Record Reviews

Ives: Pieces for Chamber Orchestra and Songs

Harold Farberman conducting Boston Chamber Ensemble; Corinne Curry, soprano, and Luise Vosgerchian, pianist; Cambridge CRS-1804 (stereo) and CRM-804

The tenth anniversary of the death, on May 19, 1954. of Charles Ives seems to have called forth no flood of recordings from an industry determined to honor the most original and perhaps enduring of American composers. However, this Cambridge release makes available a fascinating cross section of Ives’s shorter pieces. Some of them are so short as to be little more than scraps of music. But there is the Threepage Sonata for piano solo with some enchanting bell sounds to embellish the piano line (Ives genially invited a bell player, as well as a second pianist, to join in the performance of the inordinately difficult work). Among the vocal works are a rousing setting of Vachel Lindsay’s “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven” and a song, with words by Ives himself, entitled “An Election, or It Strikes Me That, or November 2, 1920,” which is a savage political polemic on the defeat of Woodrow Wilson over the League of Nations issue. Among the instrumental pieces is “Hallowe’en,” “for violins, viola, cellos, piano and bass drum ad-lib,” a cheerfully discordant perpetuum mobile which winds up with some percussive fireworks. And who but Charles Ives (aged sixteen) would have had the gumption to write a post-Schumann setting of Heine’s ”Ich grolle nicht” and bring it off as a pleasantly tranquil little song! The performances under Harold Farberman have been carefully prepared, and they abound in devotion and skill. Everybody is good, but a special word ought to be said for soprano Corinne Curry for putting bite into songs such as “General William Booth" and “An Election.”

Prokofiev: Sympliony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra Fauré: Élégie

Erich Leinsdorf conducting Boston Symphony Orchestra, with Samuel Mayes, cellist; RCA Victor or LSC-2703 (stereo) and LM-2703

If this release is typical of the Boston Symphony’s recently inaugurated series of the complete works of Prokofiev (and there seems no reason to think it is not), one of the major recording enterprises of the decade is under way. For Mr. Leinsdorf and his orchestra turn one of the least played of Prokofiev’s largescale works into an absorbing musical experience. Symphony-Concerto is an unusual title that denotes the rich orchestral texture of a work in which the solo cello is the leading, but not the dominating, instrument. Mr. Mayes, first cellist of the Boston Symphony, plays with suppleness and color not only in the Prokofiev but in the lovely Fnuré Élégie which rounds out the record.

Wagner: Die Meistersinger VON Nürnberg (excerpts)

Friedrich Schorr, baritone, with Göta Ljungberg and Elisabeth Schumann, sopranos; Lauritz Melchior and Rudolf Laubenthal, tenors; London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Albert Coates, Lawrance Collingwood, Robert Heger, and Sir John Barbirolli; and Berlin State Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Leo Blech; Angel COLH-137 (monaural only)

From the early 1920s to the early 1940s Friedrich Schorr was the most celebrated of Wagnerian baritones, first in Europe and later in the United States. His two most renowned characterizations were Wotan in Der Ring and Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger. This LP, culled from recordings made from 1927 to 1931, gives a fine sampling of the rich elements that went into his Sachs — the warmth of character, the virility of voice, the sureness of technique and control, and most of all, perhaps, the un-Wagnerian legato that made for a kind of Germanic bel canto. Among the excerpts heard here are the famous “ Wahn! Wahn!” and “Jerum! Jerum!” and a ravishingly beautiful quintet in which Elisabeth Schumann is the Eva and Lauritz Melchior the Walther. The sound quality is another triumph for Angel’s Great Recordings of the Century engineers, who seemingly can do everything for master artists of the past except put them on the stage again.

Conversation Pieces

Read by Jill Balcon, Lally Bowers, Rachel Gurney, Pauline Letts, Marjorie Westbury, V. C. Clinton-Baddeley, Robert Fddison, Osian Ellis, John Glenn, Marius Goring, Carleton Hobbs, and C. Day Lewis; Folkways FL-9880 (monaural only)

Most spoken records are monologues; this one consists of seventeen “duologues" — readings of poems written for or about two personages, or occasionally even more. Thus, Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” is followed quickly by Sir Walter Raleigh’s “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,”and Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is divided into a dialogue between Jill Balcon as the Lady and Robert Eddison as the Knight. Aside from the superb skill of the readers and the added dimension of realism provided by the interplay of voices, the record’s attractiveness is enhanced by the unlamiliarity of most of the poems. Thomas Hardy’s “Liddell and Scott” is a delightful conversation between two solemn English scholars upon completion of their Greek lexicon in 1843; James Elroy Flecker’s “Santorin” is a lovely evocation of an Aegean Sea legend; and W. H. Auden’s “O What Is That Sound” is a grimly ironic sidelight on vengeful warfare. Two other Thomas Hardy poems, “To the Moon" and “The Ruined Maid,” lend themselves beautifully to this treatment, as do “When Smoke Stood Up From Ludlow” and “The Deserter” by A. E. Housman (incredibly misspelled “Houseman” on jacket and label). Both in choice of material and deftness of delivery, this British record is a little treasure of poetic imagination.

The Farewell Addresses of General Douglas Mac Arthur

RCA Camden SPC-100 (monaural only): two records

Of the many memorial recordings to General MacArthur, this is the simplest. It consists of the complete texts of two speeches as transcribed at the time: his report to Congress on April 19, 1951, and his farewell address to the West Point cadets on May 12, 1962, not quite two years before his death. Heard today, the congressional speech seems dated and partisan. But the West Point address is an utterance at once profoundly moving and serenely dignified. In it MacArthur, in a voice marked by age, bids his hearers accept their role as their country’s defenders with pride, while leaving the settlement of its problems to others. The soldier’s creed, in its highest sense, has seldom been expressed so nobly and touchingly. The absorbed silence in which the cadets listen to the general’s address is a tribute to its power, and forms a striking contrast to the shouts of approval and rebel yells that punctuate the congressional oration.

Weill-Brecht: Happy End

Lotte Lenya with Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Wilhelm BrücknerRüggeberg; Columbia OS-2032 (stereo) and OL-5630

Happy End, which dates from 1929, the year after Die Dreigroschenoper, is probably the least known Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht production. But two of its songs, “Surabaya Johnny” and “Bilbao Song,” have achieved near-hit-parade status in this country, and the entire score is imbued with the verbal wit and musical pungency characteristic of Weill and Brecht at their best. The story is no model of dramatic cohesion, but its Chicago gangster background provides plenty of opportunity for Weill’s musical ironies, including several mock-heroic and -pietic Salvation Army hymns and marches. For their own reasons, Weill and Brecht titled the work in English, but its lyrics are thoroughly German, and they arc sung here in their original language by their incomparable interpreter, Lotte Lenya.