The name of Thomas
Schippers (1930-1977) is perhaps more likely to be remembered
nowadays by older collectors. He was a dedicated exponent of
the music of his compatriots Barber and Menotti, several pieces
of which he recorded for CBS in the 1960s. He also recorded
works such as Prokofievís Alexander Nevsky and the Mussorgsky-Ravel
Pictures at an Exhibition, both with the New York Philharmonic.
Decca turned to him when they recorded Verdiís Macbeth
with Birgit Nilsson in the 1960s.
as a child, Schippers studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia
and at Yale University. He won the Philadelphia Orchestraís
Young Conductorís competition in 1948. In the early 1950s he
came to the attention of Menotti and Barber having conducted
performances of The Consul on Broadway shortly after
the premiere. This led to his being invited to give the premiere
of Menottiís television opera Amahl and the Night Visitors
in 1952, and to appearances with the New York Philharmonic,
the Metropolitan Opera and La Scala (conducting Cherubiniís
Medea there with Callas in 1961). Blessed with film-star
good looks and a winning personality, plus undoubted musical
ability,† Schippers soon became a favourite in the States. He
accompanied Bernstein and the NYPO on their historic visit to
the Soviet Union in 1959 and conducted the glittering premiere
of Barberís Antony and Cleopatra at the new Met in 1966.
He also appeared in Bayreuth and in Italy. In 1970 he became
music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
In his personal
life Schippers was not so lucky. His wife died of cancer in
1973 and he himself succumbed to the disease in 1977. In the
intervening thirty years his reputation has diminished somewhat,
so this issue from Medici is a useful opportunity to reassess
In May 1957 Schippers
came to London to conduct concerts with the LSO and to make
recordings with Walter Leggeís Philharmonia Orchestra, one of
which, Prokofievís Fifth Symphony, is included on this disc.
At the same time he recorded Tchaikovskyís Fourth and a selection
of operatic arias with Eileen Farrell, now available on Testament.
He returned to London in 1958 for further concerts with the
Philharmonia, but these did not consolidate his reputation in
this country and he has remained a comparatively unfamiliar
figure here, unlike, for instance, his exact contemporary Lorin
The Prokofiev Symphony,
unavailable since the days of LP, provides a good instance of
the excellence of EMIís stereo recordings, even in the infancy
of that technology.
The Andante opens
at a very sedate pace indeed, but the second subject is more
flowing. The slow tempo returns for the development and this
creates at times a rather heavy-footed approach. Nevertheless
Schippers convincingly draws together the various symphonic
threads and the coda is suitably imposing.
excellent playing from the Philharmonia in the Allegro marcatoís
relentless moto perpetuo. The trio provides suitable contrast,
again at a more relaxed tempo, with the balletic origins of
the music brought to the fore, before the faster tempo intrudes
and the movement moves to its relentless conclusion.
Despite a lyrical
opening, Schippers seems to project the darker, more brutal
aspects of the Adagio, commanding passionate playing
from the Philharmonia. Comparison with Kletzkiís more lyrical
approach in his later recording with the same orchestra is instructive.
In the Allegro
giocoso, despite an overall fast tempo, Schippers again
favours heavier percussive elements and this creates a somewhat
menacing and relentless effect which is not inappropriate. The
conclusion of the symphony is potent. Overall Schipperís performance
of this work, which is superbly recorded, is well worth hearing
in that it emphasises aspects of the music that in other performances
are more integrated into the whole. A young manís performance
perhaps but still with something relevant to say.
By way of contrast,
the subsequent Rossini overture comes from the complete recording
of the opera with the late Beverly Sills. It is given an effervescent
performance although in an unsuitably expansive acoustic.
The works by the
Italian masters which end the disc provide a welcome series
of ďlollipopsĒ, if you like; they are recorded in clear and
spacious mono with a small and responsive orchestra. Try the
Concerto by Durante as a sampler Ė itís a delight!
Overall this is a
fascinating memento of a talent cut short too soon. Impossible
to say how Schippersí career would have developed, but there is
sufficient evidence of real musicality and real individuality
on this disc to make us regret what might have been.