According to the booklet that accompanies this disc, it is Reference Recordings' tenth to date since Eiji Oue became music director of the Minnesota Orchestra in 1995, a post he’s leaving after the 2000-01 season (a Copland centennary collection will be the eleventh).
Like three before it, “Bolero” is a potpourri, but this time with a soupcon of internal logic. There are three stylistic groupings among 12 items, following a good performance of Kabalevsky’s Colas Breugnon Overture (which used to be played almost as often as Bernstein’s Candide is programmed today). It’s not the hot Colas Toscanini or Reiner served up on RCA Red Seal in less generic times than currently, but it certainly matches today’s peer playings.
Two bug-pieces follow: a fanciful, French-impressionistic performance of Deems Taylor’s “Looking Glass Insects” from the suite based on Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass (all of which you can enjoy on a Delos CD by Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony), and Rimsky’s Bumblebee from an opera with a very long title, handily capsulized as Tsar Saltan.
Logic takes a hiatus while Oue conducts a capable performance of Liszt’s potboiling Les Préludes. It isn’t going to make you forget Mengelberg’s hallowed hullabaloo of 1929, or Solti’s from Chicago, or even Haitink’s or Masur’s on a lesser level, but is sonorously played and big-band recorded by Professor Johnson. It’s also the longest cut on the disc: 17 minutes.
Next we have some Mitteleuropa dances: Brahms’ Hungarian Third in F, one of only three from 21 for piano duet that he orchestrated himself; then the Romanian Grigoras Dinicu’s Hora staccato (orchestrated by Alois Schmid from a violin/piano original), and after that Dvorák’s Slavonic Dance No. 10, Op. 72, No. 2, in a sinuous if not quite slavic performance. Arnas Järnefelt’s pop-concert Berceuse for strings follows (he was Sibelius’ brother-in- law)—another lapse in programming logic, but very pretty. So is Berlioz’s “Dance of the Sylphs” from La damnation de Faust.
But the pièce-de-resistance for me is Otto Klemperer’s Merry Waltz (originally “Merry Waltz and One Step”), composed in 1915 for an opera that was never produced. He made this concert version in 1959 and recorded it, but Oue wins hands down. RefRec’s soundstage is 40 years’ more lucid than EMI’s, and the Minnesotans outplay whatever version of the Philharmonia Orchestra Klemperer was leading four decades ago. The piece is full of harmonic double-takes—not just rollicking but owlishly humorous, from a man who looked in old age like Michelangelo’s Moses without the beard.
Chabrier’s Habanera is the orchestral reworking of a piano piece composed in 1885—more than just a transcription—which French composers ever since have admired, none more than Ravel, whose Boléro concludes the program. It is of course as much a potboiler as Liszt’s Les Préludes yet even more popular, although the composer came to hate its popularity (“it is not a composition but an exercise in orchestration”). Oue doesn’t rush it, even if he trims the composer’s own famously deliberative timing by one minute. The Minnesotans serve it with panache in 15:14, although a couple of instances of iffy intonation could have been remade to advantage. Annotations by Richard Freed are chock-full of information, always well written, and never pedantic.
I may never again listen to the whole collection, but certainly from time to time I’ll put on Klemperer’s Merry Waltz (and One-Step) for therapeutic chuckles, and the sheer wonder that a man so tortured had it in him to write this music.
R.D. (June 2000)