8 years ago

Volume 17 Issue 8 - May 2012

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Old Wine, New Bottles |

Old Wine, New Bottles | Fine Old Recordings Re-ReleasedMercury is the latest major recordlabel to issue an omnibus collection oftheir recordings packed into the nowfamiliar 5½ inch box format, in this caseentitled Mercury Living Presence Collector’sEdition (4783566) (50 CDs, a 63-page booklet plus an interviewCD with Wilma Cozart Fine,Mercury’s producer). Mercurywas founded in 1945 in Chicagoas a pop label, then jazz, andin 1951 Mercury emerged as acompany of major classical interestwith their ground-breakingOlympian Series with theChicago Symphony under RaphaelKubelik. The era of high fidelity wasabout to emerge and their adoptedlogo, Living Presence, became abeacon familiar to record collectorsand in particular the nascent, yet tobe named, audiophiles. Music loversaround the world soon looked fornew Mercury recordings fromChicago … or anywhere else.Mercury’s Olympian Seriesboasted “single microphone”recordings updated to threemicrophones with the advent ofstereo in 1958. Their productionof the 1812 Overture with AntalDorati and the MinneapolisSymphony, with overdubbed cannonsand bells, exploded ontothe scene, racking up unheardof worldwide sales. To this day,it has never been out of print.Inevitably, Mercury’s engineers and theirequipment went overseas to make recordings,including an historic trip to Russia in 1962where they documented their “house pianist”American Byron Janis playing with KirilKondrashin and the Moscow Philharmonic.Mercury made the first complete Nutcrackerwith ballet conductor Dorati, a stalwartfigure in their catalogue along withPaul Paray (Detroit), Howard Hanson(Eastman-Rochester), Frederick Fennell(Eastman Wind Ensemble) and StanislawSkrowaczewski (Minneapolis). Soloists, includingJanos Starker, the Romeros, et al.,along with the complete contents of thisabsurdly inexpensive collection, are detailedat This is not intendedto be a basic collection, but it is awell-chosen array of sparkling and rousingperformances of alternate repertoire.My introduction to Tchaikovsky’s ManfredSymphony was on an RCA Victor LongPlaying Record (“LP” was the property ofColumbia) recorded in 1949 by Toscaniniand the NBC Symphony. It remains for meBRUCE SurTEESthe performance against which all thosethat followed have been weighed. Nonehas equaled the intensity of that 1949performance, particularly, but not onlybecause of, the ferocity of the closingpages of the first movement.Unequalled until now.On the evening of 26 August,1992 at the BBC Promsin the Royal Albert Hall,Yuri Temirkanov conductedthe St. Petersburg Philharmonicin an extraordinary performanceof Manfred, telecast by theBBC and now on a newDVD from ICI Classics“In 1951 Mercury emerged as acompany of major classical interestwith their ground-breaking OlympianSeries … The era of high fidelitywas about to emerge.”(icaD 5065). Temirkanov wasMravinsky’s assistant when theorchestra was known as theLeningrad Philharmonic andin 1988 he became their musicdirector and chief conductor.Following the drama of thefirst movement, the two middlemovements depicting romanticideals and aspirations are playedwithout bathos but with passionand often lace-like delicacy.What makes this performance unique is there-introduction of the entire first movementcoda to bring the work to an over-thetopconclusion reflecting absolute despairrather than Manfred’s redemption andconsolation in Tchaikovsky’s original. Theprogram includes Berlioz’ Corsair Overtureand several, worth the price of admission,encores including a Mravinsky specialty,the pas de deux from the second act of TheNutcracker. Also an inspired “Nimrod” fromElgar’s Enigma Variations and finally the“Death of Tybalt” from Prokofiev’s Romeoand Juliet. Wide open sound and faultlessvideo makes this stunning DVD a must-have.1940 saw the beginning of a six yearassociation of the New York Philharmonic andIgor Stravinsky as conductor during whichthey recorded many of his popular balletsand shorter pieces. A new release fromNaxos contains brilliant transfers of thethree best known ballets, Firebird, Petrushkaand Le Sacre du Printemps (8.112070). Thismay not have been particularly significantexcept for the fact that these are the mostvital and close to artifact-free transfers ofthese historic performances to find theirway to CD. Somewhat surprising are theperspectives, so clearly heard here. Theorchestral playing is immaculate andthe musicians are alert and enthusiastic.Stravinsky’s tempi and drive are compellingand a revelation, arguably definitive.The Firebird is the 1945 suite (26 minutes),Petrushka is a suite of eight sections fromthe 1911 score (16 minutes) and Le Sacreis the complete 1913 original. Actually“original” is not exactly accurate. Some halfdozen years after the premier Stravinsky wasasked to correct the many copyist’s errorsin the existing originals. As it happened,Stravinsky hadsome secondthoughts andnew ideas thathe substitutedfor the originalpassages. In 1947he would publisha new revisionwhich would take it out of the PublicDomain. In addition to achieving amiraculous recovery of the details withinthese old 78s, shaming the other re-issuesover the years, an unsuspected mistake inthe accepted recording date of Le Sacre hasbeen corrected.Being obsessive and believing that therecording date of Le Sacre was April 29,1940, I questioned April 4th as shownon this CD. Naxos’s Director of MediaRelations, Raymond Bisha forwardedMark Obert-Thorn’s reply: “My date camefrom James H. North’s discography, TheNew York Philharmonic – The AuthorizedRecordings, 1917–2005 (The ScarecrowPress, 2006). Under the date of April 4ththat he gives for this recording, he hasa reference to the following note: “Themisreading of a single Columbia fact sheet(now in Sony’s archives) led to the incorrectdating of all Philharmonic recordings inthe spring of 1940 [ … ] Those erroneousdates have persisted over decades of recordissues — including the Dutton and AndanteCDs — and discographic listings. The dateson that sheet are for “re-recording,” afurther step in the process [i.e., transferringfrom the 33 1/3 rpm lacquer masters to78 rpm wax masters], not for orchestrarecording sessions. The correct dates, takenfrom the orchestra personnel manager’shand-written weekly reports, are listedhere. So, the April 4th date for Stravinsky’srecording of Sacre is correct, and the date ofApril 29th refers to the re-recording process.”Sometimes you just have to ask!68 May 1 – June 7, 2012

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