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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Romantic Russia: The Rosette collection
Mikhail Ivanovich GLINKA (1804-1857)
Ruslan and Lyudmila: (1842) Overture [4.58]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Khovanshchina: (1880) Prelude (arr. Rimsky Korsakov) [4.59]
Sorochintsy Fair: (1867) Night on the Bare Mountain (arr. Rimsky-Korsakov) [11.08]
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
Prince Igor: Overture (arr. Glazunov) [10.46]
Polovtsian Dances (arr. Rimsky-Korsakov) [13.42]
London Symphony Chorus/John Alldis,
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, UK, September 1966. ADD
DECCA 476 5310 [45.33]
 


Comparison Recordings:
Polovtsian Dances, Antal Dorati, LSO; Chorus (recorded 1956). Mercury Living Presence Hybrid SACD 475 6194.
Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 2, Philh. O/Carlo Maria Giulini [ADD mono] EMI 7243 5 69738 2 4.
Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 2 LSO/Simon [original 1872 version] Chandos 8304.
Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 2 LPO/Rostropovich. [ADD] EMI 7243 5 65709 2 4.
Mussorgsky, Night on Bare Mountain, Stokowski [ADD] (1967) LSO Decca 443 896-2
Mussorgsky, Night on Bare Mountain, Stokowski [ADD] (1964) LSO Cala CD 657

 
This release features three of the same recordings on a Decca Legends release of not so long ago (460977-2). The older release also included an extra selection, the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 2, giving it a more generous playing time of 77 minutes. My comments on the performance of the Tchaikovsky (3). With the release of the Rosette Collection disc, the Legends recording seems to have been withdrawn. In the common works, my listening tests show no audible difference between the two releases, although the Rosette release is mastered at a lower volume and the Legends version advertises 96/24 re-mastering.
 
It is impossible to give a composition date for Borodin’s Prince Igor since he worked on it off and on over many years and the work was at his death left unfinished, to be completed by his friends. The Polovtsian Dances is one of the few sections he composed and partially orchestrated himself, and this performance by Solti is the best thing on either of these disks. The Overture was “completed” by Glazunov who allegedly heard Borodin play it on the piano. Shostakovich is quoted as saying Glazunov just made it up, not too difficult a task for a professional musician since it consists of arranged fragments of tunes from the opera. Whatever, whoever wrote it, the overture works fine with the opera and has always been a popular concert piece, here performed and recorded excellently.
 
The Dorati recording of the Dances with the same orchestra and, one presumes, chorus, is sung in English, although it’s hard to tell because of the loud orchestra accompaniment; whereas Solti’s performance is sung in Russian and contains more dances. To those with SACD playback capability, the Dorati is in three channel stereo, whereas the Solti is in two channel CD sound, albeit re-mastered at high resolution. Both performances are excellent.
 
Khovanshchina was another work left incomplete at the death of the composer and tinkered with by other composers, Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich—even Stravinsky. Although performing versions exist, none of them can be called completely successful and the work has never achieved a fraction of the popularity of Mussorgsky’s other stage works. But this atmospheric entr’acte has always been popular especially when performed and recorded as well as here. Stokowski doesn’t do it any better.
 
Some say the Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture cannot be performed too quickly, but I have heard it done so. The goal is to achieve a genuine sense of energy and expectancy as Solti does here. A friend who admired the overture found himself in Moscow and made the mistake of going to see the whole opera; twenty-five years later he was still angry, claiming it was the most interminably miserably boring evening he had ever endured, and he would never tolerate even the mention of any Russian opera for the rest of his life. Having heard a complete recording myself, I feel he was going just a little overboard.
 
Most people prefer the Stokowski version of Night on Bare Mountain which, surprisingly, is closer to Mussorgsky’s original than the Rimsky-Korsakov version recorded here. The Decca CD issue of Stokowski’s 1967 “Phase 4” performance has brilliant sound, but I prefer his live performance from 1964; the sound is less exaggerated but clear and wide range if just a little shrill. Rimsky-Korsakov quite intentionally diluted the emotion in the Mussorgsky works he arranged to make them more appealing to concert audiences of his time. To Night he added struggle music and fanfares, suggesting a battle between the armies of good and evil, in contrast to the intensified unrelieved terror of the original and the Stokowski version. One hundred and twenty five years later, after Lulu, Wozzeck, Pierrot Lunaire, and Bluebeard’s Castle, Mussorgsky’s original is not nearly so shocking. But Solti’s brilliant performance of the Rimsky-Korsakov version fits well with the other works on this disk.

The notes to the “Legends” album contain a detailed Solti biography but fail to describe one of the most interesting incidents in his career (1). In the middle of the previous century the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra was the personal possession of Mrs. Norman Chandler (Her friends called her “Buffy”) wife of the publisher of the Los Angeles Times newspaper. She didn’t like Bruckner, but John Barbirolli insisted on playing one of the symphonies at a Philharmonic concert. Therefore she arranged with the orchestra manager that there would be no rehearsal time whatever for the Bruckner, and instructed her music critic at the Times to review nothing but the Bruckner; naturally Barbirolli got bad press and resolved never to conduct in Los Angeles again, although I heard him play once after this in San Diego.
 
The orchestra played in the Temple Baptist Church downtown, and then toured to surrounding communities, generally sounding better in the larger Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Visiting opera companies were heard (barely) in the cavernous Shrine Auditorium. The County of Los Angeles agreed to sponsor construction of a new concert hall, but not downtown where property prices where inflated and access and parking were poor. They would only build the auditorium away from the city center. Buffy, who was also president of the Downtown Property Owners’ Association, said that if they did that HER orchestra would not play in it. The standoff lasted for years.
 
Finally Mrs. Chandler and her friends came forward with the money for a major reconstitution of the orchestra. A new concert hall, downtown, with a gigantic underground parking garage was constructed and Eduard van Beinum was engaged to build and train the orchestra. He accomplished miracles in a few short years before his untimely death in 1959, and the search was on for his successor. In 1961 Mrs. Chandler engaged Georg Solti and, so she said, obtained his verbal approval to hire one of his students, Zubin Mehta, as Associate Conductor. Pleased at this accomplishment, Mrs. Chandler went on vacation to take what she saw as a well earned rest. Then the Chicago Symphony began looking for an eventual replacement for the ailing Fritz Reiner and Solti was approached. Oops, he had just signed with Los Angeles! He announced in the press that the Los Angeles Symphony Board had violated his contract by hiring the Associate Conductor without consulting him. His contract was therefore null and void, he said, and he was free to sign with Chicago, which he proceeded to do, and the rest is history (2).
 
Mrs. Chandler claimed foul, and may well have been telling the truth, but her tragedy was that after her years of finagling nobody in Los Angeles believed her. The press (except for the Times, of course) was savage in its attacks. One critic lamented the loss of Solti by saying that Los Angeles had lost the best and had to suffer along with third rate, that is, Zubin Mehta. So, Mehta was hired as Music Director in 1962 with everybody in town expecting him to fall on his face. But to everyone’s delight he proceeded to do a magnificent job, building the orchestra to unprecedented heights and producing many still legendary concerts and recordings.
 
Solti’s predecessor in this arena was Leopold Stokowski who, fifty years before, had picked a fight with the Cincinnati symphony board to get out of his contract so as to accept the offer from Philadelphia. Everything worked out for the best in all these cases, so I want to believe that as time passed everyone was forgiven all around.
 
 
Paul Shoemaker

see also review by Tim Perry
 

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Footnotes
1. His official web-site mentions it briefly.

2. Reiner eventually died in 1963. Solti shared duties at CSO with Jean Martinon until 1969 when he assumed the full directorship. So far as I recall Solti never conducted in Los Angeles after 1962.

3. As a performance the Tchaikovsky is excellent, very high energy, perhaps less than optimum modeling in the slower sections. The chief weakness is in the dry recording where the trumpet is excessively forward, where one can hear the player employing the crooning cornet style of intonation popular in France. With a work recorded as often as this we can be very picky. The Giulini recording is the most beautiful, dramatic and lyrical, overdue for reissue in the EMI Great Recordings of the Century series; even though it is in monophonic analogue sound it is worth every Tchaikovsky lover having it in their collection. Simon gives us a great digital performance of the original uncut version which is predictably a little more gloomy and depressing than the more frequently heard shorter and brighter version of 1880 which everyone else uses. My recollection of having heard the Karajan performance on DG is that although his recordings of the Tchaikovsky symphonies are generally excellent, his version of No. 2 was disappointing. My recommendations reflect my affection for London orchestras and the desire for a reserved emotional climate in Tchaikovsky. “Play my music as though it is Mozart,” was Tchaikovsky’s advice to performers. The title “Little Russian” refers to Ukraine and the use of Ukrainian folk tunes.

 



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