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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

La Chronique du Disque (September 2013)

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For those unfamiliar with our monthly recordings review - If Sound Quality (SQ) and Overall Impression (OI) grades need further context, feel free to visit earlier posts in this series.

My acquisitions for September

Mendelssohn / Schubert

This month, I posted a podcast featuring Leopold Stokowski, and it is only fair that I show some love to his longtime rival on the airwaves, Arturo Toscanini. This CD is a re-issue of what appear to be “broadcast quality” performances of two stalwarts of the early romantic era, Mendelssohn’s Italian symphony and Schubert’s Unfinished. Toscanini’s approach to concert music could not be more different from Stokowski’s – Toscanini sticks to what’s on the page, and does not provide an “interpretation” other than what he believed the composer intended. Do not mistake that statement to mean that he was devoid of vision and insight into the music – his Italian is full of color and must’ve been an experience to hear in person. The NBC microphones, however much they try, can’t convey the whole canvas, and though the listener who has familiarity with the music will detect where Toscanini relies on the virtuosity of the sections (and first players) of his orchestra. Toscanini does not play the customary repeats, which may be a constraint of the broadcast – none of the repeats are present in the Schubert either and Toscanini’s tempo is brisker than most other conductors, however we must tip our hat to the caliber of the NBC Symphony. SQ = B, OI = A-.

Menotti, G.C.: Violin Concerto in A Minor / Honegger, A.: Symphony No. 2, "Symphonie Pour Cordes" (Munch) (1955)

Charles Munch (along with Paul Paray in Detroit and Desire Defauw in Chicago) form what we could call the French invasion in post-WWII American orchestras. Munch, who took over the reins of the Boston Symphony after Serge Koussevitzky, was a formidable conductor in his own right, and his many interpretations of the mainstays of the French repertoire with the BSO – some of them captured on microphone – are true classics. This recording, from the NAXOS Classics series of vintage re-issues, shows Munch in familiar territory with Honegger’s String symphony, for which he gives an insightful and respectful performance. The other featured work is a rarity – a concert piece by Italian-American opera composer Gian Carlo Menotti. At the time of Munch’s residency in Boston, Menotti had had a string of opera successes, and the concerto follows Menotti’s distinct neo-classical style. The comparison to his life-long partner Samuel Barber’s concerto is something that pops to mind almost immediately, and the works could not be more different; Barber’s brooding and deeply romantic work far outshines this very noble attempt, however. A great document. SQ = A-, OI = A-.

Sergei Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet - 10 Pieces for Piano Op. 75, Piano Sonatas No. 2 & 3

Milk it, why don’t you! Prokofiev’s great ballet Romeo and Juliet has spawned a number of published works by the composer – who probably needed to publish to earn money, especially in Post-Revolutionary Russia. Of the ballet we have a number of concert suites (opp. 64bis and ter and 101) and this set of “ten pieces” for solo piano, op. 75. I don’t believe there is much deep reexamination of the ballet music here, this is purely and simply a shameless opportunity to recast the same music for the piano. Under the fingers of the great Prokofiev contemporary pianists (Serge himself, Gilels and Richter), these would have more cachet than a performance by a run-of-the-mill Russian pianist (as is the case here), but Ms. Traikova does manage to squeeze out some great moments out of these pages. The two short piano sonatas are better at showcasing the instrument, and they are given fine readings. A nice disk of contemporary Russian piano. SQ = A, OI = A-.

Salieri: Concertos

“S” for “September would be incomplete without a couple of “S” acquisitions! This recording of the concertos of Antonio Salieri provides a good sampling of the music of the man who, thanks to Peter Schaeffer’s play, has come to be known as a musical villain and Mozart’s great foe. We forget that Salieri was a great composer, and had influenced the musical career of many early-romantic masters – most notably Franz Schubert. The disk presents a pair of concertos for multiple instruments, and a sinfonia (could be an early symphony or the overture to a play) La Veneziana. SQ = A, OI = A.

Serenade For Strings

This is another late-MONO “broadcast quality” recording of Swedish compositions by the Stockholm radio orchestra. I featured the Wiren serenade in a recent podcast, and am a huge fan of the work. The Pastoral suite by Larsson is just as interesting, and is given an enthusiastic performance by a “home” orchestra. My reservation (as with the Toscanini recording discussed earlier) is the limitations of the radio broadcast engineering in the late 1940’s and 50‘s. The limitations don’t mean that the music is hard to hear, it simply means that a lot of the subtle passages don’t get picked-up quite as clearly. However, the texture does something to your brain, as it takes you to a different time – all that’s missing is the occasional crackle or the smell of ozone from the old lamps! SQ = B+, OI = A-.

September 27 2013, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will feature a new podcast "Scheherazade" at its Pod-O-Matic Channel . Read more September 27 on the ITYWLTMT Blogspot blog.

Updated Sep-24-2013 at 13:04 by itywltmt

Classical Music , Recorded Music