BEETHOVEN:  Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 36 (rec. March 21, 1943).  Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, Op. 55 "Eroica"  (rec. March 5, 1942?).  Symphony No. 8 in F, Op. 93 (rec. May 13, 1943).  BRAHMS:  Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68 (rec. April 13, 1943).
Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orch/Willem Mengelberg, cond.

TAHRA 391-393 (3 CDs) (ADD) TT:  49:28 / 67:16 / 47:23 

 

A major historic issue! These three CDs contain previously unissued concert performances by Willem Mengelberg and "his Concertgebouw Orchestra" as it was called on early Columbia/Odeon recordings. All are from his last years of concertizing, recorded during his final concerts before his total exile from The Netherlands because of his supposed collaboration with the Nazi regime.

The only other Mengelberg recording of Symphony No. 2 is the live performance from April 21, 1940 issued on Philips originally, currently available on Music & Arts and Grammofono. Timings are virtually identical for 1940 and 1943; sound quality is excellent on both. There is a Telefunken studio recording of this symphony, recorded April 24, 1941, but it has never been issued and the masters may be lost. Symphony No. 8 also exists from the 1940 live cycle (April 18).  Timings are slightly more expansive in the later version -- but neither of them approach the distinctive style and performance of the Scherzo recorded June 10, 1927, which remains one of the jolliest of all recorded Beethoven performances.

The Eroica is a major  premiere issue, a  performance  recorded March 5, 1942, although the date is in question. But it is a complete Concertgebouw performance with a scherzo that includes the repeat (omitted in the Telefunken recording but included in the Victor NYP set). Mengelberg does the scherzo repeat in all performances except the Telefunken; it would seem he had to truncate it so it would fit onto just one 78 rpm side. This performance is Mengelberg at his most dynamic and, if you view it that way, willful. But what a performance!  Tahra's sound quality is remarkably good. 

 Mengelberg's Eroica has a rather confused recording history.  His first commercial version was the 1930 Victor "Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York" recording available in a superb Mark Obert-Thorne transfer on Biddulph ( WHL 020).  His other commercial recording was for Telefunken November 11/13, 1940, issued in the U.S. on a long out-of-print Capitol LP, now available in a magnificent MOT transfer on Pearl (GEMS 0074), and in the Philips set of Mengelberg's 1940 live Beethoven set on Philips in which it was identified as "live" although it wasn't -- it was the Telefunken recording.  The Philips set of live performances from the 1940 Beethoven cycle has long been discontinued, but the performances are currently available in a 5-CD set on Music & Arts (1005). This label included the Eroica in their 4-CD set called "The Mengelberg Legacy" (780), identifying the date as April 14, 1940, in a transfer that is quite boomy and noisy. (I don't mean to discourage collectors from this set -- in spite of its occasional transfer problems it contains many important works Mengelberg never recorded commercially).  The new recording on Tahra surely is  the one to have, wonderfully transferred from the original source.  The date they have given is March 5, 1942, although there is some question about this -- it seems the Dutch Archives are unclear.

Of equal interest is the April 13, 1943 live recording of the Brahms First. Mengelberg made complete commercial recordings of the other three symphonies but recorded  only the third movement of the first, May 31, 1930 for Columbia/Odeon. Philips issued a performance of Symphony No. 1 from  a concert October 13, 1940 (CD 416 210, nla); the new Tahra release is an even more exciting -- if perverse -- performance, with greatly improved sound. It is a pleasure to hear Mengelberg's olympian interpretation in such good sound.

It is unfortunate there are no additional performances on these CDs; perhaps there simply are no more available live Mengelberg performances. Playing time on two of the three CDs is not overly generous (49:28 and 47:23), but material included here would not have fit onto just two disks, even with the omission of two one-minute "before and after" examples of the sound before and after restoration. However, the set is sold as 3 CDs for the price of 2.

The album includes a lengthy essay by Miriam Scherchen (daughter of the famous conductor) about Mengelberg's last years (1940-1951) focusing on the supposed support he gave to the Nazi occupation, justifying what he did (or did not do) and outlining in some detail concerts he gave from 1940 until his last concert, June 18, 1944, in Paris, after which he retired to his chalet in the Swiss Engadine remaining there until March 22, 1951, when he died six days before his eightieth birthday,

We are indebted to Tahra for making these performances available and doing it in such exemplary fashion.

R.E.B. (AUG. 2000)