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Fritz Reiner
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Overture: The Impresario, K486 (1786) [3:49]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891–1953)
Peter and the Wolf, op.67 (1936) [23:47]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906–1975)
Symphony No.6 in B minor, op.54 (1939) [35:22]
Peter Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893)
Marche Miniature (Suite No.1, op.43) (1879) [2:23]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862–1918)
Fetes (Nocturnes) (1893/1899) [5:59]
J.S. BACH (1865–1750) (arr. Lucien Cailliet)
Fugue in G minor, BWV 578 [4:35]
Lauritz Melchior (narrator), NBC Symphony Orchestra (Mozart and Prokofiev), New York Philharmonic Orchestra (Shostakovich), Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Bach)/Fritz Reiner.
rec. 1947 (Mozart), 19 June 1949 (Prokofiev), 15 August 1943 (Shostakovich), 13 March 1957 (Tchaikovsky and Debussy), 29 November 1957 (Bach) all from American radio broadcasts. ADD
GUILD GHCD2333 [77:37]
Experience Classicsonline


What an exciting disk this is! Reiner, in live performance, in fine sound.
 
Fritz Reiner is often accused of giving hard-driven performances and the Mozart Overture heard here is certainly driven which robs it of much of its humour and charm. However, things immediately get better and it is followed by a most enjoyable Peter and the Wolf with Lauritz Melchior having an high old time as the narrator; doing funny voices and giving sly asides, obviously taking great pleasure in his role. He is friendly and funny, like your favourite old grandfather, and you can hear the audience enjoying his every word.
 
Shostakovich’s 6th Symphony was only six years old when Reiner made his recording of the work with the Pittsburgh Symphony for Columbia. However, this recording comes from two years earlier and is live in Carnegie Hall. It is a magnificent performance. On paper the work seems lop-sided, a long, 20 minute, slow, opening movement followed by two scherzos, one playful, the other somewhat reckless, even the jollity of the concluding march has always seemed, to me at least, to be forced. This is not a criticism. In a good performance, such as this, the strange layout makes perfect sense. The first movement is a bleak landscape, with no real climax which the music can gradually build towards, and it’s totally unlike anything else Shostakovich ever wrote. It was a brave move on the composer’s part to create such a piece so soon after his problems with Stalin concerning Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Is this music supposed to be a portent of war or a musical depiction of the composer’s, then, current state of mind? I don’t know but whatever it is meant to be – perhaps it’s just pure music, music which exists for itself – it is powerful, and strangely emotional, and it makes itself felt with the simplest of means. Reiner keeps a firm hand on the slow progression of the music, where, sometimes, there is little, or even nothing, going on, and the air is full of tension, and expectation. This really is an edge of the seat performance. The reins are loosened for the first scherzo, lots of playful woodwind but with a huge climax, drums thundering, brass blaring, but returning to the lightness of the opening. Reiner is, perhaps, a trifle po-faced in this movement but the finale finds him totally at home. The racing theme which starts on violins is well placed and the march at the end has a tongue-in-cheek seriousness, with an underpinning of fear. It’s a fantastic performance and the orchestra sounds as if they’ve been playing the piece for years, which isn’t possible, so here is a true testament to Reiner’s training and direction.
 
Debussy’s Fêtes (from the Nocturnes) is given a rip-roaring performance, the orchestra on top form, and the “dazzling, fantastic vision”, as the composer called the middle section which interrupts the racing music, is well calculated, coming to us from the distance, as it should, bursting out into the foreground and being swallowed into the general mêlee. What superb playing, and how one wishes we had the complete Nocturnes in such a performance.
 
The other two pieces are tasty makeweights. The Tchaikovsky is a confection of woodwind and delicate strings and the Bach, a full orchestral realization of a well known Fugue.
 
The sound is very good indeed, clear and bright, putting the orchestra in a good perspective with regard to the listener. Applause has been left on some of the tracks – it’s good to hear the audience appreciation – and on a couple of occasions the radio announcer is heard. The booklet is informative and detailed.
 
An important issue and one not to be missed.
 
Bob Briggs
 


 


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