,MENDELSSOHN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25. Piano
Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 40. Music for A Midsummer Night's
to Ruy Blas
DOHNÁNYI: Symphony No. 2 in E, Op. 40. Two Songs, Op.
STRAUSS: An Alpine Symphony, Op. 64. Four Interludes from Intermezzo,
JANÁCEK: Glagolitic Mass. KODÁLY: Missa
RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G. Concerto for the Left Hand. FALLA: Nights in the Gardens of Spain
Mendelssohn and Leipzig are a natural combination. The composer had a close association with the orchestra during its early years, and was conductor for 12 years beginning in 1835. The orchestra gave premieres of many works including Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 and Violin Concerto. Riccardo Chailly has been music director of the Gewandhaus Orchestra since 2005. Chailly always has expressed interest in music of Mendelssohn. Some years ago he recorded the seldom-heard Symphony No. 2, and there is a recent recording of the same work available on both CD and DVD (REVIEW), The DVD also included the overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream—now we have this second recording made during sessions in June 2013, which also contains the four other excerpts from the suite. And we also have the first version of the Ruy Blas overture in the critical edition by Cristopher Hogwood, which here receives its first recording. Israeli pianist Saleem Abboud Ashkar, winner of several prestigious competitions, has appeared with many leading orchestras and conductors, although he has made few recordings. He gives big-scale virtuoso performances of the two concertos—not much subtlety here, but it is exciting.
Hungarian composer, pianist and conductor Erno Dohnányi (1877-1960) was a leading figure on the musical scene during the era. He wrote two concertos for piano, two for the violin and a major concert piece for cello and orchestra. Perhaps his best known work is his brilliant Variations on a Nursery Tune for piano and orchestra. His purely symphonic works include his enchanting Suite, Op. 19, and three symphonies, the first of which is unpublished. Now, thanks again to Naxos, we have this superb new recording of Symphony No. 2 and the world premiere recording of two songs written in 1922 to texts by Wilhelm Conrad Gomoll. A half century ago Dohnányi was on the faculty of Florida State University Their library includes scores and manuscripts which were prepared for these recordings by Alexander Jimenez, who received his doctorate on the composer. Symphony No. 2 is heard in the later revised version, but it still is somewhat rambling for its 55-minute duration. You won't hear any of the charm and beauty of the Suite, or the humor of Nursery Tune Variations. Most interesting are the exquisite, lushly orchestrated songs, very well sung by baritone Evan Thomas Jones. No texts are provided, but you can get them online. This is the first recording. The Florida student orchestra plays beautifully, and their enthusiasm for the music is always apparent. Excellent sound as well. A fascinating important release because of the two songs. Incidentally, you should investigate the magnificent Sargent/Royal Philharmonic recording of the Suite, which on EMI is coupled with the Nursery Tune Various with the composer as soloist and Sir Adrian Bolt on the podium. And don't overlook the 1962 performance of NTV with Earl Wild and the New Philharmonia Orchestra directed by the composer's grand-son, Christoph in his early years on the podium..
With dozens of recordings of Richard Strauss's massive Alpine Symphony currently available, any new one is up to tremendous competition, a challenge not met on Franz Welser-Möst's Bavarian issue. The sweep of the score is missing, the big grand moments do not impress. This is not helped by the engineering, although they did what they could. The conductor has the famous hunting horns in The Ascent far off stage, so far that they are almost unnoticed. Compare this with the vivid effect heard in most other recordings, particularly Rudolf Kempe's definitive 1966 version with the Royal Philharmonic first issued on RCA, now on Testament. The new recording is filled out with a 21-minute suite of four excerpts from the opera Intermezzo, one of the composer's more static works. Skip this one.
Decca has two major budget reissues, all classic recordings sounding better than ever in their state-of-the art remastering. Rudolf Kempe leads soloists chorus and the Royal Philharmonic in Janacek's Glagolitic Mass and Kodaly's Missa Brevis. Recordings were made 1974 and 1976, but audio is excellent. Program notes are provided, but no texts. Alicia de Larrocha (1923-2009) had a prodigious technique in spite of her very small hands which did not keep her from virtuoso music. Here we have her 1974 recordings of the two Ravel concertos, plus a specialty of hers, Fallas Nights in the Gardens of Spain, her first recording of the work made in 1974.
R.E.B. (July 2014).