VIVALDI: The Four Seasons. HANDEL: Messiah (excerpts).
Hugh Bean, violinist; New Philharmonia Orch (Vivaldi); Sheila Armstrong, soprano; Norma Procter, contralto; Kenneth Bowen, tenor; John Cameron, bass; London Symphony Chorus and Orch. /Leopold Stokowski, cond.
CALA CACD0538 (F) (ADD) TT: 45:50 & 58:05
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TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 Pathétique. Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48.
Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orch;Willem Mengelberg, cond.
NAXOS 8.110885 (B) (ADD) TT: 70:10
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DEBUSSY: Preludes Books I and II (orch. Hans Henkemans/Hans Zender)
Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orch/Haitink; Rotterdam Philharmonic Orch/Kocsis.
ROCD 0060 (ADD) TT:
63:51


Cala continues their important series of Leopold Stokowski reissues with this twin-CD set (that sells for the price of one disk) restoring to the catalog repertory unusual for the conductor, all recorded in London's Phase Four series. Four Seasons was recorded June 11, 1966 in Decca studios in West Hampstead, London; the extended excerpts from Messiah September 20, 1966 in Kingsway Hall. The only other music of Vivaldi Stokowski recorded was the Concerto Grosso in D minor, which he did three times (1934, 1952, 1967). Messiah also was new to Stokowski's discography although he had made two recordings of the "Pastoral Symphony" from the work. For Stokowski, this performance of highlights from Messiah is remarkably standard. It's surprising he didn't use the grandiose Goossens orchestration (with cymbals!) used by Beecham in his 1959 RCA Soria recording with the Royal Philharmonic. Both of these new Stokowski reissues have huge, resonant sonics with spotlighting of various instruments—expected from London'sPhase Four engineering approach. The four superb soloists in Messiah are admirably cushioned by the large orchestra.

Naxos' Mengelberg Tchaikovsky reissue contains two of the Dutch conductor's finest recordings. This is his second Pathétique for Telefunken; the first was made December 21, 1937 (a busy day of recording as it also included Vivaldi's Concerto No. 3 from L'estro armonico, the Air from Bach's Suite No. 3 and Berlioz' Roman Carnival Overture!). It's felt the second Pathétique, recorded April 22, 1941, is superior to the earlier version. The 1937 recording was issued on CD in 1988 by Teldec (243 730) in a poor transfer. Serenade was recorded November 7, 1938. In both performances Mengelberg's typical trademarks are ever apparent—check out the heavy portamento in the principal theme of the first movement of the symphony, or in the Serenade's Waltz. The symphony is given an erratic performance—you may be surprised by the willful ending of the third movement March. Mark Obert-Thorne's superb transfer of the symphony is taken from multiple copies of German Telefunken shellac pressings. He did everything that could be done with a recording that features rather wirey strings—it would be fascinating to know details of how many microphones were used and other technical information from original sessions.

The private issue of Debussy's Preludes in orchestrations by Dutch composers Hans Henkemans (1913-1995) and Hans Zender (b. 1935) are of enormous interest to collectors. Leopold Stokowski's famous orchestration of Le cathédrale engloutie is currently available in two recordings by him, one with the New Philharmonia Orchestra on Decca, as well as a live performance with the NBC Symphony Orchestra—his 1930 Victor recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra once was available on Biddulph. There also are superb performances by Geoffrey Simon and the Philharmonia Orchestra on Cala, and with Erich Kunzel on Telarc (CD 80338). It isn't stated how many of Debussy's preludes Henkemans orchestrated but we have here Danseuses de Delphes, Voiles, Le vent dans le plaine, Les collines d'Anacapri, Des pas sur la neige, Ce qu'a vu le vent d'Ouest and La cathédral engloutie from Book I, as well as Bruyeres, General Lavine - eccentric, La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune and Feu d'artifice from Book II. Four preludes from Book I also were orchestrated by Hans Zender (Voiles, Des pas sur le neige, Les collines d'Anacapri and Le danse de Puck, the only one not done by Henkemans). It's surprising there aren't more orchestrations of these varied imaginative pieces. Both Henkemans and Zender, made their transcriptions with great sensitivity to the original works, rather surprising for Zender as his focus for the past two decades has been avant-garde music. What is heard on this CD are broadcast performances in fine,broad stereo sound. There are occasional audience distractions but they are not obtrusive. It's a pleasure to have the opportunity to hear Debussy's piano music in this form; there are no other recordings of most of this music. This is a private CD. For more information contact Russell Oppenheim <roppenheim@satx.rr.com>.

R.E.B. (July 2004)