DUKAS: The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 9 in E Flat, Op. 70. KODÁLY:
Dances of Galanta. HINDEMITH:Symphonic
Metamorphoses on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber. J.
STRAUSS: Artist's Life Waltz. BEETHOVEN: Leonore
Overture No. 3. Symphony No. 3 in E Flat,
Op. 55 "Eroica." MOZART: Cosi
fan tutte overture.
GLAZUNOV: Symphony No. 6 in C Minor, Op.
58. MENDELSSOHN: Overture and Scherzo from A Midsummer
Night's Dream. TCHAIKOVSKY: 1812 Festival Overture,
Op. 49. LISZT: Orpheus, S98. HČroïde funebre,
S102. Mazeppa, S100. Festkl”nge, S101.
STRAVINSKY: Song of the Nightingale. RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Scheherazade,
Op. 35. DEBUSSY: Prelude
to the Afternoon of a Faun. BARTÓK: Concerto for Orchestra. RACHMANINOFF: The Isle of the Dead,
Op. 29. RAVEL: La Valse. CHABRIER: FÍte
Three more worthy entries in EMI's Great Conductors series, two of considerable importance, the third (Ansermet) primarily of historic interest. Surely the most significant is that devoted to Ferenc Fricsay, Hungarian conductor who died at the tragically early age of 48. A trained instrumental performer (piano, violin, clarinet, valve trombone and percussion), he studied at the Franz Liszt Academy with Bartók, Dohnányi, Kodály and Weiner. After working with smaller orchestras and opera companies, he became associated with the Hungarian National Philharmonic and Budapest Opera. In 1947 Fricsay conducted the premiere of von Einem's Danton's Death at Salzburg, stepping in for an ailing Otto Klemperer, after which he was appointed principal guest conductor of the Vienna State Opera. He was conductor of the Houston Symphony for just one season (1954/55). There is no question that had he lived longer he would have been an important figure on the American musical scene. Fricsay had a long association with the Berlin Radio Symphony (RIAS) beginning in 1948 making a number of outstanding recordings with them. Some of these were reissued by DG in their Dokumente series, including works of von Einem. Blacher, Liebermann, Egk, Stravinsky, Kodály and Bartók and, in particular, a magnificent Dvorák From the New World (DG 423 384) with the Berlin Philharmonic recorded in 1959, four years before his death. All of these have been deleted, unfortunately, so this new EMI set is most welcome, consisting entirely of live recordings in fine, if not exceptional, sound, some in stereo For me the highlight is the extraordinary performance of Kodály's Dances of Galánta, the only recording of the set with the Vienna Philharmonic.
It is a bit of a surprise that Nikolai Golovanov is included in EMI's series. Virtually unknown to most collectors, he was a major figure on Russia's music scene for four decades beginning about 1910 - for more on his life and career see the review of three CDs of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. The Russian orchestra (here called Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra; on many other CDs is called "All-Union Radio and Central TV Great Symphony Orchestra") is hard pressed at times by Golovanov's frantic ideas but there is no question that this is exciting listening. EMI's set features a vivid performance of Glazunov's Symphony No. 6, the same live 1948 recording of 1812 reviewed elsewhere, and no less than five Liszt symphonic poems, a sensitive, searching approach to the gentle Orpheus, the other four replete with volatile, violent outbursts. You won't hear the music from Mendelssohn's MSND played elsewhere as it is here, particularly the Scherzo which is taken at an incredible pace. Toscanini's NYP 1926 recording takes 4:42, his 1929 recording with the same orchestra is 4:13. Golovanov's is 4:02 and one wonders how many takes it took. These are mono recordings in fine transfers - the sound is raw and bright but conveys the performances adequately.
Ansermet was a featured Decca artist during the first years of stereo in the mid-'50s, famous at the time for his Stravinsky, Debussy and Ravel. The two major works on Ansermet's EMI set are his 1954 Scheherazade with the Paris Conservatory Orchestra in which the French orchestra is not up to technical demands of the music, and Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra recorded in 1956 with his Suisse Romande Orchestra, the latter a low-energy interpretation far removed from most other recordings including Decca's own made eight years earlier in Amsterdam with Van Beinum conducting. Ansermet conducted the premiere of La Valse in 1920, but this recording made in Paris in 1953 is one of the most boring interpretations I've ever heard. Ansermet takes 13:03, a good minute more than most other conductors, two minutes longer than Munch. Rachmaninoff's somber Isle and Stravinsky's colorful Nightingale, the former recorded in Paris, the latter in Geneva, also are lacking orchestral weight and marred by scrappy playing. Perhaps some collectors will wish to own this set as a memento of Ansermet during the early stereo era. We are fortunate it doesn't contain any of his ill-advised recordings of Bach suites and Beethoven symphonies.
R.E.B. (November 2002)