Great Moments at Carnegie Hall - Selected Highlights from 125 Years of Performance History
rec. live at Carnegie Hall, New York, 1943-2003
SONY CLASSICAL 88985 304202 [78:34 + 79:01]

To commemorate the 125th anniversary of Carnegie Hall, Sony have put together a 43-disc box of great recordings. This double-disc acts, I suppose, like a kind of “Greatest Hits” to give you a flavour and, perhaps, draw you into the bigger set.

It didn’t work on me, I’m afraid. Despite the hall’s great reputation, and the glamour that its name automatically provides, I was surprised at just how anodyne I found most of this set. I listened to everything blind so that I wouldn’t be prejudiced by knowing the artist’s name in advance but, as I said, most of the orchestral and instrumental tracks struck me as being abundantly ordinary.

Bernstein’s Leonore 3, for example, is steady and secure, but nowhere near the intensity of his live performance at the Met Centenary Gala, or of his Vienna studio recording. Van Cliburn’s Rachmaninov 3 is better, and it’s nice to have a track that is longer than a few minutes, which you can sink your teeth into. Horowitz and Toscanini’s Tchaikovsky finale, on the other hand, is not only absurdly fast in places but also rather ragged, and it made me consider how little reputations can count in the reality of music-making. Menuhin and Stern are very pleasant on the ear in the Bach Double, but nothing special in comparison with several studio recordings, beguiling as it is to hear Bernstein in Baroque repertoire.

The solo pianists tend to be on the middlin’ side as well. Turini throws himself into Chopin’s C major etude with winsome vigour, and Rubinstein’s Raindrop is both poetic and dramatic. Serkin’s Schubert is exciting, as is Richter’s Beethoven, but Horowitz feels wasted in Träumerei, and Volodos’ Rákóczy March sounds a bit daft.

I enjoyed the singers a lot more, partly because there is more of a sense of something special in their occasion, not least because several sing repertoire that is outside their usual comfort zone. Leontyne Price is as dependable as ever in ‘Summertime’, but utterly sensational in Cara Selve, and Jussi Björling’s Schubert is to die for: at first hearing I thought it was a baritone! It’s a pleasing luxury having Kathleen Battle and Frederica von Stade in Hansel and Gretel’s prayer, and Ruth Ann Swensen is lovely in Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. Shirley Verrett is better in Schubert than in the Spiritual, but Marilyn Horne is great in ‘Plaisir d’Amour’. Fischer-Dieskau is also marvellous in the Dichterliebe extracts (he would be, wouldn’t he?) and it’s a lovely touch to finish the set with Samuel Ramey’s golden-toned ‘Ol’ Man River’.

The chamber music is strong too, with Midori’s sensation Tzigane and Ma’s lovely Bandolim, and Rostropovich and Horowitz’s Rachmaninov is, perhaps the finest instrumental thing on the disc.

It wasn’t enough to tempt me to explore more, though, and it doesn’t help that the sound is so variable, perhaps surprising when you consider that all the tracks were recorded in the same place.

Simon Thompson

CD 1 [78:34]
1 Beethoven: Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72a – Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmonic
2 Chopin: Etude in C Major, Op. 10, No. 1 - Ronald Turini
3 Chopin: Prelude No. 15 in D-Flat, Op. 28, No. 15 "Raindrop" - Arthur Rubinstein
4 de Schlözer: Etude de Concert, Op. 1, No. 2 - Jorge Bolet
5 Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30: I. Allegro ma non tanto - Van Cliburn
6 Liszt: Liebestraum, S. 541, No. 3 - Evgeny Kissin
7 Schumann: Kinderszenen, Op. 15: Träumerei - Vladimir Horowitz
8 Schubert: Sonata in B-Flat Major, Op. Post. D. 960: III. Scherzo - Allegro vivace con delicatezza - Trio - Rudolf Serkin
9 Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2: Allegretto - Sviatoslav Richter
10 Chopin: Nocturne in F-Sharp Major, Op. 15, No. 2 - Jorge Bolet
11 Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15 in A Minor, S. 244 (Rákóczy March) - Arcadi Volodos
12 Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto in B-Flat Major, Op. 23: III. Allegro con fuoco - Vladimir Horowitz & Arturo Toscanini/ NBC Symphony

CD 2 [79:01]
1 Handel: Atalanta, HWV 35: Care selve - Leontyne Price/ David Garvey
2 Bach: Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra in D Minor, BWV 1043: II. Largo ma non tanto - Yehudi Menuhin/Isaac Stern & Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmonic
3 Schubert: Schwanengesang, D.957: IV. Ständchen - Jussi Björling/ Frederick Schauwecker
4 Schubert: An die Musik, D. 547 - Shirley Verrett /Charles Wadsworth
5 Schumann: Dichterliebe, Op. 48: 1. Im wunderschönen Monat Mai - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau/Vladimir Horowitz
6 Schumann: Dichterliebe, Op. 48: 2. Aus meinen Tränen sprießen - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau/Vladimir Horowitz
7 Schumann: Dichterliebe, Op. 48: . Das ist ein Flöten und Geigent - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau/Vladimir Horowitz
8 Tchaikovsky: Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in A Minor, Op. 50: I. Pezzo elegiac - Vladimir Horowitz/Isaac Stern/Mstislav Rostropovich
9 Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel: Abendsegen "Evening Prayer" - Kathleen Battle/Frederica von Stade & André Previn/Orchestra of St. Luke's
10 Lehár: Die lustige Witwe: Es lebt' eine Vilja ("Vilja-Lied") - Helen Donath/Klaus Donath
11 Rachmaninov: Songs Op. 34: Vocalise, No. 14 - Ruth Ann Swenson/Warren Jones
12 Ravel: Tzigane, Rapsodie de Concert, M. 76 – Midori/Robert McDonald
13 Strauss: Ständchen, Op. 17, No. 2 - Renée Flemin/Warren Jones
14 Rachmaninov: Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 19: III. Andante - Mstislav Rostropovich/Vladimir Horowitz
15 Copland: Old American Songs, Set 2: At the River - Shirley Verrett/Charles Wadsworth
16 Gershwin: Porgy and Bess: Summertime - Leontyne Price/David Garvey
17 Debussy: Beau Soir, L. 6 – Midori/Robert McDonald
18 Martini: Plaisir d'amour - Marilyn Horne/Martin Katz
19 Bandolim: Doce de coco - Yo-Yo Ma/Sergio Assad/Odair Assad/Paquito D'Rivera
20 Kern: Ol' Man River (From "Show Boat") - Samuel Ramey/James Levine

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