Polovtsian Dances, Antal Dorati, LSO; Chorus
(recorded 1956). Mercury Living Presence Hybrid SACD 475 6194.
Symphony No. 2, Philh. O/Carlo Maria Giulini [ADD mono] EMI 7243 5 69738 2 4.
Symphony No. 2 LSO/Simon [original 1872 version] Chandos
Symphony No. 2 LPO/Rostropovich. [ADD] EMI 7243 5 65709 2
Night on Bare Mountain, Stokowski [ADD] (1967) LSO Decca
Night on Bare Mountain, Stokowski [ADD] (1964) LSO Cala CD
This release features three of the same recordings on a Decca
Legends release of not so long ago (460977-2). The older release
also included an extra
selection, the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 2, giving it a
more generous playing time of 77 minutes. My comments on the
performance of the Tchaikovsky (3). With
the release of the Rosette Collection
disc, the Legends recording
been withdrawn. In the common works, my listening tests show
no audible difference
two releases, although the Rosette release is mastered at
a lower volume and the Legends version advertises 96/24 re-mastering.
It is impossible to give a composition date for
Borodin’s Prince Igor since he worked on it off and
on over many years and the work was at his death left unfinished,
to be completed by his friends. The Polovtsian Dances is
one of the few sections he composed and partially orchestrated
himself, and this performance by Solti is the best thing
on either of these disks. The Overture was “completed” by
Glazunov who allegedly heard Borodin play it on the piano.
Shostakovich is quoted as saying Glazunov just made it up,
not too difficult a task for a professional musician since
it consists of arranged fragments of tunes from the opera.
Whatever, whoever wrote it, the overture works fine with
the opera and has always been a popular concert piece, here
performed and recorded excellently.
The Dorati recording of the Dances with
the same orchestra and, one presumes, chorus, is sung in
English, although it’s hard to tell because of the loud orchestra
accompaniment; whereas Solti’s performance is sung in Russian
and contains more dances. To those with SACD playback capability,
the Dorati is in three channel stereo, whereas the Solti
is in two channel CD sound, albeit re-mastered at high resolution.
Both performances are excellent.
Khovanshchina was another work left incomplete
at the death of the composer and tinkered with by other composers,
Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich—even Stravinsky. Although performing
versions exist, none of them can be called completely successful
and the work has never achieved a fraction of the popularity
of Mussorgsky’s other stage works. But this atmospheric entr’acte
has always been popular especially when performed and recorded
as well as here. Stokowski doesn’t do it any better.
Some say the Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture cannot
be performed too quickly, but I have heard it done so. The
goal is to achieve a genuine sense of energy and expectancy
as Solti does here. A friend who admired the overture found
himself in Moscow and made the mistake of going to see the
whole opera; twenty-five years later he was still angry,
claiming it was the most interminably miserably boring evening
he had ever endured, and he would never tolerate even the
mention of any Russian opera for the rest of his life. Having
heard a complete recording myself, I feel he was going just
a little overboard.
Most people prefer the Stokowski version of Night
on Bare Mountain which, surprisingly, is closer to
Mussorgsky’s original than the Rimsky-Korsakov version
recorded here. The Decca CD issue of Stokowski’s 1967 “Phase
4” performance has brilliant sound, but I prefer his live
performance from 1964; the sound is less exaggerated but
clear and wide range if just a little shrill. Rimsky-Korsakov
quite intentionally diluted the emotion in the Mussorgsky
works he arranged to make them more appealing to concert
audiences of his time. To Night he added struggle
music and fanfares, suggesting a battle between the armies
of good and evil, in contrast to the intensified unrelieved
terror of the original and the Stokowski version. One hundred
and twenty five years later, after Lulu, Wozzeck, Pierrot
Lunaire, and Bluebeard’s Castle, Mussorgsky’s
original is not nearly so shocking. But Solti’s brilliant
performance of the Rimsky-Korsakov version fits well with
the other works on this disk.
The notes to the “Legends” album contain a detailed
Solti biography but fail to describe one of the most interesting
incidents in his career (1). In the middle of the previous
century the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra was the personal
of Mrs. Norman Chandler (Her friends called her “Buffy”)
wife of the publisher of the Los Angeles Times newspaper.
She didn’t like Bruckner, but John Barbirolli insisted on
playing one of the symphonies at a Philharmonic concert.
Therefore she arranged with the orchestra manager that there
would be no rehearsal time whatever for the Bruckner, and
instructed her music critic at the Times to review
nothing but the Bruckner; naturally Barbirolli got bad press
and resolved never to conduct in Los Angeles again, although
I heard him play once after this in San Diego.
The orchestra played in the Temple Baptist Church
downtown, and then toured to surrounding communities, generally
sounding better in the larger Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
Visiting opera companies were heard (barely) in the cavernous
Shrine Auditorium. The County of Los Angeles agreed to sponsor
construction of a new concert hall, but not downtown where
property prices where inflated and access and parking were
poor. They would only build the auditorium away from the
city center. Buffy, who was also president of the Downtown
Property Owners’ Association, said that if they did that HER orchestra
would not play in it. The standoff lasted for years.
Finally Mrs. Chandler and her friends came forward
with the money for a major reconstitution of the orchestra.
A new concert hall, downtown, with a gigantic underground
parking garage was constructed and Eduard van Beinum was
engaged to build and train the orchestra. He accomplished
miracles in a few short years before his untimely death in
1959, and the search was on for his successor. In 1961 Mrs.
Chandler engaged Georg Solti and, so she said, obtained his
verbal approval to hire one of his students, Zubin Mehta,
as Associate Conductor. Pleased at this accomplishment, Mrs.
Chandler went on vacation to take what she saw as a well
earned rest. Then the Chicago Symphony began looking for
an eventual replacement for the ailing Fritz Reiner and Solti
was approached. Oops, he had just signed with Los Angeles!
He announced in the press that the Los Angeles Symphony Board
had violated his contract by hiring the Associate Conductor
without consulting him. His contract was therefore null and
void, he said, and he was free to sign with Chicago, which
he proceeded to do, and the rest is history (2).
Mrs. Chandler claimed foul, and may well have
been telling the truth, but her tragedy was that after her
years of finagling nobody in Los Angeles believed her. The
press (except for the Times, of course) was savage
in its attacks. One critic lamented the loss of Solti by
saying that Los Angeles had lost the best and had to suffer
along with third rate, that is, Zubin Mehta. So, Mehta was
hired as Music Director in 1962 with everybody in town expecting
him to fall on his face. But to everyone’s delight he proceeded
to do a magnificent job, building the orchestra to unprecedented
heights and producing many still legendary concerts and recordings.
Solti’s predecessor in this arena was Leopold
Stokowski who, fifty years before, had picked a fight with
the Cincinnati symphony board to get out of his contract
so as to accept the offer from Philadelphia. Everything worked
out for the best in all these cases, so I want to believe
that as time passed everyone was forgiven all around.
see also review by Tim Perry
1. His official web-site mentions it briefly.
2. Reiner eventually died in 1963. Solti shared
duties at CSO with Jean Martinon until 1969 when he assumed
the full directorship. So far as I recall Solti never conducted
in Los Angeles after 1962.
3. As a performance the Tchaikovsky is excellent, very high energy,
perhaps less than optimum modeling in the slower sections. The
chief weakness is in the dry recording where the trumpet is excessively
forward, where one can hear the player employing the crooning
cornet style of intonation popular in France. With a work recorded
as often as this we can be very picky. The Giulini recording
is the most beautiful, dramatic and lyrical, overdue for reissue
in the EMI Great Recordings of the Century series; even though
it is in monophonic analogue sound it is worth every Tchaikovsky
lover having it in their collection. Simon gives us a great digital
performance of the original uncut version which is predictably
a little more gloomy and depressing than the more frequently
heard shorter and brighter version of 1880 which everyone else
uses. My recollection of having heard the Karajan performance
on DG is that although his recordings of the Tchaikovsky symphonies
are generally excellent, his version of No. 2 was disappointing.
My recommendations reflect my affection for London orchestras
and the desire for a reserved emotional climate in Tchaikovsky. “Play
my music as though it is Mozart,” was Tchaikovsky’s advice to
performers. The title “Little Russian” refers to Ukraine and
the use of Ukrainian folk tunes.