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Audiophile Audition LP

Review

Audiophile Audition USA (Reprinted with permission) http://www.audaud.com/reissue.php

Published on June 29, 2009

Quietly restored, devotional Bach, recommended to the adventurous who look backward for sweeter sounds.

Herbert von Karajan conducts opera intermezzi & overtures of HUMPERDINCK, MASCAGNI, OFFENBACH, LEONCAVALLO, DODALY, PUCCINI, STRAUSS, BIZET, MASSENET, MOUSSORGSKY, GRANADOS & VERDI - Philharmonia/Karajan - Opus Kura

Three Violinists play BACH =
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, BWV 1041
Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major, BWV 1042
Double Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1043
Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C Minor, BWV 1060
- Devy Erlih, violin (A and D Minor)/
- Henri Merckel, violin (E Major and D Minor)/
- Reinhold Barchet, violin/Kurt Kalmus, oboe/
- he Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra/Kurt Redel
Opus Kura OPK 7043, 67:49 [Distrib. by Albany] ****:

Taken from a Ducretet Thomson LP, these transfers, c. mid-1950s, brng back memories of Kurt Redel leading various Baroque ensembles for the Vox label, just as the so-called “Vivaldi Revival” was in full swing. An heir to Adolf Busch, Redel worked in Stuttgart with the likes of Karl Munchinger. True to the spirit of the “authentic” style (whatever that is) Redel uses the harpsichord for his continuo, and he plays ornaments on the upper note, as required. Here, he leads a group of select French musicians, some more famous than others. Devy Erlih (b. 1928) won the Premier Grand Prix at the Long-Thibaud International Competition, making his the heir-apparent to Jacques Thibaud. A strong technique and a nasal incisive tone are his hallmarks, though he was to be eclipsed by the more spectacular Chirstian Ferras for flamboyant bravura. Henri Merckel (1897-1967), another powerful French virtuoso noted for his Saint-Saens, brandishes a long, flexible line, but it cuts very thin, as his vibrato is quite fast, his tone a step away from Szigeti's razor-wire, cut-gut sound. Merckel makes the Allegro assai of the E Major Concerto dance and strut with a resolute panache, the intonation sure, the catty figures in the ensemble on point.

I found only old-world charm in the D Minor Double Concerto, a sweet plastic line evolving from the two soli, Erlih and Merckel. The slow movement becomes a kind of swan-song for a whole sensibility of negotiating Bach. The Concerto for Oboe and Violin has my recalling Stern and Tabuteau in Philadelphia or Stern and Gomberg in New York. Kurt Kalmus packs an elegant elastic oboe tone, somewhere between Holliger and Mitch Miller or Tabuteau himself. He and Reinhold Barchet--who did record for Vox often--seem joined at the musical hip, their respective sonorities blending in a noble dance and ariosi for the outer movements. For sheer mysticism in Bach, the beguiling Adagio steals the berries, a love-song of two amorously intertwined sea-weeds. Quietly-restored surfaces guarantee unruffled, devotional Bach. Recommended to the adventurous who look backward for sweeter sounds.

-- Gary Lemco

Published on June 17, 2009

The Sleeping Beauty’s pageantry and delicate scoring obviously appeal to Fistoulari.

Herbert von Karajan conducts opera intermezzi & overtures of HUMPERDINCK, MASCAGNI, OFFENBACH, LEONCAVALLO, DODALY, PUCCINI, STRAUSS, BIZET, MASSENET, MOUSSORGSKY, GRANADOS & VERDI - Philharmonia/Karajan - Opus Kura

TCHAIKOVSKY: The Sleeping Beauty Ballet, Op. 66; The Nutcracker: Suite No. 1, Op. 71a; Suite No. 2 (arr. Fistoulari) - Paris Conservatory Orchestra/Anatole Fistoulari
Opus Kura OPK 7041/2 (2 CDs) , 75:55; 76:25 [Distr. by Albany] ***:

A music critic in Atlanta, responding to a reissue of a violin concerto with Nathan Milstein and the orchestra led by Anatole Fistoulari (1907-1995), referred to him as “the world’s most famous non-conductor,” given the Russian-born maestro’s penchant for submerging his innate personality into the musical score. These monophonic, Tchaikovsky inscriptions from 1951-1952 for Decca are examples in point of Fistoulari’s literalist traditions, which excepting minor cuts in the Nutcracker March and the Waltz of the Flowers, demonstrate the linear progression of his line--sans repeats--and the richness of the music, having been allocated to the Paris Conservatory’s nasal woodwinds and strings.

The second suite opens with a splice from the Scene from Act 1 (No. 1) to the Coda of the Pas de Deux (Act 2, No. 14). Nice work from flute, clarinet. and oboe over a thumping, pizzicato string support. The vivid execution, however, does not belie the essentially “bland” or “blank” character of the music, which occasionally lacks the magic or charm that an Ansermet or a Stokowski brings to these familiar notes. The Grandfather Dance with “Nutcracker” effects moves daintily enough, tied as it is to Schumann’s march from Papillons. The high moment, naturally enough, is the Andante maestoso, its descending scale-pattern resonating below a harp cascade. The Waltz of the Snowflakes, with its flute and harp runs, segues into the dream-vision sequence (Scene, Act 2, No. 10), the kingdom over which the Nutcracker-Prince reigns. Chocolate (the Spanish Dance with trumpet) breaks out into a spirited seguidilla, which no sooner ends when the Final Dance leaps forth (Act 2, No. 15).

Happily, The Sleeping Beauty conveys more energy and musical bite, from the outset of the Prologue, whose pageantry and delicate scoring obviously appeal to Fistoulari, who was with the Ballets Russes in Paris, 1937-1940. Harp and trumpets, strings and triangle, oboe and clarinet collaborate well to create the tapestry of enchantment and mystical eroticism that make this score a perennial delight. The flute and glockenspiel conspire a dazzling Good Fairy. The pacing consistently remains at dancers’ tempos, functional but vocalized and often exciting. Disc 2 begins with the four suitors’ calling upon Princess Aurora, the figures indebted to tumblers’ music we know from Glinka, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Smetana. The perennial Garland Waltz moves briskly, the woodwinds lithe. The extensive Grand pas d’action which contains the famed Rose Adagio proves eloquent, a performance of conviction, trumpets, cymbals, and snare drum in full panoply. The end of Act 1 reminds us how much the composer’s own Hamlet--Fantasy Overture owes this richly woven sound, just as the Act 2 Pas traction “borrows” liberally from the slow movement of the E Minor Symphony. And the Panorama--regardless of who performs it--has struck me as the most glorious moment in Tchaikovsky, ever since my first recording of it, by Kostelanetz on an CBS CL-series LP.

Act 3 has its own set of delicious moments, not the least of which is the magnificent Polonaise, my favorite rendition belonging to Svetlanov. The ensuing Grand divertissement allows Tchaikovsky his unequalled gift for musical characterization, like Puss ‘n’ Boots, the Blue Bird, Little Red Riding Hood, and the elegant waltz that forms the Pas de quatre. The Paris Conservatory players are equal to the demands of the score, its colors, its sensitive interplay of timbres--and no small credit to our conductor Fistoulari--herein the first to inscribe the lion’s share of The Sleeping Beauty for the modern sound recording.

--Gary Lemco

 

Published on May 02, 2008

Sensational Toscanini at any price!

Herbert von Karajan conducts opera intermezzi & overtures of HUMPERDINCK, MASCAGNI, OFFENBACH, LEONCAVALLO, DODALY, PUCCINI, STRAUSS, BIZET, MASSENET, MOUSSORGSKY, GRANADOS & VERDI - Philharmonia/Karajan - Opus Kura

SAINT-SAENS: Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 78 “Organ”;
ELGAR: Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36 “Enigma”

- NBC ELSymphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
Opus Kura 7035,  64:08  (Distrib. Albany) ****:

Recorded at a live concert (15 November 1952) and issued as RCA LM 1874, the Toscanini Saint-Saens C Minor Symphony enjoyed much critical acclaim, with the added wish that the audience “might have coughed more often on the beat.” A model of protean architecture that employs the cyclic form, the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony conveys lyricism and pageantry at once, from its opening bars that imitate Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony, to the mighty last movement, where organ, strings, tympani, flute, and pianos (in A and E) converge in grand, Lisztian harmony. This transfer, made from the HMV LP version of the Saint-Saens, proves less shrill than the American pressing, the fidelity now enriched so as to capture Toscanini’s relentless streamlining of the textures. Connoisseurs will savor the rich majesty of the organ in the second movement Poco adagio as well, and the massive rise of the melodic tissue to empyrean heights.

The Elgar Enigma certainly tries to steal the virtuosic thunder from the Saint-Saens, emerging as one of Toscanini’s most happy recordings from Carnegie Hall (10 December 1951). The smooth patina of the melodic line--again taken from HMV sources--its unbroken pulse throughout the variants, mark the performance as Toscanini’s in every bar. The noble filigree dazzles and charms without cloying, as Toscanini emphasizes the cello and bass fiddle lines to maintain the thematic thread. Mischa Mischakof shines in the Andantino “Ysobel” variant, accompanied by viola Carlton Cooley; the holy innocence of Nimrod expands gently out of the prior variant “W.N,” convincing us of its sincerity without Teutonic theatrics. Everywhere we can sense the Old Man exhorting the players, “Cantare!” since the sheer songfulness of the interpretation resonates foremost in this dazzling, eminently repeatable inscription.  Sensational Toscanini at any price!

--Gary Lemco

 

Published on April 29, 2008

For those who do not consider Toscanini a “romantic” conductor, this incendiary
conception willprove a decisive tonic.

Herbert von Karajan conducts opera intermezzi & overtures of HUMPERDINCK, MASCAGNI, OFFENBACH, LEONCAVALLO, DODALY, PUCCINI, STRAUSS, BIZET, MASSENET, MOUSSORGSKY, GRANADOS & VERDI - Philharmonia/Karajan - Opus Kura

R. STRAUSS: Don Quixote, Op. 35;
HAYDN: Symphony No. 92 in G Major “Oxford”
Emanuel Feuermann, cello
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
Opus Kura OPK 7033,  61:20  (Distrib. Albany) *****:

 

The rare Haydn Symphony No. 92 in G under Arturo Toscanini (19 March 1944) appeared several years ago on a Toscanini Society LP, from which this CD incarnation derives.  The opening movement proves true to the Toscanini type of etched Adagio followed by an almost hysterical Allegro spirito, the phrases molded with molten sweetness. The Adagio cantabile wends its haunted oboe solo and string womb of sound in exemplary sound for the period, only a thin shimmer of surface hiss in the patina. Elegant open-work among the woodwinds, then the mock-martial gait that always wants to sing above a thick, drone bass. Bubbling charm from Toscanini in the Menuetto, the tympani quite present, as is the flute--but it is the string attacks which command our undivided admiration. The Trio section displays the French horn section, true, but no less Toscanini’s controlled subito and sforzato, which can restrain the furies or unleash them at will.  The Presto finale hurls Homeric laughter in our faces, a titanic reading as deftly light as it is powerful. If Beethoven himself were leading this movement, the results would have been the same.

The famous broadcast of the second concert of the 1938-1939 NBC Symphony season features the esteemed cellist Emanuel Feuermann (1902-1942), whom Bernard Greenhouse once called “peerless,” and of whom Janos Starker stated, “Modern cello playing begins with him.” The Don Quixote (22 October 1938) enjoys heightened brightness--courtesy of producer Satoru Aihara--in the bass parts, the low winds, contrabassoon, and NBC violas and cellos. Carlton Cooley provides Sancho Panza’s pleas and ironic rebukes, as Cooley did for the RCA commercial release.  The ease of motion through the various, high octaves and registrations required on the solo cello Feuermann negotiates with unsentimental felicity.

Toscanini delivers his part with true “cavalier” character, the sheep bleating in truly noisome fashion, while the Don mistakes them for infidels. The continuity of the variation remains uppermost in Toscanini’ phraseology, notwithstanding the solo cello’s quasi cadenzas and absolutely immaculate cantabile. A gypsy song (to Dulcinea) with guitar-effects and castanets leads to a militant call to arms--and suddenly, the vista opens into a vision of Heaven. The music of the Penitents blares religious and threatening, again leaving the errant Quixote on his posterior, Feuermann’s sweeping cello lament against the French horn and low bassoon. The Ride through the Air, often suggesting what Toscanini might have done with the Alpine Symphony, ends with decisive strokes, pizzicato, from Feuermann, the orchestra string religioso. The last set of three variants moves with ineluctable, fervent energy to the dirge, the passing of Quixote and noble ideals from this world, a timely sentiment for 1938. For those who do not consider Toscanini a “romantic” conductor, this incendiary conception will prove a decisive tonic.                

-- Gary Lemco

 

October, 2007 Audiophile Audition

A stunning tribute to a homogeneous, aesthetic concept that almost defies emotional involvement.

Herbert von Karajan conducts opera intermezzi & overtures of HUMPERDINCK, MASCAGNI, OFFENBACH, LEONCAVALLO, DODALY, PUCCINI, STRAUSS, BIZET, MASSENET, MOUSSORGSKY, GRANADOS & VERDI - Philharmonia/Karajan - Opus Kura

Herbert von Karajan Conducts = 1st Opera Intermezzi plus Overtures = HUMPERDINCK: Overture to Hansel und Gretel; MASCAGNI: Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana; Intermezzo from L’Amico Fritz; LEONCAVALLO: Intermezzo from I Pagliacci; OFFENBACH: Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffmann; KODALY: Intermezzo from Hary Janos; PUCCINI: Intermezzo from Act III, Manon Lescaut; J. STRAUSS: Gypsy Baron Overture; Overture to Der Fledermaus; BIZET: Intermezzo from Carmen; MASSENET: Meditation from Thais; MOUSSORGSKY: Intermezzo from Khovantschina; GRANADOS: Intermezzo from Goyescas; VERDI: La Traviata: Prelude to Act III - Philharmonia Orchestra/ Herbert von KarajanOpus Kura 7032 , 73:51  (Distrib. Albany) ****:

Vintage recordings from EMI 1954-1955 with the immaculate Philharmonia Orchestra of London under Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989).  The level of ensemble and linear realization is never less than polished glass in music, a stunning tribute to a homogeneous, aesthetic concept that almost defies emotional involvement. The ever-amazing Dennis Brain fills in at both French horn as well as providing  the organ obbligato in Mascagni’s vivid intermezzo from Rustic Chivalry. The intermezzo from L’Amico Fritz conveys a dark, declamatory power mixed with unabashed nostalgia. The Hary Janos excerpt, with cimbalom to answer Brain’s horn trills, impresses us with the smoothness of transitions and seamless crescendi; never a ruffle in a Karajan patina. The Verdi intermezzo in hushed motion gradually achieves a contrived, luminous aura that lies somewhere between Toscanini’s poise and De Sabata’s mysticism.

Manoug Parikian, concertmaster, plays the sweet Mediation from Thais with impeccable delicacy over harp and string pedals. The Moussorgsky moment may not exhibit the same dramatic furor Stokowski draws from the score, but the rhythmic give and take from the divided strings and tympani keeps us spellbound. For the elegance of the Philharmonia cello line, try the frenzied Puccini Manon Lescaut Intermezzo and the haunting strains of Granados’ Goyescas, the latter of which allows the Philharmonia brass their moment of shimmering spectacle. Tambourine and oboe flavor the Carmen intermezzo’s habanera rhythm, the upper strings dancing en pointe. The several overtures testify to more streamlined discipline, including ferocious agitation in The Gypsy Baron and fierce execution in the upper woodwinds without losing one Viennese beat.  The opening and closing music, Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, and the Strauss perennial favorite Overture to Der Fledermaus, alternately bespeak a ravishing ingenuousness and a canny sense of propulsion, both of which could define Karajan’s career as well as his capacity to make music efficiently. 

- Gary Lemco

 

July, 2007 Audiophile Audition 

This reading demands a tipped hat, an acknowledgement that a master technician was at work, one who paid fine homage to Tchaikovsky.

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36; Five Excerpts from The Sleeping Beauty Ballet, Op. 66 - Philharmonia Orchestra/ Herbert von Karajan - Opus Kura

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36;
Five Excerpts from The Sleeping Beauty Ballet, Op. 66
- Philharmonia Orchestra/ Herbert von Karajan
Opus Kura OPK 7030, 64:24 (Distrib. Albany) ****:

From what some collectors consider the most personally fertile period in the recording career of Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989), we have two Tchaikovsky inscriptions 1952 (Sleeping Beauty) and 1953 (Symphony) with the responsive Philharmonia Orchestra of London. The five selections from Sleeping Beauty enjoy a combination of excitement and coloristic leisure, although I do wish Karajan had been more expansive for the big waltz. The Panorama sequence, with its evocation of harp and diaphanous strings, possesses an allure I have relished ever since my first impression, from Andre Kostelanetz on an old Columbia CL series LP. The crispness of the Philharmonia players can be heard in the Puss-'n-Boots excerpt, with its incisive string attacks and pointillistic woodwind entries. The grand Rose Adagio exhibits a tenderness we might not associate with the Karajan sound, and listen for the sustained horn punctuations underneath the string trills.

The F Minor Symphony sessions took place between July 4-16, 1953 at Kingsway Hall. This is the first of six inscriptions Karajan made of the F Minor. He constructs a slow, deliberate arch for the opening movement, his model being that of Furtwaengler. Tension lies deep in the string line while the woodwinds cavort high in the orchestral canopy. The fate motif rumbles through with grim determinism via tympani and horns, the bass fiddles palpably active. The first melodic period occurs just at 5:30, and Karajan affords the dreamy tissue the same linear flexibility and caresses Furtwaengler exacted from the Vienna Philharmonic. The more ferocious periods might remind some auditors of Igor Markevitch, given the level of excitement. The coda is a thing of beauty, graduated in warm, clear layers, the horn triplets furioso and the strings rising to a terrific peroration (a la Beethoven's 5th), almost on a par with the great Russians. The Andantino in the mode of a song achieves a thick, fulsome resonance with carefully etched accents. The soft martial quality disarms one's prejudgments of Karajan's stolid solipsism. Wonderfully febrile tension for the pizzicati of the Scherzo, the lines clear and potent. The woodwinds provide a balletic, Mozartean serenade which evolves into a parodic march with high pipes. Great tympani and horn work keeps the Allegro con fuoco moving, not to mention the singular momentum demands of the Russian folksong. Whatever my reservations about Karajan, this reading demands a tipped hat, an acknowledgement that a master technician was at work, one who paid fine homage to Tchaikovsky. The Opus Kura restoration is astonishingly quiet and nuanced.

-- Gary Lemco

 

March, 2007 Audiophile Audition

As magnificently as Brain performs his warm solo in the Tchaikovsky's second movement, Karajan still steals the show.

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64; Nutcracker Suite,. Op. 71a Philharmonia Orchestra/ Herbert von Karajan - Opus Kura

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64;
Nutcracker Suite,. Op. 71a
Philharmonia Orchestra/ Herbert von Karajan
Opus Kura OPK 7029, 72:51 (Distrib. Albany) ***:

Many collectors will agree that some of the best work recorded by Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) occurred during his post-war tenure with EMI's Philharmonia of London, established by producer Walter Legge as a rival to Beecham's Royal Philharmonic. The level of orchestral musicianship was quite superb, and this album wants to feature French horn superstar Dennis Brain (1921-1957) as its drawing card. And as magnificently as Brain performs his warm solo in the Tchaikovsky's second movement, Karajan still steals the show.

The entire concept is eminently balletic; no forced monumentalisms, no overpowering brass tempests. But the steady pulsation, the rhetorical give-and-take within movements, is dazzlingly stylistic; one might, without knowing the conductor, attribute it to Markevitch. Karajan has permitted musical finesse to supplant his penchant for power, and the results are thoroughly musical. This is not to deny the exquisite craftsmanship of the individual Philharmonia choirs, where clarinet, bassoon, and flute each make their respective contributions. Seamless transitions between tempo changes in the last movement, played intact, without the unfortunate cuts that prevent my naming Mengelberg among my al-time favorites. Recorded in 1953, the transfer is delightfully clear of acoustic distractions, the miking pointed, the veneer of sound authentic without that oily gloss that later permeates Karajan's DGG inscriptions. The Nutcracker (1952) is equally charmed, with some quick tempos to accentuate the virtuosity of the piece without its dancers to capture us visually. Certainly this one of the few Tchaikovsky Fifths I have auditioned in recent months that I wish to rehear as soon as possible.                                 -- Gary Lemco

December, 2006 Audiophile Audition

 The conductor is at the peak of his control and musical acumen

BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83; MOZART: Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543 - Edwin Fischer, piano/ Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/ Wilhelm Furtwaengler - Opus Kura

BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83;
MOZART: Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543
Edwin Fischer, piano/ Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

/Wilhelm Furtwaengler
Opus Kura OPK 7018, 75:25 (Distrib. Albany) ****:

Wilhelm Furtwaengler's 1944 Mozart Symphony in E-flat comes from RRG inscriptions (and Melodiya Black Label LPs) made in wartime Berlin; and while the musical values represent the conductor at the peak of his control and musical acumen, there is a degree of solemnity and (moral) resignation that has a palpable presence in Mozart's darkly heroic figures. Furtwaengler (1886-1954) embodied both an aesthetic and an ethical culture in his approach to music, so it is hard to separate out the openly tragic elements of his reading from the world-strife that provides the context of the performance.

The Opus Kura edits and transfers are quite clean, the audience noise diminished, although there some sloughing off of the sound and some stringency in the string sections. After a ferociously driven Adagio--Allegro, the Andante con moto reaches with anguish for some spiritual consolation. The woodwinds generate their own, intensely Masonic sound world. Few bring the emotional aggression to the Minuetto that Furtwaengler explores, a dynamism both fiery and stately, the trio touched by melancholy. The Finale--Allegro has perhaps more Beethoven than Mozart hurling thunderbolts, the tympani and horns and swirling violins barely able to keep discipline. The dance tries to find a smile behind the tears and fury, but I am not sure that the passion does not in fact consume Mozart's grand architecture.

The Brahms Concerto from 8-9 November 1942 features the regal Edwin Fischer (1886-1960) at the keyboard, a spirit kindred with Furtwaengler's Romantic ethos. Sound quality is filtered,  with the surface noise and shatter still intrusive. Commentators have remarked at the radiant quality of Fischer's playing, the fervor of his sotto voce octaves and double notes. Lyrical and dramatic on an epic scale, the performance urges a humanity not necessarily present in the troubled times of its inception. Some gorgeous softly gossamer notes at the recapitulation of the first movement, the dialogue between piano and French horn, supported by plucked strings. Muffled sonics at the opening of the D Minor Allegro appassionato, but the virtuosic nervousness comes through. Something of Chopin in the application of Fischer's touch in the meditative sections? The orchestral carillon shines luminously, nobly grand. The cellist shares the splendors of the Andante, its autumnal song for mankind. The nocturnal episode assumes a haunted stillness. Lovely duet for cello and piano to usher in the diaphanous coda. The last movement, Allegretto grazioso, attempts to infuse old-world charm in the midst of modern sensibilities. The slowing down of the tempo for the restatement proves nostalgically sentimental, and even Fischer's finger slips do not detract from a moment of noblesse oblige in music.                                                -- Gary Lemco

July 2006 Audiophile Audition

WWII-period broadcast recordings by Furtwaengler

BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61; Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60 - Erich Roehn, violin/ Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/
Wilhelm Furtwaengler
Opus Kura OPK 7017, 79:37 (Distrib. Albany ) ****:

For collectors of conductor Wilhelm Furtwaengler (1886-1954), these wartime broadcast performances, 1943-1944, are likely standard, having been issued through DGG some twelve years ago from Melodiya archives. Opus Kura has re-filtered the sources, making for some highly "present" interaction, especially between the fiery concertmaster Erich Roehn and Furtwaengler's massive orchestral accompaniment. The architectural lines are similar to, albeit more Apollinian than, those Furtwaengler would apply in 1953 with his other German soloist, Wolfgang Schneiderhahn. What quite impresses one is the extraordinary discipline of the Berlin Philharmonic, their homogeneity of tone and quick responsiveness to sudden accelerations or decelerations of tempo. Roehn's is a thin, lean, pungently pure violin line, the intonation accurate and fluent. Furtwaengler's tympanist surely insists on being heard. [That may just be the result of the restoration engineer preferring plenty of bass!...Ed.] Roehn plays the Kreisler cadenza. Furtwaengler's penchant for slow, deliberate tempos and clear articulation of the wind filigree figures elegantly in the G Major theme and variations. Roehn applies a more rasping tone for the Rondo, and the tympani responds by resounding at the cadences. The collaboration retains a light hand; nevertheless, the dancing figures are always both exalted and explosive. A great performance from Europe 's tormented past.

Furtwaengler's approach to the B-flat Symphony (1943) is as dark as is Toscanini's commercial release. Despite the almost morbidly mysterious breadth Furtwaengler gives the opening of the first movement, he does not take the repeat. When the Allegro cuts loose, it laughs but does not smile. The secondary theme Furtwaengler takes pesant, but it builds to a terrific, cumulative energy. Flute and bassoon integrate well with tragic strings. The Adagio could be a lament for Germany , and for all Mankind. The string line approaches the Ninth Symphony at several moments. Some tubby sound in the Allegro vivace, but in no way does it dispel the often hair-raising, ferocious effect. Furtwaengler molds the trio material with care, making of it another portentous vision: Beethoven the forerunner of Bruckner. More thunderbolts for the Allegro ma non troppo finale. The bassoon is muffled but audible. The titanic momentum of the playing is what mesmerizes one, an unleashing of punishing energy. Furtwaengler may have been the Biblical Nathan in another life, a prophet beckoning divine fire on a sinful nation. Potent even after 60 years.

Opus Kura 's liner notes are strictly in Japanese, with no discernible recording data.

-- Gary Lemco

January 2006 Audiophile Audition

Tragic, emotional readings by Furtwaengler and Gieseking, recorded in Germany during WW II

CHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98 - Walter Gieseking, piano/ Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/ Wilhelm Furtwaengler
Opus Kura 7012, 70:53 (Distrib. Albany ) ****:

These recordings from the RRG archives made 1942/1943 are part of the collection of tapes restored by the Soviets after they had been confiscated in 1945.  The Schumann Concerto, recorded live 1942, has been available via DGG on their series of Wilhelm Furtwaengler archival materials. Members of the Wilhelm Furtwaengler Society and collectors can verify the dates for these inscriptions, whose sound by the way, is quite strong for the period.  The oboe part in the Allegro affections of the Schumann Concerto shines quite distinctly, and except for a constant, low surface crackle, the acoustical qualities of Gieseking's solo are clear and balanced. The Japanese have made some pitch adjustments, but there are still some muddy passages in the first movement development and cadenza sections.  The Intermezzo has enough orchestral girth to make the effect Brahmsian, a symphonic movement with piano obbligato.  The Allegro vivace is one of Schumann's skittish maerchen: half march, half fairy-tale. Gieseking can play speedy, non-legato passagework like few others for diaphanous sound.

From the opening cadences of the Brahms E Minor Symphony, we are thrust into a tragic maelstrom, in which the Berlin Philharmonic strings shriek for mercy. The pizzicati all but pluck your eyes out. It is a sad fact that Furtwaengler achieved much of his finest work in the throes of the cultural mayhem of WW II Germany.  The Berlin Philharmonic is so acutely fine-tuned to their conductor's slightest gesture, the music becomes almost expressionistic. Basses and tympani writhe in fever pitch, and we won't hear the like until Kondrashin leads the Shostakovich Baba Yar; or, if you care to audition Furtwaengler's Beethoven Ninth from the same period [Sampled on the Great Conductors of the Third Reich DVD which we reviewed..Ed.] .  The hysteria in this performance tries to make the classicism and demand for order in Brahms a bastion against moral apocalypse. Absolutely riveting musicianship, but not for the faint of heart. This time, Opus Kura doesn't bother to provide any English equivalent in their liner notes.

-- Gary Lemco   

September 2005 Audiophile Audition

1952 Remington recordings of Enesco late in his life

BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 “Kreutzer;”
SCHUMANN: Violin Sonata No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 121; MENDELSSOHN:
Andante from Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64 - Georges Enesco,
violin/ Celiny
Chailley-Richez, piano
Opus Kura OPK 7009  68:50 (Distrib. Albany ) ****:

In a conversation with cellist Janos Starker in Atlanta , I asked him whom he considered the greatest musicians. “If you ask me whom I love to read as music, whose scores are to me the most satisfying, I say Brahms. If you ask me who the most well-rounded of musicians was, I say Enesco.” Remembered as both a fine, Roumanian composer and a pedagogue whose influence was most keenly felt by violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin, Georges Enesco (1881-1955) embodied the Romantic tradition in music, which included more than a healthy veneration for the polyphony of J.S. Bach. Most of Enesco's vintage recordings as a violin soloist date from 1926-1929; so these inscriptions from 1952 sessions for Don Gabor's pioneer Remington label cannot stand as testaments to great technique. But they do serve to demonstrate that superior musicianship can transcend even faulty technical skills, as the late recordings of pianist Alfred Cortot prove too often.

To listen to Enesco's Kreutzer Sonata, it might be more appropriate to read Tolstoy's short novel about destructive passions than to scan your Eulenberg Edition of Beethoven's score. Both audiophiles and musical purists will rail at the finger slips and periodic, screeching or wobbling tone Enesco executes, but the musical sincerity and subtle application of tempo rubato recall the eulogy accorded Cortot: even his errors were those of a musical god. Often, the rough edges to the interpretation appear deliberate, consonant with a tradition we find likewise in the playing of Hubermann.  The Schumann D Minor Sonata, often breathless, convulsive, and obsessive in its writing, receives an edgy, passionate performance. There too we have faulty technique and inconsistent intonation, a whining, plaintive vocalization of the melodic line. But Enesco's commitment to the score permeates every page, and Chailley-Richez' keyboard work is exemplary. The Mendelssohn excerpt from the E Minor Concerto is a document unto itself. Clearly taken from 78 rpm acetates, the performance has Enesco in better form, with an outstandingly resonant flute tone and wonderful application of vibrato and double-stopping. Rhythmically indulgent, the rendition has an unnamed conductor and ensemble who seem sympathetic to a thoroughly romantic sensibility. Noble and aristocratic on its own terms, the Enesco experience soon justifies itself to even the musical philistine.

--Gary Lemco

 


Opus KURA Hino, Tokyo, JAPAN