DVORÁK:  Symphony No. 9 in E Minor "From the New World."  Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104.
Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orch. (Symphony) Paris Radio Orch/Maurice Gendron, cellist (Concerto)  Willem Mengelberg, cond.

ARKADIA 78575 (M) (ADD) TT: 77:12  

Mengelberg's  "New World," recorded in April 1941,  was among  his last commercial recordings.  That same month he recorded his magnificent Ein Heldenleben, and  Borodin's In the Steppes of Central Asia.  About a year later he would record music of Strauss, Berlioz, Wagenaar, Brahms, Schubert, Beethoven and Mozart.  Although many of Mengelberg's commercial recordings are available  there still are many yet to be released, including his magnificent Death and Transfiguration and Dopper's Gothic Chaconne

Dvorák's  symphony was  issued  more than a decade ago on  a long out-of-print  Teldec  CD (243 731), a rather dull-sounding transfer issued with no coupling. There is no other recording of "New World" like Mengelberg's.  All of his usual interpretive characteristics -- changes of tempo almost from bar to bar, carefully balanced dynamics and portamento (surprisingly used sparingly in this performance), mark this interpretation. The Concertgebouw  orchestra plays magnificently; after a half-century of working with Mengelberg they knew exactly what he wanted.

After recording many 78s for Columbia/Odeon from 1926 to 1931, and a few for Decca in 1935, the Orchestra switched to Telefunken in 1937, an association that continued until 1944.  The Columbias, in spite of their earlier recording dates, offered a more  natural sonic perspective than the Telefunkens. Most of the latter are well-balanced, but for the Dvorák there is a rather odd perspective and somewhat limited  dynamic range.  Supposedly a single microphone was suspended above the orchestra for all Telefunken recordings, but that would not explain spotlighting of individual instruments -- with results that often sound more like electronic than musical decisions.  It is highly doubtful that Mengelberg's balances would be what is heard here, particularly  the  English Horn solo in the second movement which is far too prominent.  The single appearance of cymbals in the  symphony, shortly after the beginning of the last movement (1'47"), is marked in the score mezzo forte ("half loud"). It is difficult to believe that the  loud cymbal smash heard on this recording is what the conductor intended. Arkadia's transfer, attributed to Nikos Velissiotis, is quite successful with more surface noise than usually heard on 78  transfers.  Side-joins are excellent, but fades between movements could have been more subtle; however,  until a transfer by Mark Obert-Thorn, Ward Marston or Michael  Dutton comes along, this will serve nicely.  Arkadia gives no information about the recordings/performances aside from dates, but there are photographs of both Dvorák and Mengelberg.

The Cello Concerto is a live performance recorded January 16, 1944 with Maurice Gendron in superb form as soloist with the Paris Radio Orchestra which, under Mengelberg's inspired leadership, sounds like one of the top orchestras of the world.  The performance is impassioned and direct, the radio broadcast sound remarkably fine.  This performance is known to collectors from the previous CD, Archive Documents, in Volume 10 of  "The Mengelberg Edition."  There is little difference in  transfer quality of the two issues.  One cannot help but wonder what other Mengelberg performances might be hiding in the French Radio archives.

R.E.B. (JULY 2000)