THE ROYAL CONCERTGEBOUW ORCHESTRA
Volume I (1935-1950)
WAGNER: Flying Dutchman Overture (Bruno Walter, 15/3/36). BUSONI: Violin Concerto (Adolf Busch/Bruno Walter, 12/3/36). RAVEL: Concerto for the Left Hand (Paul Wittgenstein/Bruno Walter, 28/2/37). WEBER: Konzertstück in F Minor (Lili Kraus/Bruno Walter, 19/10/39). STRAUSS: Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks (Paul Paray, 18/1/40). ROSSELLINI: Stampe della vecchia Roma (Paul van Kempen, 17/12/42). RAVEL: Mother Goose Suite (Ernest Ansermet, 19/2/40). FRANCK: Symphony (Willem Mengelberg, 3/10/40). BERLIOZ: Benvenuto Cellini Overture (Pierre Monteux, 12/10/39). SAINT-SAËNS: Piano Concerto No. 4 (Robert Casadesus/Pierre Monteux, 12/10/39). DEBUSSY: La Mer (Pierre Monteux, 12/10/39). FRANCK: Les Eolides (Pierre Monteux, 12/10/39). MAHLER: Das Lied von der Erde (Kerstin Thorborg/Carl Martin Oehman/Carl Schuricht, 5/10/39). MALIPIERO: Cello Concerto (Enrico Mainardi/Eduard van Beinum, 12/1/41). REGER: B–cklin Suite (Herman Abendroth, 20/2/41). ELGAR: Enigma Variations (Adrian Boult, 29/2/40). HONEGGER: Pastoral d'ÈtÈ (Jan Koetsier, 22/7/43). HAYDN: Piano Concerto in D (Gerard Hengeveld/Jan Koetsier, 22/7/43). MOZART: Symphony No. 40 (Eugen Jochum, 23 & 24/6/43). STRAUSS: Don Juan (Herbert von Karajan, Sept. 1943). OTTERLOO: Sinfonietta (Willam van Otterloo, 16/1/44). REGER: Violin Concerto (Georg Kuhlenkampff/Willem van Otterloo, 16/l/44). BRAHMS: Academic Festival Overture (Jan Koetsier, 5/3/44). MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 (Bruno Walter, 16/10/47). MENDELSSOHN: Fingal's Cave Overture (Otto Klemperer, 4/12/47). BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 (Otto Klemperer, 4/12/47). WAGENAAR: Cyrano de Bergerac Overture (George Szell, 1/7/48). ANDRIESSEN: Organ Concerto (Hendrik Andriessen/Pierre Monteux, 1/11/50). HINDEMITH: Symphony in E Flat (Paul Hindemith, 12/1/49). SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 7 (Rafael Kubelik, 9/2/50). BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1 (Wilhelm Furtw”ngler, 13/7/50). BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5 (Erich Kleiber, 28/4/50). BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3 (Wilhelm Furtw”ngler, 13/7/50). BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 (Wilhelm Furtw”ngler, 13/7/50).
Q DISC 97017 (13 CDs) (ADD) TT: 14 hrs. 49 min.
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This is a valuable multiple-CD set, the first of a projected series of six each of which will contain "selected recordings" of the Concertgebouw Orchestra from Dutch radio archives. This set covers 1935-1950; the final five sets will each cover a decade beginning with 1950. No release date has been announced for these. Repertory is selected by Daniël Esser, a member of the Orchestra, and Lodewijk Collette, Producer for Radio Netherlands Music. Their choices generally are admirable although one wonders why the decision was made to include a number of performances already available from other sources, and two that are commercial recordings (Karajan's Don Juan, Kleiber's Beethoven Fifth). This first album is an important document with famous guest conductors and soloists, along with performances by names long associated with the Orchestra, Willem Mengelberg and Eduard van Beinum each already represented in Radio Nederland- produced multiple-CD sets (as is Bernard Haitink who doubtless will figure prominently in later albums in this series. Most of the recordings are from live concerts although a few are "studio recordings" made in Hilversum and other locations.
The first Concertgebouw broadcast was March 30, 1924, with Karl Muck conducting a concert that also included American composer Henry Hadley conducting his symphonic poem The Ocean. It wasn't until two years later (May 1926) that the Concertgebouw made its first commercial recording, Wagner's Tannh”user Overture with Willem Mengelberg conducting. The earliest surviving broadcast recordings are those conducted by Bruno Walter on CD 1:
The first CD begins with Bruno Walter's electrifying performance of Wagner's Flying Dutchman Overture recorded March 15, 1936, followed by a masterful performance of Busoni's Violin Concerto with Adolf Busch recorded three days earlier. This is a work neglected by violinists of the last five generations; there have been a number of recordings of it over the years but the last Schwann/Opus lists only two vintage live recordings, this one and one with Joseph Szigeti, Dimitri Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic. Primarily of historic interest is the first Concertgebouw performance of Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand with Walter conducting with Paul Wittgenstein, for whom it was written, as soloist, recorded Feb. 28, 1937. In spite of quoted rave reviews, this is an inept performance, issued several times previously on CD, by a pianist sorely taxed by its manifold difficulties. In a different league is the superb Weber Konzertstück (although the final pages are a bit scrambled) recorded Oct. 19, 1939 with Pierre Monteux and a dynamic young Lili Kraus as soloist. The CD ends with a brilliant Till Eulenspiegel with Paul Paray making his Concertgebouw debut Jan. 18, 1940. This is a brisk (13:12) reading with stunning playing by Richard Sell, principal horn.
CD 2 begins with a rarity, Renzo Rossellini's Stampe della vecchia Roma, a three-movement work ("Natale", "I birocci," "Saltarello nella Villa Borghese") inspired by etchings of ancient Rome. The music is often beautiful but surely never approaches the grandeur of Respighi's Rome-inspired symphonic poems. Paul van Kempen, who early in his career was a violinist in the orchestra and later conducted a distinguished series of Tchaikovsky recordings with the Concertgebouw, leads this lively performance recorded Dec. 17, 1942. Next we have Ravel's Mother Goose Suite conducted by Ernest Ansermet from a studio concert in Hilversum Feb. 19, 1940. The distinguished Swiss conductor had made his debut with the Concertgebouw in 1928; it would be interesting to know how often he appeared and other repertory he conducted. This CD ends with another live performance already available on CD, the Oct. 3, 1940 Franck Symphony with Willem Mengelberg conducting; in late November he would record the work for Telefunken.
CD 3 is devoted to Pierre Monteux, a great favorite in Amsterdam, and documents the night of Oct. 12, 1939 when the French conductor returned for a gala concert, heard on this CD with the exception of the final work, Dukas' Sorcerer's Apprentice. Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini Overture gives the evening a dramatic opening, with blazing brass, followed by an exceptional performance of Saint-Saëns' Concerto No. 4 with Robert Casadesus. The local press described this performance of La Mer as "a simple, logical, wonderful Debussy, free from any hyperculture of hazes and silences," and they were correct. Les Eolides, which closes the CD, is a feast of rich orchestral textures; a quarter of a century later Willem van Otterloo would conduct the Concertgebouw's only commercial recording of the work.
CD 4 is devoted to the memorable performance of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde given Oct. 4, 1939. It's pointed out that the first complete Concertgebouw performance took place Oct. 2, 1913 with Mengelberg on the podium. The music had been scheduled for the previous April 24 as part of a concert celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Orchestra, but the tenor didn't show up (!) so only three movements were performed. Mengelberg was to conduct the Oct. 4, 1939 performance but was indisposed so Carl Schuricht was chosen. As he worked in Wiesbaden, Germany, he had been obliged, before accepting the invitation to conduct a work by a Jewish composer, to ask permission from Berlin authorities. Reviews were mixed, but details are given of the "ominous" incident that occurred in the final movement. "A few bars before "Er stieg vom Pferd" a lady rose from the front rows, passed before the stage and, close to the conductor, cried: "Deutschland über alles, Herr Schuricht!"....to the dismay of many radio listeners, noted De Telegraff, as well as members of the audience. The lady in question then left the concert hall. The newspapers leave us in the dark as to her motive. Soon after the German invasion on May 10, 1940, Amsterdam's flourishing Mahler tradition came to a temporary halt." This dramatic performance has been issued several times before on CD.
CD 5 opens with the then-new Cello Concerto of Gian Francesco Malipiero composed in 1937. This was the Amsterdam premiere, Jan. 12, 1941, with Enrico Mainardi, to whom it is dedicated, as soloist, with Eduard van Beinum on the podium. Like the Busoni concerto of CD 3, this has not maintained a place in active repertory - the last Schwann/Opus lists no recordings of it. Hermann Abendroth is then heard from a concert Feb. 20, 1941 leading Reger's four tone poems after Arnold B–cklin, in the first of which ("The Fiddling Hermit") concertmaster Ferdinand Helmann can be heard. Elgar's Enigma Variations was first played by the Concertgebouw in 1902 after which it was regularly programmed. This performance from Feb. 29, 1940 is conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. Thirty-seven years later, another British conductor, Sir Neville Marriner, would make the Orchestra's only commercial recording of the work.
CD 6 is a mixed bag. The first two items (Pastorale d'ÈtÈ and the Haydn Concerto in D, with Gerard Hengeveld as soloist) are conducted by Jan Koetsier (born 1911) who was second conductor of the Orchestra from 1942-1948. These are tidy performances, the Honegger perhaps a bit rushed, but beautifully played. Eugen Jochum, who later would play a major part in Concertgebouw history, first appeared with the Orchestra in the 1941-42 season, is heard conducting Mozart's Symphony No. 40 from a concert . In June 1943 Jochum recorded the work for Telefunken (available in Tahra's Centenaire Eugen Jochum); in this set we have a live performance from Nov. 21, 1943, a rather erratic performance with a trimmed-down orchestra and touches of portamento which the conductor later abandoned. I don't understand why Herbert von Karajan's 1943 commercial recording of Strauss' Don Juan, fine though it is, was included in this set. Aside from five recordings he made that year (Brahms Symphony No. 1, Dance of the Seven Veils, Der Freischütz Overture and Beethoven Leonore Overture No. 3, in addition to Don Juan), Karajan was insignificant in the Dutch orchestra's history. He conducted only one public concert and, as a precursor of his later temperament and attitude, refused to conduct again unless he could have thirty rehearsals as he did not regard (the orchestra) as good enough (!!).
CD 7 features conductor Willem
van Otterloo (1907-1978) opening with the conductor's own Symphonietta
for Sixteen Wind Instruments from a concert Jan. 16, 1944, a
delightful 17-minute work brilliantly played (this also was previously
issued on CD). The major work is
Reger's Violin Concerto in A, Op. 101, a lengthy work (54:36 on this
recording) I've always found an incredible bore. CD notes say it was
common practice to abridge the work, and the version here contains several
cuts, the longest one in the third movement - as well two cuts made
because "sections of the recorded material were missing."
Whoever did the editing did a superb job - the music seems to be
continuous within the scope of Reger's writing. Violinist Georg Kulenkampff
plays this magnificently; according to CD notes, he "played his part by sight" (whatever that
means). Reviews were highly favorable with
strong audience approval at the conclusion. However, I cannot
help but wonder what treasures we are missing from this Anthology because
of inclusion of this concerto.
CD 9 features Otto Klemperer in two of his earlier performances with the Concertgebouw, Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture and Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 from concerts Dec. 3 or 4, 1947. This was during the more dynamic period of the conductor's career; his Bruckner (the Nowak edition) moves right along and is not without an orchestral mishap here and there. CD notes make a point of stating that he had the famous second movement viola passage (beginning 2:23 in track 3) played by first violist Klaas Boon rather than by the entire viola section. Klemperer is quoted as praising the Concertgebouw but there was a suspicion that the viola section "had some insurmountable problems" with this viola passage.
CD10 is of particular interest, opening with George Szell's performance of July 1, 1948 at the Holland Festival of Wagenaar's Cyrano de Bergerac Overture, unfortunately the only surviving recording from a concert that also included Mozart's Haffner Symphony and Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with Kathleen Ferrier and Julius Patzak. Three years later Szell recorded Dvorak 8 and Brahms for Decca, and in the '60s made his superb recordings for Philips of the Beethoven Fifth, Mozart's Symphony No. 34 and Sibelius Second. For years I treasured a RN transcription of the world premiere of Hendrik Andriessen's Organ Concerto performed Nov. 1, 1950 with the composer as soloist and Pierre Monteux on the podium. That LP was hopelessly damaged, so inclusion of this wonderful concerto in this Anthology set is very welcome. It's a fascinating, unjustly neglected work (there is a fine modern recording on Donemus). This CD ends with Paul Hindemith conducting his own Symphony in E Flat from a concert Jan. 12, 1949, music which one reviewer at the time found "nasty and repulsive."
CD 11 contains Rafael Kubelik's Feb. 9, 1950 performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7, which already has been issued on a budget CD. Sonically it is surprisingly muddy for its date, as is the previous issue on Audiophile Classics; this version includes more applause.
CD 12/13 also seem redundant to the collector. Wilhelm Furtw”ngler seldom appeared with the Concertgebouw, the first time in 1923, again a few years later. His appearance July 13, 1950, documented here, was his last. The Dutch orchestra (like many others) had a difficult time following the conductor, CD notes telling the story that..."under his baton, the musicians count to thirteen before they begin to play...Furtwangler's way of indicating the beginning of a piece was not overly clear; even the best orchestra, if not used to this, is sure to respond by coming in raggedly, so too the Concertgebouw Orchestra." Ragged playing is indeed heard, particularly at the beginning of the Beethoven First Symphony finale, but there is no question of the power and impact of these performances. These new issues are not as bright as the TAHRA issue (FURT 1012-1013). Erich Kleiber apparently did appear with some frequency with the Concertgebouw, for the first time in 1933 and in 1950 led a Beethoven cycle at which time Decca made its famous recording of Symphony No. 5 included in this Anthology. This recording recently was issued in the Decca Legends series (467 125), where it can be heard in a more vivid transfer than the one in the Anthology.
CD notes, written by Johan Giskes who was a violist with the Orchestra from 1968-1976, are consistently fascinating and informative. This is a fine set in many ways, of great interest to collectors for all of the superlative, historic performances it contains.
R.E.B. (January 2003)