|Classic Music Quarterly |
Reviews: Alan Sanders
If Vaughan Williams's Ninth Symphony was coolly received at its premiere on 2 April 1958 the fault was not that of the conductor, Sir Malcolm Sargent, or the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, as is now revealed by Pristine Audio's issue of that first performance.
The composer had paid for extra rehearsal time, and the RPO sounds fully prepared. Sargent holds the work together with great skill, and he brings out its brooding power and dark undertones very eflectively.
Fortunately the performance is preserved in very good mono sound, which is more than can be said for the second work on the disc, Vaughan Williams's London Symphony, played in a December 1945 performance by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Dimitri Mitropoulos.
The 1936 revised version of the score is played, but Mitropoulos spuriously introduces the Westminster chimes, first heard near the beginning of the work's opening Lento section, at the end of the Epilogue.
The symphony is brilliantly played by Toscanini's orchestra, and Mitropoulos directs a powerful interpretation which sometimes lacks finesse - as in the over-brassy last movement - and poetry, as in what should be a mysterious sounding second movement.
Better sound quality would no doubt put the performance in a better light, but the basically rather poor definition is further undermined by pitch fluctuations
Pristine's second volume of live recordings made by Sir Thomas Beecham and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra during the second world war contains performances of Dvorák's Cello Concerto and Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3, Scottish, from October 1943.
Both these works are new to Sir Thomas's discography, but neither is given complete, since the end of the Concerto's first movement is missing and there are three short gaps in the Scottish Symphony.
Mischel Cherniavsky s account of the solo part in the Concerto is extraordinarily wayward, but Beecham attentively follows his fluctuations of tempo, and he conducts with great conviction, as if he thoroughly approved, which he surely didn't.
The Symphony is a tantalising essay in what might have been, since apart from the gaps the Seattle orchestra shows its second-class status, and the recording is not very ingratiating.
Yet the disc is worth hearing, for the Mendelssohn gives at least an impression of a typical Beecham performance, with its magical phrasing, light airy rhythms and vivacious spirit
(® PASC238, 77mins).
|Classic Music Quarterly |
Reviews: Bruce Latham
Pristine Audio have released an old 1929-30 performance of Puccini's
Tosca (mono ® PAC0047, 107mins), with Scarpia sung by the wonderful Apollo Granforte, who is the main reason for acquiring this two-disc set if you haven't already got it.
His interpretation of the Chief of Police is brilliant, from his first entrance to his demise at the end of Act 2.
Running close second is Carmen Melis in the title role, for her dramatic voice really gets into the part. This is apparently her only complete recorded opera on disc.
Less interesting is Piero Paulis singing of Cavaradossi who sounds rather inadequate in the role. Carlo Sabajno holds the forces of the Milan La Scala Chorus and Orchestra together well.
The actual recording - in a new transfer from the Italian HMV 78s by Ward Marston - is really rather good considering its age. The sound is immediate with a close balance on the voices; there's a dry acoustic and limited frequency range, but all this is normal for a performance from this era. I noticed a touch of peak distortion from time to time, but not as much as I expected.
Some good, painstaking work has been done here. Naturally, there have been many classic recordings of Tosca since this one, together with improved recording technology, but if you like singers from this golden era then this release could be for you.
These reviews are taken from the Downloads section of Classical Music Quarterly, formerly Classic Record Collector magazine.
The magazine can be obtained by subscription in its print edition, or as a PDF download from the CRQ website, where a sample back-issue can be freely downloaded:
Editorial Detached listening
Furtwängler Beethoven's 4th and 7th - live in Berlin, 1943
Kitschin Brilliant mystery Russian conductor
PADA Campoli plays Bach Partita No. 2 in 1948
|Editorial - Furtwängler on Film
In the course of my research into Wilhelm Furtwängler last autumn I read with great interest the article at Peter Gutmann's Classical Notes website
which discusses his work and, in particular, his wartime activities in Germany and the recordings which have survived.
It was therefore excellent timing that led me, last night, to sit down and watch the film Peter reviews here
, which purports to portray aspects of the investigation into Furtwängler's political activities which took place in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War in Germany.Taking Sides
(2001) was, unsurprisingly, not a major box office hit, but that's not to say it's not worth tracking down and watching if you haven't already seen it. Clearly shot with a limited budget, and perhaps too often resembling the stage play from which it was adapted, it none the less manages to capture well the essence of the times and the difficulties faced both by orchestral musicians and by the great conductor himself, played here very well by prolific Swedish film actor Stellan Skarsgård
The vast bulk of the action takes place in the office of US Major Steve Arnold, played by Harvey Keitel, a somewhat one-dimensional character whose sole aim appears to be to nail Furtwängler as a scapegoat for all of the crimes committed by the Third Reich. However, his vast office, in a dilapidated part-bombed-out building in what we assume to be Berlin, is share with co-investigator Lt. David Wills, a German Jew who escaped to the USA as a child, and secretary Emmi Straube, whose father came to general attention through an assassination plot against Hitler, and who had herself suffered Gestapo interrogation and time in a concentration camp as a result.
Both of these characters would appear to have much stronger grounds to wish to attack a figurehead such as Furtwängler, and yet both ultimately find themselves defending, directly and indirectly, the conductor against the McCarthy-like zeal of the main investigator, a character who keeps playing a film reel of bodies being bulldozed into a mass grave at Belsen-Bergen as if to keep him going.
Despite the obvious necessity for dramatic license and the compressing of time to fit a 108 minute movie (not to mention a couple of technical points I couldn't help noticing concerning the replay of 78rpm records!), the film does do a very good job of raising questions and highlighting the difficulties and contradictions faced by any musicians or artists living and working in conditions faced by Furtwängler and his orchestra under the Nazi regime.
In a world of unspoken blackmail, constantly being fought over by the rival empires headed by Goebbels and Goering, with an arts ministry keeping detailed political records on the activities of over 250,000 artists, and knowing there is at least one 'spy' within the ranks of his orchestra, no wonder the figure that emerges from this portrayal of Furtwängler is one of an exhausted, haunted man - as well as a hunted one - but also as one we can find great sympathy with, and as a great artist too. Of the portrayal, one reviewer writes: "the astonishing element for me was Skarsgård's performance as Wilhelm Furtwängler, the German orchestra conductor. In his portrayal of the conductor's internal struggles, suppressed anger and despair, words were secondary; it was all there in the silent elements - his posture, his face."
To try and shed light on all of the various complex moral dilemmas and issues raised by Furtwängler's work in the course of a two hour movie, whilst keeping alive the dramatic interest, is of course impossible - all the more so in a short editorial piece. But I have no hesitation in recommending a viewing of the film if you lay hands on a copy - and as I'm no film reviewer I'll add here the full assessment of another contributor to the IMDB.com film database
"This is the most rewarding exploration of guilt and innocence since Dead Man Walking, and provides a feast of provocative food for the mind, interlaced with stunning musical interludes. [10/10 stars]
I loved everything about this movie. I forgave it's visual staginess including the unreal scenes of bombed-out Berlin seen through the windows, because what was taking place in the foreground was so intensely engaging and gripping. Based on a true story, and set at the time of the Nuremberg trials following WWII, Taking Sides is the tale of US Denazification investigator, Major Steve Arnold's (Harvey Keitel) mission to establish the guilty association of renowned Berlin conductor, Dr. Wilhelm Furtwangler (Stellan Skarsgard) with the Nazis. When other artists left Germany under the Third Reich, Furtwangler stayed on to become Hitler's favourite, conducting his orchestra at the Nurenberg Rally and at Hitler's birthday. Yet he had become a hero to the German people, because of his famous refusal to give the Nazi salute to Hitler himself after the birthday performance; as well as his reputation for assisting the escape from Germany of several Jewish musicians. In a relentless confrontation with Furtwangler and his defenders, Arnold casts an unblinking light on the common human motives - fear and personal ambition - behind Furtwangler's 'heroism' - and behind the inaction of the innumerable German people who claimed ignorance as a justification for their inaction in the face of Nazi evil. Everyone in Germany, it seems, hid Jews and assisted their escape. But what were they hiding Jews from, what was it they were protecting Jews from, asks Arnold, if they did not know what was happening? It is a universal question that confronts each of us, as viewers, for our every failure to take action in the face of injustice. Yet Furtwangler's defence - that art must be above politics, and that his music was was needed by his people to remind them of the sublime possibilities of the human spirit - finds passionately sympathetic support from Arnold's own young assistants, Jewish American, Lt. David Wills (Moritz Bleibtreu), and Emmi Graube (Birgit Minichmayr). How can an outsider possibly know what it was like? asks Emmi of Arnold. What right do you have to judge who was right and who was wrong? A complex dilemma with a complex resolution, an array of rich characterisations and splendid musical interludes combine to make this one of the most deeply rewarding cinematic experiences possible to the idea-famished mind."Andrew Rose, January 21st, 2011
|FURTWANGLER Wartime Berlin Beethoven - Live
Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60 [notes / score]
Recorded live at Alte Philharmonie, Berlin, 30th June, 1943
Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92 [notes / score]
Recorded live at Alte Philharmonie, Berlin, 31st October - 3rd November, 1943 Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
conductor Wilhelm FurtwänglerFLAC downloads include colour pdf scans of each symphony score in its first editionWeb page: PASC 267
Short NotesFurtwängler's few surviving live wartime recordings often prove to be among some of the most remarkable interpretations of the great works ever captured for posterity - especially whilst conducting his Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
This release follows the success of our release last year of his 1942 Choral Symphony, and brings together two symphony recordings from 1943 which again amply demonstrate Furtwängler and his orchestra's brilliance and mastery of Beethoven's finest works.
New XR remastering techniques, applied to these recordings for the first time, have helped not only to considerably improve overall sound quality, but also to bring out the depth and breadth of the orchestra's full sound in a way previously unheard - from the deep, rich bass to a newly-extended high treble.
MP3 Sample - Symphony No 7 in A - Third movementListen
Download purchase links: mono MP3mono 16-bit FLACAmbient Stereo 16-bit FLAC Ambient Stereo 24-bit FLAC
CD purchase links and all other information:PASC 267 - webpage at Pristine Classical
|ALEXANDER KITSCHIN Tchaikovsky and Glazunov: Orchestral Works
Stenka Razin, Symphonic Poem, Op. 13 [notes]Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, RECORDED 1928
Ouverture Solennelle '1812', Op. 49 [notes / score]Ural Cossacks Choir
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, RECORDED 1928
Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 [notes / score]Berlin State Opera Orchestra, RECORDED 1928/9 Alexander Kitschin, conductor
Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-ThornWeb page: PASC 268
Short NotesAlexander Kitschin is a Russian conductor you'll probably never have heard of - and beyond this CD and a couple of releases elsewhere in which his conducting accompanies singers, all made in the Berlin in the late 1920s, you'll struggle to find any documentary evidence of his existence.
And yet what we do have here is tantalizing - a real "if only", you might say, or as Mark Obert-Thorn put it in an e-mail introducing this issue:
"I think that the reissue of Kitschin's slim discography will be seen as a revelation on par with the way the Hertz recordings were greeted -- that an unjustly neglected artist with real talent and something distinctive to say is finally being heard by a larger audience some eight decades after his last recording. I hope you will agree."
MP3 Sample - Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5, 1st mvt:Listen
Download purchase links: Mono MP3Mono 16-bit FLAC
CD purchase links and all other information:PASC 268 - webpage at Pristine Classical
Streamed MP3s you can also download
Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004
Alfredo Campoli, violin
Recorded 17 June & 27 September 1948 at West Hampstead Studios, London
Issued as Decca 78s: AK1955-7
This transfer is presented with Ambient Stereo remastering by Dr. John Duffy.
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