A Felix Slatkin Compendium
CD 1
Ernst von DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Variations on a Nursery Theme, Op.25 (1914) [25:07]
Victor Aller (piano)
rec. 29 September 1956
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1979)
Piano Concerto in D flat (1936) [36:45]
Leonard Pennario (piano)
rec. 5-6 October, 1956
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Variations and Fugue on a theme of Purcell (Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra), Op. 34 (1947) [16:53]
rec. 18 and 20 August 1956
Concert Arts Symphony Orchestra/Felix Slatkin
All rec. at Samuel Goldwyn Studios, Stage 7
CD 2
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 for an orchestra of cellos (1930) [18:13]
Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 for voice and eight cellos (1938, 1945) [11:31]
Marni Nixon (soprano)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Prelude and Fugue No. 8 in E flat minor (arr. Villa-Lobos) [5:45 + 5:28]
Concert Arts Cello Ensemble/conducted by Felix Slatkin
rec. 10-11 January 1959, Capitol Tower, Studio B
Carlos CHÁVEZ (1899-1978)
Toccata for Percussion (1942) [11:57]
rec. 17 October 1954
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Concerto for Percussion and Small Orchestra Op. 109 (1930) [7:27]
rec. 10 January 1955 Hal Reese (percussion)/Concert Arts Orchestra and Percussionists/Felix Slatkin
Mono recordings presented in Ambient Stereo, made at Capitol Records, Melrose Studio
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC218 [74:46 + 60:23]

Firstly let’s address some technical matters. In a previous review of the Slatkin recordings reissued by Pristine Audio (Delius, Ibert, Saint-Saëns) I commented on the dry studio acoustic accorded the performances. For this splendidly exciting twofer Andrew Rose has clearly taken pains to get to grips with this concern and has employed a ‘relocation’ technique called ‘convolution reverberation’. The last time I encountered this - to my knowledge, at any rate, as doubtless it goes on ‘under the radar’ more than one might think - was a few weeks ago when reviewing a recording in which Lars Hannibal had relocated a violin and guitar recording made in a church by adding to the mix, inter alia, the acoustic of Symphony Hall, Boston. For this 1950s compilation made in the Hollywood studios - dead and dry - Rose has ingeniously relocated the original source material to the acoustics of Sala Santa Cecilia and Sala Sinopoli, dependent on the original recording and reverberation matters. I have read his notes regarding this with interest and have noted his initial concerns about this technique and those too of one of Slatkin’s sons, Frederick Zlotkin. Rose has stated his case clearly, concisely and honestly. For optimum analysis one should line up the original commercial LPs with his restorative work, but as I don’t have the originals I’m going to extrapolate from my experience of that previous Delius-Ibert-Saint-Saëns release.

Does one preserve the integrity of the original or does one take steps to present it in as attractive and as sensitively applied a form as one can, given current technological advances? This is the age-old question. But for now let me say that I think Rose has done a fine job. There will doubtless be those who recoil at thoughts of - dread memory - ‘artificial reverb’, but though this is early days for Rose in this kind of wholly different and advanced mechanism, I think he has applied the technique with due sympathy. Other transfer engineers can have their own take on this. If they reissue this material we can experience another aesthetic.

That’s the background. It wouldn’t be so important if the performances were duff, but they’re not. Victor Aller, best known on disc perhaps for his association with the Hollywood Quartet, casts his net more virtuosically wide in presenting Dohnányi’s Variations on a Nursery Theme in September 1956. It’s a fine performance too, one that can be reckoned against the composer’s own effervescent recordings. The 78 set with Collingwood is my favoured one but the Boult-directed one, made pretty much at the same time as Aller’s, is obviously in more up to date sound and almost as good. William Kapell gave the US premiere of the mighty Khachaturian Concerto in 1943 and recorded it with Koussevitzky. Leonard Pennario took it up in the 1950s and one can cite this recording alongside those of other fine players, including Kapell, who dominated its early discography; Oborin, Lympany, Katz, Flier, de Larrocha, and others. In fact Katz set down his recording just a week after this Pennario traversal. Of the two the Katz is the more virtuosic but Pennario and Slatkin offer ripe rewards too, and their recording makes a valuable reappearance here. The acoustic tweaking renders Purcell’s Variations and Fugue on a theme of Purcell doubtless far more expansive than it could ever have sounded on the commercial LP of the time.

Disc two offers a cornucopia of evocative delights. The two Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras are augmented by his Bach arrangements. There is lusciously committed string playing here, buttressed by an equally fine rhythmic attack. Noteworthy too is the pathos evoked in the first BB, as well as its inherent drama. Marni Nixon articulates finely in her contribution, whilst the Bach Prelude and Fugue is movingly declaimed. After this the solo Chávez - challenging and unusual repertoire for the time - receives a virtuoso demonstration of the percussive arts via the adroit dexterity of Hal Reese, who finds plenty of misterioso, colour and charge in it. Milhaud’s pocket Concerto is equally a fine sonic vehicle for Reese who proves well up to the sassy challenges embedded in it.

These tracks derive from the contents of four LPs and this two disc compilation certainly ranges widely, stylistically speaking. It showcases Slatkin and his top-notch collaborators with verve, aided by the rich acoustic alluded to in my opening paragraph.

Jonathan Woolf

Showcases Slatkin and his top-notch collaborators with verve, aided by the rich acoustic.