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Cantelli in New York - Volume 3
Concerts of April 1 & 8, 1956
Martha Lipton (alto)
Rudolf Firkušnư (piano)
Westminster Choir
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/Guido Cantelli
All performances recorded live in Carnegie Hall, New York.
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC523 [65:43 + 69:57]

Last year I reviewed the first instalment of Pristine’s series of transfers of broadcast concerts given by Guido Cantelli in 1955 and 1956. It fell to Gwyn Parry-Jones to appraise Volume 2 which comprised a pair of concerts, one given in March 1951 and another given in March 1956. I’m delighted that Volume 3 has come my way for several reasons. For one thing, the quality of the performances is high. In addition, these recordings of both of the Brahms works and of the Verdi Te Deum preserve the first performances of them that Cantelli conducted. Finally, these were the last two concerts that Guido Cantelli was to give in the USA; his subsequent concerts, prior to his tragically early death in November 1956, were given in Europe. In passing, we must be grateful that so many of Cantelli’s post-war concerts were given in the USA and broadcast; otherwise his discography would have been much more slender than is the case.

The first of this particular pair of concerts was given on 1 April, which happened to be Easter Sunday. Thus, Cantelli had chosen a programme that suited the occasion. His account of the Good Friday music from Parsifal opens powerfully, the music’s majesty well realised. As the piece progressed I admired the way Cantelli spins the lines. His performance of Verdi’s Te Deum is compelling and often blazingly dramatic. The Westminster Choir sing well. Their singing may not be as polished as one is accustomed to hearing nowadays but they deliver the fervour that Cantelli clearly sought. Thus, for example, ‘Patrem immensae majestatis’ is suitably grand and later on in the passage that begins with the plea ‘Salvum fac populum tuum, Domine’ they make a potent impression at first but then proceed to demonstrate an excellent range of quieter dynamics.

Martha Lipton is a very expressive soloist in the Brahms Alto Rhapsody. Cantelli’s conducting is searching, right from the brooding start of the piece. In this excellent performance both conductor and solo singer bring out very successfully the profundity of Brahms’ writing. The programme closed with Monteverdi’s Magnificat in an arrangement for modern orchestra by Giorgio Federico Ghedini (1892-1965). Cantelli regularly included music by Italian composers such as Corelli, Monteverdi and Vivaldi in his programmes and one must salute his readiness to promote Italian music of that era, even in modern day instrumental guise. Interestingly, the CBS announcer, Jim Fassett opines “It will probably be many years before we have the opportunity of hearing and appreciating the major portion of Monteverdi’s considerable musical output.” That must have seemed very likely in 1956: who could have foreseen the explosion of interest in Monteverdi and other pre-Classical composers that lay not too many years in the future? Back then, Cantelli offered American audiences a pretty rare chance to hear this music. I’m afraid, though, that while giving him due recognition for performing it I can’t enjoy the full-fat performance style. This is one for the archives, I fear.

The following Sunday Cantelli was on the Carnegie Hall podium again. This was the fourth and last of his scheduled appearances with the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra that season. The following Sunday, we learn from the announcer, Dimitri Mitropoulos was due to return for the final concerts of the orchestra’s season, beginning with what turned out to be – for pardonable reasons - a sadly truncated account of Maher’s Third symphony (review). For now, though, the stage belonged to Cantelli and he closed his series of New York engagements in some style.

First came an orchestral arrangement of the ‘Largo’ from Handel’s opera Xerxes – the aria ‘Ombra mai fu’. The arranger was the Italian conductor Bernadino Molinari (1880-1952) The scoring is full and rather sweet-toned and Cantelli’s performance is very slow and expressive, if not really to my taste.

This may have been Cantelli’s first performance of the Brahms D minor concerto but if you hadn’t been told, you wouldn’t know. This is a performance of burning conviction and Cantelli’s vision of the piece is matched by his soloist, Rudolf Firkušnư. From the fiery opening Cantelli establishes his intentions and his conducting of the movement, while not underplaying the lyrical aspects, is very dramatic. Firkušnư, too, conveys the leonine style of the music. Though inevitably the 1956 off-air sound has its limitations, despite Andrew Rose’s best efforts, I found this performance very exciting. The slow movement receives a patrician performance. Conductor and pianist find the repose in the music but there’s also nobility, not least at the movement’s principal climax. The finale is fast and red-blooded.

The choice of Hindemith’s Concert Music for Strings and Brass was an ambitious one with which to sign off from New York. Cantelli included another work by the composer, the Matis der Maler symphony, in his US debut concert in 1949 with the NBC Symphony (PASC 084) and I know of other off-air recordings by him of that work. Given that Hindemith’s music was included in his very first US concert it’s poignant that a work by the same composer should have featured in what turned out to be Cantelli’s last appearance in the USA. The orchestral sound comes over as a bit bright and blaring at the beginning but either the brightness is soon tamed or my ears adjusted. The start of Part I is strongly articulated. The slow section of Part II is poetically done, followed by a high-energy conclusion to the work. I suspect this music was fairly unfamiliar to the players but Cantelli secures a taut and committed performance.

This is a valuable issue and Cantelli enthusiasts will need little encouragement from me to acquire it. Andrew Rose says that the sources were high quality mono FM radio recordings. He explains that he’s had to do a bit of restoration work but I’d say that the results are very successful. It seemed to me that the orchestral sound was somewhat overloaded at the very end of the Brahms concerto but, in truth, these transfers made it possible for me to enjoy very much the performances, none of which I’d previously heard.

Guido Cantelli’s great talent blazed all too briefly, like a comet across the sky. We must be grateful to have reminders, such as this set, of his tremendous gifts as a conductor.

John Quinn

Concert of 1 April, 1956
Concert introduction [1:01]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Parsifal – Good Friday Spell 11:06]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Te Deum [14:32]
Johannes BRAHMS (1813-1897)
Alto Rhapsody
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Magnificat for 6 voices (from Vespro della Beata Vergine, SV 206, arr. Ghedini) [21:22]
Radio ending [1:29]
Concert of 8 April, 1956
Concert introduction [1:06]
Georg Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Xerxes – Largo (arr. Molinari ) [6:11]
Johannes BRAHMS
Piano Concerto No 1 in D minor, Op 15 [45:48]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Concert Music for Strings and Brass [15:55]
Radio ending [0:46]



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