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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
Symphony #4 in f, Op. 36 (1878) [42.07]
Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Hermann Scherchen
restored from Westminster WL 5096/XWN 18522 by Alessandro Nava
Alban Berg (1885 - 1935)

Symphonic Suite from "Lulu" (1934) [36.56]
Annelies Kupper, soprano
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hermann Scherchen
Rec. 20 February 1953 (Berg); June 1951 (Tchaikovsky)
"registrazione di pubblico dominio efettuate a Vienna e a Monaco"
Notes in Italiano and English.
URANIA URN 22.248 [79.10]



Comparison recordings

Berg: Symphonic Suite from Lulu, Antal Dorati, LSO Mercury 432-006-2
Tchaikovsky: Symphony #4, Artur Rodzinski, RPO MCAD2-9829A

These recording were new to me. Scherchenís disk of Tchaikovsky overtures recorded by Nixa in England in 1953 was the first LP I ever bought and I have cherished it to this day. Those were demonstration quality recordings for their time and were as fine performances of the works as had ever been done, some still standing out among the very best. Scherchen had an uncanny ability to play every piece of music exactly in its own style, as demonstrated on this disk of works whose styles are about as disparate as possible. I expected great things from this recording and was not disappointed.

The Tchaikovsky was digitally restored from a Westminster vinyl pressing; one can hear slight vestiges of the original surface clicks and pops, truncated but not totally eliminated by software analysis, sort of the stumps of mighty trees cut down. The monophonic sound has been subjected to some sort of stereo channelling, not just artificial reverb or frequency channelling, but some kind of phase shifting which provides some (rather good) sound depth with no apparent distortion of the original sound quality. Orchestral detail is rich, clear and unobscured. Dynamic range appears uncompressed, but I donít have the original disk to compare. The deepest bass and highest highs are probably slightly attenuated; however what remains is entirely sufficient for brilliance, richness, transparency, and impact. Overall this is a quite listenable transfer ó wide range, very clear and undistorted. At least we are spared any "atmospheric" residual crackle and pop which some restorers like to leave in to provide an "historical" feel. We hear the music arise from, and return to, silence as the composer and artists intended.

At the time of this recordingís release in 1952, Scherchenís direct competition in the marketplace would have been the recording by Rafael Kubelik and the Chicago SO. Many people judge a performance of the Tchaikovsky Fourth by the violence of the finale; a photograph of Kubelik at this time shows him drenched with sweat, in a frenzy of arm waving, scattering droplets several meters in every direction. One wonders if the management of the hall provided complimentary rain gear for centre front seats? At any rate, for inchoate madness, this early Kubelik recording has not and probably will never be surpassed, although the sound is edgy and distorted; this one was never issued on CD by "Mercury Living Presence," although I understand it was for a time available from Japan. (By the time of his later recordings in Europe, Kubelik had calmed down a great deal ó unfortunately.) Scherchen, with beautifully realistic sound, never loses control of the orchestra or of his own emotions. Always aware of the sound he is making and of what the audience is hearing, he carefully terraces the drama of this passionate work for maximum effect. The Rodzinski recording described above was Westminsterís "remake" of the Scherchen performance for stereo, which indicates that the Scherchen recording must have continued to be one of the companyís best sellers right up to 1958. Some reviewers did not care for the Rodzinski recording, but I find it also perfectly balanced in sound and drama; or perhaps I am just in love with the sound of English orchestras.

With the Berg, restored from a live broadcast recording (also released previously on Arcadia CDGI 752.1), itís the coughs that are more a problem than any residual system noise. But the sound is reasonably wide range and clear as is necessary for Berg, and the orchestral performance is the best Iíve ever heard. Annelies Kupperís singing comes through effectively but not spectacularly. It actually makes one want to hear the whole opera, an emotion Iíve rarely felt before. Antal Dorati receives beautiful recorded sound, but the mood is analytical and the feeling is tepid (although Helga Pilarczykís scream when Lulu is murdered may cause your neighbours to call the police). Scherchenís first conducting job was with Schoenberg, and his affinity for "atonal" music was always exceptional. As with the Tchaikovsky, the "stereoizing" is not merely unobjectionable, but a positive advantage; however, you will want to adjust the balance control on your player, and then put back it for normal material.

Paul Shoemaker

 



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