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Famous Historic Conductors from Germany Vol. 1
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)

Air and Dance of the Slaves (Iphigénie en Tauride) [4:26]
Tambourin-Gavotte-Chaconne (Iphigénie en Tauride) [8:26]
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)

Perpetuum mobile [4:23]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Ballet - Divertissement on Henry VIII [15:10]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)

Pavane , Op. 50 [4:39]
Friedrich Von FLOTOW (1812-1883)

Overture to Martha [8:45]
Franz Von SUPPÉ (1819-1895)

Overture to Die Schöne Galathee [7:00]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)

Suite Aus Holbergs Zeit [20:50]
1-4: National Symphony Orchestra, New York
Walter Damrosch, conductor. Recorded by Victor Records in 1929
5-6: Vienna Staatsopernorchester
Leopold Reichwein, conductor. Recorded by Odeon in 1938
7: RIAS Symphonie Orchester
Herbert Sandberg, conductor. Recorded by Deutsche Grammophon in 1955.
VMS MUSICAL TREASURES 116 [76:06]

 

In what appears to be the first in a series of historical discs, VMS are off to a good start, at least where the quality of the music making and the restorations is concerned. Regrettably, the accompanying information booklet, absolutely vital to historical recordings, is woefully lacking in content, and, as seems to be more and more typical of smaller record companies, is carelessly and sloppily produced, with a number of annoying typographical errors and proof-reading oversights. It would also certainly be nice to know who did the restorations. As good as they are there is no credit to the tonkunstmeister to be found.

Having said that, I can only hope that future releases will fix these problems, and that this label which seems to be an effort of several parties on at least three continents, continues to exist and prosper, as the quality of the product that really counts, the music itself, is absolutely superb.

Walter Damrosch (1862-1950) came from a fine line of German musicians. His mother participated in the first performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin and his father was a violinist in Liszt’s orchestra in Weimar. When the family emigrated to the United States in 1871, the elder Damrosch became a focal point of American musical life, founding the New York Oratorio Society in 1873 and the New York Symphony Society in 1878. Walter rose to great prominence as a conductor and was a champion of what was then contemporary music, commissioning works such as Sibelius’s Tapiola and conducting the first performances of Gershwin’s Concerto in F and An American in Paris.

Damrosch is represented here by some lighter fare, played by the National Symphony Orchestra of New York, which through a series of mergers and acquisitions eventually became the modern-day New York Philharmonic. Throughout this series of overtures and encore pieces, Damrosch proves himself to be a conductor of tremendous style and grace, never losing a tasteful elegance that seems to be his signature. That is not to say that he lacks gravitas, surely the first American performances of the later Tchaikovsky and Brahms symphonies, for which he was responsible, had that. But here, he allows his lighter side to show through, and it is a pleasant turn indeed to hear a world class orchestra play some of the lighter and more entertaining fare so sadly absent from modern concert programs. In spite of their age, these seventy-five year old recordings come through with some marvelous depth stored in their grooves, and whoever the mystery producer was, he or she did a magnificent job of capturing the spatial ambience of these recordings. Of particular merit are the rich and dynamic bass tones. There is, to be sure, audible surface noise from the 1929 vintage 78s, but one can get past that rather quickly.

Up next is the Silesian born conductor Leopold Reichwein (1878-1945), weighing in with two lively and charming performances of opera overtures by Flotow and Suppé. Known primarily as a Wagner conductor, Reichwein succeeded Bruno Walter as conductor at the Vienna Court Opera in 1913. In these 1938 Odeon recordings, he brings the rather lighthearted overtures to Martha and Die Schöne Galathee to sparkling life in remastered sound that is clear, clean and rich in detail.

Herbert Sandberg (1902-1966), although trained in Germany, made the most of his career in Sweden where he was a Royal Court Musician and worked in the Royal Opera House in Stockholm. He is best known for translating a number of important German operas into Swedish. This 1955 recording of Grieg’s Holberg Suite is in superb mono sound, and the RIAS orchestra rises to the occasion splendidly in this well-paced rendition of this string orchestra masterpiece. Grieg can often get overly sentimental in the wrong hands, but Sandberg manages to retain the lyricism and beauty of the slower movements without becoming maudlin, and the energy and sprightliness of the dance movements is infectious.

This is a release that will doubtless appeal more to the specialists’ market, but there can be no doubt that any serious music lover will at least appreciate it for its overflowing bounty of really fine orchestral playing. If one can get past the surface noise (which truly is quite minimal) of the earlier performances, then there is contained herein an hour-plus of delightful gems. Let us hope that VMS will clean up their documentation act and give us more information about the specific recordings and the music itself in future releases.

Recommended with a couple of qualifications.

Kevin Sutton

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

 



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