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Thomas Schippers
Sergei PROKOFIEV
(1891-1953)
Symphony No.5 in B flat major, Op.100 [43:55]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Thomas Schippers
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, 11-14 May 1957
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
L'assedio di Corinto Overture [9:39]
London Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Schippers
rec. All Saints Church, Tooting, London, 30-31 July, 1-28 August 1974
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Sinfonia "al Santo Sepolcro" in B minor, R169 [7:03]
Francesco DURANTE (1684-1755)
Concerto No.5 for String Orchestra in A major [8:49]
Antonio SALIERI (1750-1825)
Axur, re d'Ormus Overture [3:16]
Orchestra Alessandro Scarlatti/Thomas Schippers
rec. Naples, July 1955
MEDICI MASTERS MM012-2 [72:54]

 


The name of Thomas Schippers (1930-1977) is perhaps more likely to be remembered nowadays by older collectors. He was a dedicated exponent of the music of his compatriots Barber and Menotti, several pieces of which he recorded for CBS in the 1960s. He also recorded works such as Prokofievís Alexander Nevsky and the Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition, both with the New York Philharmonic. Decca turned to him when they recorded Verdiís Macbeth with Birgit Nilsson in the 1960s.

Precociously gifted as a child, Schippers studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and at Yale University. He won the Philadelphia Orchestraís Young Conductorís competition in 1948. In the early 1950s he came to the attention of Menotti and Barber having conducted performances of The Consul on Broadway shortly after the premiere. This led to his being invited to give the premiere of Menottiís television opera Amahl and the Night Visitors in 1952, and to appearances with the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera and La Scala (conducting Cherubiniís Medea there with Callas in 1961). Blessed with film-star good looks and a winning personality, plus undoubted musical ability,† Schippers soon became a favourite in the States. He accompanied Bernstein and the NYPO on their historic visit to the Soviet Union in 1959 and conducted the glittering premiere of Barberís Antony and Cleopatra at the new Met in 1966. He also appeared in Bayreuth and in Italy. In 1970 he became music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

In his personal life Schippers was not so lucky. His wife died of cancer in 1973 and he himself succumbed to the disease in 1977. In the intervening thirty years his reputation has diminished somewhat, so this issue from Medici is a useful opportunity to reassess his legacy.

In May 1957 Schippers came to London to conduct concerts with the LSO and to make recordings with Walter Leggeís Philharmonia Orchestra, one of which, Prokofievís Fifth Symphony, is included on this disc. At the same time he recorded Tchaikovskyís Fourth and a selection of operatic arias with Eileen Farrell, now available on Testament. He returned to London in 1958 for further concerts with the Philharmonia, but these did not consolidate his reputation in this country and he has remained a comparatively unfamiliar figure here, unlike, for instance, his exact contemporary Lorin Maazel.

The Prokofiev Symphony, unavailable since the days of LP, provides a good instance of the excellence of EMIís stereo recordings, even in the infancy of that technology.

The Andante opens at a very sedate pace indeed, but the second subject is more flowing. The slow tempo returns for the development and this creates at times a rather heavy-footed approach. Nevertheless Schippers convincingly draws together the various symphonic threads and the coda is suitably imposing.

Schippers elicits excellent playing from the Philharmonia in the Allegro marcatoís relentless moto perpetuo. The trio provides suitable contrast, again at a more relaxed tempo, with the balletic origins of the music brought to the fore, before the faster tempo intrudes and the movement moves to its relentless conclusion.

Despite a lyrical opening, Schippers seems to project the darker, more brutal aspects of the Adagio, commanding passionate playing from the Philharmonia. Comparison with Kletzkiís more lyrical approach in his later recording with the same orchestra is instructive.

In the Allegro giocoso, despite an overall fast tempo, Schippers again favours heavier percussive elements and this creates a somewhat menacing and relentless effect which is not inappropriate. The conclusion of the symphony is potent. Overall Schipperís performance of this work, which is superbly recorded, is well worth hearing in that it emphasises aspects of the music that in other performances are more integrated into the whole. A young manís performance perhaps but still with something relevant to say.

By way of contrast, the subsequent Rossini overture comes from the complete recording of the opera with the late Beverly Sills. It is given an effervescent performance although in an unsuitably expansive acoustic.

The works by the Italian masters which end the disc provide a welcome series of ďlollipopsĒ, if you like; they are recorded in clear and spacious mono with a small and responsive orchestra. Try the Concerto by Durante as a sampler Ė itís a delight!

Overall this is a fascinating memento of a talent cut short too soon. Impossible to say how Schippersí career would have developed, but there is sufficient evidence of real musicality and real individuality on this disc to make us regret what might have been.

Ewan McCormick

 


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