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Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Talich conducts Tchaikovsky
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 (1878) [33:03]
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat Op 23 (1875) [32:46]
Wolfgang Schneiderhan (violin); Winfried Wolf (piano)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Václav Talich
rec. National Theatre, Prague, April 1940 (Piano Concerto) and April 1941 (Violin Concerto)
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC138 [65:52]

 

Experience Classicsonline


These are two of the most contentious – and rarest - recordings made by the doyen of Czech conductors. Although I have heard rumours that the whole Czech Philharmonic decamped to Vienna to record there, they were apparently made in situ in the National Theatre in Prague in the days of the Nazi-Soviet pact. The Piano Concerto was recorded first and then a year later the Violin Concerto. It’s not hard to see what might have annoyed people. The endeavours smacked to some – Talich doubtless had little or no say in the matter - of the triumphalist and collaborationist; the subjugated Czechs playing the music of their oppressor’s ‘ally’ under their own greatest conductor and orchestra and with two imported Austrian soloists – recordings moreover for the pleasure of the Greater Reich on Electrola and German Columbia.

Both 78 sets are hard to find. In my experience the Violin Concerto is the harder to find, as I last saw a good set of the Piano Concerto in Teuchtler’s record shop in Vienna only a year or so ago. After the sessions for the Violin Concerto the discographer Oliver Wurl noted that Talich set down a complete recording of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony though it’s been alleged that the matrices for this were destroyed. It might interest some people to note that the radio archives in Bratislava hold about an hour’s worth of unpublished post-War Talich material but whilst the archivists are exceptionally helpful the highers-up are not and access to this material is proving very difficult.

Back to this recording for Pristine Audio with its transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn. The Violin Concerto has been out on CD before – on Urania 149, which I believe was taken from a good tape copy of the 78 set, and on Amadeo 431 344-2 which sounds to me – I could be wrong – that it was transferred direct from the 78 set. The soloist is Wolfgang Schneiderhan and as a mark of the respect with which he was held it should be noted that in the week of his death in 2002 Vienna’s music and classical record shops had his photograph draped in black. His playing is very sweet in his best post-Wolfi style; he had first recorded in 1927 as the boy prodigy ‘Wolfi’. The portamenti are succulent and fast, the tempi fast-fluid. The slow movement is melancholy and over-expressive on my view, a malleable lied with constant finger position changes and a rather sentimentalised character. Note however the glowering Prague basses and the distinctive wind solos, Talich’s summoning up of gloom being first class. Over-recorded and too close to the microphone though he may be throughout, the finale shows Schneiderhan’s technical resources at full throttle though he comes close to phrasal gaucheness at one or two points.

Winfried Wolf is the less well known of the two soloists, though he had an intriguing career and some of his rarer 78s are sought after. He too was born in Vienna, studied in Berlin; he composed – the First Piano Concerto was premièred in 1938 with the Berlin Philharmonic under Carl Schuricht in 1938 for example - and he wrote stage works after the War. He taught in Berlin and Salzburg and died in 1982.

The surfaces of the transfer are a touch noisy but there is wide dynamic range. Wolf was not an infallible technician but he displays a strong, resilient and quite sinewy propensity for the Concerto. He certainly abjures the speciously grandiloquent but it’s a shame that he, like his violinistic colleague, was over–recorded so that counter themes are strongly subservient - though orchestral tuttis register strongly. Wolf is not the most overtly colouristic of soloists but his sensible and thoughtful musicianship reflect well on him.

Unlike the Violin Concerto this is the first ever transfer of the Piano Concerto. The definition and range is impressive. The companion work, as noted, has seen extended play before. Mark Obert-Thorn has ensured that this Violin Concerto transfer sounds warmer and somewhat more veiled than the Amadeo. If you have that last transfer you will have some of Schneiderhan’s early recordings. I find it catches the room ambience better than this Pristine work but it’s something of a transfer swings and roundabouts situation otherwise.

In any case the Wolf-Talich is an additional and very real draw. Talich collectors really can’t do without it. There are brief producer’s notes and mini biographies on the jewel case. My advice is to grab it.

Jonathan Woolf

 





 


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