MASCAGNI: Cavallerria Rusticana
VERDI: La traviata
MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 in C# minor
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 in D minor
CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11. Piano Concerto No.
2 in F minor, Op. 21.
This 1953 EMI recording of Cavalleria Rusticana is one of Maria Callas's finest recordings. She is well-suited to the role of the betrayed country girl Santuzza. It is thrilling to hear her collaborating with Giuseppe di Stefano, who here is an unusually powerful Turridu. I remember attending a 1974 concert in Washington, D.C. when both singers made a "farewell tour" with piano accompaniment, both tattered vocally, but highly personable, and the audience responded positively to every sound they made: Callas died of a heart attack in 1977. Andrew Rose's remastering of the EMI recording has brought new life to it, with presence and clarity—a terrific job. This cannot be said of the other Callas set, a studio recording of La traviataalso made in 1953, but by Cetra. Callas had a contract to record four operas with them but only completed La Gioconda and this Traviata. The soprano was in her prime (such as it was) at the time, both vocally and interpretively—but still often her high notes were a challenge for the ears, with some that almost could take paint off the ceiling. Interpretively she cannot be matched, but on this transfer her vocal deficiencies are exaggerated by the engineering approach. to remastering the recording. Cetra's engineering was poor, and Pristine's has attempted unsuccessfully to make it sound better. There is considerable distortion in loud passages, and the added overly-resonant acoustic gives an unpleasant hollow quality. There are many Callas Traviatas about; this, her earliest available, is of interest only to collectors who might not mind the unsuccessful attempt to correct an inferior original recording.
Bruno Walter's 1947 Columbia recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 5 is an important recording, a direct link to the composer. Walter knew Mahler well and conducted the premiere of Das Lied von der Erde in Munich in 1911, about two years after it was composed. Walter made the first recording of this music in 1936, a live performance with Kerstin Thorborg and Charles Kullman. Symphony No. 9 was written 1908-1909, premiered June 26, 1912 with Bruno Walter and the Vienna Philharmonic a year after the composer's death. Bruno Walter's live performance with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1938, the first ever made of this masterpiece. And those interested in Walter's Mahler surely should investigate the superb recent Pristine issue of his Columbia stereo recordings of Symphonies 1 and 9 (REVIEW). This 1947 recording of Symphony No. 5 might seem super-charged by today's performance traditions. Walter moves it along indeed with a total playing time of less than an hour; most modern interpretations are at least 10-12 minutes longer, a major factor being the Adagietto, which sounds raced (7:43). However, Willem Mengelberg's 1926 Columbia recording of the same music is faster (7:04). Walter also made a recording of the Adagietto with the Vienna Philharmonic for HMV in 1938; playing time for this is 7:59. As both Walter and Mengelberg knew Mahler well, we can assume that a quick tempo for the Adagietto is what the composer wished, although there is no question that this wonderful music is glorious when played slower. Pristine's remastering of Symphony No. 5 from the original 78s is remarkably fine.
Bruno Walter also was considered to be a major interpreter of Bruckner.but made relatively few recordings. This Symphony No.9 was made in November 1959 in American Legion Hall in Hollywood. It is quite a good recording sonically, and the quality has been further enhanced and clarified by Andrew Rose, who did the same for Walter's Columbia Symphony recordinghs of Mahler Symphonies 1 and 9 (R. But this is not a truly grand Bruckner Nine with a remarkably tame scherzo. My favorite recording of this is the incredible 1956 recording with Eduard van Beinum and the Concertgebouw This site also mentioned a live 1957 performance of Symphony No. 9 with Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic available at one time on Music & Arts (REVIEW).
Arthur Rubinstein made his first recording of Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in 1937, the first recording of Concerto No. 2 in 1931, both with Barbirolli and the London Symphony Orchestra. This new Pristine disk offers his second recordings of both, No. 1 with Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and a pickup ensemble called New Symphony Orchestra of London, recorded June 8/9, 1961 in Walthamstow Town Hall. My friend Charles Gerhardt, at the time making recordings with the National Philharmonic (very similar to the NSO of London) for Reader's Digest and RCA, attended the sessions and I recall him mentioning what a pleasure it was to meet and observe Rubinstein work, a true gentleman as well as a supreme artist who was very pleased to be performing with a countryman on the podium. Concerto No. 2 was recorded January 20, 1958 in Carnegie Hall with the Symphony of the Air directed by Alfred Wallenstein. Both recordings have been highly praised interpretively and now, should you not already possess them, here's your opportunity to hear them in terrific, revitalized sound.
R.E.B. (April 2013)