Stravinsky: Apollo; Symphony of Psalms; Violin Concerto

COMPOSERS: Stravinsky
LABELS: Andante
WORKS: Apollo; Symphony of Psalms; Violin Concerto
PERFORMER: various performers
CATALOGUE NO: AND 1100 (distr. Harmonia Mundi) ADD mono
Testament has already done guido cantelli proud with its reissues of his EMI recordings, and now these NBC broadcasts not only widen his recorded repertoire, but show him as a much more impulsive and visceral artist. In Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler Symphony, there’s greater flow and rubato than in his studio recording made six days later, and the inevitable imprecisions of live performance are offset by an extra buzz. Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony has terrific incisiveness and power, and Beethoven’s Seventh all the excitement of a young man’s discovery of the music – Cantelli was only 29, and conducting the piece for the first time. By contrast, his accounts of Bach and Handel are slow and over-reverential, though he’s light and stylish in Mozart’s 29th Symphony. All this was recorded in the notoriously dry Studio 8H, but by winter 1950 operations had moved to the Manhattan Center, and there’s more space around the sound, especially welcome in Busoni’s Tanzwalzer and the colourful ballet suites from William Schuman’s Undertow and Dallapiccola’s Marsia. But all the music benefits: Beethoven’s Fifth has real presence, and Cantelli combines warmth, energy and attack, reminding me less of his mentor Toscanini than of Victor de Sabata; and in the Magnificat from Monteverdi’s Vespers he encourages the Robert Shaw Chorale to sing with Italian openness. Testament has had access to the original tapes, and the sound has come up well.

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The emil telmányi Bach set from the early Fifties is a real curiosity. He had a special bow made which allowed him to sustain notes on all the strings in the triple and quadruple stops. Unfortunately there’s also an air of caution about the whole enterprise, as the extra technology brings its own problems of control. Even passages with a single line are affected, but most bizarre are places like the opening of the Sarabande or the Chaconne in the D minor Partita, where the chords have hardly any attack. One for the specialist only.

friedrich gulda’s Mozart is clean and Classical, and he’s good at delineating melodic line and clarifying internal balance. The rhythmic exuberance in the phrasing of the Beethoven also acts as a reminder that he was equally at home in jazz. The slow movements in both concertos are beautifully poised, and his crystalline scales are a joy to hear, though the orchestral sound of 1955 is on the acid side. Thin orchestral sound also bedevils julius katchen’s two concertos from 1952, especially when he’s recorded so forwardly. But the 20th-century idiom is natural to his technique, though some of Bartók’s Mikrokosmos aren’t as rhythmically tight as they might be.

Getting hold of Andante CDs used to mean a visit to its website, but it has now decided to go through normal retail channels and reduce its prices. Luckily, it has sacrificed neither the quality of its transfers, nor its archive photographs and extensive booklet notes. So these are still premium products, even if many of the recordings have appeared elsewhere. In the case of the stravinsky, which concentrates on his neo-classical works, very little is still available, so this is a useful pulling-together of material from 1930 to 1950. The first recording of the Symphony of Psalms, though rocky at times, has a fervency which has never been equalled; and it’s good to welcome back all the music that Samuel Dushkin recorded with Stravinsky, especially the Duo concertant. Two versions of Dumbarton Oaks, one elegantly conducted by Schmidt-Isserstedt, and the other hard-driven by Stravinsky, make for a telling lesson in the nature of interpretation. As do the various versions of beethoven’s two best-loved violin sonatas: in the Spring, Fritz Kreisler is all warmth and affection, Szymon Goldberg more mercurial and impulsive, and Nathan Milstein sadly mechanistic. Strangely, in the opening of the Kreutzer it’s Kreisler who’s most dramatic, whereas Georg Kulenkampff treats it almost like a slow movement of a Bach partita. Joseph Szigeti is cool, and Adolf Busch comfortable, but in the end, single adjectives can’t do justice to the wonderful variety of music-making here.

All the concertgebouw items have appeared in an 11-CD set on Q Disc, which also offers a bonus DVD of van Beinum in action, so I’m not sure quite what take-up Andante expects. The quality of the radio recordings from 1941 to 1958 is mostly good, and the Concertgebouw acoustic adds its distinctive warmth: it’s quite a shock to hear the completely different sound in Ravel’s Daphnis Second Suite recorded in New York. Highlights include the aristocratic Solomon in Beethoven’s Third Concerto, playing his own cadenza; and van Beinum in music he didn’t otherwise record. Schoenberg’s Five Pieces may be cautious in places, but two works by Dutch composers – Hendrik Andriessen and Rudolf Escher – are involved and warmly Romantic. Like Cantelli, van Beinum had more sweep and flexibility live than in his commercial recordings, and Debussy’s Images and La mer are real beneficiaries here.

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Despite the claim that the three bruckner performances are previously unreleased, the Furtwängler Eighth has been out before, though with a different date (10 rather than 24 April 1954). The sound isn’t as good as that enjoyed by the other conductors over 20 years later, but his dynamic approach and mastery of transitions knocks spots off Böhm’s straight-down-the-middle interpretation of No. 7 and Karajan’s effortless smoothness in No. 9. Altogether, another fascinating comparison which Andante’s multiple disc format throws up.