Fritz Reiner Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
The Impresario, K486 (1786) [3:49] Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891–1953)
and the Wolf, op.67 (1936) [23:47] Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906–1975)
No.6 in B minor, op.54 (1939) [35:22] Peter Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893)
Miniature (Suite No.1, op.43) (1879) [2:23] Claude DEBUSSY (1862–1918)
(Nocturnes) (1893/1899) [5:59] J.S. BACH (1865–1750) (arr.
Fugue in G minor, BWV 578 [4:35]
Lauritz Melchior (narrator),
NBC Symphony Orchestra (Mozart and Prokofiev), New York Philharmonic
Orchestra (Shostakovich), Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Tchaikovsky,
Debussy, Bach)/Fritz Reiner.
rec. 1947 (Mozart), 19 June 1949 (Prokofiev), 15 August 1943
(Shostakovich), 13 March 1957 (Tchaikovsky and Debussy), 29
November 1957 (Bach) all from American radio broadcasts. ADD GUILD GHCD2333 [77:37]
What an exciting
disk this is! Reiner, in live performance, in fine sound.
Fritz Reiner is
often accused of giving hard-driven performances and the Mozart Overture heard
here is certainly driven which robs it of much of its humour
and charm. However, things immediately get better and it is
followed by a most enjoyable Peter and the Wolf with
Lauritz Melchior having an high old time as the narrator; doing
funny voices and giving sly asides, obviously taking great
pleasure in his role. He is friendly and funny, like your favourite
old grandfather, and you can hear the audience enjoying his
Shostakovich’s 6th Symphony was
only six years old when Reiner made his recording of the work
with the Pittsburgh Symphony for Columbia. However, this recording
comes from two years earlier and is live in Carnegie Hall.
It is a magnificent performance. On paper the work seems lop-sided,
a long, 20 minute, slow, opening movement followed by two scherzos,
one playful, the other somewhat reckless, even the jollity
of the concluding march has always seemed, to me at least,
to be forced. This is not a criticism. In a good performance,
such as this, the strange layout makes perfect sense. The first
movement is a bleak landscape, with no real climax which the
music can gradually build towards, and it’s totally unlike
anything else Shostakovich ever wrote. It was a brave move
on the composer’s part to create such a piece so soon after
his problems with Stalin concerning Lady Macbeth of the
Mtsensk District. Is this music supposed to be a portent
of war or a musical depiction of the composer’s, then, current
state of mind? I don’t know but whatever it is meant to be – perhaps
it’s just pure music, music which exists for itself – it is
powerful, and strangely emotional, and it makes itself felt
with the simplest of means. Reiner keeps a firm hand on the
slow progression of the music, where, sometimes, there is little,
or even nothing, going on, and the air is full of tension,
and expectation. This really is an edge of the seat performance.
The reins are loosened for the first scherzo, lots of playful
woodwind but with a huge climax, drums thundering, brass blaring,
but returning to the lightness of the opening. Reiner is, perhaps,
a trifle po-faced in this movement but the finale finds him
totally at home. The racing theme which starts on violins is
well placed and the march at the end has a tongue-in-cheek
seriousness, with an underpinning of fear. It’s a fantastic
performance and the orchestra sounds as if they’ve been playing
the piece for years, which isn’t possible, so here is a true
testament to Reiner’s training and direction.
Debussy’s Fętes (from the Nocturnes) is
given a rip-roaring performance, the orchestra on top form,
and the “dazzling, fantastic vision”, as the composer
called the middle section which interrupts the racing music,
is well calculated, coming to us from the distance, as it should,
bursting out into the foreground and being swallowed into the
general męlee. What superb playing, and how one
wishes we had the complete Nocturnes in such a performance.
The other two pieces
are tasty makeweights. The Tchaikovsky is a confection of woodwind
and delicate strings and the Bach, a full orchestral realization
of a well known Fugue.
The sound is very
good indeed, clear and bright, putting the orchestra in a good
perspective with regard to the listener. Applause has been
left on some of the tracks – it’s good to hear the audience
appreciation – and on a couple of occasions the radio announcer
is heard. The booklet is informative and detailed.
An important issue
and one not to be missed.
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