Smetana: The Bartered Bride

LABELS: Somm Beecham
WORKS: The Bartered Bride
PERFORMER: Hilde Konetzni, Richard Tauber, Fritz Krenn, Heinrich Tessmer; ROH Chorus, LPO/Thomas Beecham
Casals and Beecham dominate the present batch. Music & Arts has released a 13-CD set devoted to the CASALS FESTIVAL AT PRADES. Some of these performances will be familiar from previous Sony/CBS compilations but others – the Arthur Grumiaux-William Kapell Beethoven D major Sonata, Op. 12/1; the Mozart E flat Piano Quartet (erroneously described as a Piano Trio) in which they are joined by Milton Thomas and Paul Tortelier; Mieczyslaw Horszowski playing some Bach preludes and fugues – will be discoveries for many music lovers. The quality of sound is very variable and not always an improvement on the LPs that CBS released to mark the Casals centenary in 1976, but such are the riches here that these reservations will deter few, particularly in view of the modest outlay involved. A welcome complement is a two-CD set of four MOZART concertos from the 1951 Festival with Horszowski (K595) and Myra Hess (K271). Both receive inspired performances and Casals conducts with his customary humanity and wisdom.


Sony is reissuing the recordings Beecham made in the Fifties which were released on American Columbia and in the UK on Philips. I still have the LP of the first two SCHUBERT symphonies which now appear together with an affecting account of the Unfinished. The finale of the Second Symphony has rarely been given with greater lightness of touch. Pride of place perhaps should go to the Rustic Wedding Symphony of Goldmark, since recordings of it are so few and far between, and Beecham’s is unrivalled in its charm and elegance. A recording of SMETANA’s The Bartered Bride which Beecham conducted at Covent Garden on 1 May 1939, only a few weeks after the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia, has just come to light – ironically sung in German. There is an impressive line-up including the glorious Hilde Konetzni, Richard Tauber, Mary Jarred and Marko Rothmüller. It conveys an exhilarating sense of occasion. As the notes explain, Beecham had all too little rehearsal time and there is less of the sparkle and finesse we associate with him. But there is plenty of spirit and, despite the many sonic imperfections, the glories of these soloists come across. Quite apart from their vocal distinction and presence, what wonderful diction the singers of this period possessed. The sound quality calls for a tolerance that is well worth extending.

A recent Naxos issue devoted to BENNO MOISEIWITSCH, expertly transferred by Ward Marston, brings an anthology of favourites familiar to those who grew up in the Forties – those who didn’t should investigate without delay. The playing has a completely natural and unforced virtuosity combined with the quiet authority that distinguished all he did. The major work is the Delius Piano Concerto, which he recorded in 1946 with Constant Lambert and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Moiseiwitsch was a keen advocate of the work and pressed its claims on the likes of Rachmaninov and Medtner who didn’t know it. No one has played it with greater eloquence and sensitivity (though Jean-Rodolphe Kars comes close) and though it strikes me as less than great, it has wonderful moments. Lambert shows that it was not only Beecham who could conduct Delius, as those who remember his On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring will already know.

Moiseiwitsch was rather undervalued by HMV’s executives at the time and relegated to their plum label, while SOLOMON was upgraded to red label status during his last few years. APR has found two magnificent live performances of concertos that he recorded commercially, but which rather throw new light on his artistry. His 1952 Kansas City account of the Tchaikovsky First has an abandon and a fire quite different from the aristocratic and celebrated version he made with Dobrowen for HMV, though the orchestral sound is unpleasingly dry. Another APR issue brings some stunning playing from the legendary SIMON BARERE at Carnegie Hall recitals in 1949, including a dazzling Gnomenreigen.


Finally, Arbiter puts us in its debt with a BUSONI disc which brings us the famous blue-label 78s the composer-pianist made in London in 1922. Despite the primitive recording, the sheer beauty of sonority he commanded can be clearly discerned, as can his effortless clarity of articulation. Listening to his Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13, one realises why Busoni was the legend he was. The disc also gives us some rarities including a movement of his own Piano Concerto played by his pupil Egon Petri.