The recordings collected
here were mostly made by Columbia though
Telefunken were responsible for a few
of them. By the 1940s the German company
was achieving some remarkable sonic
results. However, on this showing at
least, Columbia were pretty successful
in capturing Mengelberg and his orchestra
in the 1930s.
Though there are no
lengthy pieces on offer here Beethoven’s
overtures were anything but insubstantial
and Mengelberg gives splendid accounts
of them. Throughout the disc one is
conscious of a major musical mind at
So, for instance the
opening to Coriolan has great
power in Mengelberg’s hands while the
allegro itself crackles with tension.
The reading of Leonore No. 3
is especially successful. The long,
brooding introduction is spaciously
conceived and the allegro has a real
dramatic thrust to it while the coda
is properly exultant. I should also
say that, thanks to the engineers, there’s
an excellent sense of aural space round
the distant trumpeter.
Mengelberg gives us
a dark and powerful Egmont. Is
it fanciful to surmise that this music
had a special resonance for these musicians?
After all it was written for a play
about the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century
Revolt of the Netherlands which led
to the end of Spanish rule there. This
thought struck me throughout this taut
performance of the overture but nowhere
more so than in the electrifying coda.
I must be quite honest
and say that the last four tracks on
the disc don’t quite sustain the same
level of interest as the overtures.
The excerpt from Beethoven’s Eighth
is perkily done, albeit with a fair
degree of portamento, but one hankers
for the complete work (the recording
was originally the ‘filler’ for a Cherubini
overture.) The marches by Beethoven
and Schubert are both of pretty minor
interest (though Mengelberg pays both
pieces the compliment of playing them
for all they’re worth.) The Schubert
overture strikes me as rather a dull
piece. Mengelberg, a much better judge
than me, evidently felt differently
and gives it a lithe, spirited reading.
Here , as throughout the programme,
his interpretative intentions are scrupulously
realised by his excellent orchestra.
The transfers by Mark
Obert-Thorn have come up pretty well.
Yes, of course, there’s some surface
hiss and occasional stridency or minor
distortion. However, the transfers have
opened up the original recordings very
well, I think, and convey a good impression
of what Mengelberg, his orchestra and
their concert hall must have sounded
like. Any sonic limitations did not
impede my enjoyment in hearing a master
conductor at work and this disc is another
in what is becoming an extremely impressive
list of Naxos historical issues.
see also reviews
by Paul Serotsky and