Fritz Reiner conducting the Vienna Philharmonic
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
DECCA LEGENDS 467 122 -2
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
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.