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Cantelli in New York - Volume 1
Concert of 6 March, 1955
Concert introduction [1:07]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 93 in D major, Hob.1:93 [23:35]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K 467 [29:59]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pavane pour une infante défunte [6:32]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
El Sombrero des Tres Picos, Suite No. 2 [12:52]
Concert of 13 March, 1955
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
L’Estro Armonico Concerto Grosso in D major, Op 11, No. 3, RV565 [13:24]
Introduction to concerto [2:20]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op 37 [33:05]
Walter PISTON (1894-1976)
Toccata [8:15]
Introduction to Copland [1:12]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
El Salón México [11:16]
Walter Gieseking (piano: Mozart)
Rudolf Firkušný (piano: Beethoven)
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/Guido Cantelli
rec. live, Carnegie Hall, New York.
Ambient Stereo.
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC501 [2 CDs: 147:00]

Since I caught the Cantelli ‘bug’ twenty or thirty years ago I’ve collected quite a number of his recordings, both studio and live. I can’t readily recall hearing any of his live recordings presented in better sound than on this latest Pristine Audio release. Andrew Rose says in a note that his sources were “generally very high-quality tape recordings.” Putting this good primary source material through his XR remastering process has produced excellent results.

Here we have two concerts given on consecutive Sunday afternoons in March 1955 and broadcast live by CBS. In each case, judging by the excellent and detailed notes by Cantelli expert Keith Bennett, the broadcast concerts were the third performance of the programme in question. So, by the time of the broadcasts each programme was nicely “run in” though Bennett tells us that, in the first series, the Ravel work was only given on 6 March and on 13 March the Vivaldi concerto was substituted for another Vivaldi work given in the two previous concerts. I mention this because, as I’ll explain later, I think it’s relevant to the two American works in particular.

Haydn’s 93rd symphony will be familiar to Cantelli devotees as it seems to have been something of a favourite of his, He played it in his very first NBC Symphony concert in January 1949 and two months later it was the first work he recorded under his new EMI contract. He makes a thoroughly good job of it. The main allegro assai of the first movement is spirited yet elegant; it’s a really stylish performance. The shaping of the slow movement is classy and I like the sturdy Menuetto. The performance is rounded off with an account of the finale that is full of brio. This is a splendid start.

We learn from the radio introduction that prior to these concerts Walter Gieseking had not appeared with the NYPSO since 1939. He made an impressive return in this concerto performance. Cantelli shapes the orchestral introduction beautifully after which the pianist’s contributions are elegant and light-fingered. With Cantelli setting a lithe tempo the performance is consistently light on its feet. The one thing I don’t much care for is the cadenza: was it Gieseking’s own? It is substantial and rather romantic and to my way of thinking it doesn’t seem to fit stylistically. The pace for the slow movement is pretty expansive for an Andante but this is how many performers take the movement and there’s no denying the distinction of the present traversal. A highly enjoyable, scampering finale brings the concerto to a happy conclusion.

The second half of the programme begins with the Ravel. In his notes, which are available on the Pristine website, Keith Bennett explains why this exquisite piece had special significance for Cantelli. He leads a patrician, graceful account of it and the NYPSO plays with no little refinement. The solo horn, James Chambers delivers his important part extremely well. Bennett thinks that this set may include the first-ever release of a live Cantelli performance of the second suite from El Sombrero des Tres Picos. (His 1954 EMI recording with the Philharmonia is available on Testament SBT 1017.) This present performance is a good one and I particularly enjoyed the concluding ‘Danza final’ which has plenty of colour and life.

I should issue a very slight health warning about the 13 March concert: the presence of a particularly bronchial audience. I wasn’t so aware of this in the earlier concert – perhaps they coughed in the loud bits – but here there are a lot of coughs at detrimental (i.e. quiet) times. The programme opened with a Vivaldi concerto grosso. I’m afraid Vivaldi’s music does little for me at the best of times and hearing it played with a large, rich string choir is not to my taste at all – the basses and celli are truly elephantine at the start of the fugal third movement. To be fair, though, this was the way such music was usually played in those days, as Keith Bennett points out.

Moving swiftly on we have Rudolf Firkušný as the soloist in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. As in the Mozart, Cantelli sets out his stall impressively in the orchestral introduction, maintaining excellent tension. Perhaps Firkušný isn‘t completely note-perfect occasionally but any tiny blemishes are unimportant: what matters is that he plays stylishly and well. Furthermore, he and Cantelli collaborate most effectively. In the cadenza Firkušný is both magisterial and exciting. The second movement is elevated in tone and the finale is suitably lively. I really enjoyed this performance, both for the pianism and the conducting.

Cantelli ended his programme with two recent American works. The Piston Toccata was an adventurous choice. It was only completed in 1948 so it was a pretty recent piece. The radio commentary tells us that it was written for Charles Munch and that Munch was actually in the audience for this performance. Cantelli secures a brilliant, virtuoso account of the outer sections. In the slower central section, he finds the poetry at the start of that episode, aided by some excellent solo woodwind playing. Piston heard the broadcast and Keith Bennett quotes a letter of appreciation he wrote to Cantelli (in Italian) in which he describes the performance as “all that a composer can hope for”.

The Copland piece was also an enterprising selection because in 1955 El Salón México was less than 20 years old. I doubt, therefore, that a significant performance tradition could have grown up by then. I mentioned earlier that it was relevant to note that this concert was the third of three: in other words, Cantelli and the orchestra had given both the Piston and Copland pieces twice already so the performances were settled. On the other hand, the Copland – and presumably the Piston also – was completely new to Cantelli’s repertoire. I know El Salón México much better than the Piston and I have to say that Cantelli conducts Copland’s piece as to the manor born. He brings out the vibrant colours in the score and inflects the rhythms most convincingly. The speed changes all seem to be negotiated expertly. This is a terrific performance and the Pristine transfer does it justice. I’d say this is a major addition to the Cantelli discography. At the end, the New York audience accords this performance what was evidently a big ovation – though the applause is soon edited out. I’m not surprised by their enthusiasm.

This is a very fine set. Though he had a distressingly short career Guido Cantelli was a great conductor and these performances confirm his stature. Devotees of Cantelli will probably have recordings of him in several of the works – though not the American scores, I fancy. Even so, any duplication is more than justified because these two discs contain excellent performances – the NYPSO is on top form. Furthermore, the performances are presented in what I think is probably the best non-studio sound I’ve heard for a Cantelli recording.

I note this is billed as Volume 1. I can’t wait for further instalments.

John Quinn



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