|STRAVINSKY: Petrouchka Ballet Suite. The
Firebird Suite (1919). Symphony of Psalms.
London Philharmonic Choir & Orch/Ernest Ansermet, cond.
DUTTON CDBP 9700 (B) (ADD) TT: 77:52
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B Flat, Op. 19. KHACHATURIAN: Piano Concerto. SHOSTAKOVICH: 3 Preludes,
These are two of the most intriguing CDs in the new budget-priced series on Dutton, a label known for the high quality of its transfers of older recordings. All of these performances have previously been issued on CD, but on these new Duttons the sound is equal to or superior to anything issued before. The Kapell CD inexplicably is labeled "Kapell PLAYS Khachaturian", although it begins with his June 1946 Carnegie Hall recording of Beethoven's Concerto No. 2, the one that Artur Schnabel thought was his own recording when he heard it on the radio -- could there be higher praise? Khachaturian's Concerto, recorded in April 1946, most recently was issued in RCA's 11-CD set devoted to the pianist. Kapell's countless performances of this concerto brought him fame, but I find his recorded performance rather overly-serious. My preferred recording is the early Columbia mono with Oscar Levant, Dimitri Mitroupoulos and the New York Philharmonic. It doesn't use the flexatone in the second movement, nor, strangely, does the Kapell. The three brief Shostakovich preludes are tossed off brilliantly. This is the only music of this composer Kapell recorded commercially; doubtless had his career not been so cruelly terminated in an October 1953 plane crash, he would have eventually recorded the Piano Concerto No. 1, which is available in a live concert performance with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Ansermet's Stravinsky is another known factor. The Swiss-born conductor gave world Stravinsky premieres and later would record many of the composer's works with his Suisse Romande Orchestra. These recordings with the LPO have considerable historic significance. They were among the first ffrr (full frequency range recordings) issued by Decca. Petrouchka (identified as a "suite" but in actuality the entire ballet) was recorded in February 1946, Firebird in December of that year. Symphony of Psalms followed a year later. All were engineered by legendary Kenneth Wilkinson. CD notes contain reviews of the time..."this is the most sensational advance in recording we have had yet"...."the engineers have accomplished an outstanding feat, for every detail in this complicated score (Petrouchka) tells clearly.....a new and very exciting page of gramophone history."
Indeed the sound is extraordinary, with solid bass, clear highs and an overall presence that belies the fact that these recordings were made more than a half century ago. The Dutton processing has managed to almost totally eliminate 78 rpm surface noise yet not dull instrumental sound. Other issues of these recordings cost more than twice as much as these. Let us hope the series will expand indefinitely. Highly recommended!