with the bass accents and battery effects (like tambourine) present without becoming obtrusive, since the secret of French rhythm is to soften the pulse. The Damnation of Faust excerpts have the kind of virtuoso color that recalls Mengelberg's account or the short-lived collaboration between Munch and the Philadelphia Orchestra. for the 1955 Delibes excerpts, Inghelbrecht has the Chorale Marcel Briclot for the Act II Air de Danse. The Carmen excerpts, the Act II Prelude and two Entr'actes, have a smooth gloss but less sheer verve than Beecham; Inghelbrecht sounds much like Cluytens or Desormiere here. The Ravel pieces, particularly the Barque sur l'ocean, is a show-stopper, beautifully detailed. While I appreciate the Rapsodie inscribed here (1955), it has not the ferocious flamboyance I hear with Reiner and Munch. Testament restored sound from the Ducretet Thomson originals is excellent.

--Gary Lemco


BEETHOVEN: Symphonies 5 and 7
Philharmonia Orchestra / Otto Klemperer
EMI Classics Great Recordings of the Century 67852 (74 mins.)

Before beginning its famous stereo cycle of the Beethoven symphonies for EMI in 1957, Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra had already recorded in mono the Fidelio and three Leonore overture as well as the Eroica, Fifth and Seventh symphonies. It subsequently turned out that one of the engineers, Christopher Parker, had taped the Seventh in stereo. These early recordings have been released by EMI over the years, in various couplings.

But, although this is not a new release in any real sense, this coupling of the mono Fifth and the stereo Seventh is an opportunity to appreciate the dramatic effects stereo had on artistic results and, perhaps, the artistic process itself. The perceived nature and intensity of the two performances are similar, but the performances seem quite different. Whether that was a result of the sound is not altogether clear, and may never be.

In any event, the Seventh is a Great Recording of the Century without any doubt. There is no mistaking Klemperer’s heavy footsteps (though not as heavy as they were to become), and his insistence on a seemingly relentless pulse, cumulative momentum and a certain integrity of rhetoric, but the performance also benefits from an intoxicating lyrical swing that became increasingly absent as he grew older. From the surge into the string restatement of the first movement theme after the opening woodwind piping to the inexorable drive in the lower strings that propels a headlong dash to the conclusion of the fourth movement, this is exciting, heady stuff which the stereophonic sense of a large sound stage (including natural placement of the wind and the divided violins) and the brilliant instrumental timbres project with exciting force and beauty.

The Fifth is an apparently more serious affair in which the mono sounds focuses attention more on Klemperer’s mining of the granite core and power of the music. It is a immense performance, no doubt, but not at the same level as the Seventh, although one may well wonder what it would have sounded like in stereo. Richard Osborne’s liner notes address these matters to some extent, but a more detailed recounting of the sessions would have made more absorbing, more informative reading.

(EMI Classics has concurrently issued the 1955 Eroica and the first two Leonore overtures on 67851.)

- Laurence Vittes


The Kempe Reissues Series on Testament continues with the next three discs...
Rudolf Kempe conducts Overtures = MENDELSSOHN: The Hebrides, Op. 26/WEBER: Oberon/REZNICEK: Donna Diana/NICOLAI: The Merry Wives of Windsor/SCHUBERT: Overture and Incidental Music from Rosamunde/SMETANA: The Bartered Bride/SUPPE: Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna/STRAUSS: Leichtes Blut--Polka

Rudolf Kempe/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Testament SBT 1276 74:44 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

Culled from the EMI archives, 1958-1961, this is one of eight Testament issues devoted to the art of Rudolf Kempe (1910-1976), whose recorded art combined the German tradition embodied by Furtwaengler and Keilberth with the cosmopolitanism of Sir Thomas Beecham, whose Royal Philharmonic Kempe inherited in 1961 and worked with until 1975. These Vienna performances all enjoy Kempe's individual blend of thorough musicianship and touch of academicism that keeps his interpretations just a hair short of Furtwaengler's more visionary mysticism.

This is not to say that the performances are not idiomatic, for indeed they are: the Reznicek has the color and interior voices (especially the muted trumpets) that equal the stellar performances of Beecham, Stock and Karajan. The Schubert excerpts have already been available via Testament's "Vienna Philharmonic on Holiday" with Kempe (SBT 1127) from the exact sessions of December 1961, The Suppe overture was no less a Beecham spectacular, and Kempe's energized rendition is no less supercharged with string and wind color. The Mendelssohn, Nicolai, and Weber overtures all have Furtwaengler equivalents, and Kempe's tempos are just a bit broader than those. The Weber relishes the aura of the Black Forest (by way of Shakespeare), while the Mendelssohn shows off the composer's shimmering, orchestral counterpoint. Kempe's own calling-card, the Smetana Overture to the Bartered Bride (his recording of the complete opera is definitive), has girth and timbre to spare. The program ends with a polka, Johann Strauss, Jr.'s Leichtes Blut, a familiar favorite of a very different German conductor, Hans Knappertsbush. Here, it whistles and sizzles in fine fettle and great recorded sound.

--Gary Lemco


MOZART: Overtures: Le nozze di Figaro; Cosi fan tutte; Die Zauberfloete; Idomeneo; Serenade No. 13 in G "Eine kleine Nachtmusik"/HAYDN: Symphony No 104 in D "London"

Rudolf Kempe conducts Philharmonia Orchestra
Testament SBT 1273 64:29 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi):

Except for Rudolf Kempe's 1955 inscription of the Mozart Requiem (EMI CDH 65202) with Elisabeth Grummer and Helmut Krebs, I had not heard anything else of Kempe's Mozart prior to this reissue of his 1955 Mozart overtures and the G Major Serenade. I find Kempe's Mozart full-blooded and rather thick in the textures; it seems the natural extension of the tradition set by Furtwaengler and Jochum, maybe something of the linear approach of Rosbaud's literalism. The real find for me is the Overture to Idomeneo, not just because its musical values appropriate Gluck and fascinated Busoni, but its chromatic contours and nervous classicism carry the storm and stress that appeals to Kempe. The Overture to Cosi fan tutte is just as compelling, allowing Kempe's background in the oboe section to light up the woodwind interplay that sets the tone for this rather monothematic outline of the opera's entanglements. The polyphony of The Magic Flute has an aura of mysticism we hear in Furtwaengler; and this same richly textured counterpoint lifts the spirit of the Haydn "London" Symphony (1956) as well. The Serenade's outer movements are taken more marcato than in some performances, but still in the fluid sense of 'allegro,' unlike Beecham's awkward canter. The broadest treatment comes in the Andante of the Haydn: the pulse almost seems to stop until the second subject rises up in a noble manner which some may find inflated. The entire Haydn is lyrical and strong in the legato aspects of the Philharmonia's string sound. For Kempe enthusiasts, this disc is likely to have a cult appeal, as it marks a special rapport between this German musician and his British ensemble that more than extends the tradition Karajan had established here.

-- Gary Lemco


WAGNER: Lohengrin: Prelude, Act I and Act III; Parsifal: Prelude, Act I and Good Friday Music; Tristan and Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod

Rudolf Kempe conducts Vienna Philharmonic
Testament SBT 1274 59:08 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)

This reissue of Capitol SG 7180 (LP version) reminds us that Rudolf Kempe (1910-1976) made his international reputation in the music of Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner, the latter having benefitted from Kempe's way with Die Meistersinger from 1949 on to his production of Lohengrin in 1962. In the Vienna Philharmonic, which met with Kempe first in February1958, the conductor had an ensemble well familiar with the Wagner style, having played with Furtwaengler certainly, but also with Knappertsbusch, whose Tristan excerpts with Birgit Nilsson (for London Decca) were just as spectacular as the vocal contribution. The silken playing of the Lohengrin, Act I Prelude and the extremely broad approach to the Parsifal Prelude, whose tempos stretch beyond Knappertsbusch into Celibidache territory, reveal a master of color and blended ensemble among the best of the lot. The Tristan splice of Act I Prelude and Isolde's Love-Death has eminent appeal in the harps, strings and winds, with a patina easily the rival of what Stokowski achieved in his Philadelphia performance of 1960. As I have noted elsewhere, Kempe attains the same orchestral luster as Karajan, but it has a warmth we rarely if ever hear from Karajan. The Vienna strings simply shimmer with luminosity; the muted horns and piercing oboe playing has an aura of devotion that compels comparison with Furtwaengler's best Wagner playing. More than impressive, this is the stuff of great music making.

--Gary Lemco


Hans Knappertsbusch conducts = WAGNER: A Siegfried Idyll/MOZART: Clarinet Concerto in A, K. 622/SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in B Minor "Unfinished"/SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120/BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F, Op. 90

Wolfgang Schroeder, clarinet/Munich Philharmonic/Bavarian State Orchestra (Schubert)/Stuttgart Radio Symphony (Brahms)
Melodram GM 4.0063 (2) 73:10; 7310 (Distrib. Albany):

This set is taken from performances late (1958-1963) in the career of Hans Knappertsbusch (1888-1965), when his penchant for slow tempos was well ingrained. This is easily heard in the Brahms Third from November 15, 1963, where the opening Allegro con brio plays at almost 13 minutes, without the help of the exposition repeat. The inflated arches will put the rendition along with the Bernstein inscription with the Vienna Philharmonic (and the infamous Glenn Gould D Minor Concerto) as prime examples of over-ripe Brahms. But if you like your autumnal emotions languid, you've come to the right place.

The exception to these remarks is the February 10, 1958 Schubert B Minor Symphony, all business and hard-driven. Knappertsbusch has the Bavarian strings pushing the tempos without losing the edgy undercurrent of emotion that belies its otherwise sentimental pathos. The Schumann Fourth, Wagner Siegfried Idyll and Mozart concerto all derive from the same concert of January 6, 1962 from the German Museum, Munich. This concert was available on Melodram's LP label, and I recall being very impressed with the Mozart, which has a grand leisure and strong playing from solo Wolfgang Schroeder. Wagner's Idyll was something of a signature piece for Knappertsbusch, who combines its dreaminess with the evocations of the Black Forest. The Schumann is broad as well, but not to the distortion of its vivid, cyclic character. I get the sense that the Bavarian and Stuttgart ensembles enjoy the grand seigneur approach in these works, interpretations maintained in character with Celibidache's collaboration with the same orchestras in the next generation. Each of the performances is in mono sound, but clean and well defined.

--Gary Lemco


TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35/BRAHMS: Violin concerto in D, Op. 77

Erica Morini, violin
Jascha Horenstein conducts French National Radio Orchestra (Tchaikovsky); George Szell conducts New York Philharmonic (Brahms)

Music&Arts CD-1116 67:58 (Distrib. Albany):

Erica Morini (1904-1995) was perhaps the most illustrious of the women violinists practicing their art through the first seventy years of the last century. While some might claim Guila Bustabo as a serious rival, Morini made her mark in both solo and chamber music contexts, and her full blooded approach had the same mesmerizing effect as any of her male counterparts; Morini's aesthetic and approach seem particularly akin to those of her colleague, Nathan Milstein. While this Music&Arts disc does not add anything new in terms of repertory, the Tchaikovsky collaboration with Horenstein (from Paris 12/19/57) provides a blazing moment of ensemble. The Brahms with Szell (from New York 12/14/52) has had prior life on CD, via Nuovo Era.

Both of these performances have their commercial counterpart on Westminster, from Morini's collaborations with Artur Rodzinski and the Royal Philharmonic, performances slightly broader in the Brahms, virtually the same (i.e., highly cut) in the Tchaikovsky. Once Morini sets the tempo, she is unyielding, driving ever forward in the manner of Milstein. I believe this is the first Tchaikovsky I have heard from Horenstein, and it is febrile and energized. The Brahms is a kind of old world approach, with big arches in the conception. The audience applauds after each movement, appreciating the spectacular vitality of the ensemble. In both concertos, Morini's tone is fine and rasping, a style close to Hubermann's but without the intonation problems. The nervous edginess of the playing really strikes flint on the last movement of each concerto, and you'll be applauding with the originals auditors of these fine concerts. Music&Arts sound restoration (by Maggi Payne) has made the best of some deteriorated surfaces.

--Gary Lemco


Artur Rubinstein plays=CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21; Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23; Mazurka in C, Op. 56, No. 3; Scherzo No. 4 in E Major, Op. 54;
3 Etudes, Op. 10; Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise brillante, Op. 22

Artur Rubinstein, piano/Carlo Maria Giulini conducts Philharmonia Orchestra
BBC Legends BBCL 4105-2 77:37 (Distrib. Koch):

Culled from two appearances in Britain, this disc celebrates the natural pianism of Artur Rubinstein (1887-1982), whose Germanic training under Joachim and Barth did not diminish, in the popular mind, his affinity for the music of Chopin. The collaboration with Giulini dates from May 16, 1961, and it exhibits the same muscular, sinewy tension they achieved in their classic, commercial inscription of the Schumann Concerto for RCA. The suppleness and security of the playing are matched by the joie de vivre that marked Rubinstein the man, the eternal bon vivant. If the second movement basks in the extended spirit of the nocturne, the last movement pulsates with mazurka rhythms that enjoy all kinds of minor inflections the performers can provide. For the solo pieces, recorded October 6, 1959, the real find are the three etudes from Op. 10, pieces Rubinstein never inscribed commercially, and only the Last Concert for Israel offers us another, the C-sharp minor from the same set. Rubinstein plays without ostentation, without self-consciousness. The G Minor Ballade remained Rubinstein's signature piece, its Neapolitan harmonies Chopin's equivalent for the Appassionata Sonata. The skittish E Major Scherzo receives an exalted melos; the dark Mazurka in C may not revel in the quirkiness Horowitz could elicit, but it has a staunch character. The big Andante and Grande Polonaise has a ripeness and delicacy closer to Hofmann than to Horowitz, but it is vintage Rubinstein, who proves musically satisfying always. For Rubinstein collectors, this may prove the first of many fine additions via the BBC.

--Gary Lemco


Joseph Szigeti, violin = MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, K. 218/BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61

Sir Thomas Beecham conducts London Philharmonic (Mozart)
Bruno Walter conducts British Symphony Orchestra (Beethoven)
Opus Kura OPK 2029 67:01 (Distrib. Albany):

Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti (1892-1973) was more of a musician than a fiddler, a natural soloist and chamber music player whose influence extended from Bela Bartok and Pablo Casals to Andre Previn, and whose authority in the music of Beethoven, Brahms, Bloch, and Bartok was almost unrivaled. While his thin, nasal, cut-gutty tone was not especially ingratiating, his wiry sound still managed to convey a noble, musical line, often quite fiery. Opus Kura is busily refurbishing his early Columbia and HMV inscriptions, using Japanese pressings in good sound, although the orchestral backup can be somewhat faded.

The 1934 Mozart Fourth Concerto is one of a trinity of recordings Szigeti and Beecham made, the other two being the Mendelssohn and the Prokofiev D Major, the latter of which was something of a coup for Beecham. The Mozart, which Beecham also recorded with Heifetz, is familiar territory; they take the Andante more at an Adagio pace than say, Talich did with Jiri Novak, but it is standard procedure. The sensibility is late Victorian, but the sounds are lovely. Szigeti improvises his own cadenzas, and his sound is relatively glossy--the editors of the disc go so far as to compare his tone to Kreisler's. The Beethoven Concerto dates from 1932, and it contributes to the few outstanding discs Walter made in Britain before the Anschluss and his flight to Paris and then the U.S. The Concerto is cut rather lean, with a rhythmic rigor and directness lacking in the account with Francescatti Walter did for CBS almost thirty years later. Always an intellectual's violinist, Szigeti does more than manage the punishing half steps and rapid figurations, he constantly moves to a melodic cadence with care and tenderness. Even the occasional surface swish cannot detract from the nobility of Szigeti's line. The miking is clearly towards the violin, so those who favor the big orchestral explosion will have to look elsewhere. But for polished examples of Szigeti in his prime, these are exemplary restorations.

--Gary Lemco


Arturo Tocanini conducts Music from Russia = TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 "Pathetique"; "Manfred" Symphony in B Minor, Op. 58/PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 1 in D, Op. 25 "Classical"/MOUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel)/GLINKA: Jota Aragonaise

Arturo Toscanini conducts NBC Symphony
Music&Arts CD-1115 (2) 61:50; 76:42 (Distrib. Albany):

These concerts, 1947-48, belie Toscanini's somewhat negative feelings about the music of Tchaikovsky, whom he called "the Leoncavallo of the classics." If any of the composer's scroes had a dramatic allure for Toscanini, it was the Manfred Symphony, which Toscanini called "a perfect score," then proceeded to cut it drastically for his concert peformances and recordings. In spite of Toscanini's personal ambivalnece, the concert of February 28, 1948 (which includes the Glinka Jota) has dynamic and color effects to spare, in spite of the abbreviated aspects of the edition, particularly in the last movement. The approach is direct and linear, with constant urging of the bridge passages toward the melodic kernel, as in the second movement confrontation between Manfred and the Mountain Spirit. The strings and winds of the NBC are held by a taut rein, even while Toscanini pushes the tempo relentlessly.

It was Toscanini's RCA recording of the Moussorgsky Pictures (LM 1838) that was my own introduction to this piece, a kind of Dantesque journey of a musical persona from the demonized world ("Gnomus") through the material world ("Limoges") to the underworld and finally into the Kingdom of Heaven. Few conductors can elicit the gondola song of "The Old Castle" with equally song-like timbre. The pace is noticeably quick here (February 14, 1948) with real virtuosity in Samuel Goldenberg, the journey to the Catacombs, and this hair-raising depiction of Baba-Yaga in jolly good sound. Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony (February 15, 1947) is the Maestro's only incursion into this ironist's work. The pace is quicker than his commercial recording, but it neither as fluent as Koussevitzky nor as stalwartly noble as Malko. The Glinka Jota occurred the same day as the Manfred; it is quicksilver, brilliant, colored in Latin flavors, rife with Southern health. The Tchaikovsky Pathetique from November 15, 1947 has the linear detail of the commercial record, with whiplash tempos after the extended introduction in movement one. While the interior movements are alternately lyrical and dramatic, they too are streamlined to move to the tragic finale, which Toscanini takes in a singularly broad manner, allowing his basses and low winds and horns some rhythmic license.

While I hope that Music&Arts reinstates Toscanini's version of The Voyevode, Op. 3, this set will endure as a strong memento of the Maestro's rediscovery of Russians after the Second World War.

--Gary Lemco



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