Ever since its foundation in 1883, the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam has been blessed with a hall with a superb acoustic which has always been an attraction for record companies. From 1950 to 1968 microphones (mostly belonging to Decca and Philips) were frequently set up to record the orchestra. On the podium were its music directors - during this period Eduard van Beinum and Bernard Haitink - and also celebrated guest conductors. These maestros and friends of the orchestra included Eugen Jochum, Paul van Kempen, Willem van Otterloo, Igor Markevitch and Antal Dorati. When recording sessions went well and the main works were in the can ahead of schedule, the time was filled with shorter pieces. These would fill out short-measure LPs or be released on 45-rpm records. Many of those “Lollipops” were often made on the hoof with a delightful spontaneity that shines through even now, and they are gathered on this set for the first time. One typical example is The Stars and Stripes Forever. This was put on tape one day in September 1958 without rehearsal, played straight through, and at the end Van Beinum addressed the orchestra: ‘Now that, gentlemen, is a recording!’
The majority of the recordings are in stereo. Paul van Kempen’s Marche Militaire and Radetzky March and Edward van Beinum’s Trumpet Voluntary are from the early 1950s and show their age in these spirited but raucous mono performances. The Nicolai and Thomas overtures are also recorded in mono but the 1956 recordings sound marvellous despite the limited treble response. The Merry Wives of Windsor is really dashing and Mignon has the most ravishing sounding woodwind and harp solos in the introduction. The sense of presence is tangible and the level of background noise negligible. Grieg’s Elegaic Melodies from 1958 are touchingly done with the large Concertgebouw string section playing with a superb full tone. By this time the engineers were managing to produce stereo recordings with extra depth and realism. Le Carnaval romain is in early stereo (1956) but wears well despite some edgy brass entries and a few on-stage noises. The performance is one of high voltage. Finlandia is a magnificent performance by any standards, aided and abetted by the glorious hall acoustics. Haitink is next up with a neat and tidy, not too hurried Ruslan and Ludmilla. This 1965 recording is a playful account without a hint of bombast. Disc one is completed by two Russian blockbusters from Markevitch set down in 1964. Russian Easter Festival is dynamic, manic and aggressive. The famous trombone solo resonantly sings out à la Mahler 3. It really is a thrilling, fiery tour de force. The Polovtsian Dances find the conductor in a more relaxed mood but the playing is really alive and the choral contribution is finely balanced behind the orchestra.
Bernard Haitink gets the second CD off to a flying start with a dramatic Force of Destiny and a thrilling Benvenuto Cellini both captured in natural, gleaming sound. Les Éolides is thickly scored but Otterloo manages to clarify the textures without affecting the orchestral warmth. This suits Franck’s music admirably and it’s a very good performance. Danse Macabre and Scherzo Capriccioso are typical Haitink recordings. There are no histrionics, everything is kept in check and the orchestral balance is immaculate. Maybe Danse Macabre is lacking in excitement because of the cultured approach that Haitink takes but that’s not a bad thing. The main theme in the Dvorak is given an appealing lilt and the closing pages have a level of excitement that is strangely missing from the Saint-Saëns. The suite of waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier is a delightful concoction. Jochum really catches the ear with some of the soft passages that he coaxes from the players - especially the strings. Just like Haitink, Jochum displays great taste and refinement in music that in less sensitive hands can sound overblown. The 1960 recording doesn’t have the opulence of modern Strauss recordings but is still fully acceptable. Dorati’s Elgar (a true “Lollipop”) is pulled around in the opening section but the big tune is glorious as is the resonant recording from 1959 which sounds wonderful. The programme comes to a riotous conclusion with two full blooded Sousa items, Semper Fidelis being the only mono recording on the second disc.
The Concertgebouw is a world class orchestra and everything recorded here is all you would expect from such a fine group of players under some illustrious conductors. The original recordings and transfers are good and the programme is varied and interesting. The problem with compilations such as this is that most collectors will already have most of the pieces, probably in multiple versions. For Concertgebouw fans this is a real bargain.
Contents & performance details CD 1 Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Marche Militaire No. 1 (orch. Guiraud) [4:03] Johann STRAUSS I (1804-1849) Radetzky March [2:33]
Conducted by Paul van Kempen Jeremiah CLARKE (1674-1707) Trumpet Voluntary [2:35] Otto NICOLAI (1810-1849) The Merry Wives of Windsor: Overture [7:46] Ambroise THOMAS (1811-1896) Mignon: Overture [8:18] Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907) Two Elegiac Melodies, Op. 34 8:31] Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869) Le Carnaval romain: Overture [8:08] Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957) Finlandia, Op. 26 No. 7 [8:03]
Conducted by Eduard van Beinum Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857) Ruslan and Ludmilla: Overture [5:26]
Conducted by Bernard Haitink Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908) Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op. 36 [14:19] Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887) Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dances (arr. Rimsky-Korsakov) [11:07]
Conducted by Igor Markevitch CD 2 Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) The Force of Destiny: Overture [7:21] Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869) Benvenuto Cellini: Overture [10:13] Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921) Danse Macabre, Op. 40 [7:14] Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904) Scherzo capriccioso, Op. 66 [12:01]
Conducted by Bernard Haitink César FRANCK (1822-1890) Les Éolides [8:39]
Conducted by Willem van Otterloo Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949) Der Rosenkavalier: Suites of Waltzes [18:29]
Conducted by Eugen Jochum Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 [6:34] John Philip SOUSA (1854-1932) Semper fidelis [3:11]
Conducted by Antal Dorati John Philip SOUSA (1854-1932) The Stars and Stripes Forever [3:17]
Conducted by Eduard van Beinum
rec. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 5 December 1950 (Marche militaire, Radetzky March), 19 May 1952 (Trumpet Voluntary), 24-25 September 1956 (Carnaval Romain), 10 April 1956 (The Merry Wives of Windsor, Mignon), 7 June 1957 (Finlandia), 1-3 May 1958 (Two Elegiac Melodies), 27 September 1958 (Stars and Stripes), 25 September 1959 (Pomp and Circumstance, Semper fidelis), 5-7 September 1960 (Rosenkavalier waltzes), 10-12 September 1962 (Danse macabre), 27 September 1963 (Scherzo capriccioso), 12 January 1964 (Les Éolides), 15-17 September 1964 (Russian Easter Festival, Prince Igor), December 1964 (The Force of Destiny), 24 December 1965 (Ruslan and Ludmilla), 23 September 1968 (Benvenuto Cellini)
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