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Len Mullenger:

Fritz Reiner conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

Till Eulenspiegel ; Death and transfiguration

Hungarian Dances nos 1,5,6,7,19 and 21.

Slavonic Dances op 46 nos. 1, 3 and 8. op 72 nos. 1 and 2
DECCA LEGENDS 467 122 -2 (ADD) [78. 57]

There is no doubt in my mind that Fritz Reiner was the greatest conductor of the 20th century.

I judge performances not on the popularity of the conductor or his PR hype but on their faithfulness to the printed score and how they obtain a balance of texture and colour. I dismiss conductors who take liberties with scores and 'improve' them. Too many conductors today want to put their personal stamp on the music and the composer can only be a runner-up at best. Yet so fickle is the public that they like and indeed admire and worship some of these reprobate conductors and the real stars like Reiner are forgotten.

His greatest orchestra was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra but is he or is Solti primarily remembered for that orchestra? Solti's success was on the supreme triumph of Reiner - a far, far better conductor - premiership material compared to the third division as another famous conductor described them.

However, I have a serious reservation about this disc. The Vienna Philharmonic is not my favourite orchestra. and there are many others, including prominent musicians, who agree with me. One said that they spend so much time playing the nauseating waltzes by the Strauss family and the other composers in this genre that the orchestra's string section is so lightweight that it is thin.

"If you play trite bon-bon music, you will sound trite and like a bon-bon," someone said of the Vienna orchestras. Perhaps that is a trifle extreme.

And somehow that is right, and, despite Reiner's magnificent musicianship the orchestral sound in the strings leaves a lot to be desired. It may not be Joe Loss and his orchestra but....

To add to this, I don't think the recording transfer is outstanding; in fact, there are some very ragged moments.

The opening horn theme suffers badly from the recording engineers and, as a result, the music is not as thrilling as it should be. The woodwind are excellent. The timpani attacks are very buzzy and that fault can again be put at the feet of the engineers. As indicated before, the strings are often sickly . ..too many Johann Strauss bon-bons. But Reiner's control of the piece is exemplary... the mischief is there but it is sinister and not light hearted and there is no doubt that he captures the drama.

Death and Transfiguration is given a definitive performance. It is very loving and compassionate, an aspect of grief that is rare in performances. There is power here and the closing pages have a moving quality that will not be bettered. The build up is so brilliantly judged and that glorious theme....this will take some beating.

Reiner's reading of Don Juan is out of this world but that recording is with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra showing us how string players should perform. His version of Ein Heldenleben with the same orchestra also on RCA was legendary. Precision, accuracy, colour, excitement, tenderness and faithfulness to the score. And it may surprise some to know that his version of Shostakovich's Symphony no. 6 with the Pittsbugh Symphony Orchestra puts all other versions in the shade as could be said of his reading of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra and with the right ending.

The disc ends with a selection of dances by Dvorak and Brahms played with great verve. No sickly readings here as one has had from Willy Boskovsky. Listen to the sheer colour of the playing.. but the strings still trouble me a little. But, then, I think I may be very particular.

David Wright




David Wright

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