Some months ago there were rumors this major historic documentation project - excerpts from live radio recordings of the Concertgebouw Orchestra - might be abandoned. Fortunately those rumors were wrong, as evidenced by this fourth volume in the series, and it offers some treasures indeed— although it disappoints by including a number of recordings already issued on various labels. Ancerl's Haydn, Paganini Rhapsody (superb performance with Daniel Wayenberg!), and Franck symphony were issued by Tahra, a label that also issued the Arrau/Jochum Schumann concerto. Tahra also issued a magnificent Mahler 7th with Kiril Kondrashin. The Soviet conductor played an important part in the Concertgebouw's history from 1968-1981. His performance of Scriabin's Symphony No. 3, included in this set, was issued on Etcetera (KTC 1027, now discontinued), and the Emergo label issued a coupling of live recordings of Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 3 and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, also no longer available. The new RCO set's gem is Kondrashin's 1971 performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4, a work which received its world premiere in December 1962 with Kondrashin conducting the Moscow Philharmonic. This performance from October 10, 1971 is definitive in every way. Equally fine is Kondrashin's reading of Sibelius's En Saga in which his penchant for extreme dynamics is obvious—and effective. The recording of Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations is a meeting of giants in 1977, Mstislav Rostropovich and Kondrashin. In 1984 Philips issued a series of CDs of live performances by Kondrashin with the Concertgebouw; all have been deleted, but two have been resurrected by ArkivMusic (Stravinsky's Petrushka, Symphony No. 2 of Borodin, Nielsen's Symphony No. 5 and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 6). Let us hope that ArkivMusic also will issue the remainder, which include Ravel's complete Daphnis and Chloe, La Valse, Concerto for the Left Hand (Wayenberg) and Tzigane (Herman Krebbers), Symphonies 1 and 2 of Brahms, Beethoven's Eroica, Prokofiev's Symphony No. 3, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 6, and Symphony No. 5 of Sibelius.
Volume IV has even more focus on contemporary music than previous issues in the series. CD notes state artistic policy since the orchestra's founding has always been to give copious attention to contemporary repertory, and that surely is reflected in this compilation which includes works of Lutoslawski, Berg, Maderna, Boulez, and Berio, as well as Dutch composers De Leeuw, Baird, Vlijmen, Escher, and Bon. Eugene Ormandy, who in Volume III was heard in music of Schubert, Hindemith and Mozart, here conducts Symphony No. 7 of Sibelius. Ormandy was a favorite in Amsterdam; I heard some comments that his slight resemblance to Mengelberg brought back fond memories for many concertgoers. Another favorite in Amsterdam was Antal Dorati. The Hungarian conductor made many superb recordings with the Concertgebouw. The first was in 1952, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, which won a Grand Prix du Disque the following year. He recorded periodically over the years through 1986, repertory including Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, Dvorak's New World, Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra, piano concertos of Schumann and Chopin (No. 2) with Andras Schiff, and, in 1956, Smetana's Ma Vlast, one of the finest recordings ever made of this music, superior to the conductor's 1986 digital remake with the same orchestra (the 1956 version is available from Bearac). In 1975 Dorati and the Concertgebouw made their glorious recording of Tchaikovsky's complete Nutcracker, and from 1979-81 recorded, one act each year, the same composer's Sleeping Beauty. Inexplicably, Dorati is represented in the RCO Anthology only in Volume III by a suite from Bartók's Miraculous Mandarin, a tantalizing sample of how he sounded in live performances.
Other highlights from the new set are the entire concert of January 7, 1973 with Barry Tuckwell's superlative performance of Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 4, and Ferdinand Leitner's glowing Schumann Rhenish symphony. Ginastera's spiky harp concerto is played by RCOA's principal harpist Vera Badings, and the superb sonics permit every detail of the composer's percussive ochestration to be heard. Maurice André's dazzling debut with the Concertgebouw Orchestra March 11, 1976 with Jean Fournet on the podium playing Jolivet's Trumpet Concerto No. 2 (and a brief encore) is a welcome inclusion, as is Giulini's Bruckner Ninth. The concert of March 19, 1972 is presented in its entirety, with Willem Van Otterloo on the podium, Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 and the Brahms violin concerto in which Itzhak Perlman made his debut with the orchestra. Bernard Haitink's February 14, 1973 performance of the regular two-movement version of Mahler's Das Klagende Lied is welcome; his Philips recording was made a few days later, with Heather Harper replacing Hanneke van Bork and Werner Hollweg replacing Ernst Haefliger.Of works by Dutch composers, of particular interest is Willem Frederik Bon's Le Printemps, from the vocal cycle The Four Seasons (other soloists are mezzo-soprano, baritone and tenor). This is considered to be Bon's major work, and hearing this exquisite music, with its imaginative scoring (marimba, vibraphone, celeste, Japanese temple bells, and gongs), makes one wish to hear the entire work instead of just one section. Nicholas Harnoncourt appeared often with the RCOA and doubtless will figure prominently in the next issue in RCO Anthology. He made many recordings with the orchestra, primarily Mozart and Schubert, and many of them are still in the catalog.
This is an essential set for collectors of orchestral music. A plus is quality of recorded sound, which is outstanding throughout. CD notes (in English, Spanish, and Dutch) disappoint. There isn't enough information about composers, musicians, music or circumstances of the performances. Still, a highly worthy project—I look forward to future issues.
R.E.B. (February 2007)