BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral."
To Van Der Sluys, soprano; Suze Luger, contralto; Louis Van Tulder, tenor; William Ravelli, bass; Amsterdam Toonkunst Chorus; Royal Choral Society; Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orch/Willem Mengelberg, cond.

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral."
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano; Elsa Cavelti, contralto; Ernst Häefliger, tenor; Otto Edelmann, bass; Lucern Festival Choir; Philharmonia Orch/Wilhelm Furtwängler, cond.

DELIUS: A Mass of Life.
Rosina Raisbeck, sopranbo; Monica Sinclair, alto; Charles Craig, tenor; Bruce Boyce, bass; London Philharmonic Choir/Royal Philharmonic Orch/Sir Thomas Beecham, cond.
DELIUS: Hassan Suite
Leslie Fry, baritone; Arthur Leavins, violin; Frederick Riddle, viola; BBC Chorus; Royal Philharmonic Orch/Sir Thomas Beecham, cond.
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC 269 (2 disks) TT: 2 hr. 11:20

ALBENIZ: Iberia (orch. Arbos/Surinach)
Philadelphia Orch/Eugene Ormandy, cond.

The 1940 Holland Festival featured all of Beethoven's symphonies with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Willem Mengelberg then at the height of his powers. Fortunately the Dutch Radio recorded the concerts, eventually Philips issued them on LP (to the relief of collectors, like myself, who had heard them only on poor pirated copies). We are fortunate to have these (and many other valuable Dutch Radio gems including Mahler's Symphony No. 4). These radio concerts are Mengelberg's only recordings of Beethoven's symphonies 2, 7 and 9 (he recorded the others for Telefunken). This incredible performance of Beethoven's Ninth dates from May 2, 1940, and is distinctive in every way, particularly the final chords played very slowly with quite shocking effect. Andrew Rose of Pristine Audio has carefully remastered the LP issue restoring of a missing brief part of the first movement. The result is a vivid recreation of a great day in the Concertgebouw. Check out the other Beethoven symphonies in this Festival series on the Pristine Audio SITE.

Wilhelm Furtwängler's interpretation of the mighty Ninth has been preserved on almost a dozen recordings, mostly of live performances. Pristine Audio's issue is his last, from the1954 Lucerne Festival, three months before the conductor's death. It is perhaps the longest performance on disk (76:11) although Leonard Bernstein's historic 1989 Berlin performance is of equal length. This Lucerne performance, essential for many collectors, has been issued many times on various labels, but all are eclipsed by the sonic excellence of this new restoration.

Throughout his career, conductor Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) championed music of his compatriot, Frederick Delius. Beecham made premiere recordings of many of Delius' works, most of which have been reissued on CD. Another major reissue from Pristine Audio (apparently the first on CD) is Beecham's 1952-53 Philips recording of A Mass of Life recorded in Abby Road Studio 1. It is the composer's masterpiece, scored for four vocal soloists, huge orchestra and double chorus, with a text from Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra. This was a specialty of Sir Thomas who conducted the work's premiere in 1909. The original recording was remarkably fine sonically for its time, vividly capturing the large choral forces. Years ago I owned two copies of the Columbia issue of this performance; both had noisy surfaces—of course totally absent from this important reissue. Producer Andrew Rose has added a touch of ambient sound processing that is totally satisfying. The second disk contains another Beecham specialty and another Delius rarity, incidental music for Flecker's play Hassan; the date was May 29, 1956 and the venue was Walthamstow Assembly Hall. It is unfortunate no text is provided, nor can it be found on the label's web site; however, it can be found ON LINE.

Isaac Albéniz wrote his 12-movement suite Iberia for solo piano. Although he must have realized how appropriate orchestral sonorities would be for his vivid music, he never got around to orchestrating the work. His friend Enrique Fernandez Arbós orchestrated five of the pieces, the remainder by Carlos Surinach, both well-versed in the Spanish idiom. The result is a delightful suite of varying moods. Eugene Ormandy is an ideal conductor for Albéniz's masterpiece, and made this recording in 1956 in the Philadelphia's Academy of Music. The monophonic sound is well-balanced and surprisingly resonant considering the venue. Mark Obert-Thorn's transfer from the Columbia original LPs is totally satisfying. This famous performance, in an equally fine transfer, also is available from Haydn House (REVIEW).

All of these recordings are available from PRISTINE AUDIO

R.E.B. (February 2011)