6 years ago

Volume 17 Issue 7 - April 2012

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Old Wine, New Bottles |

Old Wine, New Bottles | Fine Old Recordings Re-ReleasedEMI continues to issue well-chosen performancesby the greatest musicians ofthe recent past in artist-driven compilationsof recordings from the 1930s forward.Their most ambitious collection was the2008 issue of the complete EMI audio recordingsby Herbert von Karajanin two boxes: the complete orchestralrecordings on 88 CDsand the operas and vocals on asecond box of 72 discs. In all ofthese compilations the most up todate transfers from their own archivesare utilized making theseboxed sets the ultimate sourcefor acquiring and listening tothe individual performances by deservedlylegendary artists doing what theydid best. All of the sets come in neatclam-shell packaging with informativebooklets at about per disc.It was said of Bruno Walterthat he could make any orchestrahe conducted sound like theVienna Philharmonic. In BrunoWalter – The Early Recordings(EMI 679026 2, 9 CDs) wehear him with the ViennaPhilharmonic in performancesfrom 1935 to 1938. These performancesset the standard by whichothers were judged for years tocome and music lovers everywhereargued the “correctness”of Walter versus Toscanini, particularlyin Mozart. This collectionincludes some recordings with theBritish Symphony Orchestra, the BBCSymphony and the Paris ConservatoryOrchestra but the real gems are withthe Vienna Philharmonic, recorded inthe Musikvereinssaal. In addition toworks by Mozart, Schubert, Haydn,Johann Strauss and Wagner withLotte Lehmann and LauritzMelchior, there are the celebratedrecordings of Mahler,including Kindertotenliederwith Kathleen Ferrier and DasLied von der Erde, live from1936 with Kerstin Thorborg andCharles Kullmann. Also thatremarkable live Mahler Ninthdating from January 1938 whenthe atmosphere in Vienna beforethe Anschluss was fearfullychaotic. I still find this performance utterlydevastating although, after the war, Walterexpressed some discomfort with how hisinner turmoil and apprehension was clearlyreflected in the recording. Those sentimentselevate this Ninth from an historic performanceto an irreplaceable historic document.The final CD, Remembering BrunoBRucE SURTEESWalter is an interesting appreciation.Not as widely appreciated as he well deservedto be was Rudolf Kempe (1910–1976),born in Dresden and in 1929 appointedfirst oboe of the Gewandhaus Orchestra inLeipzig. He was a master conductor in everysense of the word. An engagementin 1951 by the ViennaState Opera spring-boarded himto international acclaim and hewas soon in demand in operahouses and concert halls aroundthe world. He declined the earnestinvitation to become musicdirector of Covent Garden. Theknowledgeable listener will be,I believe, delighted withthe instrumental balancesin familiar works whichemerge here as ensemblepieces involving everyplayer without the necessityof any spotlighting of a particularinstrument or sectionfor heightened effect. Thevarious engineers involvedover the many orchestrasfeatured appear to have documentedexactly what they heard.I confess that I did not fullyappreciate these qualities in theperformances/recordings asthey were issued over the years.Beethoven’s First, Third,Fifth and Sixth Symphonies(Munich Philharmonic)are followed by the Thirdand Fourth of Brahms(Royal Philharmonic).One needs only to hearthe beautifully turned andpolished account of theusual four excerpts fromMendelssohn’s incidental musicto A Midsummer Night’s Dream(Royal Philharmonic), particularlythe feather-like transparencyof the Overture, to know thatthere is indeed something veryspecial about the conductor. Inthe four Richard Strauss tonepoems, Don Juan, Don Quixote(with Paul Tortelier), TillEulenspiegel, Ein Heldenleben,and in Tod und Verklärung plusDance of the Seven Veils (allwith the Staatskapelle, Dresden), we againhear the transparency, even in the tuttis, thatis one of Kempe’s trademarks. It takes a veryrare sensibility to have the closing momentsof Heldenleben unfold across the orchestraand bloom rather than merely getting louder.Karajan could do it and so does Kempe. EMIincluded generous helpings of Wagner, bothorchestral and operatic, and two discs ofwhat Beecham termed lollipops, all in fullrangecorrectly balanced sound. This admirablecollection, Rudolf Kempe, Shy Genius ofthe Podium (EMI 629557 2) contains 11 CDsand this listener wishes there were more.Frederick Delius (1862–1934), for thosewho may not know, was an English composerwho spent his last years in Francewhere he gradually became blind, relyingon his amanuensis Eric Fenby to writedown the scores as he dictated them. Inthe pre-LP days the music of Delius wasesoteric, the recordings were few and farbetween and almost exclusively conductedby Beecham on Columbia 78s funded by theDelius Trust which was financed by Delius’late widow Jelka who had willed her entireestate to the dissemination of her husband’smusic (phew!). Beecham was named tohave complete authority over every aspect.Some of these Beecham recordingshave been assembled, together with othersfrom the 1930s forward, in a Delius 150thAnniversary Edition (EMI 8417527) comprising18 mono and stereo CDs. Included arecritically esteemed performances of concertos,tone poems, operas, choral and chambermusic. Conductors include Beecham,Barbirolli, Sargent, Groves, MeredithDavies, Mackerras, Hickox, Marriner,Handley and the aforementioned Fenby. Thecomplete details of this definitive editionwith detailed track listings can be found also has a commemorative editionof Delius essentials in contemporary recordingson eight CDs (4783078) which will satisfythe less committed collector. Check thispackage on 1968 the late Ken Russell made a remarkablysensitive movie of Delius’ lastfive years in collaboration with Eric Fenby,with Max Adrian as Delius and ChristopherGable as Fenby. The Song of Summer isavailable on DVD in Ken Russell at the BBC(300001708), a collection of six of Russell’sBBC films. Whether you care for Delius ornot, this is a must see.76 April 1 – May 7, 2012

416.593.4828tso.caCONCERTS AT ROY THOMSON HALLBronfmanPlays BrahmsWed, April 4 at 8:00pmThu, April 5 at 8:00pmPeter Oundjian, conductorYefim Bronfman, pianoBrahms: Piano Concerto 2Bruckner: Symphony No. 3Tchaikovsky& VerdiWed, April 11 at 8:00pmSat, April 14 at 8:00pmGianandrea Noseda, conductorSondra Radvanovsky, sopranoVerdi: Overture & Aria fromI vespri sicilianiVerdi: Ballet Music from MacbethTchaikovsky: Polonaise and LetterScene from Eugene OneginTchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 “Pathétique”Perlman PlaysBeethovenWed, April 25 at 8:00pmThu, April 26 at 8:00pmPeter Oundjian, conductorItzhak Perlman, violinKhachaturian: Suite fromMasquerade and SpartacusTchaikovsky:Francesca da RiminiBeethoven: Violin ConcertoAn Eveningwith ItzhakSat, April 28 at 8:00pmItzhak Perlman, conductor and violinPeter Oundjian, violinMozart: Overture to Don GiovaniJ.S. Bach: Concerto for Two Violinsand String Orchestra, BWV 1043Conversation from the Stagewith Peter Oundjian & Itzhak PerlmanTchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5NationalArts CentreOrchestraSat, April 21 at 7:30pmPinchas Zukerman,conductor and violaEric Friesen, hostNational Arts Centre OrchestraHétu: Antinomie, Op. 23Telemann: Viola ConcertoJ.S. Bach: BrandenburgConcerto No. 6Schubert: Symphony No. 3

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