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Lorin Maazel – The Complete Early Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon
All recordings stereo except CDs 1 and 2
Detailed list of works at end of review
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 4306 [18 CDs]

To mark the death of distinguished conductor Lorin Maazel in 2014 the yellow label has brought together for the first time all of its Maazel recordings from the period 1957-1965. This limited-edition 18 CD set in a stiff card box contains slim card sleeves with the original cover art that for the most part has not been replicated in fifty years. There are 32 works, almost all core orchestral repertoire, mainly from the great masters of the Classical/Romantic period works and a curious lack of concertos and choral pieces. Only the first three works (the first two discs) which are three different takes on Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet recorded in 1957 are in mono sound with the remaining 29 being in stereo.

For these early Deutsche Grammophon years Maazel had kept to making studio recordings with just three orchestras: the Berliner Philharmoniker, Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and the Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française using just three studio locations the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin, Salle de la Mutualité, Paris and O.R.T.F., Paris.

I only managed to see Maazel conduct on a single occasion when I reported from a concert by the touring Philharmonia at Bridgewater Hall Manchester in 2011. He was conducting an all-Mahler programme consisting of the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and a searing Symphony No.1 that concluded with Maazel unleashing a ferocious power from the Philharmonia: an earth-shattering and triumphant climax.

The headline of the Maazel obituary in The Daily Telegraph stated “Lorin Maazel was a conductor who ranged across the classical repertoire and became the first American, and the first Jew in the post-war period to conduct at Bayreuth”. He was also the youngest ever and the first foreigner entrusted with The Ring cycle. When he died in July 2014 at his Virginian ranch in the USA aged 84 he had enjoyed a 75 year long career in the limelight starting out as a child prodigy, a talented violinist, conductor, pianist and composer. Born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris in March 1930 to Jewish-American parents of Russian origin, Maazel aged two returned with his family to Pittsburgh in their native America. He took his first conducting lesson at age 7, made his conducting debut at age 8 and at 11 was invited to guest conduct Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra in a radio broadcast. Initially the NBC players made a show of defiance by sucking lollipops but soon began to respect the teenage Maazel for his competence and innate musicality. Maazel was also playing the violin and made his solo debut with the instrument aged 15.

Maazel went on to become the music director of the New York Philharmonic and also held directorships of several other world renowned orchestras and opera houses such as the Cleveland, Wiener Staatsoper, Deutsche Opera - West Berlin, Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Orchestre National de France, Pittsburgh Symphony, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and Münchner Philharmoniker. His prestigious appointments included eleven Vienna New Year’s Concerts, sometimes playing a violin solo. As a composer Maazel is best known for his opera ‘1984’ based on the George Orwell novel. Directed by Robert Lepage ‘1984’ was premièred by the Royal Opera House in 2005 to mixed critical acclaim and also staged at La Scala, Milan.

Maazel was highly prolific in the recording studio with over 300 recordings to his name. His studio career actually began with these mono recordings of excerpts from Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet in 1957 with the Berliner Philharmoniker, the orchestra that performs for the majority of this set. Over the years he regularly conducted them and actually sought to succeed Herbert von Karajan as its principal, a job that went to Claudio Abbado. Having a voracious appetite for work Maazel maintained an incredibly high workload into late age as evidenced by his blog in 2013. Aged 83 and music director of the Münchner Philharmoniker this showed that he had conducted 102 concerts, performing 72 compositions in 28 cities across 16 countries.

As evidenced by these recordings he was often given to inconsistency, one minute he could seem curiously disengaged, the next minute provide a performance of captivating engagement. Nevertheless I find the majority of the performances first-rate, certainly ones that I can easily live with.

On CD 1 the excerpts from the Berlioz Romeo and Juliet, a highly detailed programmatic symphonie dramatique on the Shakespeare play has some lovely episodes with especially strong playing in the Love Scene and Romeo at the Capulet’s tomb. I did notice some irksome sonic instability with this mono recording.

CD 2 is marked by fiercely bright sound. Tchaikovsky composed three works based on Shakespeare plays and his Fantasy Overture: Romeo and Juliet is a work high on excitement and smouldering mystery. On the same disc Maazel shows he has the measure of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet from yet another composer who admired the Shakespeare play. Maazel’s selection of excerpts from the ballet suites are heard in colourful and committed performances.

With CD 3, an all-Stravinsky disc played by the Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, we move from mono to stereo. The first work L’oiseau de feu ( The Firebird) ballet suite, written for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, is given one of the most thrillingly and vibrant performances I have heard. The second Stravinsky work that I was less pleased with is mentioned below.

Played by the Berliner Philharmoniker there are two Beethoven works on CD 4. First Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 which is given an engaging reading - so fresh and vibrant. Next there's an assured account of the concert overture: Consecration of the House commissioned for the opening of Vienna’s new Theater in der Josefstadt.

CD 6 contains three works written by Respighi, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. The second symphonic poem in Respighi’s Roman Trilogy The Pines of Rome is a glowing depiction of pine trees in different areas across the city. This wholehearted Maazel account is high on vivacity and affection with the woodwind section particularly notable. Based on Russian folk legends Mussorgsky’s colourful orchestral poem Night on a Bald Mountain uses the theme of the witches’ sabbath on the feast of St. John’s Eve. Performed in the more usual Rimsky-Korsakov version Maazel gives a full-blooded reading sparkling with vitality. Representing the fascination of the day for things Spanish, Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral suite Capriccio espagnol starts with a flourish and almost overdoses in intoxicating exuberance.

I find it incredible that Schubert never heard any of his orchestral music played by a profession orchestra and that his genius as a symphonic composer was only revealed after his death. On BR Klassik there is a wonderful set of the mature Maazel conducting the complete Schubert Symphonies with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks recorded live in 2001 at Munich. In the present set the young Maazel confidently reveals his proclivity for the Schubert Symphonies. CDs 7, 12 and 16 offer excellent performances of six Schubert Symphonies 2-6 and 8. Immediately apparent is the uplifting quality and vibrancy of the playing with Maazel providing an unaffected, non-aggressive approach. Written whilst Schubert was a teaching assistant at his father’s school and still receiving lessons from Salieri the Symphony No. 2 in B flat major abounds in youthful vigour. I admired the opening movement Largo - Allegro Vivace given such a highly buoyant performance by the Berliners. Schubert was just eighteen when he composed his elegant Symphony No. 3 in D major mainly in just eight days. After the unhurried and dramatic introduction Maazel’s brisk and highly spiritedAllegro con brio blows away any cobwebs. It was the nineteen year old Schubert that appended the title ‘Tragic’ to his Symphony No. 4 in C minor. I am enamoured with the solemn, heavy tread and the tension Maazel creates in the opening movement. Noticeable is the final Allegro, so full of brio, with engaging playing that is weighty but fluent.

Schubert scored his Symphony No. 5 in B flat major for his smallest orchestra dispensing with clarinets, second flute, trumpets and timpani but it’s still a marvellous work. In Maazel’s adept hands the exquisite charms of the flowing opening Allegro with its glorious melody feels remarkably inspiring. In the Andante con moto one senses that the Berlin players are at one with Schubert’s writing. There's a deep sentimentality to be heard here that evokes Mozartean refinement and consolation.

At the time of writing the Symphony No. 6 Little C major’ Schubert had returned to the parental home and was back doing uninspiring teaching work. Maazel ensures that his Berlin players make the most of Schubert’s innate melodic gifts with colourful playing that feels light on its feet, fresh and ebullient. In the opening movement the serene Adagio section is striking and the Allegro abounds in puckish good humour. A glorious masterwork of the symphonic canon, the Symphony No. 8 in B minor Unfinished’ the circumstances of the incomplete score remains one of the most perennial mysteries of all classical music. Conspicuous in the opening movement Allegro moderato is the consummate proficiency with which Maazel develops the climaxes yet sustains a doom-laden intensity. The second movement Andante con moto casts a rapturous spell.

CD 8 contains the three Mozart Symphonies No. 1, K16; No. 28, K200 and No. 41, K551 all played by the Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française. Evidently none of these three works were ever released on LP and were first issued on CD in 2004. Having the Symphony No. 1 in E flat major, K16 by the eight year old Mozart may be a novelty but it’s good to have the opportunity of hearing it. Maazel’s players take the E flat major work in a deadly serious way, bringing plenty of buoyancy to Mozart’s writing. Often disregarded owing to its gallant character the Symphony No. 28 in C major, K200 is a splendid work and full of melody. I found the opening Allegro spiritoso most stirring and Maazel bestows a reverential quality to the Andante. Masterworks of the symphonic canon, Mozart’s last three mighty Symphonies No. 39, K543; No. 40, K550 and No. 41, K551 were all composed in just six weeks in an amazing burst of productivity. Maazel's No. 41 is distinguished by the splendour and dignity of the opening Allegro Vivace with numerous light and playful episodes. The Andante cantabile is known for its overtones of tragedy yet this satisfying Maazel interpretation could easily depict a relaxing river-trip down the Rhine. In the colourful and raucous high spirits of the Finale: Molto allegro Maazel and his players excel, with a lofty and exciting climax.

Ravel’s two operas, both in a single act, are included in the set. On CD 10 L'Enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Spells) Ravel’s second opera uses eight solo singers accompanied by the Choeur et Maîtrise Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française and Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française. CD 17 contains Ravel’s first opera L’Heure espagnole (The Spanish Hour) a comedy that employs five solo singers but no chorus accompanied by the Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française. In both operas the excellence of the singing and playing is palpable but without librettos it is frustrating not to be able to judge the quality of the interpretations.

Played by the Berliner Philharmoniker on CD 11 there is much to enjoy in the performances of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4Italian’ and Symphony No. 5 Reformation’. Recorded in 1960/61 which was a relatively early stage in Maazel’s career Maazel seems especially suited to works of the early Romantic era. Symphony No. 4 was inspired by the sights and sounds experienced on an Italian holiday. Maazel and his Berlin players are persuasive giving a performance strong in personality and verve. With its compelling dance rhythms the Finale: Saltarello. Presto feels puckishly upbeat and uplifting. The ‘ReformationSymphony was inspired by the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession - a primary statement of faith in the Lutheran Church. Certainly not a work heard as often as its quality deserves, here the ‘Reformation’ is given the finest possible advocacy with Maazel providing an intelligent and sparking interpretation. The playing of the memorable second movement is stately and positively glowing.

CD 13 is given over to a single score: Franck’s Symphony - his most celebrated orchestral work but not one that I encounter all that often in the concert hall. Maazel and his Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin champion the work with irresistible playing that feels a touch weighty yet with a surfeit of vitality. The Wagnerian and Lisztian influences of the writing are to the fore.

On CD 14 are two works with English narration primarily aimed at educating children and young people. First there is Benjamin Britten Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Based around a theme by Henry Purcell Britten cleverly and entertainingly explores the constituent instruments of the orchestra. Especially edited for this recording Lorin Maazel with the permission of the composer narrated the text and does a decent job too. Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf is a musical tale for children that is claimed to have been recorded over 400 times, more frequently than any other piece of classical music, in more than a dozen languages. Aimed at younger children Prokofiev sets the story of Peter and the Wolf using instruments and melodies to represent various animals and people in the tale. The vocal of narrator Alec Clunes is excellent even if the ‘received pronunciation’ now sounds dated. The Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française is in excellent form, especially outstanding and dramatic in the final Fugue of the Britten.

The Berliner Philharmoniker plays on CD 15. We hear a single work, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Tchaikovsky wrote this at a critical point in his life. Decisively it was the year of his disastrous marriage and also fell during the period he began a fifteen-year correspondence with his patroness Nadezhda von Meck. This is a thrilling performance - a passionate outpouring of drama. The Finale has energy and commitment with blistering playing that makes a real impact. A minor drawback is a touch of fierceness in the recording.

One of the finest discs here (CD 18) played by the Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin presents de Falla’s El amor brujo (Love, the Magician ) , a ballet in one act for mezzo-soprano and orchestra and the Dances from the ballet El sombrero de tres picos ( The Three-Cornered Hat). These immensely appealing scores are picturesque and evoke the vividly colourful and atmospheric scenes of Andalusian gypsy scenes in El amor brujo and the Spanish dance-infused El sombrero de tres picos. With such captivating performances as these it is hard to stop playing this Falla disc, the principal highlight of the set.

There are a few performances that I found weak and uninspiring. I can dismiss the second work on CD 3. Stravinsky adapted his symphonic poem Le Chant du rossignol (The Song of the Nightingale) from his opera based on the tale Le rossignol by Hans Christian Andersen. This is not a score that I especially warm to and feel less than happy with Maazel’s rather pedestrian performance which after a dramatic opening has a rather ponderous feel from which it never recovers.

CD 5 is all-Brahms and is played by the Berliner Philharmoniker. First there is a performance of Symphony No. 3 that never takes off, feeling laggard in places. Matters slightly improve with the Tragic Overture but without ever feeling entirely engaged.

Disappointing too is the all-Beethoven CD 9 played by the Berliner Philharmoniker that contains the Symphony No. 6 and the 12 Contredanses, WoO 14. I noticed that the sound quality, although clear, has little depth. The Symphony seems to lack the essential tension and the performance is lacklustre and never catches fire. Played with a tremendous swiftness the 12 Contredanses are all over in a flash.

Not surprisingly the sound quality ranging from the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin, the Salle de la Mutualité and O.R.T.F., Paris is variable. It is worth remembering that the first two discs are monaural, not a particular problem in itself, but they are not especially well recorded being unstable at times, rather congested and over-bright. The remaining 16 discs are in stereo and that does vary across the recordings from very moderate to satisfying. There is minor distortion and some slight tape hiss mainly at the start of several of the recordings. Overall the re-mastered sound is slightly thinner and dryer than the standard today. Despite the odd sonic shortcoming, there is no recording where the sound is so bad that I am unable to concentrate on the performances.

It’s only a small detail but typical of the care lavished on this set the placing of the 18 recordings is largely in date order. There is a helpful booklet containing five historical photos of the young Lorin Maazel together with a new liner-notes entitled ‘A Meticulous Master of Preparation and Precision’, by Tully Potter. There are two operas and three other works containing singing or narration but it’s a frustrating oversight that no texts/librettos are provided.

This absorbing set of Lorin Maazel’s early Deutsche Grammophon recordings is a mixed bag but there is hardly a dull moment. The performances ooze confidence as well as a certain youthful swagger.

Michael Cookson

 

Full track-listing:

Lorin Maazel - Early Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon

(all recordings stereo except CDs 1 and 2)

CD 1

Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)

Romeo and Juliet, symphonie dramatique (excerpts) [45.10]

Berliner Philharmoniker/Lorin Maazel

Mono rec. Feb-June 1957, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin

CD 2

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Romeo and Juliet, fantasy overture after Shakespeare [22.12]

Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Romeo and Juliet, ballet, excerpts from Suites Op. 64, Nos. 1 and 2 [20.50]
Berliner Philharmoniker/Lorin Maazel

Mono, rec. June 1957 Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin
CD 3

Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

The Firebird, Suite from the ballet (1919) [21.00]

Le Chant du rossignol (The Song of the Nightingale), symphonic poem [9.47]
Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Lorin Maazel

rec. Nov 1957 Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin
CD 4

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Symphony No. 5 [32.17]

The Consecration of the House, overture [12.13]
Berliner Philharmoniker/Lorin Maazel

rec. May 1958 (Overture ), May/June 1958 (Symphony) Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin
CD 5

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Symphony No. 3 [34.19]

Tragic Overture, concert overture [11.31]
Berliner Philharmoniker/Lorin Maazel

rec. Jan 1959 Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin

CD 6

Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)

The Pines of Rome, symphonic poem [20.30]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)

Night on a Bald Mountain, orchestral poem (Rimsky-Korsakov version) [9.50]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908

Capriccio espagnol, orchestral suite [14.42]
Berliner Philharmoniker/Lorin Maazel

rec. Dec 1958 (Respighi, Rimsky-Korsakov), Feb 1959 (Mussorgsky) Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin
CD 7

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Symphony No. 4 in C minor ‘Tragic’ [27.41]

Symphony No. 8 in B minor ‘Unfinished’ [22.30]
Berliner Philharmoniker/Lorin Maazel

rec. Nov 1959 Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin
CD 8

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Symphony No. 1 in E flat major, K16 [7.23]

Symphony No. 28 in C major, K200 [17.42]

Symphony No. 41 in C major, K551 ‘Jupiter’ [28.19]

Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française/Lorin Maazel

rec. Jan 1960 Salle de la Mutualité, Paris

Note: All 3 works on this CD were never released on LP, first issued on CD in 2004
CD 9

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 ‘Pastoral’ [39.47]

12 Contredanses, for orchestra, WoO 14 [9.50]
Berliner Philharmoniker/Lorin Maazel

rec. Nov/Dec 1959 (Symphony), Nov 1959 Mar/Apr 1960 Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin
CD 10

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

L'Enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Spells) - Lyric fantasy in two parts - one act opera [42.57]

Françoise Ogéas, soprano (L’Enfant), Jeannine Collard, mezzo-soprano (Maman/La Tasse chinoise/La Libellule), Jane Berbié, mezzo-soprano (La Bergère/La Chatte/L'écureuil/Un Pâtre), Sylvaine Gilma, soprano (Le Feu/La Princess/Le Rossignol), Colette Herzog, soprano (Le Chauve-Souris/La Chouette/Une Pastourelle), Heinz Rehfuss, baritone (Le Fauteuil/Un Arbre), Camille Maurane, baryton-martin (L’Horloge comtoise/La Chat), Michel Sénéchal, tenor (La Théière/Le Petit Viellard/L’Arithmétique,

Choeur et Maîtrise Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française,

Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française/Lorin Maazel

rec. Nov 1960 Salle de la Mutualité, Paris
CD 11

Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90 ‘Italian’ [26.20]

Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 107 ‘Reformation’ [26.50]
Berliner Philharmoniker/Lorin Maazel

rec. Apr 1960 (No. 4), Jan 1961 (No. 5) Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin
CD 12

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, D485 [25.45]

Symphony No. 6 in C major, D589 ‘Little C major’ [23.44]
Berliner Philharmoniker/Lorin Maazel

rec. Jan 1961 Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin
CD 13

César FRANCK (1822-1890)

Symphony in D minor [36.56]
Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Lorin Maazel

rec. Jan 1961 Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin
CD 14

Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34, Variations of a theme by Purcell [20.55]

Spoken text edited for this recording by Lorin Maazel with the permission of the composer.

Lorin Maazel (narrator)
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Peter and the Wolf, A musical tale for children, Op. 67 [26.51]

Alec Clunes (narrator)

Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française/Lorin Maazel

rec. Jan/Feb 1962 Salle de la Mutualité, Paris

CD 15

Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Symphony No. 4 in F major, Op. 36 [40.32]
Berliner Philharmoniker/Lorin Maazel

rec. Jan 1960 Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin
CD 16

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, D125 [27.22]

Symphony No. 3 in D major, D200 [21.49]
Berliner Philharmoniker/Lorin Maazel

rec. March 1962 Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin
CD 17

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

L’Heure espagnole (The Spanish Hour), comic opera in one act [46.11]

Jane Berbié, mezzo-soprano (Concepción, Torquemada’s wife), Jean Girardeau, tenor (Torquemada, watchmaker), Gabriel Bacquier, baritone (Ramiro, muleteer), José van Dam, bass-baritone (Don Iñigo Gomez, banker), Michel Sénéchal, tenor (Gonzlave, student)
Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française/Lorin Maazel

rec. Feb 1965 O.R.T.F., Paris

CD 18

Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)

El amor brujo (Love, the Magician) - Andalusian Gypsy Scenes, ballet in one act for mezzo-soprano and orchestra [23.46]

Grace brumby (mezzo-soprano)

Dances from ‘El sombrero de tres picos’ (‘The Three-Cornered Hat’), ballet [20.15]
Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Lorin Maazel

rec. June 1965 Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin

No sung texts provided

DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 4306 [18 CDs: 45.10 + 43.06 + 43.41 + 44.37 + 46.00 + 45.17 + 50.21 + 53.38 + 49.47 + 42.57 + 53.21 + 49.37 + 36.56 + 47.51 + 40.32 + 49.21 + 46.11 + 44.10]

 




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