PROKOFIEV:  Scythian Suite, Op. 20.  Lieutenant Kij╚, Op. 60.  KHACHATURIAN:  Gayne Ballet Suite
Vienna Symphony Orch; Vienna State Opera Orch (Khachaturian)/Hermann Scherchen, cond.
Westminster 471 265 (M/S) (M) TT:  62:51

MAHLER:  Symphony No. 7 in E Minor "Song of the Night"
Vienna State Opera Orch/Hermann Scherchen, cond.

Westminster 471 263 (M) (M) TT:  77:52

HERMANN SCHERCHEN "The Nixa Recordings"
BERLIOZ:  Harold in Italy, Op. 16 (with Frederick Riddle, viola). Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14a.  RIMSKY-KORSAKOV:  Russian Easter Overture, Op. 36.  Symphony No. 2, Op. 9 "Antar."
Capriccio espagnol, Op. 34.  TCHAIKOVSKY: Overture 1812, Op. 49.  Marche slave, Op. 31.  Capriccio Italien, Op. 45
Royal Philharmonic Orch (Berlioz Harold); London Symphony Orch/Herrmann Scherchen, cond.

TAHRA TAH 413/417 (4 CDs) (F) (ADD) TT:  42:18 / 65:38 / 66:36 / 66:37

Here are three important releases in the recorded legacy of Hermann Scherchen, the first two beautifully remastered Westminster recordings from the early '50s, and a special group identified as "The Nixa Recordings"  dating from September 15 - 28, 1953, recorded in London's Walthamstow Assembly Hall. These monophonic recordings were made for Nixa Record Company, later called Pye/Nixa and finally Pye Records.  The tapes now belong to EMI and were licensed to Tahra for this major reissue. It's a handsome production in an oversize box (6" x 10") a bit more than 1/2 inch thick containing 24 pages, with color pictures of original Westminster LP issues along with programs notes and commentary by Sami Habra, artistic director of Tahra. There is a bit of confusion regarding the orchestra performing Symphonic fantastique. The CD label says it is the Royal Philharmonic, but CD notes in the booklet say it is the London Symphony Orchestra, which doubtless is accurate as the sessions were during the same time period as the Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov works, which are played by the LSO.  This is one of the strangest - and most compelling - recordings of Symphonie fantastique, distinguished by effective accents and wide, often exaggerated, tempos. There's no cornet in the second movement (Un Bal); I expected that Scherchen, with his incredible insight into scores, would have elected to include it. After a brisk, direct March to the Scaffold (without repeat), we have the last movement, Witches' Sabbath, which is particularly arbitrary, with a very slow introduction, the brass outburst beginning at 1:40 into track 5 played at a perversely slow tempo, which continues for the Dies Irae section, after which the final pages are frantically exciting. The other Berlioz work, Harold in Italy, commissioned by Paganini but rejected by him because it wasn't flashy enough (although later he realized the merit of the score), is given a more standard performance with superb playing from violist Frederick Riddle. Riddle had a long, distinguished career; he had recorded the Walton Viola Concerto with the composer conducting about two decades earlier.  He was principal violist of the Royal Philharmonic, and had recorded Harold in Italy with Beecham and the RPO.  Two years after this Nixa recording, Riddle performed Harold with Beecham/RPO, a performance now issued on BBC Legends (BBCL 4065).

Scherchen does for Antar what he did for Gli╦re's Ilya Mourometz. This Antar is the most voluptuous, passionate performance on records, particularly the finale, The Pleasure of Love.  I've long admired this performance on the original LP as well as on its previous CD issue (Nixa 6021), but it sounds even better on this superbly-mastered new issue.  The other Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky works are performed with Scherchen's usual attention to detail. Russian Easter begins very slowly with an appropriately reverential mood, plenty of orchestral fireworks in the blazing conclusion.  Romeo and Juliet is a reading of grandeur with the slower passages very slow, the fight sequences vigorous, the love scene super-romantic. Marche slave, Capriccio Italien and 1812 are given big-scale treatment with scrupulous attention to detail.

Mahler's Symphony No. 7 was particularly close to Scherchen who in 1911 played violin/viola in a Berlin orchestra when Oskar Fried conducted  the symphony, making a lasting impression on the young musician.  In 1953, forty-five years later, Scherchen made this recording which was my introduction to the music (a photo of the original Westminster 2-LP release is included in the booklet).  Scherchen's imaginative interpretation is hindered by a smallish-sounding orchestra and some tentative playing. This was recorded about a year after Scherchen recorded his famous Gli╦reIlya Mourometz.

The Prokofiev-Khachaturian coupling is a winner.  Scherchen captures all of the frenzy of Scythian Suite as well as humour of Kij╚.  The1951 mono sound of both is well-balanced with surprising dynamic range for the time - superior sonically to the Mahler Seventh recorded two years later.  The 20-minute suite from Gayne, recorded in 1957, is an example of early stereo at its best - how unfortunate the multi-channel stereo process wasn't developed earlier!

As mentioned above, all of the new transfers do justice to quality of original tapes.  These are welcome major additions to the Scherchen discography. To purchase the TAHRA set, go to their website.

R.E.B.  (June 2002)