As the Cold War neared its height, Sviatoslav Richter’s early Sixties DG recordings presaged the emergence in the West of one of the Soviet Union’s best-kept musical secrets.
A new DG ‘Originals’ reissue chronicles Richter in minor-key concertos by MOZART (K466) and BEETHOVEN (463 649-2). They’re astounding and visionary interpretations; Richter’s K466 proffers a sombre grandiloquence, and his patrician, clinically severe Beethoven Third also registers powerfully on this thrilling new transfer.
Emil and Elena Gilels also return, in MOZART’s big Double Piano Concerto (K365) coupled with the F minor Fantasy by SCHUBERT, and Gilels senior’s sublimely understated account of the last Mozart Concerto, K595 (463 652-2). Transfers sound vibrantly fresh-hued, overcoming the brittle piano timbre that dogged earlier releases of these classy performances.
BRAHMS’s violin sonata trilogy and Scherzo from the ‘F-A-E’ Sonata make a generous coupling (463 653-2), in distinguished readings from Schneiderhan and Seeman. Remastered sound is better, even, than for Schneiderhan’s Beethoven survey reissued in March 2000.
It’s fascinating to compare his noble but measured delivery with Adolf Busch’s sinewy and irascible versions with Serkin or, for still greater contrast, the matchlessly refined David Oistrakh/Frida Bauer collaborations, now well overdue for revival.
Violin devotees shouldn’t miss the chance to hear two of the 20th century’s greatest female performers, both of whom recorded far more extensively than the fabled Ginette Neveu, whose untimely death probably did most to establish her name for posterity.
Older collectors might just remember Helios LPs of Hungarian virtuoso Johanna Martzy playing Mozart concertos. Rather fewer, I suspect, will recall Viennese-born Erica Morini’s DG GLAZUNOV concerto from 1958, which was critically down-graded after Heifetz’s appeared on RCA.
Martzy’s 1953 account of the DVORÁK is strikingly masculine and powerful, but transfers sound abrasive at climaxes, and dynamic range is rather compressed (463 651-2). The performance rates highly, though, and devotees should track down Martzy’s Brahms and Mendelssohn on Testament, too.
Morini’s attractively lyrical BRUCH and GLAZUNOV sound far better than a disappointing Sony disc (SMK 68446) which features her 1951 account of MOZART’s K219, with Casals conducting. Ferenc Fricsay’s punchy accounts of DVORÁK’s New World (as exciting as Talich’s famous 1951 Supraphon recording) with SMETANA’s Vltava and LISZT’s Les préludes (Karajan’s Berlin Philharmonic performances featured on one of the first ‘Originals’ discs in March 1995) with the Berlin RSO are exceptionally authoritative (463 650-2).
Finally from DG, there’s a collection of VERDI choruses from La Scala, offering fine sound and electrically disciplined attack and precision from chorus and orchestra under Abbado: a rabble-rousing reissue if ever there was one (463 655-2). Sony’s BRUCH G minor/MENDELSSOHN pairing also included what many might dismiss as a makeweight (SMK 89715).
But few rival versions of VIEUXTEMPS’s prodigiously exacting Fifth Violin Concerto (save for Heifetz’s) offer much competition to Cho-Liang Lin’s outstanding 1982 Minnesota Orchestra recording with Marriner. Even if you don’t need the two warhorses here, it’s worth getting this CD for Lin’s exceptional Vieuxtemps Fifth.
Yo-Yo Ma’s 1984 recordings of the ELGAR and WALTON cello concertos with André Previn and the LSO also make an attractive bargain, with demonstration sound quality achieved at London’s Walthamstow Assembly Hall (SMK 89712).
Two Sony discs devoted principally to SCHUMANN’s solo piano works played by Murray Perahia also warrant high commendation, with the Symphonic Studies coupled with the Piano Concerto and Yo-Yo Ma’s account of the Cello Concerto (SMK 89716) more likely to appeal to collectors keen to dip a toe into Schumann’s output without any major cash commitment.
Perahia’s insightful and sensitive pianism is reproduced in bright, lustrous sound, but if you want a wider cross-section of Schumann’s piano music, DG has just issued a ‘Collectors’ Edition’ boxed set of performances by Wilhelm Kempff, not that even his accounts of Papillons, Op. 2, or Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6, greatly outshine Perahia’s (SMK 89714).
While these Sony versions of the two concertos are secure recommendations, the stylistic polarities generated in Harmonia Mundi performances under Philippe Herreweghe couldn’t be more dramatic (HMA 1951731).
Andreas Staier plays an 1850 piano by JB Streicher, presenting SCHUMANN’s Piano Concerto as a more embattled struggle than usual; it’s an exemplary and unrivalled periodist projection.
Christophe Coin’s gripping account of the Cello Concerto is likewise worlds away from Yo-Yo Ma’s orthodox reading, and indeed at times (especially in the intermezzo and finale) it’s hard to believe it’s the same work. This is a revelatory disc.
Also new to Harmonia Mundi’s ‘Musique d’abord’ series are several useful recordings of BACH keyboard music. Kenneth Gilbert’s 1986 Goldberg Variations (HMA 1951240) is a distinguished realisation, beautifully captured by fine sound engineering. Davitt Moroney set down his provocative traversal (the completion of Fugue 14 is his own) of Bach’s Art of Fugue a year earlier (HMA 1951169-70).
The recording, made at the Salle Adyar, Paris, is more resonant than for Gilbert’s Goldbergs, but the John Phillips instrument used here is more powerful anyway, and Moroney’s thoughtful and polished performance is constantly engrossing.
Turning to harpsichord music at the zenith of the French Baroque, Christophe Rousset and William Christie play COUPERIN (HMA 1951269), including ‘L’apothéose de Lulli’ and ‘Le Parnasse, ou l’apothéose de Corelli’ in a 1987 programme recorded at the same location.
In their own day, these amazing pieces (they’re brilliantly done here) must have seemed no less radical than did PIERRE BOULEZ’s Domaines for clarinet and mixed chamber ensemble back in 1968 (HMA 195930).
Anyone still perplexed by the avant-garde should try Michel Portal’s 1971 account with the Ensemble Musique Vivante. Ruthless, shocking, and seemingly chaotic, well yes, but Domaines was no less emblematic of its times than Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring or Berg’s Wozzeck.