|TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64
(Nov. 22, 1944). LISZT: Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (May 8,
The Isle of the Dead, Op. 29 (April 23, 1945). SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 7
in C, Op. 105 (May 1, 1933). HARRIS: Symphony No. 3 (Nov. 8,
1939). BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 (Sept. 3/4, 1934).
SERGE KOUSSEVITZKY conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Tchaikovsky/Liszt/Rachmaninoff/Harris), the BBC Symphony Orchestra (Sibelius) and London Philharmonic Orchestra (Beethoven)
EMI CLASSICS 75118 (2 CDs) (M) (ADD) TT: 77:36 & 71:04
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NICOLAI MALKO conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Royal Danish Orchestra (Haydn) and Danish State Radio Orchestra (Nielsen)
EMI CLASSICS 75121 (2 CDs) (M) (ADD) TT: 79:01 & 78:30
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|SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 5 in B Flat (Jan. 29,
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 "Pastorale" (May
MOZART: Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550 (April 25, 1949). STRAUSS: Till
Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Op. 28 (Jan. 29, 1953). DVORÁK: Carnival Overture,
Op. 92 (Feb. 21, 1948). JOSEF STRAUSS: Music of the Spheres Waltz
(Feb. 20, 1948). JOHANN STRAUSS: Gypsy Baron Overture
(Feb. 20, 1948). Waltz from Die Fledermaus (Feb. 3, 1929).
ERICH KLEIBER conducting the North German Radio Orchestra (Schubert, Beethoven, R. Strauss)/Czech Philharmonic (Beethoven)/ London Philharmonic (Mozart, Dvorák, Josef Strauss Gypsy Baron) and Vienna Philharmonic (Fledermaus)
EMI CLASSICS 75115 (2 CDs) (M) (ADD) TT: 68:10 & 67:47
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BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture
No. 2 (Sept. 14, 1950).
MOZART: Symphony No. 36 in C, K. 425 (Nov. 7, 1949). MENDELSSOHN:
Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90 (Sept. 14, 1950). BRAHMS: Tragic Overture,
Op. 81 (Sept. 7, 1950). WEBER: Der Freischütz Overture
(Oct. 22, 1948). HAYDN:
Sinfonia Concertante in B Flat (Jan. 26/27, 1951). BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 in D,
Op. 73 (Oct. 20/21, 1947). STRAUSS: Don Juan, Op. 20
(July 6/8, 1936).
In the 1990s we had "The Great Pianists" from Philips in cooperation with other companiesmultiple sets at full price, and more often than not treasure chests. For the third millennium A.D., IMG Artists on behalf of EMI has undertaken "Great Conductors of the 20th Century" in slimline duopack boxes. From what I assume is a first release rather than the entire project, I chose four, omitting Ansermet, Argenta (his death, like Cantelli's, cut short what promised to be a significant international career), Barbirolli (enough already on a slew of EMI labels), Andr╚ Cluytens (who doesn't deserve inclusion among "Great Conductors," nor Carl Schuricht; Nikolai Golovanov is a question mark). Withal, the remastering on discs chosen from this series by Paul Baily (Re:Sound), is a model of transfers from analog tape (and in some cases shellac discs) to digital disc-format.
Whether Nicolai Malko (1883-1961) rates the sobriquet "Great," Nicolas Slonimsky listed him as "eminent" in Baker's V, et seq. He was a conductor of real importance in pre-Soviet Russia, later in Denmark and Australia, where he died at the age of 78, after five seasons as Eugene Goossens' successor in Sydney. He was a student of Rimsky-K, Lyadov, and Glazunov at the St. Petersburg Conservatory (before the city was renamed Petrograd, then Leningrad). In the first-ever conducting class he created there in 1922, Yevgeny Mravinsky was one of his pupils. Malko conducted opera and ballet at the Maly Theater, then served as music director of the Leningrad Philharmonic for three seasons (1926-29) before leaving the Soviet Union. During that time he led the world premiere of 19-year-old Dmitri Shostakovich's First Symphony, and cajoled the young man to arrange "Tea for Two" on a slow train journey that was boring them both. In Copenhagen before and after WW2, Malko was a ranking favoritewhere a prestigious international conducting competition bears his namealthough he relocated to Chicago in 1940 and became a U.S. citizen six years later, the while teaching and serving as music director of the free summer concert series in Grant Park, in a bandshell on the downtown lakefront, until his departure for Australia in 1956.
He was a probing musician, and if you listened without a predisposition for goose-bumps, you learned a great deal about how music was put togetherI have a memory of Beethoven's Seventh undimmed after nearly 50 years, by which time Fritz Reiner was ensconsed in Orchestra Hall, where the Seventh was a recurring specialty (and superlatively recorded by RCA). I remember Malko also as a friend and gracious host, who never alluded to my being a critic, no matter what I'd written. Gina Bachauer introduced us, and I spent many a pleasant free evening chez Malko, learning music from him as well as magic tricks in which he delighted. He was a latecomer to discs, though broadcast tapes survive in Danish Radio archives both before his departure and after WW2. There are two of them on Disc 2: Haydn's Symphony 92 (both brisk and subtle, absolutely in the style), and the Prelude to Carl Nielsen's comic opera Maskeradefrom broadcast-concerts respectively in 1953 and 1947. The rest are London studio recordings with the Philharmonia Orchestra in Kingsway Hall, including two from 1955 that have remained bellwethers: the Borodin Second Symphony, and the first Western European recording of Prokofiev's Seventh. Both exemplify Malko's "Ďclarity of texture, sense of movement and finesse" in Robert Layton's words. His 1956 Nutcracker excerpts spare us "Waltz of the Flowers," while the Snow Maiden, Poet and Peasant, and Russlan lollipops are treated as music rather than show-off pieces. The big work on disc 2 is a straightforward Dvorák No. 9 ("From the New Worl") in early stereo, again musicianly rather than "Czech" (much less Toscanini-like), more than likely to be skipped over by younger listenersbut at the cost of the Orchestra's noble playing.
Like Malko, Fritz Busch was a favorite in Copenhagen, which he made his home after the Nazis dismissed him in 1933 from the Dresden Staatsoper, where he had succeeded Reiner in 1922. But record collectors of the pre- and post-war 2 era are most likely to remember him for the Mozart operas he recorded at Glyndebourne. Busch was active, however, in Buenos Aires at the Teatro Colón, and in New York after the war with the Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera. He was among the contestants to succeed Artur Rodzinski in Chicago, but forever on the move until his sudden death at age 61 in London, following a performance of Don Giovanni at the Edinburgh Festival. Only three of the 10 works in this collection come from Danish Radio broadcasts: Beethoven's second Leonore Overture and Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony at a February 1950 concert, and Brahms' Tragic later that year. At the risk of controversy sure to be heated in some quarters, I never heard the Danish Orchestra play as well for Busch as they did for Malko in Haydn 92. The Mozart Linz some considered a period classic, but his reputed pi╦ce de r╦sistance was Brahms Second Symphony, even with a third-movement Presto a helluva lot faster than the composer's modifying ma non assai. Elsewhere it reminds one of Bruno Walter in bed with Toscanini, an odd coupling of styles. But the 1950 Tragic was conventional if you ever heard Reiner's (and if you haven't, give yourself a treat - if you can find it). The 1948 Freischütz Overture is more theatrically vivid, and the Haydn Sinfonia concertante for four soloists and orchestrathe "newest" inclusion, from Copenhagen concerts in January 1951engagingly played by all parties. The prize, however, is Busch's 1936 EMI recording of Don Juan with the London Phil, despite dullish sound from an Abbey Road studio, and conventional playing of the opening flourish. It builds, though, a terrific head of interpretive steamone of the most impassioned and seductive performances ever recorded. Busch's Don may be a rou╦ but more than just a sex machine. The Mozart and Weber inclusions, an asterisk tells us, were "mastered from shellacs" (but not the Don? Surely it preceded tape by a decade!).
I wrote recently about an Erich Kleiber disc with NBC Symphony and Munich Philharmonic broadcasts, the latter in Till Eulenspiegel during a tour concert in Monaco, and included considerable background on his career before and after the Nazi era. Born the same year as Fritz Busch (1890), he lived only five years longer, and also went to the Colòn in Buenos Aires when the Nazis denounced his programming (ironically neither was Jewish). It remained his home base for more than a decade although he guest conducted throughout the hemisphere until his return to Europe in the late 1940s. Interestingly, the same 1929 Polydor recording of Johann Strauss Jr's Du und Du that ends side 2 here was the opening cut in one of DGG's 1991 commemorations of the Vienna Philharmonic sesquicentennialmarginally more vivid-sounding a decade later on IMG, but still an echt-Wien performance, minus the Schlagobers. Remarkably, Kleiber was able to simulate Viennese sound and style with the London Phil 20 years later in brother Josef's Sphörenklönge Waltz and Johann II's Overture to Der Zigeunerbaron. These are classic specimens of English Decca's "ffrr" mono sound, which dumbfounded the world after WW2. If he couldn't manage to make the same London orchestra sound idiomatic in Dvorak's Carnival Overture, Disk 1 has a genuine Czech Phil performanceof Beethoven's "Pastoral" from a July 1955 concert. I prefer both of his Decca disc versions, despite the orchestra's sweet sound (a sudden speed-up before "The Storm" tears the carefully woven fabric up to that point). A likeably brisk Hamburg NDR broadcast performance of Schubert's Fifth (which ordinarily I will travel distances to avoid), and the work that inspired it, Mozart's 40th (no dallying or Beecham-izing in this 1949 Decca mono recording with the London Phil) are both collectable, and an NDR Till from 1953 is as vividly musical as the 1951 Monaco version (as well as better recorded by German radio engineers). Except for that passage in the Beethoven, this is an estimable honorific to a conductor second to several but the equal of many eminences in the 20th century.
Finally, I requested the 2-disc Koussevitzky album for several reasons. It includes his fabled 1933 performance of Sibelius' Seventh Symphonythe first version of that work on discswith the three-year-old BBC Symphony. The transfer is astonishing (I lived for a long time with noisy wartime 78-discs, and thereafter with a deplorable Vox cassette); the performance sounds even more impassioned and magisterial, with details I never realized were there. For this alone an investment is urged. But it also restores Koussevitzky's storied Boston Symphony Victor recording of Roy Harris' plains-staking Third Symphony (from 1939 shellacs), the Tchaikovsky Fifth of 1944 in Symphony Hall acoustics (OK, not for Mravinsky devotees, but closer to the living Tchaik - Koussevitzky was born in 1874). There's the version of Rachmaninoff's The Isle of the Dead from 1945 that replaced the composer's own from 1929 with the Philadelphia Orchestra, in turn replaced by Reiner/Chicago in 1957 "Living Stereo." If Rachmaninoff and the Philadelphia remain the most turbulent, Koussevitzky drew a sonority from the Boston to go with a performance of expressive powerand this transfer gets it right! There's also the 1936 Mephisto Waltz No. 1 of Liszt recorded in 1936virtuosic but pulled-about, which Reiner topped two decades later. If you want to know why the Boston Symphony was top-ranked by connoisseurs of orchestral sonority and virtuosity, these examples remain a superb testament. And finally there's a Beethoven FifthKoussevitzky's earlier and better of two - recorded in 1934 with Beecham's brand-new London Phil. The RCA version near the end of his career (Koussie was invited, as they say in Boston, to retire in April 1949) was heavy-handed, as his late period "Eroica," Ninth, and mid-'30s Missa solemnis werebut he conducted a gorgeous "Pastoral" I hope will resurface some day before we meet in that sonorous Symphony Hall in the Sky, not to ignore a vivacious Second and high-gloss Eighth that were staples in their time. Like Mengelberg (and Stokowski when the mood seized him), Koussevitzky was an "old-fashioned" conductor in an era that Toscanini came to dominate. His Beethoven Fifth was "interpreted," yet the slow movement remains a thing of beauty and the transition from the Scherzo to the Finale is nobler than Toscanini's violent performances on several occasions I heard, but outright violent in the shellac album that RCA Victor issued in the early years of the NBC Symphony, made even worse by the no-reverb acoustic of Studio 8-H.
Koussevitzky I'm keeping. And Malko, too, for Auld Lang Syne. His music-making was in a sense the antithesis of Koussevitzky's, but in the world of music there are many mansions, not all of which need be castles.
R.D. (August 2002)