Thursday, October 29, 2009

Eugen Szenkar: A Portrait

If you've become tired of listening to bloodless and effete performances of the Symphonie Fantastique that are lamentably rife in the catalog and on the concert stage, you owe it to yourself to hear this recording. I won't beat around the bush--this is the greatest recording ever of Berlioz's gothic masterpiece. I've heard masterly recordings from Monteux, Munch, Martinon, Paray, Cluytens, Fried, Rozhdestvensky, Beecham, Gaubert, Klemperer, and Walter. Needless to say, I've also had to swallow more than my fair share of Berlioz as milquetoast including a wretchedly emasculated concert performance under Salonen a few years ago. Eugen Szenkar leaves them all in the dust. But who was Eugen Szenkar?

Eugen Szenkar (1891-1977) was a Hungarian conductor who made his career largely in Germany during the mid 20th century. He began his musical studies under his father who was a well regarded organist, choral director, and composer in Budapest. At age 16, the young Eugen met Gustav Mahler--a formative experience that not only inspired him to take up the baton, but also fomented a life long love of Mahler's music. Like most German conductors of the era, he began his career as an opera house repetiteur--the Budapest Volksoper in Szenkar's case.

In 1918, Szenkar met Artur Nikisch in Dresden when the latter was engaged to conduct a series of concerts for the city's Staatskapelle Orchestra. Nikisch took the young man under his wing and recommended him for the position of music director of the Frankfurt Opera. After winning this important position, Szenkar began receiving national attention and was even mooted as an outside possibility to follow Nikisch at the Berlin Philharmonic when the great conductor had died. In 1927, he assumed the leadership of the Cologne Opera where he won wide acclaim as a champion of contemporary music. In Cologne Szenkar would conduct the German premieres of Bartok's Wooden Prince and Duke Bluebeard's Castle, Kodaly's Hary Janos and Prokofieff's Love for Three Oranges. A devout Mahlerian, he performed a cycle of the symphonies in Cologne and programmed them often ever after, winning the International Gustav Mahler Society's medal in 1957 for all his work.

After the Nazis were swept into rule in 1933, Szenkar fled to the USSR where he continued to promote modern music. While in the Soviet Union, he premiered Khachaturian's Symphony No.1, Miaskovsky's Symphony No.16, and Prokofieff's Peter and the Wolf. Unfortunately he arrived in the Soviet Union in the wake of the Lady Macbeth debacle, so he prudently decided to leave for calmer shores.

The late 1930's and early 1940's saw Szenkar eking out an itinerant existence guest conducting far and wide including the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, but finally found a permanent position with the Rio de Janeiro Symphony Orchestra. It was while in Rio that Szenkar befriended Toscanini while the latter was touring South America with his NBC Symphony Orchestra. Toscanini thought highly enough of Szenkar to invite him to guest conduct the NBC for some of that orchestra's concerts during their tour. In 1947, Toscanini again invited Szenkar to conduct the NBC Symphony Orchestra, this time in New York. Szenkar conducted a pair of programs that included works by Schumann, Berlioz, and Wagner. Recordings were made of these broadcass and have fortunately been preserved. In 1950, Szenkar returned to Germany where he became the music director of the Dusseldorf Opera. He remained there until his retirement in 1961 and would die in Dusseldorf in 1977.

This Tahra CD alone stands as hard evidence that Szenkar was one of the very greatest conductors of the 20th century. The program begins with a weighty rendition of one of Handel's Concerto Grossos from the opus 6 set. This is rich, big boned Handel that will be sure to send the period performance people shivering into convulsions. Szenkar sits in on the continuo part. But the real revelation is the Berlioz--a white hot reading of the Fantastique. Hamburg's Orchestra play as if they're lives were depending on it. The idee fixe is played with great tenderness and ardor, but always remains taut. In fact, Szenkar keeps the arc of the first movement, and indeed of the whole symphony, in very firm grasp. Berlioz can sometimes sound episodic and meandering under less skilled hands, but Szenkar is able to brilliantly marry passion and logic. The ball glimmers but swirls with an undercurrent of the sinister. The Scene in the Country can often seem interminable, but it sounds spellbinding here. The March to the Scaffold is positively brutal and the Dream of a Sabbath Night cackles with Mahlerian grotesquerie. The Hamburg brass and winds are outstanding; the timpanist (a former Berlin Philharmonic principal during the war years) covers himself in glory. The closing pages wail and blaze away unlike anything I've ever heard. The sound, though in mono, is very clean and well focused.

Szenkar's style can be described as having the denseness and weight of early to mid 1950's Klemperer, the virility of Fricsay, and the frenetic intensity of de Sabata and Mitropoulos. But these comparisons aren't quite precise; he has a very personal sense of style. Szenkar was a giant and it is to our detriment that he apparently had a disdain for recordings. He cut a few records in Germany before the war and there are some air checks available from after the war. And somewhere out there those NBC broadcasts are floating around. I hope some enterprising label drops the non-stop onslaught of Toscanini and Furtwangler reissues (are you listening Music & Arts?) and takes up the cause of this unjustly neglected musician. A man of Szenkar's genius definitely deserves better than what he has received so far. I hope those Hamburgers sitting in the audience for this concert realized just how lucky they were.

Debussy Orchestrations

Albums of Debussy's orchestral works are a dime-a-dozen these days, but ATMA has presented a refreshingly different program here. The program on this CD consists entirely of Debussy's music as orchestrated by other musicians. And a fine roster of arrangers they are: Ravel, Ansermet, Caplet, Büsser, and Stokowski. These arrangements have been recorded often before, but it's good to have them together on one disc.

The Quebec Symphony Orchestra under Yoav Talmi's baton play with great polish and elegance and ATMA's engineering captures all of this perfectly. Here and there I have quibbles. The Petite Suite drags a bit; the Stokowski arrangement of Claire de lune is played without the hedonistic abandon the Maestro himself brought to it. But really these are minor complaints and this album is pure delight. Paray and Cluytens have also recorded some of this material and are worth seeking out. But for one stop shopping, you can't beat this album.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bartok's String Quartets: The Juilliard's first recording

Last week I posted a CD of premiere recordings of Bartok's orchestral works as an example of the "nostalgia trap" that the historical record collector is prone to falling into. Good performances, no doubt, but ones that have since given way to better ones. So here is yet another historical recording of Bartok's work. No worries though. This one is actually worth your time and still stands eye-to-eye with the best today.

The Juilliard Quartet was, for the latter half of the 20th century, arguably the United States' most famous string quartet. They were especially well known for espousing the cause of living composers not merely by commissioning their work, but playing it to polished Atomic age perfection. On one hand able to make lucid and vibrant Elliot Carter's knotty polyrhythms, they could also play a Ravel of quiet sleekness, Brahms that was gruff yet never austere. They were especially famous for their interpretations of Bartok's quartets, being the first quartet to record the integral set. The Juilliard still performs today, though the founding members have long since retired.

The Juilliard made three recordings altogether of the Bartok quartets, but this one here with the original incarnation of the group from 1950, is probably their very best. Whereas their later recordings finds them sounding more mellow, here Bartok is presented as a wide eyed modernist; his music still startlingly new and even disturbing. Some may prefer a more lyrical, relaxed Bartok, but the Juilliard's playing here is undeniably thrilling. Their playing has a chrome sheen and lustre that becomes this music very well. It's hard to single out particularly memorable moments in this set as there are so many. But if I can point out just one, it would have to be their recording of the Sixth Quartet. Poised delicately between anger, mockery, and sorrow, the Sixth can be a difficult nut to crack, but the Juilliard sail straight to the core of the music. The Marcia and Burletta are as acidulously biting as needed but they're able to hone into the hopeless grief of the Mesto sections. The closing movement is as bleak as any I've ever heard. Bartok mourning the loss of his mother and of the country he loved so dearly and would transform irrevocably after his emigration.

There are other great recordings of these works. The Vegh, Takacs, Emerson, and others have made superb sets. But this one is still one of the best. The sound of Bartok not as a 20th century institution, but as the flesh and blood man whose vitality still remained within living memory.

The "hot, young composer" of yesteryear... where are they now? (Part I)

Every few years the classical music press will make a make a big hoopla over some new composer they perceive as the "great white hope" of the genre. At the turn of this century, the British press was all agog over Thomas Ades. Described as a sort of second Benjamin Britten, he and his music was exulted in such luxuriously overripe prose that they really should have been upfront with their readers and hailed him as the second coming. Of course, his music was anything but. It was decently crafted music in a sort of sub-Ligeti/Berkeley/Knussen-esque mode, but nothing that really is going to set the world afire. I own all his CDs and have listened to them over and over again as well as listening to him in concert when he was here in Los Angeles. But no dice.

In the 1990's there was another composer that was being touted as a phenomenon. The first time I ever heard of Michael Torke was in an interview on KUSC or KKGO (I forget which one). All I remember is that he was introduced as "hot, young composer Michael Torke". Young he may have been (he was in his early 30's then), but his music was hardly hot. His music wasn't bad and truth be told, I would prefer it over Ades. It was a genial melding of Copland and minimalism with a whiff of Bernstein and easy listening pop thrown in for good measure. Not quite for me, but it was OK. If the music of the Austro-Germans and Russians are "red meat", Torke's music would be a sort of "tofu". And I have the carnivorous appetite of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

He was enjoying something of a hey-day in the early to mid 1990's. Torke was widely performed and his work was being eagerly recorded by Argo. So what happened to all this promise? When the classical music recording industry began its inexorable downturn in the mid to late 1990's, boutique labels like Argo (owned by PolyGram) and Catalyst (owned by BMG) went bust and along with it, the hopes of a wider dissemination of Torke's and many other composers' music. It would be a very long time until I heard the name Torke again, this time via a Naxos release. The man himself seems to be doing OK if his website is any indication and is keeping busy. There's even a joint commission from the English National Opera and the Metropolitan Opera in the works.

In any event, I'm mentioning all this because--surprise, surprise!--I'm posting this Torke album I had found in a closet in my mother's house some weeks back. I thought I had lost it. But, no, there it was hidden away under some old textbooks and ancient issues of Nintendo Power. So what about the music? The music, like I said, is OK. Nothing great, but it won't irritate or offend you either. It's firmly diatonic if you like that sort of thing. It's bouncy, happy, and joyful, but you probably won't be contemplating it once it's done. Javelin is probably the best work here on this album. It was commissioned by the Atlanta Symphony for the 1996 Summer Olympics and it makes a fine curtain raiser; a charming orchestral showpiece that deserves to be performed more often. The second movement for Music on the Floor I find less impressive. This is Torke in a more melancholic mood, but the music sounds to me like something that should accompany a NyQuil ad or maybe a Lifetime TV movie of the week. Adjustable Wrench, if the liner notes and that old radio interview are correct, was something of a hit for this composer. Why that was I can't possibly phathom. I guess a lot of people thought it was "cool" that he incorporated a few klutzy electric guitar riffs in this chamber work. It just sounds like yet another lame attempt to reconcile the worlds of rock and pop with classical music. But I'm sure it would be welcome in a "pops" program so as to demonstrate to the audience that the orchestra isn't so out of touch; that they can be "hep" too. The album closes with two movements from his Color Music--Green and Bright Blue. I'm sure these would make an excellent soundtrack to some as of yet unfilmed Spielberg movie.

The performances are excellent all around. The Atlanta Symphony and Baltimore Symphony play very well as does the London Sinfonietta. Argo's sonics are sumptuous. If you're looking for an hour's worth of safe musical thrills, here you go.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Beecham's Lollipops

In an era where great conductors strode about the concert platforms of the world like colossi, Beecham stood out. To be sure he was, along with Leopold Stokowski and Willem Mengelberg, one of the most consistently phonogenic of conductors. Furtwangler, Klemperer, Walter, and others were certainly great, but often were not able to capture in the studio the fire they could summon in concert before an audience. But Beecham seemed to come to life the moment the microphones went on. Beecham, like Stokowski and Karajan, recognized the importance of recordings and understood that if he wished to communicate to the widest audience possible it would be through records. Nearly 50 years have passed since Sir Thomas' death and his recordings are still competitive today. Some, like his recordings of Bizet's music for L'Arlesienne or Sibelius' Pelleas and Melisande, arguably remain unsurpassed.

This CD, compiled from 2 posthumous LP's, is a treasure. He was outstanding in Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, and the like--his recording of the Eroica is one of the very great ones--but if you want to hear what made the man so loved, you must listen to this CD. Many great conductors can breathe fire and life into a Beethoven symphony; it takes a very special musician to lavish the same amount of love and care on music that requires subtlety and a light touch as opposed to the grand gesture (though some of the music here, like Berlioz's march from Les Troyans roars out with great aplomb). Chabrier's March Joyeux trots by at a raucous, suspender flashing clip that is tres joyeux indeed. The flute solo in the Valse Triste has never sounded more dapper and wistful and the string tremolo coda is perfect. Just the right shading; not too dark or heavy. This is a waltz with death, yes, but that doesn't mean that death can't cut an elegant trail on the dance floor. And speaking of waltzes, his infectiously toe tapping take on the waltz from Eugene Onegin will have even the most crusty old frump twirling away in 3/4 time. I could spend days going on about this beautiful playing on this album. The silken strings, the characterful winds, and noble brass--what an orchestra the old RPO was! A half century has intervened since these recordings were made, but that sly Beecham charm still sounds verdant and fresh.

For whatever reason, EMI has kept this album out-of-print, though some of this material has reappeared on a pair of Great Recordings of the Century CD's. Well, it's here now so you know what to do. ;)

Grieg... on the accordion?!?

When I first heard about this album I immediately remembered Arthur Honegger's crack about "vile belchings from lunatic accordions" in his book I am a Composer. The concept sounded so odd--the Lyric Pieces played on the accordion sound as appealing as hearing Bruckner's 8th arranged for hurdy-gurdy. But that's what I love about independent labels like BIS, Hyperion, Channel Classics et al. That willingness to take a risk be it through recording unusual repertoire or recording unusual interpretations of well known music. BIS certainly doesn't disappoint here and, mirabile dictu, the arrangement and playing are a triumph. This album would have been an interesting curiosity at best, but the musicianship of Mie Miki, as arranger and accordionist, make this album a must listen for fans of Grieg's music and for the musically open minded.

Mie Miki was born in Tokyo in 1956 and begun to study the accordion at the age of 4. In 1973 and 1974 she won the first prize in the junior division of the International Accordion Competition Klingenthal. Today she is a professor of accordion at the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen. She has recorded several albums for BIS, including works from the Baroque era, Japanese music, and works by Sofia Gubaidulina.

Miki's arrangement of these works is no mere exercise in willful sonic revisionism. The sound of the accordion helps bring to life the deep bond and love that Grieg felt for the folk music of his native Norway. Throughout this recital one hears the echoes of the Hardanger fiddles, the peasant dances, the scent of the Norwegian soil. Butterfly glides by caressingly and played with a light, almost silken sound. The Waltz from the first book of Lyric Pieces dances along with great charm. But it's in the more introspective pieces that this recital really makes an impact. The Watchman's Song is almost like a glimpse into a long forgotten world. One can almost feel the cool breeze wafting through a quiet Scandinavian village; the cobblestones beneath one's feet. The album closes with a beautifully poignant and effective arrangement of Ase's Death from Peer Gynt. The best thing that I can say about this album is that one never misses the sound of the piano and that the music sounds expressly as if it were written for the accordion.

I'm really looking forward to hearing more of Mie Miki and hope that BIS will record her arrangements of piano and even orchestral repertoire in the future. Below is a couple of videos of her from YouTube. Oh--you may be wondering about the pic with the cat I posted above. I found that on Mie Miki's blog (Japanese only) which you can find here. A masterly musician and she loves cats? What more could you want?

Mie Miki in recital at Dusseldorf:

Mie Miki plays Piazzolla:

Leopold Ludwig conducts Strauss' Ein Heldenleben

Leopold Ludwig is one of those conductors who was well regarded in his day, but for some reason or another, have fallen into undeserved obscurity after death. His musical development was like many of his generation. Born in Witkowitz in Moravia, he attended the Vienna Conservatory studying piano under Emil Pauer. Upon graduation he worked in various opera houses in Bavaria and Czechoslovakia as a repetiteur. In 1936 he was appointed the musical director for the Oldenburg State Opera. Guest performances in Berlin and elsewhere gained him a solid reputation that led to his being named principal conductor of the Vienna State Opera in 1939 and the Berlin Municipal Opera in 1943. After the war, he continued in his post and later as a frequent guest in East Berlin's State Opera. At this point he came to the attention of EMI's Walter Legge who had visited Berlin on talent scouting trips in 1946 and 1947. Ludwig made a few records for EMI, mostly accompanying singers in opera excerpts, his best known being a recording of Act III from Wagner's Die Walküre with Birgit Nilsson that has recently been reissued in EMI's Great Recordings of the Century series. He later went on to make a series of recordings for Everest, among which this Ein Heldenleben is taken, and later still for Deutsche Grammophon where he recorded Hindemith's opera Mathis der Maler. He assumed the directorship of the Hamburg State Opera in 1950 where he would remain until his retirement in 1971. In later years he guest conducted at various orchestras. He died in Lüneburg, West Germany in 1978.

Ludwig was the sort of dependable solid kapellmeister that was taken for granted in his day one rarely finds now. Not seeking to be ostentatious, he was content with simply letting the music pur out from his orchestra. In style, he was similar to Carl Schuricht, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, and Karl Böhm.

This recording of Ein Heldenleben is truly a forgotten gem. Out-of-print for years now, it not only is a grand and rich realization of this score, but also enjoys some stunning sonics courtesy of Everest. The London Symphony Orchestra is in fine form, especially its woodwinds. The clarity of the instrumental timbres pays dividends especially in the dense Hero's Battlefield section, where the clarity makes the music all the more thrilling. The violin solos by concertmaster Hugh Maguire are lovely.

This is a record that can safely sit side-by-side with the Heldenlebens of Mengelberg, Karajan (EMI), Beecham, Haitink, and Carlos Kleiber. A must listen.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bartok Premieres: Looking at the past through rose colored glasses

One of the traps that the historical record collector can be prone to falling into is romanticizing the accomplishments of the past. That is to say, to find a particular recording superior to its modern equivalent merely because it is an old recording or the performer is deceased. I could never understand, to cite just one example, the need to reissue the recordings of Felix Weingartner. Yes, his Beethoven recordings were pioneering and very highly regarded in his day. But listening to them now I can't find anything special; anything worth putting up with the crackle of spinning shellac for. He was a fine musician, no doubt. His recordings glow with his sensible direction and moderate temperament. The problem is that I can find that today in any number of recordings in far superior sound and execution. Why listen to Weingartner's Beethoven or Brahms with their poor sound when Karl Böhm's very similar interpretations are available in excellent modern stereo with an even better disciplined Vienna Philharmonic? These thoughts were in my mind as I first listened to this disc which I had purchased a few years ago.

This album from Pearl contains the premiere recordings of three of Bela Bartok's works: the 3rd Piano Concerto, the 1st Portrait for Violin and Orchestra, and the Concerto for Orchestra. Let me be absolutely clear--there is nothing wrong with these recordings. Ouite the contrary. It's only that these recordings, as fine as they are, have been equaled or superceded in musical and sonic quality since. In the brief note that is on the back of the disc case it states, "[...] Each of these performances and recordings, apart from their interest as premieres, is quite outstanding and deserves a permanent place in the canon of his recorded oeuvre." If they ever acheive a permanent place in the pantheon of Bartok recordings, I imagine it will only be because of their curiosity as premiere recordings.

Most interesting and satisfying on this set is the recording of the 3rd Piano Concerto with Gyorgy Sandor and the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. Sandor went on to re-record this work later for Vox and much later still for Sony, but this is his best recording. Certainly it has the best orchestra. The Philadelphians are at their smooth and glossy best, with beautifully diaphonous strings in the Adagio religioso. Sandor too plays wonderfully with a songful touch. Ormandy, as always, is a superb accompanist.

The next work is Joseph Szigeti's recording of the 1st Portrait for Violin and Orchestra with the Philharmonia conducted by Constant Lambert. It's good and it always is interesting to hear Lambert as a performer of others' music. But it's a recording I can easily live without.

Finally we have Reiner's first recording of the Concerto for Orchestra with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. I've heard many people tell me that that they prefer this recording over the famous remake with the Chicago Symphony. I can't hear why. The Pittsburgh Symphony was (and still is) an excellent orchestra, but the Chicago was even better and aided superbly by RCA's stereo sound. Reiner's interpretation is generally the same here as it was in Chicago--clear and direct. It really isn't bad at all; very fine. But why listen to this when we have a superior remake in stereo?

The recording of the 3rd Piano Concerto is definitely worth coming back to. The others are of interest only as historical curiosities. Like I said, they're good recordings. But the best is always the enemy of the merely good.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Emil Gilels plays Grieg's Lyric Pieces

I think everybody has them in their collection. Those few choice recordings that have brought you boundless joy over the years. A recording so good, you would sooner part with [insert family member or loved one here] than part with that beloved disc. For me, this recording is one of those. If my house were to catch on fire, I would gladly run back in and suffer first degree burns in order to save this CD. Of course, this CD is still generally available so I could just buy another one. But what can I say? I have a penchant for the dramatic gesture.

I don't think I need to remind everybody here of the greatness of Gilels. His reputation is secure. Suffice to say that this recording occupies a very special place in his superlative discography. His noble golden tone is captured wonderfully here thanks to DG's warm engineering. Every piece here stands up in relief as a miniature masterpiece. From the opening bars of the Arietta to the closing cadence of the gently wistful Reminscence, this album is a quiet triumph. Indeed, you're hardly made aware of Gilels' work here--only the genius of Grieg. If there is one thing wrong with this recording, it's that he never recorded all of the Lyric Pieces.

Petrushka's Ghost Thumbs His Nose: Otto Klemperer's Dark Interpretation of Stravinsky's Ballet

When you think of Stravinsky's Petrushka what comes to your mind? For most of the listening audience, an aural image of a glittering orchestral showpiece is sure to come into focus. Charming folk melodies and music-hall themes, dazzling orchestral solos, and its stretches of mordant bitonality have long won the score a much deserved respect and enjoyment among concert audiences. So effective has this score been as a concert work that it is easy to forget that it began its life as a ballet.

A world that seems to be reflected from a corridor of cracked fun house mirrors, the work's libretto conjures up a world disturbing and disorienting. Life as puppet show; mechanized and soulless. At the center you have Petrushka, a brilliant and sensitive outcast. Alternately provoking his envy and affection are the Moor--your archetypal boorish, stupid, yet somehow successful "alpha male"--and the ditzy Ballerina with her bad taste in men. Most interpretations of this work gloss over its expressionism, ultimately reflected in the treatment of this work's coda. Nearly every conductor plays this as a charming non sequitur and not as the chilling question mark it ought to be. Nearly every one except for Otto Klemperer.

At first glance, the idea of Klemperer conducting Stravinsky might seem odd. Best remembered for his monumental readings of the Austro-German classics, Klemperer in the 1920's was an ardent advocate of modern music. One of the highlights of his tenure as director of Berlin's Kroll Opera was his Stravinsky triple bill evening consisiting of Mavra, Oedipus Rex, and Petrushka. Stravinsky, who attended the performance, was deeply impressed. Petrushka remained a favorite in Klemperer's repertoire long after he fled Germany. He would perform the work often taking it along with him to, among other places, Los Angeles, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Budapest, and Sydney. By the 1950's, however, his enthusiasm for performing 20th century music cooled, telling a reporter in Amsterdam his season as a partisan for the avant garde had passed. He did remain a very enthusiastic listener of the moderns well into his late years, praising Stravinsky's Requiem Canticles and attending a rehearsal for Stockhausen's Gruppen, not to mention being an admirer of Pierre Boulez's work as both composer and conductor.

The circustances for the recording at hand are interesting and happened purely by chance. EMI had long been wanting to record a stereo Petrushka but was foiled again and again. The project was suggested to Beecham, Karajan, Giulini, and Markevitch, but was either rejected by those conductors or circumstances prevented them from recording it. In 1967, Paul Kletzki was to conduct a Philharmonia program that consisted of selections from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn and Brahms' First Symphony, among other solidly Austro-German works. Kletzki became ill shortly before the concert and Klemperer filled in for him. Unusually, he replaced the Brahms work with Stravinsky's Petrushka. Getting the hint, EMI quickly mobilized their team and initiated recording sessions. The results, according to EMI, did not find Klemperer in top form, plagued by a tired sounding orchestra and many instrumental gaffes. The master tape was withheld and remained in the EMI vaults.

Not until the mid 2000's were these tapes given another listen. The remastering engineers at Testament were surprised with the results. While the original master tape was a dull sounding recording, that was because the bulk of it was made on the third day of the scheduled sessions. They found that the tapes from the first day's session were far more impressive and have made a new master tape from those sessions. That is what you will find on this disc.

It may take a moment for the ear to adjust as this is a rather slower, more blunt Petrushka than one is normally used to hearing. But once you adjust, it overwhelms you with its sheer force. No sparkling orchestral finesse here. The New Philharmonia does suffer a few minor lapses here and there, but Klemperer's conception is so persuasive that you forget these mistakes quickly. The flute solo in the Charlatan's booth (played by Gareth Morris) is not the usual Disney-esque magic, but rather something more sinister and insinuating. The bitonal fanfares in Petrushka's cell are very heavy, almost Mahlerian. Indeed Klemperer's Petrushka seems to be one refracted through the prism of Berg's Wozzeck and Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire. It's worth it just to hear his handling of the coda. Just utter darkness. If there is one flaw here, it's that Klemperer makes a brief cut towards the end of the Dance of the Coachmen section, omitting one of the repitions of the theme.

The Pulcinella Suite included in this album is very fine too. Full blooded and muscular. But it's the Petrushka that is the star of the show here.

While I still love the recordings of Petrushka conducted by Monteux, Boulez, Ozawa, and Muti, Klemperer's is a very special reading that merits being heard. A very dark take on a beloved favorite then. It may alter profoundly how you hear this music.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hi everybody!

Welcome to my vault. For the most part I'll be posting up recordings from my collection here, though I may be given to ranting about other things as suits my fancy. Many of the recordings I'll be posting here are historical (i.e. from the 78 RPM era) so keep that in mind. The sound quality may leave something to be desired, but it's worth putting up with to be able to listen to sterling musicianship that is sadly lacking these days.

Aside from the historical recordings, I'll also be posting up just any music that I enjoy, classical or not. But it'll be mostly classical.

I love music. It's something that brings me continuous joy and I hope that I can share some of that joy with you.

I'll be posting in lossy format. The reason for this is simple. Ripping and uploading in lossless takes a lot of time. Chalk it down to the impatient, immediate satisfaction demanding nature of my generation, but doing the whole lossless thing is a bit too much for me. So lossy uploads it will be.

If there's anything you're looking for in particular, don't be shy--let me know. Also, if you enjoy any of the recordings here, don't be afraid to send me a thanks. Thank you all and take care.