TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano ConcertoNo. 1 in B flat minor, Op.23. Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64.
Conrad Hansen, piano; Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Willem Mengelberg, cond.

BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68. Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 73. Symphony No. 3 in F, Op. 90. Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98.
NBC Symphony Orch/Arturo Toscanini, cond.
PRISTINHE AUDIO 349 (2 disks) TT: 2 hr. 36:17

FRANCK: Symphony in D minor. IBERT: Escales ("Ports of Call"). RAVEL: Rapsodie Espagnole. CHABRIER: España Rhapsodty.
Detroit Symphony Orch/Paul Paray, cond.

Music of Tchaikovsky figured prominently in Willem Mengelberg's discography. He recorded the Pathétique twice for Telefunken, in 1937 and 1951, Serenade for Strings in 1938, 1812 Overture in 1940, and for Columbia, in 1930, Romeo and Juliet and in 1928, Symphony No. 5 and the Waltz from the Serenade for Strings. In 1927 he recorded for Columbia the second and third movements of Symphony No. 5, and the following year recorded the entire work. The Dutch conductor's only recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic can be heard on Pristine's new issue, Symphony No. 5 and Piano Concerto No. 1 with Conrad Hansen as soloist. In July 1940 two concerts were given in Berlin to celebrate the centenary of Tchaikovsky's birth, both consisting of Romeo and Juliet, ConcertoNo. 1 and Symphony No. 5. The symphony was recorded July 8, 1940, the concerto the following day. The concerto is disappointing primarily because of Conrad Hansen, a pupil of Edwin Fischer, who gives a stolid reading very dull indeed when compared with electrifying performances by Horowitz and countless virtuosos of today. And it does seem odd that the important first movement cadenza is severely truncated—perhaps this was to eliminate the need for an extra 78 rpm disk? At any rate, it does not do justice to Tchaikovsky's score. The BPO Tchaikovsky Symphony 5 is the same as the 1928 recording regarding cuts, which are considerable, and I like the added cymbal in the last movement climax (Paul Van Kempen inserted two cymbal crashes in his 1951 Philips Concertgebouw recording—and they are highly effective!). Let us hope Pristine will issue all of Kempen's ACO Tchaikovsky recordings—Symphonies 5 and 6, Romeo and Juliet , Capriccio Italien and Marche slave). Mengelberg claimed Modest, Tchaikovsky's brother, told him the composer wanted these cuts "to tighten up the structure of the movement." Believe it or not, the cuts are there, a wilful interpretation indeed showing the Dutch conductor at his most idiosyncratic. However, this is a fascinating document, and Mark Obert-Thorn's transfers work wonders with the original 78s. These recordings sound much better than on previous releases.

More classic performances can now be experienced in new expert remasterings—the symphonies of Johannes Brahms in the exciting RCA recordings with Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra originally made in 1951 (Nos. 1 and 4) and 1952 (2 and 3), all four fitting onto two well-filled disks. These recordings have never left the catalog, and it is a gift for collectors to now hear them in Andrew Rose's remastered sound which transforms RCA's original audio to very respectable standards, correcting pitch and pitch problems. Even if you own other previous issues of these dynamic performances, you should investigate this superb new issue.

During his career, Paul Paray (1886-1979) was respected as a composer, organist and conductor. After conducting several French orchestras, he made his American debut in 1939 with the New York Philharmonic, and in 1952 was made conductor of the Detroit Symphony, which he led for eleven years during which period he made many highly-praised recordings. Although Paray composed profusely, few of his works have been recorded although in Detroit he recorded one of his major works, Mass for the 500th Anniversary of the Death of Joan of Arc. I remember many, many years ago hearing a concert by the Detroit Symphony conducted by Paray presented in a local Chicago high school as a Community Concerts event. Although very young at the time, I recall the vivid impression Paray made and the terrific performance of the major work on the program, the Franck D minor symphony, which is heard on Pristine's new disk in a recording made in 1953, several years after the concert I attended. Keep in mind that Paray knew many leading composers of his era including Ravel, Ibert, Debussy, Roussel, and many others. This lends authority to his performances of their music. The Franck was recorded in February 1953, the first Mercury recording; other works were made March 28, 1956. These are dynamic, virtuoso performances with the DSO in top form and Mercury's typical rather tight, well-balanced sound, lacking only a warmer acoustic for string textures. All of these recordings were hi-fi audiophile showpieces for their era, and sound better than ever now that Edward Johnson and Andrew Rose have worked their magic.

R.E.B. (July 2012)