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Volume 19 Issue 3 - November 2013

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Old Wine, New Bottles |

Old Wine, New Bottles | Fine Old Recordings Re-ReleasedBRUCE SURTEESTwo notable big cubes of CDs thismonth are well worth investigating.One is from the Metropolitan Opera’sown archives containing ten significantperformances of Verdi operas and anotherfrom DG, containing their complete recordingsof Herbert von Karajan in the 1970s.October 10 was the 200th anniversary ofVerdi’s birth although his mother rememberedthe 9th as his natal day. The Met, incollaboration with Sony Classical has selectedoutstanding performances of ten Verdi operasto commemorate this bicentennial year.The first offering in Verdi at the Met is LaTraviata from January 5, 1935 and is deservedlylegendary. Rosa Ponselle is Violetta withFrederick Jagel as Alfredo and LawrenceTibbett as Germont. The conductor is EttorePanizza. Callas said that Ponselle was “thegreatest singer of us all” and here is a goodreason why. The sound is admittedly verydated, watery in the two preludes, but byand large good enough to hear and appreciatethis memorable performance. Panizzaalso conducts a mighty performance ofOtello from February 24, 1940 with LawrenceTibbett as Iago, Giovanni Martinelli as Otello,Elizabeth Rethberg as Desdemona and NicolaMoscona as Lodovico. This familiar drama’sproduction is involving and persuasive.Maestro Panizza’s final outing in this collectionstars Jussi Björling and Zinka Milanov inthe December 14, 1940 mounting of Un Balloin Maschera. My late friend Aldo Maggiorotti,who lived and breathed opera, said thatBjörling sounded better on records than live.So which would this be? Björling is hearda year later as The Duke in Rigoletto fromDecember 29, 1945, together with LeonardWarren as Rigoletto and the legendary BiduSayao as Gilda. From February 26, 1949,Fritz Reiner conducts a star-studded Falstaff,illuminated by Giuseppe Di Stefano, LeonardWarren, Regina Resnik, Giuseppe Valdengoand Licia Albanese. Leonard Warren is SimonBoccanegra supported by Astrid Varnay andRichard Tucker under the direction of FritzStiedry. From November 29, 1952, now twoyears into the era of the great and powerfulRudolf Bing (the Met’s general managerfrom 1950 to 1972) we hear Zinka Milanov,Richard Tucker, Leonard Warren, JeromeHines and Mildred Miller heading a finecast in a gorgeous, attention-grabbing andholding performance of La Forza del Destinounder Stiedry. The pick-up on the voices andthe orchestra is very natural and correctlybalanced, supported by convincing dynamics.On February 21, 1959, Leonard Warrenassumed the title role in Macbeth withLeonie Rysanek making her triumphant Metdebut singing LadyMacbeth, a role sheassumed followingCallas’ celebrateddeparture. JeromeHines is Banquoand Carlo Bergonziplays Macduff.Erich Leinsdorfconducts. OnDecember 3, 1960, Rysanek, now a Metregular sang Abigaile to Cornell McNeil’sNabucco with Cesare Siepi and Rosalind Elias,conducted by Thomas Schippers. Part IIIopens with “Va, Pensiero,” the chorus of theHebrew slaves that is as familiar to the generalpublic today as it was in Verdi’s time. Finally,Aida from the February 25, 1967 broadcastconducted by Schippers. There could be noother choice for the title role than the preeminentLeontyne Price, with Carlo Bergonzias Ramades, Grace Bumbry as Amneris andRobert Merrill as Amonasro. A living tributeto all involved, although I was very surprisedwhen the audience began applauding before“O terra, addio” was quite finished.Verdi at the Met (Sony 88883 721202, 20CDs) is a well-chosen collection of performancesspanning 35 years featuring many ofthe justly celebrated idols of their day. Thecostly and meticulous restoration of thesebroadcast recordings was borne by the LloydE. Rigler-Lawrence E. Deutsche Foundationand the Dunard Fund USA, who also fundedthe excellent Wagner at the Met set reviewedearlier this year.Glenn Gould was a great admirer of Herbertvon Karajan and the admiration was reciprocatedto the extent that they had attempted toco-ordinate their windows of opportunity torecord a Beethoven concerto cycle. They hadperformed together in Berlin on May 26, 1957playing the third concerto. Gould said that theonly live performance he would ever wish toattend was a Karajan concert. They were likemindedabout the merits of studio recordingswhich could be honed to “perfection” versusthose of a one-shot, live concert performance.Karajan 1970s (DG 4791577) is an 82-CDset containing all his orchestral recordingsmade by DG in that period. They are analog“studio” recordings.Until 1973they continued touse the acousticallyperfect JesusChristus-Kirche,Berlin and after thatthey recorded in thePhilharmonie.There is no wayof knowing how much time was spentrehearsing the familiar warhorses on disc 10,Opernballette, containing “The PolovtsianDances,” the usual two from Eugen Onegin,ballet music from Aida and Otello and the“Dance of the Hours.” All familiar pieces butwhat made these performances outstandingwas Karajan’s characteristic total dedicationto each work, according it the care and attentionto the composer’s intentions that hebestowed on more demanding works. By thetime these recordings were made, January/February 1971, conductor and orchestra werealready a single entity and they continuedto produce outstanding, often unrivaledperformances, as the more than 200 on thesediscs of repertoire from Corelli, Vivaldi andBach to Berg, Schoenberg and Webern attest.There are no ho-hums here.Each of the 82 discs bears the OriginalImage Bit Processing identification that theearly mastering has been superseded bynewer technology to replicate the originaltapes. An informative book containsbiographical material and a Karajan timelinetogether with details of the recordingsessions. Missing, I regret, is a simplealphabetical listing of the pieces to make itsimple to locate any work in the box. Seea presentation video at arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=993685.Subscribe to HALFTONESThe WholeNote mid-month e-letterBreaking news, just-in listings, “mystery tracks” CD contest, ticket give-aways,discount window, member offers, and more.Scan this, or visit thewholenote.com/halftones to register.76 | Novemberr 1 – December 7, 2013 thewholenote.com

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