WILLEM MENGELBERG - THE DAWN OF ELECTRIC RECORDING
STRAUSS: Don Juan, Op. 20. Till Eulenspiegel's
MerryPranks, Op. 28.
Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome.
TCHAIKOVSKY: 1812 Festival Overture, Op. 49. Capriccio
45. Marche Slave, Op. 31.
Of these three new Pristine Audio releases for me prime interest is the Mengelberg CD which contains live performances of repertory listed above, including Bell Labs 1924 electrical test recordings with the New York Philharmonic as well as BBC recordings. The sound picture is remarkably clear, actually quite amazing considering the circumstances. Do more such recordings exist? Hope so! But we are fortunate\ to have these snippets all of which were recorded during a Carnegie Hall concert April 2, 1924. The two brief excerpts from Death and Transfiguration are fascinating - what a performance! Unfortunately none of the big climaxes are there. It is a revelation to hear Mengelberg's interpretation following the ascending passage before the final transfiguration. There is a very loud tam-tam, surely not in the score, nor did the conductor play it that way in his 1942 Telefunken Amsterdam recording. The Wagner and Mendelssohn excerpts are fascinating, the latter the conductor's only known recording of this music. The BBC recordings were made January 18,1938, and we have a fine orchestra put through its paces by a master conductor. Or particular interest is the dynamic reading of excerpts from the Berlioz symphony; how unfortunate more wasn't recorded! The Strauss excerpts were released some years ago in the New York Philharmonic's multi-disk set of historic broadcasts 1923-1987, an essential set for collectors. Surely collectors also should investigate Pristine's earlier issue of Mengelberg's NYP recordings mentioned on this site March 2013 (REVIEW)
Leo Blech (1871-1958) was a major figure on the operatic world at the turn of the century, conducting opera in man leading music centers. He also composed, but today his music (mostly operas) is totally forgotten. His disk mate here is he mch more famous Otto Klemperer very early in his career.The distinction of this reissue is that it contains all of the music of Richard Strauss recorded on 78rpm disks by two conductors closely associated with the compose. all recordings made in Berlin 1928-1929. Mark Obert-Thorn has worked his usual magic in these transfers providing completists an opportunity to hear these early performances in excellent, if dated, sound.
In 1956 when Decca decided officially to record in stereo, they wanted to start off with a bang, and they did, although the result is disappointing. They elected to record an all-Tcaikovsky disk featuring 1812 Overture and Capriccio italien , two works very much on the minds of audiophiles because of Antal Dorati's Minneapolis Symphony Mercury recordings of the previous year (he later would record both in stereo). Unfortunately, Decca chose Kenneth Alwyn as conductor. Alwyn was a highly respected conductor, particularly in ballet and light music for the BBC. He recorded profusely, mostly salon fare, although his discography also includes two symphonies of Ben-Haim, Gershwin and Grieg. Decca's engineers opted to include slowed-down gunshots to represent cannon, an effect I find quite unimpressive. There is much right and left to the orchestra sound, but the acoustic is dry, and the orchestra sounds very small—no big orchestral effects here. And the performances are sluggish—and for whatever reason, two cymbal notes are omitted at the conclusion of Capriccio's introduction. In some ways, this is an historic recording, but it is only a shadow of magnificent stereo to follow from Decca.
R.E.B. (September 2014)—