Record Reviews

by JOHN M. CONLY

Beethoven: Concerto No. 2 in B Flat Major; with Overtures “Coriolan” and “Consecration of the House” (Paul Badura-Skoda, piano; Hermann Scherchen conducting Vienna State Opera Orchestra; Westminster WL 5302: 12" LP). The affinity of the artists for the eighteenth century yields us here a manly yet elegant reading of the first and most Mozartian Beethoven piano concerto. The sound is impressive, which gives the two overtures on the overside, solidly played, a very high ranking among recorded versions.

Beethoven: Concerto No. 4 in G Major (Clifford Curzon, piano; Hans Knappertsbusch conducting Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; London LL 1045: 12" LP). Here, conveying a fluent, sensitive performance, nothing dazzling, is some of the best, “concerthall realism” I’ve heard in a year. To be effective, it must be played on good equipment, and loud. When it is, it is positively thrilling.

Beethoven: Sonatas (Beethoven Society Volumes III and IV: Sonatas Nos. 15, 19, 31, and Nos. 2, 14, and 26. Artur Schnabel, piano; RCA Victor LCT 1154 and 1155: two separate 12" LPs). These were recorded in England in 1933 and 1934 — which I can hardly believe, they sound so good. Or perhaps I cannot hear the grooves for the music. This I know: I have never heard Beethoven so articulate as through this pianist, now dead. I would not be without these records.

Berlioz:Te Deum (Sir Thomas Beecham conducting Alexander Young, tenor; Dulwich College Boy’s Choir; London Philharmonic Choir; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Columbia ML 4897: 12" LP). Tremendous tonal mass in some parts of this (listen to Judex crederis), songful delicacy in others, firm conviction throughout. Beecham knows, loves, and masters the music; the sound, apart from being a little distant and churchly, is fine.

Brahms: Concerto in D Major (David Oistrakh, violin; Franz Konwitschny conducting Saxon State Orchestra: Decca DL 9754: 12" LP). The orchestra has a workaday sound, and the recording is not the ultimate in fidelity, but at least Oistrakh can really he heard, and he is really something to hear. To the degree that he can make it so, this is the best Brahms violin concerto on records.

Brahms: Violin and Piano Sonatas, Complete (Isaac Stern, violin; Alexander Zakin, piano; Columbia SL 202: two 12" LPs in album). Stern and Zakin have made two of the three Brahms sonatas before; these could be the same performances, in new and improved cuttings, but I think they are new playings. Anyway, here we have in addition not only No. 2, but the Dietrich-Schumann-Brahms sonata in F-A-E (Frei aber einsam, motto of the violinist Joachim, to whom it was dedicated). Best performances available, and probably pretty nearly bombproof.

Brahms: Four Serious Songs; Two Songs with Viola Obbligato (Nell Rankin, contralto; Carlton Cooley, viola; Coenrad V. Bos, piano; Capitol P 9289: 12" LP). With all due and fond respects to the late Miss Kathleen Ferrier, I think Miss Rankin here does better by Brahms’s great “serious” songs, based on Pauline epistles. She hasn’t Miss Ferrier’s voice, but she has Coenrad Bos, a Brahms authority, as coach and accompanist. The “Full Dimensional Sound” is very fine, too.

Handel:The Messiah (Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting soloists, Huddersfield Choral Society, Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Angel 3510C: three 12" LPs with text and notes in album). This is the nineteenth-century Messiah in its most splendid dress, almost overpowering in beauty and grandeur, convincing enough to shake my allegiance to the small-scale Scherchen “original version” presentation on Westminster. Even the conventional cuts are made, shortening the presentation by the length of a whole record, with an appropriate reduction in price.

Mozart: Clarinet Concerto, K.622; with Bassoon Concerto, K. 191 (Leopold Wlach, clarinet; Karl Oehlberger, bassoon; Arthur Rodzinski conducting Vienna State Opera Orchestra; Westminster WL 5307: 12" LP). There are some whopping good recordings of the Clarinet Concerto already; now here is another. But with it you get a luscious rendition of the captivating Bassoon Concerto, heretofore available only in a thin, elderly, Toscanini version. For good Mozartians, this should be almost irresistible.

Mozart: Concertos No. 9 and No. 15 for Piano and Orchestra (Wilhelm Kempff, piano; Karl Münchinger conducting Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra and winds of L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande; London LL 998: 12" LP). It was an inspiration of London’s to bring these two men together: Kempff’s exquisite touch; Münchinger’s complete understanding of how to make a chamber orchestra sound important, big. The result is something which will not soon be surpassed. Mozart is lastingly served, on disks lovingly engineered.

Rimsky-Korsakoff:Scheherazade (Eugene Ormandy conducting Philadelphia Orchestra; Columbia ML 4888: 12" LP). There must be an end somewhere ahead to the number of Scheherazades the public will absorb, but I’m glad it didn’t arrive before this sonically luxuriant, musically unmannered presentation, fresh as the day Rimsky wrote it. If you have not succumbed yet, now’s the time to buy.

Vaughan Williams: Sinfoilia An tartiea (Sir Adrian Boult conducting London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir; Margaret Ritchie, soprano; John Gielgud, narrator; London LL 977: 12" LP). This is chosen arbitrarily, since it has never been heard in America, as an excuse to mention the fact that all seven symphonies of Vaughan Williams now have been released individually by London (they appeared earlier as a “limited edition" at $55). The “Sea Symphony,” No. 1, is on threesides, coupled with music from “The Wasps.” The “Pastoral” came out earlier. “Antartica,” derived from the score for the film Scott of the Antarctic, is the last. I was tempted to add, “and the best,”but I don’t think it is. I like them all, but I think I like best the Sixth, a score with a universality not usually associated with this extraordinarily gifted portrayer of what is timely and British. All seven, however, are deeply thoughtful and engaging, and presented here in very high fidelity and absolutely authoritative interpretation, Boult conducting and the composer supervising.

Wagner:Tristan:Prelude andLiebestod; Götterdämmerung:Prologue, Rhine Journey, Funeral Music;Meistersinger;Preludes to Act I and Act III; Siegfried Idyll;Lohengrin:Preludes to Act I and Act III;Parsifal:Prelude; Good Friday Spell (Arturo Toscanini conducting NBC Symphony Orchestra; RCA Victor LM 6020: two 12" LPs in album). Anyone interested by now must have heard Toscanini conduct these excerpts many times for radio broadcast. The recordings were made over the last two years. Their sound is new and vivid, making the most of the Maestro’s infinitely detailed tonecoloring. The works, as usual, seem at his hands both operatically dramatic and symphonically self-sufficient. The album includes a Toscanini-Wagner evaluation by the late Lawrence Gilman.

The Art of Roland Haves: Six Centuries of Song (Roland Hayes, tenor; Reginald Boardman, piano; Vanguard VRS 448-9: two 12" LPs in box). Roland Hayes now is sixtyseven, and the well-remembered gold in his voice is getting a little silvery, but his remarkable perception of the meanings beneath the surface of songs has not flagged. Hopeful songsters especially will want this album, which in seventeen songs covers the years from 1300 to the present. The collection includes some spirituals, which, except for He Never Said a Mumberlin Word, I thought sounded a little tired. Best are the very early ballads and devotional songs from France and Italy.

Song Recital: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano; Gerald Moore, piano; Angel 35023: 12" LP with texts). Some critic acquaintances of mine profess to scorn this, but I think they are just trying to show they’re tough. From beginning to end, it’s about as beautiful as anything human can be, despite occasional rebellious hoots from the microphone. The songs range from Bach to Richard Strauss. Try the former’s Bist du bei mir, or Mozart’s Der Zauberer, to test your sales resistance. This is strictly blissful. Don’t listen if you don’t intend to buy.