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Audiophile Audition SP

Review

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

Published on August 11, 2009

Enescu can still laugh at his own esoteric sources and make great music besides.

Willem Mengelberg Conducts = BEETHOVEN: Prometheus Overture, Op. 43; LISZT: Les Preludes; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major; MAHLER: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor - Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/ Willem Mengelberg - Opus Kura

Georges Enescu: The Columbia Recordings
CHAUSSON: Poeme, Op. 25;
CORELLI: Sonata in D Minor, Op. 5, No. 12 “La Folia”;
PUGNANI: Largo from Sonata No. 3;
HANDEL: Sonata in D Major, Op. 1, No. 13;
ENESCU: Violin Sonata No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 25 –
Georges Enescu, violin/Sanford Schlussel, piano
Celiny Chailley-Richez, piano
Opus Kura OPK 2086, 68:56 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

In conversation with cellist Janos Starker some years ago, I asked him which musicians consistently proved most gratifying to him. Starker replied, “If you ask me which composer I most enjoy ‘reading through,’ then I say Brahms. But if you ask me which musician was the ‘most complete,’ then I say Enescu.” Georges Enescu (1881-1955) seems to have fulfilled the entire vocation of an active Romanian musician, and his violin artistry still speaks volumes to a style that influenced a whole generation of colleagues, among whom Ida Haendel still represents an active advocacy. Enescu began cutting acoustic records in 1924 for Columbia, but many would argue that he hit his mature stride in 1929, when he made several of the items included in this Opus Kura restoration.

Enescu opens with a legendary inscription of Chausson’s Poeme, a piece that exploits his generous warm tone, bowed articulation, and a Franco-Belgian approach to vibrato and flexible rhythm. The swelling in the musical line accrues a sense of devotional majesty hard to convey in words. More of a philosopher than a ‘mere’ musician, Enescu’s studied application of technique and poignant phraseology always has a quality of thoughtful pondering on the works he loves. Despite the ravages of time, the old shellacs virtually smolder with magical incense.  Likewise, the La Folia Variations allow Enescu and pianist Schlussel to transform an academic set of variations into an exquisite procession of aerial and compassionate variety. The Pugnani Largo makes a fine lyric, a song without words in tender, stately figures. But what Enescu thought was a second Pugnani piece, a Tempo di minuetto, turns out to be one of those Fritz Kreisler forgeries in an antique style. Its supple trills, mock-martial rhythm, security of line, and noblesse of expression capture the spirit of the age regardless of authorship.

For mastery in legato playing, go directly to the Handel Sonata in D, a long-time favorite of violinists like Nathan Milstein, who played it with more objective sang-froid. Enescu squeezes every emotional nuance from the Adagio’s opening line, more than twenty violinists could extract from the entire piece. His vibrato and arched phrasing, the nuanced inflection in the rhythm, each contributes to a musically gratifying experience, regardless of the historical “authenticity” of edition or style. The ensuing Allegro, played a tad marcato, enjoys a lovely patina, a charming smoothness of delivery, especially when the cantilena breaks forth. A piquant Larghetto, a chorale really, leads to an enchanting French gigue, Allegro, with suave trills and feathery upper notes - a charmer for posterity.

For his own Sonata No. 3 in A Minor (1926), “In the Romanian Mode,” Enescu has as his accompanist Celiny Chailley-Richez (1884-1973), a former classmate from the Paris Conservatory.  Producer Satoru Aihara indicates only “LP private recording c. 1950” on his label as documentation; I cannot ascertain if this were the Remington label’s contribution to the Enescu legacy, that Don Gabor company which successfully competed with the majors for a few precious years.  While his technique is not quite so exact as it had been twenty years prior, Enescu manages a stylistic tour de force, his gypsy heritage instinctive and musically alert on every page.  Despite the fiery whirling elements in the writing, Enescu’s approach remains classic, chaste, directly on point. The obvious mutual affection of the partners rings authentically in every bar. Listen to the dazzling ‘special effects’ in slides, double stops, sustained fullness of tone, and harmonics in the second movement, Andante sostenuto e misterioso, and ask yourself if the old man’s powers are diminished. In the last movement, we become more than ever aware of the Eastern influence in the piece, the attempt to achieve microtones and ‘shruti” as though the piece followed the logic of an Indian raga system. The whistles and slides that infest the movement reflect the persistent gypsy approach to all this “academia,” that Enescu can still laugh at his own esoteric sources and make great music besides.    

-- Gary Lemco

Published on August 02, 2009

The D Major Symphony remains significant for the composer’s conscious attempt to ingratiate the Viennese audience at its premier with his successful assimilation of (Germanic) sonata-forractice.

Willem Mengelberg Conducts = BEETHOVEN: Prometheus Overture, Op. 43; LISZT: Les Preludes; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major; MAHLER: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor - Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/ Willem Mengelberg - Opus Kura

DVORAK:
Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Op. 60;
Slavonic Dances, Op. 72
- Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/ Vaclav Talich
Opus Kura OPK 2084, 75:21 [Distrib. by Albany] ****:

When I received the Opus Kura copy of the Dvorak D Major Symphony and Op. 72 Slavonic Dances (rec. 1935), I admit to having a certain consternation, given the recent Talich Edition from Supraphon, which included all the commercial inscriptions made by this great Czech conductor. Talich (1883-1961), unfortunately, never recorded the D Major Symphony for the modern sound era during his brief Indian summer period, 1951-1956.  Moreover, when it comes to the D Major Symphony (old No. 1), I would have preferred that Opus Kura revive the CBS inscription by Erich Leinsdorf and the Cleveland Orchestra, one of a number of now-elusive recordings made by Leinsdorf during his tenure in Cleveland, not to mention those made in Rochester.

So, when I expressed my surprise to Mr. Aihara of Opus Kura, this was his reply:

I understand your shock. When I prepared these recordings, Supraphon started their Talich edition. [So] I had to postponed issuing them. Now King international (distributor of Supraphon) said sales of the Talich Edition had almost stopped, and I issued them to complete our Talich in 78s. Since I am interested in the recordings worth repeated listening, duplication is unavoidable, particularly like Talich edition, and Naxos (they do issue so many titles, probably Obert-Thorn) has a lot of time to transfer. However, Naxos and many small labels seem to delete after rather short availability.

Well, there we are. The D Major Symphony (1880) remains significant, not only for its typical wealth of melodies, but for the composer’s conscious attempt to ingratiate the Viennese audience at its premier with his successful assimilation of (Germanic) sonata-form practice. Its strong Bohemian nature likely influenced Talich to record it at the time in England, especially given Czechoslovakia’s delicate political condition at the time, when sympathetic ears and voices on the international scene might have altered his country’s tragic fate. The approach in the first is bold and heroic--allusions to the Beethoven Eroica Symphony--especially in those passages Dvorak indicates ‘pesante” so to increase the martial effect. The secondary theme in B minor/Major sings with those inner voicings and cross-rhythms at which the composer and Talich, his prime interpreter, excel. The tendency to underline the tonic-dominant stresses jumps at us in canon in the coda, a vehement energy both channeled and clarified in all parts by the impeccable Talich.

The divine B-flat Major Adagio takes its cues from Brahms, especially as it combines aspects of rondo and intermezzo. Woodwinds command our attention consistently, aligning the piece emotionally with the Op. 44 Serenade. When Talich slows the progress down, we can savor the rise of a fourth degree that ties much of the entire symphony together. The transition to B-flat Minor seems to borrow aspects of Wagner in the chromatic instability and texture; but the transition back to the low string statement of the melody in counterpoint is Brahms countrified by this amazing fellow from Bohemia. French horns, oboe, and flute receive my full credit, even if the recording keeps the principals anonymous.  The movement from B-flat to D Major may well point to Beethoven as to the Brahms D Major Symphony as an influence; certainly, Talich elevates the emotional tenor of the central Adagio movement to a status befitting Beethoven.  The D Minor Furiant is all Czech passion (from the song “Sedlak, sedlak“), but taking the Brahms penchant for hemiola--rhythmic alterations to make triple time duple--to intensify the nervous excitement. The CPO strings, courtesy of Talich, project that yearning, searing intensity that counters the horns’ pomposo exclamations. The middle section, in a secure ¾ and D Major/F Major, offers a lovely piccolo solo over warm (often pizzicato) strings and oboe. Fabulous execution in the wild coda’s stretti brings this movement to a close. The last movement--homage to the Brahms Second Symphony--uses the upward fourth to introduce several swaggering playful bucolic themes that Talich balances with rhythmic propulsion and glowing finesse. Wonderful clarity reigns in the often intricate manipulation--and reversal--of the themes in the development, until a grand peroration emerges then segues into more woodwind riffs, the resonant string pedal taking us to the recapitulation and a thrilling coda. That Talich did not record From the New World at this period--it was assigned to Szell and the CPO--is a mystery to me.

From the opening B Major Odzemek that opens the Op. 72 set of Slavonic Dances (1886), we enter a rarified frenzied world of Bohemian rhythms and yearnings. The E Minor Starodavny ingratiates itself to our common nostalgia, as did to Fritz Kreisler. My own predilection is for the D-flat Dumka, a multi-layered song that becomes an immense hymn, an ode to joy. No less exalted and intense is the B-flat Minor Spacirka, whose secondary tune whirls in kaleidoscopic splendor. The No. 7 in C Major, a Serbian Kolo, cuts all the bonds as under Prometheus unbound. I recall seeing it done with Wihans and the CPO in Atlanta on tour. The A-flat Major, a Sousedska, invokes a world of bygone memories, including the cuckoo, to fuse forever our pantheism with scenes of childhood. 

-- Gary Lemco

 

Published on July 19, 2009

These recordings capture Thibaud primarily in the concert hall, where he could easily mesmerize audiences with his especial sound.

Willem Mengelberg Conducts = BEETHOVEN: Prometheus Overture, Op. 43; LISZT: Les Preludes; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major; MAHLER: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor - Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/ Willem Mengelberg - Opus Kura

Jacques Thibaud plays French Music =
LALO: Symphonie Espagnole in D Minor, Op. 21; CHAUSSON: Poeme, Op. 25; SAINT-SAENS: Havanaise in E Major, Op. 83; Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor, Op. 28   - Jacques Thibaud. Violin/
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/ Ernest Ansermet (Lalo)/
Lamoureux Orchestra/Eugene Bigot (Chausson)/
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Monteux (Havanaise)/
Tasso Janopoulo, piano (Intro)
Opus Kura 2082, 64:11 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

From Opus Kura a selection of French violin works performed by master Jacques Thibaud (1880-1953), robbed from us by a plane crash as he was en route to Japan--with a stopover in Saigon--when his aircraft collided with Mount Cemet near Nice. Along with the lives of the other 46 passengers, the world also lost Thibaud’s gorgeous 1720 Stradivarius. The recordings, 1939-1947, capture Thibaud primarily in the concert hall, where he could easily mesmerize audiences with his especial sound. The Saint-Saens Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, from 1939, was recorded by a London enthusiast from a Paris air check and survived as an extended-play 78 rpm.

Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole (in the four-movement suite) provided a Thibaud staple: five versions exist, in relative degrees of preservation: we have here the 1941 collaboration with Ernest Ansermet. Collectors may know the 1947 Lalo with Stokowski; there is a 1953 reading with Martinon; and the rarest, in poorest shape: a 1951 realization with Atualfo Argenta. Tahra offers--as a supplement to the present set--a Lalo from March 1951 with Winfried Zillig (TAH 499/500). We note immediately the purity of Thibaud’s attacks, his idiomatic Spanish sympathy, feathery pizzicati in the left hand, his open-string work and occasional harmonics. His reedy, nasal tone well resembles that of Szigeti, but Thibaud’s enjoys better digital security. A “weeping” quality suffuses Thibaud’s sound, a quality I can hear in young Menuhin. Thibaud’s vibrato is fast and tight, especially on the G string; his bowing is light, easy, fluent. Elegant and poetic, the Thibaud style projects a sense of tragedy: the Fall of France and the death of his soldier son never left him. In the secondary tune of the whiplash Scherzo (Allegro molto), we can hear that touch of sadness for a by-gone age. Short, breathed phrases mark the Andante, an intimate dirge of unaffected power. The last movement conveys a drive and an incendiary set of attacks that rivet us to the festive, even wild figurations. We are barely aware the performance is live until the audience shrieks with pleasure.

The Chausson Poeme has had many fine realizations, from Heifetz to Perlman, Neveu to Milstein. Collectors may know that a Kreisler version with Dr. Frank Black exists. Thibaud made this work, after Ysaye and Enescu, very much his own romantic vehicle. His ability to alter his vibrato makes the performance mandatory auditioning; just listen to his B-flat entry. Bigot (rec. 1947), too often a lackluster interpreter for me, here provides a measure of quiet mystery that suits Thibaud perfectly. The cadenza passages suggest elements from Paganini and Ysaye. The tympani part sounds distant, but the rising period--in the manner of a sea-borne fantasia--walks on a tightrope, given Thibaud’s long thin melodic line. Some surface wear intrudes into the middle of the restoration, but the fine threads of the performance maintain their luster, an almost religious intensity.

Thibaud joins his old (viola) classmate Pierre Monteux for the suave Havanaise from 1947 San Francisco. Thibaud’s tone is less secure here, likely the result of his slack approach to practice. But the basic Cuban sultriness is there, along with several explosive moments as violin and orchestra cascade to the secondary tune. The last pages must have been played on fireproof instruments, since rarely have I heard the Havanaise smolder. The interplay of violin and tympani beats at the coda is exquisitely charming.

Finally, the Introduction et Rondo capriccioso of Saint-Saens, the great bravura piece for everyone from Stern to Francescatti, Oistrakh to Rabin. In appalling condition, the salvaged 78 rpm yet delivers authentic Thibaud - light, pert, witty, and eminently secure in his (20 March 1939) trills, double stops, and shifts in registration. Thibaud’s rubato pays the price of admission. The ascription of the piano part to Tanno Janopoulo may be apocryphal, but the pianist--despite the distance and lack of sonorous definition--stays right with Thibaud and responds to every ritard, every long-held note.  Beautiful slides from Thibaud, and the peroration to the coda--stolen from the Mendelssohn Concerto--projects a poise and stamina that defy easy categorization. A splendid document, if not always the “perfect” restoration.

-- Gary Lemco

Published on July 03, 2009

Another re-processing of Willem Mengelberg’s classic 1928 rendition of the Strauss autobiographical tone-poem Ein Heldenleben with the New York Philharmonic, just recently issued (2007) by Pristine Audio.

Willem Mengelberg Conducts = BEETHOVEN: Prometheus Overture, Op. 43; LISZT: Les Preludes; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major; MAHLER: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor - Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/ Willem Mengelberg - Opus Kura

Willem Mengelberg Conducts =
J.C. BACH: Sinfonia in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 2;
RAVEL: Bolero;
R. STRAUSS: Ein Heldenleben - Scipione Guidi, violin (Strauss)/
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/
Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam (Ravel)/
Willem Mengelberg, conductor
Opus Kura OPK 2076, 66:07 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Yet another re-processing of Willem Mengelberg’s classic 1928 rendition of the Strauss autobiographical tone-poem Ein Heldenleben with the New York Philharmonic, just recently issued (2007) by Pristine Audio. Opus Kura provides more music, supplementing the Strauss attempt to represent his ego via Beethoven’s heroic E-flat Symphony with music by J.C. Bach (1929) and Ravel (1930). These New York Philharmonic inscriptions by the Dutch megalomaniac have been available prior, via the Pearl label.

The relatively quiet remastering of the J.C. Bach reveals a tender side to the Mengelberg persona, usually one of inflated, charismatic grandeur. The lovely middle movement, a veritable oboe concerto in a spirit akin to Gluck, enjoys an intimacy rare in any Mengelberg recording I know. The last movement makes a charming precursor to Haydn and Mozart, pre-classically graceful and blithe. Excellent sonorities from the New York Philharmonic basses and celli to augment a luscious, vibrant upper string ensemble.

The Bolero suffers more surface noise than the Bach, but the technique of an inexorable crescendo suits the Mengelberg taste for massive sound wonderfully. Some speed and pitch variation in the original masters dictate against proclaiming this transfer definitive, but the visceral excitement of an unfolding “experiment” in what Ravel called “musical tissue without substance” remains eminently exciting. Snare, harp, oboe and the multifarious colors that contribute to the cumulative effect of this ever-popular spectacle shine forth in clear, idiomatic tones, the brass particularly piercing in the nasal, Francophile tradition. The patient, relentless momentum does take us over, and we wish Maya Plisetskaya had been alive to have danced with such a convinced, orchestral partner.

No big news anymore that Strauss dedicated Ein Heldenleben to Mengelberg, both men devotees to their common idol, Mahler. I can well remember when the RCA Camden LP of this 1928 performance brought much money from rabid collectors. And for good reason: even beyond his later, 1940 reading of the score with Ferdinand Helman at the first violin part, this interpretation conveys spontaneity, aggression, scope, and spirited vitality on a thoroughly unique plateau. It, too, awes and charms us by the variations in orchestral scale, which, I confess, often do plummet the mysteries of intimacy, as well as of heaven-storming to match Shelley’s ego in “Ode to the West Wind”: Strauss, too, falls upon the thorns of life and bleeds for forty inflamed minutes. The episodic confrontations with ridicule, love, support, mortality, and finally spiritual acceptance, culminate in strong allusions, even quotations, from Beethoven’s Eroica. The romantic style of performance, rife with slides, rhetorical fermatae, rubati, somehow coalesce in that magical brew we call orchestral magic. Not to be missed in whatever CD format you choose, this instantiation as good as any.  Why does no one credit concertmaster Guidi these days?  

--Gary Lemco

 

Published on July 04, 2008

Transferred from the 78rpm shellac sources rather than from the tape originals, as has been EMI’s wont

Willem Mengelberg Conducts = BEETHOVEN: Prometheus Overture, Op. 43; LISZT: Les Preludes; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major; MAHLER: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor - Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/ Willem Mengelberg - Opus Kura

Wilhelm Furtwangler Conducts = BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92; J. STRAUSS: Emperor Waltz; WEBER: Oberon Overture; MENDELSSOHN: Fingal’s Cave Overture, Op. 36; WAGNER: Die Meistersinger: Prelude, Act I - Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwaengle
Opus Kura OPK 2068, 77:48 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

More, even much-trod Furtwaengler postwar materials, 1949-1950, for which Opus Kura has decided to transfer the 78rpm shellac sources rather than transcribe the tape originals, as has been EMI’s wont. The clarity of articulation of the Vienna Philharmonic--which generally, as Furtwangler’s “mistress” orchestra, sounds studied and less driven than his musical “wife,” the Berlin Philharmonic--emerges despite the obvious, persistent hiss in the shellacs. Engineer Satoru Aihara claims to have used a different take of the last side of the 1950 Oberon Overture, which does provide a mighty vision of Shakespeare’s fairy king.

The woodwind playing in the latter part of the Beethoven first movement, over a tympanic ostinato, proves quite lulling, almost bucolic. The sheen of the VPO strings, along with the ubiquitous oboe, quite compel our respect for Furtwaengler’s decidedly Apollinian interpretation of this “dance symphony.” Not so manic as his 1943 and 1953 performance with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the reading enjoys weight, flexibility, and a definite swagger of confidence. Typical of Furtwaengler, the Allegretto receives a mysterious aura of tragedy, the soft pianissimi graduated most palpably. The serpentine cello line seems to emerge from the Abyss, a version of Bach’s Cantata No. 4. That this sad elegy could become contrapuntal chamber music impresses itself on our consciousness, only a step away from Schubert’s slow movement from Death and the Maiden. The trio and its subsequent canon proceed as delicately as any clavichord performance of a Bach chorale prelude, only for the martial theme to plunge us once more into the breach. A substantial, hefty approach to the Presto, with a much-extended, monumental trio section, suspended in anxious space. The last movement exhibits a bit of stiffness, but the scale and intensity of the forward, cascading, driven figures never wavers, and Furtwaengler carefully molds the string accents. The crescendos are worlds unto to themselves - punching and swirling at once. The cumulative force of the peroration quite takes one's breath away, a rush of sustained energy.

I have always retained a special affection for Furtwaengler’s Emperor Waltz (1950). Some call it unsentimental, but I feel a restrained fervor and grandly imperial spirit traverses this reading, which often evinces a tragic nuance of a lost, humanitarian age, “of begowned thighs and piercing mustache.” The 78s' hiss conspicuously absent, the music alternately urges forward and retreats in silken sonorities, the phrase endings lilting romantic yearning. The mystery at the conclusion--the entrance of The Emperor himself, perhaps--makes us forget that majesty too often descended into tyranny.  Oberon drips with the Romantic preoccupation with woodland naiads and transcendent spirits. The VPO string line, when it sits still, could be a pellucid lake in Coleridge’s Xanadu. The two 1949 readings--of Mendelssohn and Wagner--could be mirror images of each other, testifying as they do the composers’ contrapuntal mastery and the sheer, fluid tensile strength of their orchestral, balanced parts. The 1949 Mendelssohn had been familiar to me via a French Pathe LP transfer. The shellacs are noisy, but the elastic delineation of the watery venue, the flying birds, and the clashing forces of nature quite mesmerizes. Only Mitropoulos for me has more potently delivered me to the Hebrides. The 1949 Wagner Meistersinger Prelude has been and continues to be much heralded; there are alternate takes that Testament and Music & Arts have bequeathed us. Meistersinger enjoys a pageantry quite in keeping with its aura of the Medieval guilds, the brotherhood of work, the celebration of song. Furtwaengler’s transitions remain marvels of their kind, the rhythmic and dynamic shifts already prepared by the graduated accents in the bass harmonies. Shellac hiss notwithstanding, the inscription manages a white heat within the restrained periods of contrapuntally buoyant motion.            

--Gary Lemco

Published on June 18, 2008

Amazing that we can listen to an important interpretation such as this which was recorded almost 80 years ago! Willem Mengelberg Conducts = BEETHOVEN: Prometheus Overture, Op. 43; LISZT: Les Preludes; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major; MAHLER: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor - Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/ Willem Mengelberg - Opus Kura

SMETANA: Ma Vlast (My Fatherland)
- Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Vaclav Talich
Opus Kura OPK 2075, 78:15 (Distrib. Albany) ****:

Recorded in 1929 for HMV, this cycle of Smetana’s national epic Ma Vlast was the first inscription for Vaclav Talich (1883-1961), a conductor whose uncompromising, patriotic fervor impelled him to lead this work in the face of fascist oppression during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia.  Though transcriptions of the 78s have been offered by Koch and Supraphon (as part of the extensive Talich Edition), Opus Kura has re-edited the originals to make the performance more familiar to the Japanese historic-collector market. There are points of varying dynamic-range quality, even as soon as four minutes into Vysehrad, and some slurring of the texture at eight minutes.  Talich’s is a transitional style, employing romantic “slides” and emphatic dynamic pressure at phrase endings, yet he is a modernist in the manner of both Nikisch and Toscanini, driving his rhythms hard and unfolding phrases without any “intrusive” personality.

What impresses most about traversing all six tone-poems of the cycle must be the directness and sincerity of expression, the nobility of the dramatic line. We begin with the national bard, Lumir, plying his lyre and invoking the Muses to bestow on his themes epic themes and heroic journeys, all of which pertain to the national character of his native land. By the time the Vltava (the Moldau) rushes past The High Castle of Vysehrad, we have become enamored of the natural and supernatural powers imbued in the rich Czech soil.  The elegant marcato that Talich adds to the village wedding-dance as the river passes by dissipates into the almost static nocturne that describes light and shadow on the water’s surface. The Amazon fiend, Sarka, opens hysterically; then, in a rather stately fashion, the sweeping music proceeds with the narrative of knights unknowingly riding to their own slaughter. Strong clarinet work leads to several, powerful exclamations that will later erupt, first into melos then into savage frenzy. From Bohemia’s Meadows and Forests rushes at us, a huge paean to Nature, pure Wordsworth and Thoreau. The flutes chirp and sing; then, a vivid fugal section from which another, virile hymn will emerge. Delicate and potent at once, the inscription testifies to a wonderful color-discipline Talich built into this ensemble, a rival with Stokowski’s work in Philadelphia. The last two sections, Tabor and Blanik, exploit the Hussite motto that forms a huge part of this music’s ethos; they, too, eventually dovetail into motifs we have had earlier, heroically embracing the monumental High Castle. Despite the ceaseless crackle and swish of the pressings, I enjoyed this incarnation of Talich’s Smetana cycle; but then, I yield to every temptation to hear this marvelous conductor.

-- Gary Lemco

Published on May 11, 2008

Mengelberg’s was a musical kingdom answerable only to himself. Wickedly compelling!

Willem Mengelberg Conducts = BEETHOVEN: Prometheus Overture, Op. 43; LISZT: Les Preludes; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major; MAHLER: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor - Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/ Willem Mengelberg - Opus Kura

Willem Mengelberg / Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam
GLUCK: Alceste Overture;
SCHUBERT: Rosamunde Overture;
Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D. 944 “The Great”

Opus Kura OPK 2071,  68:19  (Distrib. Albany) ****:

More clean, polished transfers from the legacy of virtuoso conductor Willem Mengelberg (1871-1951), who led his Concertgebouw Orchestra for 50 years - 1895-1945.  The Alceste Overture as arranged by Felix Mottl (rec. 24 June 1935) for English Decca derives from a relatively lean period in Mengelberg’s recording career, in which his only other inscription was the Bach Concerto in D Minor for 2 Violins.  While this spare, dramatically tense piece had a brief CD life on Koch, this Opus Kura edition opens up the lower strings’ resonance to decided advantage. The 20 November 1938 reading of the Schubert Rosamunde Overture provides one of Mengelberg’s earliest inscriptions for the German Telefunken, which was quick to initiate a series of recordings with the Dutch maestro.  Athletic, driven, and poised for every variegated nuance, the Overture contains many of the same energies and motifs we find in the C Major Symphony, several signature rhythms and harmonic shifts, all of which emerge in buoyant, sinewy style under Mengelberg’s uncompromising tensions.

The Ninth Symphony from November 1942 testifies to Mengelberg’s eminently vocal style of performance, a moving, flexible line that constantly accommodates the individual parts to a flowing, evolving sense of synthesis. The colossal scale of the work finds a balance in the silken legato of the string line and the Herculean projection of the woodwinds and brass.  The outer two movements move with such steady velocity that we are tempted to think of a classically-trained volcano. Frenetic cross-rhythms compete with solo instruments for dominance, and everybody wins. Curiously, there are few moments where Mengelberg’s penchant for exaggerated rhythmic distortion seizes hegemony: a bit of a ritard in the final statement of the main theme, first movement; a bit of ritard in the opening statement of the Scherzo theme. But for the final Allegro moderato, there evolves a momentum that is both joyful and undeniable. You either dance to Mengelberg’s tune or you go elsewhere. Conviction, brilliant execution, musically idiomatic, fleet rendering--Mengelberg’s was a musical kingdom answerable only to himself. Wickedly compelling!

- -Gary Lemco

 

Published on March 12, 2008

Voluptuously volatile performances 1929-1954 under the baton of Arturo Toscanini, famed for his brisk, transparent elegance in Italian music.

Willem Mengelberg Conducts = BEETHOVEN: Prometheus Overture, Op. 43; LISZT: Les Preludes; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major; MAHLER: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor - Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/ Willem Mengelberg - Opus Kura

ROSSINI: Overtures, L’Italiana in Algeri; Semiramide; The Barber of  Seville; The Silken Ladder; Sonata No. 3 for Strings;
VIVALDI: Concerto Grosso, Op. 3, No. 11
- New York Philharmonic Orchestra/ BBC Symphony Orchestra (Scala di Seta)/ NBC Symphony (String Symphony; Vivaldi)/ Arturo Toscanini
 Opus Kura OPK 2059,  61:42 (Not Distr. in the U.S.) ****:

Voluptuously volatile performances 1929-1954 under the baton of Arturo Toscanini (1867-1954), famed for his brisk, transparent elegance in Italian music. The overtures of "Senior Crescendo" Giacchino Rossini, always elicit from Toscanini masterful control over the orchestral palette, the fine tuned nuances among the strings themselves as well as the molded phrases from the woodwinds, horns, and tympani. The earliest inscription, Il Barbieri di Siviglia from 1929 with the New York Philharmonic, surges right through any sonic deficiencies of the acetates right into the thermosphere. The string and wind articulations prove both lucid and needle sharp, the singing line straight as an arrow from Ulysses’ bow. Semiramide (1936, NYPH) stands in a class by itself for sheer orchestral bravura, especially at a time when Mengelberg egotistically boasted of his prowess with the Concertgebouw.

The opening flourish of La Scala di Seta with the BBC (1938) and its subsequent flute, bassoon, oboe, and horn parts sounds like a transposed Mozart divertimento; that is, until the plucked strings and new tempo transform the music into Bellini’s Oboe Concerto, then a sea of jabbing, happy scherzi. Only Beecham and his London Philharmonic can rival the whiplash exactness of this kind of musical display. A bit of an unhappy splice for the second side of this piece does little to dispel the aural magic Toscanini conjures up, the weighty tumult of the bass line which supports a dazzling array of treble colors.

The Rossini Sonata No. 3 with the NBC Symphony (1952) may well be the sleeper on this disc that manages to steal the berries. The suppleness of Toscanini’s legato line could butter the sides of any harmonic labyrinth. Rossini here takes several pages from Mozart’s Divertimenti, K. 136-138, adding his own, light figurations to a charmed alchemy that the NBC strings negotiate with sturdy elan. The audience outburst is cut from the disc, but we can still feel the electric sparks Toscanini bestowed them. The Vivaldi Concerto Grosso (1954) is the same favored by Koussevitzky, here rendered with a strong contrast between ripieno and concertino strings, the tug of war a thoroughly deft contest of harmony and invention. The long lines in the minor hint at several moments to Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Vivaldi’s own Adagio floats from on high, a fine example of the diaphanous tone Toscanini could evoke when his players felt the call. Old-style ensemble for the finale, the concertino in luxurious contrast with the play of the waves of tutti sound, alternating back and forth in dynamic tension the likes of which we rarely hear today.  Still stunning musicianship even after 50 years - Seek it out!                

-- Gary Lemco

 

Published on January 07, 2008

The recording sheds its 60 years with the first onslaught of sound! Required listening for aficianados and students of orchestral discipline.

Willem Mengelberg Conducts = BEETHOVEN: Prometheus Overture, Op. 43; LISZT: Les Preludes; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major; MAHLER: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor - Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/ Willem Mengelberg - Opus Kura

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis;
MOZART: Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550;
Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551 “Jupiter”;
BACH: Aria from Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068
- NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
Opus Kura OPK 2045,  67:52  (Distrib. Albany) ****:

Toscanini’s 8 November 1945 performance of the Tallis Fantasia of Vaughan Williams derives from scratchy-sounding V Discs from the WW II era, which often featured established interpreters in uncommon repertory. Toscanini moves the Fantasy at a heady clip; even the ripieno section of the concerto grosso does not linger in its chamber-music medium for long. The whole proceeds less as a mystical experience a la Mitropoulos than an exercise in instrumental textures and densities, quite deconstructionalist, actually. The 1937-1939 (the Andante re-recorded 7 February 1939) G Minor Symphony of Mozart is taken from a set of Italian “La voce del Padrone” HMV 78s. Toscanini pays exceptional attention to Mozart’s propulsive, linear balances, the apportionment of instrumental weights to the various lines of development in strings, winds, and horns. Subsequently, the first movement evolves in architectural sections, not so far from a Bruckner experience. No dawdling for the Andante, either. Still, the lower bass lines are clearly delineated, the higher strings’ sforzati and flute scales urgent and immediate. The last two movements shed Mozart’s “rococo” image for a demonized, energetic persona uncompromising in its multilayered complexity and singleness of purpose.

An RCA domestic set for the C Major Symphony (1946), a colossal and febrile account only rivaled for sheer vitality by Albert Coates. The whistling strings, woodwind, and tympani carry us along an undeniable flood of emotion, with only the flute’s offering any respite from the mortal storms. Even the plucks of the pizzicato strings carry a decided thump, and the ensuing rockets leave us breathless at the coda. The relatively relaxed Andante reveals a deep, serene bass line, the oboe part in clear detail. The lines are long and sinewy, followed by aggrieved string punctuations of human tragedy. Despite the brisk pace of the Menuetto, it still retains a courtly, ennobled character. Again, the luster of the bass lines adds a color dimension to Tocanini’s Mozart we do not always call to mind immediately. The explosively polyphonic Finale culminates the Toscanini-NBC collaboration, a happy display piece for conductor and his virtuoso ensemble. Ceremonial pomp and sheer adrenalin rush permeate every line. The recording sheds its 60 years with the first onslaught of sound! Required listening for aficianados and students of orchestral discipline.

-- Gary Lemco

September, 2007 Audiophile Audition

As a document of orchestral technique and control, it rivals anything by Toscanini and Furtwaengler.

Willem Mengelberg Conducts = BEETHOVEN: Prometheus Overture, Op. 43; LISZT: Les Preludes; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major; MAHLER: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor - Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/ Willem Mengelberg - Opus Kura

Willem Mengelberg Conducts = BEETHOVEN: Prometheus Overture, Op. 43; LISZT: Les Preludes; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90;
MAHLER: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C Sharp Minor
- Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/
Willem Mengelberg

Opus Kura OPK 2067,  62:28  (Distrib.
Albany) ****:

   Restorations 1926-1942 by Dr. K. Yasuhara from the legacy of Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg (1871-1951), perhaps the greatest of the virtuoso colorists whose helmsman ship of the Concertgebouw lasted fifty years, from 1895-1945.  The most famous of these inscriptions are the ferocious realization of Liszt's Les Preludes (1929) and the brief excerpt from Mahler (1926), Mengelberg’s only studio recording of music he championed consistently throughout his career, at least until the advent of Nazism.  Mahler emerges naturally and tenderly, the slides in the strings unobtrusive on the harp’s delicacies. The momentum and intensity increase without ruffling the graciousness of line. Given the veritable age of the Columbia shellacs Les Preludes performance, it holds up remarkably well.  Besides huge tempo fluctuations, portamenti, and degrees of orchestral slides and rubato, a terrific tension permeates every bar, and the harp and flute parts convey a sweet elasticity.  One can clearly detect a model for Fricsay’s equally flexible approach to the musico-dramatic poem after Lamartine. Mengelberg’s strings, cymbals, and trumpets blaze with feverish glory in the last pages, the tremolandi, pizzicati, and climaxes absolutely thrilling. As a document of orchestral technique and control, it rivals anything by Toscanini and Furtwaengler.

   The program opens with the 1942 Overture to the Creatures of Prometheus (from Telefunken), and Beethoven was always a Mengelberg strong suit.  The Mengelberg penchant for grand rhetoric finds a happy vehicle in the Brahms Third; and even after an age of Leonard Bernstein’s excesses, the Mengelberg manages a large canvas. The Concertgebouw high woodwinds elicit a special timbre of their own. Mengelberg takes the first movement repeat more broadly than the first expository statement. At the development section, the various rhythmic tugs of war begin, always musical but often wayward. The Andante endures some structural tugging, but the Brahms style, its combination of lyricism, melancholy, and occasional, martial convulsions, remains recognizable. The Poco allegretto, however, exudes that Brahmsian outpouring of restrained agony that his enthusiasts find irresistible. Beautiful string, French horn, oboe, and flute work. Mengelberg takes the final Allegro--Un poco sostenuto deliberately, building a mighty eruption of the fate motif. The pace quickens decidedly and aggressively, especially in the second violins. The stretti reach a paroxysm and the music catapults to its martial statement, only to dissipate in a fine cloud of F-A-F nostalgia.

-- Gary Lemco

February, 2006 Audiophile Audition

An important early Brahms concerto from Wolfgang Schneiderhan

Wolfgang Schneiderhan plays = BRAHMS Violin Concerto (rec. 1940) and BACH Chaconne (rec. 1947)

As in DGG's recent 5-CD boxed set of Wolfgang Schneiderhan's (mostly) 1950s recordings in the yellow label’s Original Masters series, this new release from the upscale Japanese Opus KURA label shows how great musical results can be obtained with entirely noble and straightforward means. It’s the difference between an Oistrakh and a Heifetz.

Of course, however you do it requires a virtuoso's technique and that Schneiderhan, despite his exceptionally relaxed approach to music making, had technique in gobs. His ability to float a phrase high in the lyrical stratosphere is quite extraordinary, as is his command, poise and intonation in fiendishly difficult fast passages. At the age of 22, Schneiderhan gave a reading of the Brahms that is the equal, for excitement and majesty, of that of any of his more famous colleagues, and his Bach Chaconne, recorded for Columbia in 1947, is the stuff of which legends are made (surprisingly, he made only one other studio recording of the Bach solo violin music, the second Partita for DGG.
   The first movement cadenza, by Schneiderhan’s teacher Julius Winkler, is the same as that the soloist used in his 1953 recording for DGG, with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Paul van Kempen. Mr. Itakura, who wrote the liner notes (in Japanese only, unfortunately, with a brief English summary) does not understand why Schneiderhan chose Winkler. Considering that, at the time, the usual cadenzas by Kreisler and Joachim were likely rejected by Nazis, perhaps he chose his teacher's cadenza as a subtle protest.
   The sound is exceptionally good: clean and with few distractions, allowing the musical power of these performances to come through with great intensity. Keep your eye on this label. It’s a good one!

- Laurence Vittes

February 2006 Audiophile Audition

Strong interpretations from 1936-38, just prior to Walter escaping the Nazi takeover in Vienna

BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90; HAYDN: Symphony No. 86 in D Major; MOZART: La Clemenza di Tito Overture, K. 621; La finta giardiniera Overture, K. 196 - London Symphony Orchestra (Haydn)/ Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/ Bruno Walter, conductor
Opus Kura OPK 2054,  59:23 (Distrib. Albany ) ****:


From a rather volatile period in the life of Bruno Walter (1886-1962), we have restorations of the records he made at the end of his Viennese sojourn just before and in flight from the Nazi annexation of Austria , 1936-1938. To wit, the inscription of La Clemanza di Tito Overture is the very last piece Walter inscribed prior to his move to London and finally to America .  Relatively noise-free, the shellacs pour forth a stream of high velocity music-making, the strings and winds vibrant. The light-footed Overture to La finta giardiniera suffers more surface noise, but the Mannheim elements bubble with frothy good nature.

The Haydn D Major Symphony under Walter (1936) is a work we must accept in this version, since the conductor did not approach it again in the recording studio later in his LA career. Despite the athletic vigor of the piece. Only a few major conductors added it to their discography; only Schuricht, Ansermet, and Dorati come to mind.  Walter urges aggressive speed in the crescendi of the Allegro spiritoso, the strings and tympani competing in fine fettle. Some romantic ritardandi infiltrate this breezy rendition. Nice flute work in the development section. The expansive Capriccio: Largo keeps a rustic bass line even as the expressive melody extends upward. The sudden bursts of dark energy would have appealed to Mahler. More aristocratic rusticity, if the paradox works, for the Minuet and Trio, where a gentle soul takes delight in this world. The finale is a blaze of torrential energy, witty and pungent, the musical gloves off, the staccato figures are Walter's own answer to fascists' machine guns.

Walter's Brahms recordings remain a staple of German Romantic interpretation, a warm and natural series of readings largely unaffected by soulful angst. Even the major/minor disjunctions in  the opening of the Brahms Third (1936) do not cause Walter to linger inordinately over pregnant phrases; he keeps the opening movement moving immediately after the initial upbeat to the main theme. No repeat. Plenty of tempo variation indicates that Walter is no literalist. The French horn rolls out persuasively for the gradual transition to the recapitulation. Nice work between flute, celli, and oboe.  I have always savored Walter's determined way with the Andante movement, its rugged force and melancholy mysticism.

Exceptional woodwind choir work carries the central part of the movement forward; and in spite of perpetual surface hiss, the sonority of winds and horns remains compelling. Walter takes the Poco allegretto at a relatively brisk pace, but the big horn restatement of the theme achieves a round line.  Robert Mitchum and Brahms?  I remember their unlikely meeting in the film Undercurrent, with Katherine Hepburn. The last movement Walter plays for its uneasy balance of dynamism and menace. Some crackle and shatter at cadence ends in this transfer. The splice to the cello entry and the later flute reveals some fine sonorities in these old shellacs. The counterpoint, with its Beethoven Fifth allusions, captures a grunt or two from Walter, and some hearty, colossal momentum. The rush to judgment dissolves in lyric outpourings and staggered pulsations and pizzicati, with Walter's allowing wisps of tender memories to waft sporadically into the shimmering distance.

--Gary Lemco

 

November 2005 Audiophile Audition

Heifetz & Toscanini - can't miss, in spite of crackly 78s and poor liner notes

BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61; Symphony No. 7 in A Major - Jascha Heifetz, violin/ NBC Symphony Orchestra/ New York Philharmonic Orchestra (7th Symphony)/ Arturo Toscanini
Opus Kura OPK 2050  73:47 (Distrib. Albany ) ****:

When I spotted this reissue in the Albany catalogue, I could only recall with what intensity my original 78 rpm version of the Beethoven Seventh with Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic (1936) first struck me. The Dionysian abandon of the first movement Vivace, followed by the hallowed atmosphere of the Allegretto, remained with me, through the various RCA incarnations of the performance in LP format. The Opus Kura engineers have decided to remaster the inscription themselves, avoiding the tendency to noise-reduce the musical vitality right out of the original shellacs. So, whatever the degree of noise, we have Toscanini's highly responsive, plastic lines, the remarkable ensemble between woodwinds and strings, especially in the fugal section of the Allegretto. Toscanini seems willing to permit a rhythmic lattitude in the opening movement he denied in his later readings; even a portamento or two intrude into the string line. The Presto enjoys a brilliant articulation from the woodwinds and horns, the sforzati and staccati pulverizing and dancing at once. Toscanini takes the secondary theme as a brisk andantino, almost a light march. Firm crescendi lead to a warm flute solo and then a pungent trumpet clarion. The final Allegro con brio proves startling and muscular, even overwhelming, with Toscanini keeping the tension in high relief, the tympani and bass cadences forward.

The Toscanini long line predominates; from the very outset of the 1940 Concerto for Violin the phrase lengths accentuate the symmetry of Beethoven's architecture. A problem tape splice just after Heifetz' entry makes its presence known by the silence without tape hiss. Heifetz drives the tempo hard, albeit sweetly, and Toscanini is there at every bar. For the G Major Larghetto, both Heifetz and Toscanini opt for a more expansive mood, enjoying a delicacy of approach in stark contrast to the feverish onslaughts in the A Major Symphony. As per expectation, the Heifetz glibness of phrase sometimes detracts from the emotional depth, but the silken playing sets a standard that can still elicit awe. A Heifetz cadenza urges us into the Rondo, earthy and playful, always in the bravura, slightly frenetic mode. Aside from the constant crackle in the shellacs, the restoration is quite pungent. The liner notes, however, are written in as un-idiomatic English as I have seen, so Opus Kura might negotiate with a good annotator.

--Gary Lemco

AUDIOPHILE AUDITION - web magazine for music, audio & home theater

http://www.audaud.com/audaud/OCT04/reissues/recds1.html

October 2004, Pt. 1 of 2

Walter cond. Das Lied of Mahler

MAHLER: Das Lied von der Erde; Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor; Ich bin der Welt abhangen gekommen

Kersten Thorberg, mezzo-soprano; Charles Kullman, tenor
Bruno Walter conducts Vienna Philharmonic
Opus Kura OPK 2049 72:58 (Distrib. Albany)****:

Recorded live in 1936, the Bruno Walter inscription of Mahler's song cycle Das Lied von der Erde has been grudgingly praised, always to its detriment when compared with Walter's 1952 reading with Patzak and Ferrier. But the Opus Kura engineers have resuscitated the original shellacs to an astonishing degree, producing or re-releasing may be the better term, the wonderful colors and the rich textures of the Vienna Philharmonic's response to this authoritative reading of Mahler's passionate paean to the contrary forces of life and death. Walter's earlier recording does not vary significantly by way of tempos and inflection but now we can hear the 1936 flute's flutter-tonguing clearly, and the marvelous exoticism of Mahler's colors - the harp, tympani, and woodwinds which beckon us to the lacquers and immaculate porcelains that Yeats proclaimed in “Sailing to Byzantium.” Thorberg's dusky voice has not the haunted quality of Ferrier, but her stamina and sympathy in the Abscheid are poignant enough. I find Kullman an admirable tenor, clear and ardent, though without the transcendent ingenuousness of Fritz Wunderlich. The Adagietto fragment is the same transfer Opus Kura issed on OPK 2017. I think Janet Baker owns the song Ich bin der Welt abhangen gekommen, but there are no less tragedy and schmertz in Thorberg's reading. Recommended for those who like old wine in new bottles.

--Gary Lemco

 

AUDIOPHILE AUDITION - web magazine for music, audio & home theater

http://www.audaud.com/audaud/MAR04/reissues/recds1.html

March 2004, Pt. 1 of 2

MOZART: Violin Sonata No. 17 in C, K. 296; Duo No. 1 in G Major, K. 423/BEETHOVEN: "Eyeglass" Duo in E-flat/ Serenade in D Major, Op. 8
Szymon Goldberg, violin; Frederick Riddle, viola (K. 423); Paul Hindemith, viola; William Primrose, viola ("Eyeglass" Duo); Emanuel Feuermann, cello; Lili Kraus, piano (K. 296)
Opus Kura 2044 62:13 (Distrib. Albany):

Admirers of Polish violinist Szymon Goldberg (1909-1993) and the legendary Emanuel Feuermann (1902-1942) will enjoy this restoration from Opus Kura, taken from Japanese Columbia recordings 1934-1948. The surfaces are not particularly quiet, so audiophiles beware. But the playing bespeaks the glories of some charmed, musical personalities, whose sense of ensemble illumines every page they play. The partnership of Lili Kraus and Szymon Goldberg was equal to anything Szigeti and Schnabel or Milstein and Balsam achieved. Both artists were interned in Japan during WW II, but their playing did not suffer. Goldberg went on to conduct the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and appear as soloist in New York , for instance, playing the Beethoven Concerto with Mitropoulos. Even 1935 shellacs cannot suppress the high, vigorous spirits infiltrating Mozart's C Major Sonata.

Emanuel Feuermann (his name spelled without the last "n" by Opus Kura) was a meteoric cello talent, the natural successor to Pablo Casals, but whose technique was set in the 20th century the way Casals' was set in the 19th century. His fluid, sometimes blazing, playing is heard in the Beethoven works, mostly light fare, but defined by the 18th century cassation and divertimento style that is always ingratiating. Viola Paul Hindemith has quite a singing tone in the interior movements of the Beethoven Op. 8, with its late theme and variations. Frederick Riddle (1912-1995), a competent British player who premiered the Walton Viola Concerto, appears in the perky K. 423 Duet by Mozart, a noisy shellac from 1948. The veteran William Primrose (1903-1982) and Feuermann, who would collaborate in Hollywood with Heifetz as a string trio, plies his hefty vibrato in the bubbly 1941 inscription of the "Eyeglass Duet" of Beethoven, WoO 32, so named because Beethoven and his partner Nikolaus Zmeskall had to wear thick spectacles to see their music. You can leave your eyeglasses off and just listen to these colossal talents enjoy every note of the chamber music they champion.

--Gary Lemco

Classical CD Reissues, Part 2 July 2003

MENDELSSOHN: Fingal's Cave Overture, Op. 26; A Midsummer Night's Dream Overture, Op. 21/SCHUBERT: Ballet Music No. 2 and Entr'acte No. 3 from Rosamunde/BERLIOZ: Hungarian March/WEBER: Overture and Entr'acte No. 3 from Der Feischuetz; Invitation to the Dance, Op. 65 (orch. Berlioz) Wilhelm Furtwaengler conducts Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Opus Kura OPK 2036 58:37 (Distrib. Albany ):


Entitled "Wilhelm Furtwaengler conducts Romantic Music, Vol. I," this disc assembles the legendary conductor's Polydor records, 1929-1935, in fair to good sound, taken from Japanese pressings from the period. Some of this material, along with earlier inscriptions from 1926, appeared on the Koch label around ten years ago. Listening to Furtwaengler's pre-War recordings always reveals a different artist than the haunted, tragic artist plagued by the unholy conscience of his race. Tempos are often brisk, the textures transparent; and the free use of portamento lends an old-world flavor to the good-natured spiritis of the proceedings. The major work emotionally is the Weber Freischutz, with broad tempo in the overture and a mock pomp in the orchestral rendering of the Huntsman's Chorus entr'acte. Each of these works received later inscriptions by Furtwaengler, but these give us an amiable, albeit classically refined, sensibility easily reminscent of a Weingartner reading with more warmth. The sound quality will deter all but hard-core Furtwaengler collectors, since surface noise infringes on too many of the conductor's delicate pianissimos and dimuendi. Opus Kura promises a Volume II, and I and the Furtwaengler cult will be looking  for it.

--Gary Lemco

 

Classical CD Reissues, Part 2 for February 2003

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

 

Classical CD Reissues, Part 2 March 2003

Henri Merckel , violin
LALO: Symphonie espagnole, Op. 21/
SAINT-SAENS: Violin Concerto No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 61; Danse macabre,
Op. 40
Pierro Coppola conducts Pasdeloup Orchestra
Philippe Gaubert conducts Paris Symphony (Danse macabre)
Opus Kura OPK 2028 64:13 (Distrib. Albany ):

French violin virtuoso Henri Merckel (1897-1969) is celebrated in this Japanese-label transfer of pressings (Japanese RCA Victors) made 1932 1935. Merckel's is a thin but pleasing, nasal tone; his interpretation of the Lalo, which includes the "intermezzo" movement, is the first complete performance of this familiar suite for violin and orchestra. The recording was lauded in its own time, receiving the Grand Prix di Disques for 1934. The conducting is no less aggressive, with the cosmopolitan Pierro Coppola (1882-1971) leading the orchestra, a conductor-composer whose catalogue is truly imposing. The Saint-Saens concerto is equally gripping, with some real fire in the outer movements, the Andantino a piece of the French countryside. Philippe Gaubert accompanies Merckel in the saucy Danse macabre; Gaubert's claim to fame rests on accompanying Ignaz Friedman's Grieg Concerto and Artur Rubinstein's early inscription of the Saint-Saens G Minor Concerto. Prior to this full-fledged Merckel disc, I only knew him from music by Delanoy he did with Munch, transferred a few years ago to CD by A Classical Record. This disc should win him new friends and accolades by those connoisseurs who appreciate a real sense of Gallic style. Opus Kura restorations are a bit noisy but still acoustically vivid.

--Gary Lemco

 

August 2005 Audiophile Audition

Heroic interpretations recorded by German Telefunken from 1937-1940

FRANCK: Symphony in D Minor; Psyche et Eros; BERLIOZ: Roman Carnival Overture, Op. 9; DEBUSSY: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun - Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/Willem Mengelberg
Opus Kura OPK 2027  59:22 (Distrib. Albany)****:

Virtuoso readings from the always-thrilling Willem Mengelberg (1871-1951) in recordings made 1937-1940, the German Telefunken restorations by Bryan Crimp ( in fact Yasuhara ) . The usual Mengelberg standards apply: heroic proportions, flexible rhythms and luftpausen several years wide, delicate pianissimos, and absolute homogeneity of orchestral tone. The string colors in the Symphony's Allegretto, with their various tonal registrations in second violins, violas and cellos in the fugal parts, are truly magical. Despite some persistent tape hiss in the Symphony (1940) and a hum in the 1937 Roman Carnival, the performances' intensity has the audiophile as well as the old-record collector equally beguiled. The outer movements enjoy a marked emphasis on phrase lengths and cadences, with some marvelous brass punctuation in the first movement coda. The last movement urges a distinctive cello line under the oboe and clarinet, the fervency  mounting to an almost savage fury. Psyche et Eros (1938) alternates mysticism, sensuality, and textural transparency most facilely. The orchestral discipline of both Franck works is a model from which Stokowski and Mravinsky took their respective cues.

The 1938 Debussy Prelude proceeds in the manner of an orchestral aperitif, a singer's version of a score rife with shimmering and melting colors. The utter sensuousness of approach almost makes one's puritan blood protest. Yet, the reading moves forward in what, for Mengelberg, is a most literal manner, with few of the Romantics' licenses with rhythm that might distort the musical effect. The opening of Berlioz' Roman Carnival is sheer magic between horns and pizzicato strings; then the wiry oboe leads a sinewy Latin melodic line that swells in the full orchestra. The vivo section is another demonstration of Mengelberg's visceral style - a Herculean motor impulse aided and abetted by perhaps the most responsive orchestral players of the time.

--Gary Lemco

 

July 2005 Audiophile Audition

Reissues of the work of a fine Polish virtuoso who lived until 1947

MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216; BACH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, BWV 1041; Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major, BWV 1042; Nun Komm‚ der Heiden Heiland, BWV 599; ELGAR: La Capricieuse, Op. 17
 - Bronislaw Huberman, violin/Issay Dobrowen conducts Vienna Philharmonic/S. Schultze, piano - Opus Kura 2025  62:56  (Distrib. Albany )***:

For the most part, these restorations of the fine work of Polish violin virtuoso Bronislaw Huberman (1882-1947) are quite good, with the exception of some moments in the 1934 E Major Concerto, which suffer dropout and severe crackle, presumably in the original shellacs. The other Bach concerto and the Mozart G Major derive from the same sessions in 1934 and couple Huberman with the talented Russian conductor Issay Dobrowen (1891-1953), whose work in the recording studio subsequently seems to have taken to hibernation, until his 1940s collaborations in Beethoven with Schnabel for Electrola and strong reappearance for Boris Gudonov in July 1952, along with some Rimsky-Korsakov for EMI.

Huberman's was not the most gracious tone nor the most reliable vocal instrument, but he held a raw power of communication that was always expressive and committed. His Brahms Concerto with John Barbirolli, which had a brief shelf life on the pirate Rococo LP label, held a special place for connoisseurs. The rare Elgar cut from 1935 has a nervous innocence, and his Bach chorale-prelude from 1931 is rapt and devotional. The Bach and Mozart concertos are stylish bravura escapades in the old-school manner, less concerned with authenticity than with brilliant projection of colors.  Rather gritty and impassioned, the performances bespeak a glamour and cult of personality conspicuously absent from the antiseptic correctness that plagues too many modern renditions of this music.

--Gary Lemco

 

November 2002 - Part 1

MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466/
BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op.67
Bruno Walter piano and conductor
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Opus Kura OPK 2022 68:57 (Distrib. Albany ):

The Japanese label Opus Kura restores two 1937 vintage performances from Bruno Walter (1876-1962), inscribed just prior to the Anschluss, when he would have to vacate Austria and flee to Paris, then London, and finally make his residence in the USA. The Mozart concerto with Walter's leading from the keyboard shows off his pearly play, his pert sense of ensemble and his natural flair for Vienna-Mozart style. Walter plays the first movement cadenza by Carl Reinecke, a romantic's treatment of the more militant aspects of the piece's minor coloring. Remastering has brightened the piano tone and the inner string line, which in the EMI pressings has been absent.

The Brahms First is a liquid, driven performance, quite bright in color, though I am not terribly keen on the dry acoustic of the Musikverein Saal of the period. Walter manages a Mengelberg-like ritard at the end of the first movement which is worth a listen. The relative flow of the remainder of the symphony has something of Toscanini's influence, perhaps the residue of memories of Fritz Steinbach, the early Brahms acolyte. The performance had a brief life on LP on the Turnabout label. It glows here with a loving presence; and I feel more of a distinct personality in this music than I do with Walter's homogenized readings later in Los Angeles .

--Gary Lemco

February 2006 Audiophile Audition

An important early Brahms concerto from Wolfgang Schneiderhan

Wolfgang Schneiderhan plays = BRAHMS Violin Concerto (rec. 1940) and BACH Chaconne (rec. 1947) - Wolfgang Schneiderhan, violin/ Otto Schulhoff, piano (in encores by Saint-Saëns and Fibich). The Saxon State Orchestra/ Karl Böhm - Opus Kura OPK 2020, 57:56 *****:

As in DGG's recent 5-CD boxed set of Wolfgang Schneiderhan's (mostly) 1950s recordings in the yellow label's Original Masters series, this new release from the upscale Japanese Opus KURA label shows how great musical results can be obtained with entirely noble and straightforward means. It's the difference between an Oistrakh and a Heifetz.

Of course, however you do it requires a virtuoso's technique and that Schneiderhan, despite his exceptionally relaxed approach to music making, had technique in gobs. His ability to float a phrase high in the lyrical stratosphere is quite extraordinary, as is his command, poise and intonation in fiendishly difficult fast passages. At the age of 22, Schneiderhan gave a reading of the Brahms that is the equal, for excitement and majesty, of that of any of his more famous colleagues, and his Bach Chaconne, recorded for Columbia in 1947, is the stuff of which legends are made (surprisingly, he made only one other studio recording of the Bach solo violin music, the second Partita for DGG.

The first movement cadenza, by Schneiderhan's teacher Julius Winkler, is the same as that the soloist used in his 1953 recording for DGG, with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Paul van Kempen. Mr. Itakura, who wrote the liner notes (in Japanese only, unfortunately, with a brief English summary) does understand why Schneiderhan chose Winkler. Considering that, at the time, the usual cadenzas by Kreisler and Joachim were likely rejected by Nazis, perhaps he chose his teacher's cadenza as a subtle protest.

The sound is exceptionally good: clean and with few distractions, allowing the musical power of these performances to come through with great intensity. Keep your eye on this label. It's a good one!

- Laurence Vittes

 


February 2002 Classical CD Reissues

"From Haydn to Mahler" - HAYDN: Symphony No. 100 in G "Military"/MOZART: German Dances, K. 605/ STRAUSS: Emperor Waltz/WAGNER: A Siegfried Idyll/MAHLER: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5
Bruno Walter conducts The Vienna Philharmonic (1935-1938)
Opus KURA OPK 2017/18 61:37; 22:08 (Distrib. Albany ):

The Japanese have been resuscitating historic performances at an astonishing rate; import prices, however, have made items like Japanese Westminster prohibitive. With the demise of an historic label like Biddulph, it is refreshing to see a new import devoted to the idea that "music should be first" in its policy of noise-reduction. The point of interest in this set is the inclusion of two alternative prints of the Haydn "Military" Symphony in Japanese and French pressings, where the "appendix" French version on disc 2 is stunningly quiet!

Bruno Walter (1876-1962) needs little introduction to music collectors. His migration from Germany at the time of the Anschluss procued the few, around ten, recordings he made in Austria that are much admired. He then had to vacate Vienna and flee to Paris , then America . Walter's earliest record with the VPO is the Emperor Concerto with Gieseking, 1934. From 1935 we get Wagner's Siegfried Idyll , a work Walter played more expansively in later years, here rather streamlined for the '78 format, but played with fervor and great transparency of detail. The Emperor Waltz is from 1937 (as are Mozart's three German Dances), a linear, buoyant account, less tragic than Furtwengler's but suavely muscular, with some large luftpausen in the best Viennese manner. The last piece, the much-favored Adagietto (1938) from Mahler Fifth, has an aura entirely unique. Strings and harp are taut, nervous, other-worldly. While only some eight minutes in duration, the effect still captures Mahler's spiritual yearning that in modern performances is stretched to literally twice the distance.

-- Gary Lemco

 

September 2005 Audiophile Audition

Intense and powerful Mengelberg performances from 1937

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

MARCH 2002

Ignaz Friedman: GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16 / LISZT: La Campanella/CHOPIN: 12 Mazurkas; Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 55, No. 2 Ignaz Friedman, piano Philippe Gaubert conducts Symphony Orchestra ( Paris Cons.)
Opus KURA OPK 2009 65:28 (Distrib. Albany ):

Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948), the great Polish virtuoso and pupil of Leschetizky, remains a hot-house flower among the keyboard titans, an artist whose recorded legacy is small, and whose reputation rests on a handful of recordings in the repertory of Beethoven, Chopin, Grieg, Liszt, and Mendelssohn. Though he found a haven in Australia , where the ABC made shellacs of his more extended repertory, virtually the entire collection was consigned to an Australian land-fill when the radio stations emptied their vaults!

This Opus KURA edition of Friedman's more familiar programming has already had life on CD via Danacord and APR. These inscriptions date 1926-36, where the earliest disc is the abbreviated La Campanella, and the latest is the renowned E-flat Nocturne from 1936. The Grieg Concerto suffers Gaubert's frazzled ensemble, with tinny horns and winds, fuzzy intonation. The British shellacs are no bargain, either, high on hiss and surface swish. But the Freidman 1930 Mazurkas rank along the Godowsky Nocturnes as classics of the style: explosive rhythmic propulsion, a heavy-footed, peasants' dance that carries a rough edge in spite of the suave rubatos Friedman applies. No repeat appears as an exact replication of a former incarnation: slight variations in tempo, pulse, dynamics, and agogic accent keep one dramatically interested. Freidman's Op. 24, No. 4 is worth a dissertation in itself. The A-flat Major, Op. 50, No. 2 may well be a rediscovered masterwork here. Tempos are generally quick, but Friedman's detache and non legato are so lithe we remain suspended in space. The wonders of the E-flat Nocturne have long generated critics' ink. If Friedman is an unknown entity to your collection, start here.

-Gary Lemco

August 2002

Georges Enesco, violin = CHAUSSON: Poeme, Op. 25/CORELLI: La Folia, Op. 5,
No. 12/HANDEL: Sonata in D, Op. 1, No. 13
Carl Flesch, violin = HANDEL: Sonata in A, Op. 1, No. 14/MOZART: Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 378 /FALLA: Jota S Schlussel (with Enesco) F Dyck and I Strasfogel, piano (with Flesch)
Opus KURA OPK 2005 67:47 (Distrib. Albany ):

This is a disc that will likely become a scarcity before too long, since it has no liner notes in English, and it combines two widely disparate violin personalities. Enesco (1881-1955) was performer and composer extraordinaire: Menuhin told me there was nothing to equal his instruction; Janos Starker, without a missed beat, quipped, "If I must name the most complete musician I knew, I say Enesco." All of the inscriptions devoted to Enesco date from 1929 German Columbias, so there is surface swish to accompany virtually all the notes. Enesco is good, plastic form for the Chausson, although his portamentos and shifts in registration made my teeth clench a few times. The side breaks from the original 78's are not spliced particularly smoothly, so one gets an extra pulse or two in the melodic line. I find Enesco's tempos on the broad and slow side; I wanted to compare his version of the Handel D Major to Milstein's. I would venture that Enesco's is a 19th century approach to ornaments, roulades and trills, sometimes trilling on the lower note. But oddly enough, I really like the Corelli, which never loses its sense of the dance.

Carl Flesch (1873-1944) represents the more academic side of German side of violin artistry; his whole way of making colors is vastly different than Enesco's. There are some who laud Flesch with a great sense of maintaining his pupils' musical personalities. I find the Mozart and the little Falla Jota most engaging, if a bit staid and resolute in the rhythm. The Mozart has some really deft touches, wonderful bowing, and a clean, flexible line. The Handel comes off a bit affected; either you accept it as acquired taste, or you relinquish the approach. I find the ornaments over spun-out, like Scherchen's mordents and trills in Bach suites. But the plaintive tone, the directness of the musical communication bespeaks a fine artist. If someone can supply some text translations, I would appreciate this minor gem a bit more.

--Gary Lemco

 


Opus KURA Hino, Tokyo, JAPAN