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Karol Rathaus: Der letzte Pierrot, op.19; Sinfonie Nr. 1, op. 5


Karol Rathaus (1895 - 1954) is another composer rescued from total obliviion thanks to Decca's Entartete Musik series. A pupil of Franz Schreker in Berlin in the early 1920s, Rathaus demonstrated promise as a composer with successful - or at least stormy - premières of two symphonies, a ballet, a piano sonata and music for film and the stage. Fearing the Nazis, Rathaus emigrated in 1932 to Paris, moved on to London and finally settled in America in 1938 where, to survive, he accepted a position as Professor of Music at Queens College in New York. Despite his credentials and previous film and symphonic scores, the Hollywood nabobs ignored him. Others had got there first. As Martin Schüssler points out in his notes to this recording, seen from today it is difficult to understand why Rathaus' music sometimes met with such exaggerated cries of scandal. His modernist scores are quite straightforward and, with the exception of the odd dissonance, there is nothing atonal about them. Both the Symphony No. 1 and the ballet, The Last Pierrot, heard on this recording exhibit harmonic discipline and stamina in the Brahmsian tradition. While conductor Israel Yinon and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester give strong, attentive readings of both works, repeated performances may well reveal that a more chiselled approach to the polyrhythms would have sharpened the dramatic qualities of this highly visual music.

Joseph E. Romero

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Sviatoslav Richter: piano
Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem
Beethoven: Missa Solemnis

Some readers are probably already familiar with the historic recordings from the Salzburg Festival. The lion's share of these Festspieldokumente have been issued by Deutsche Gramophon, EMI, Orfeo and occasionally Sony Classical. Like champagne cellars, the Salzburg Festspieldokumente sometimes come up with wonderful "millésimes", such as the Mitropoulos performance of Don Giovanni on 24 July 1956 with Grümmer, della Casa, Streich, Siepi, Simoneau, Frick, Berry and the Vienna Philharmonic, as well as George Szell's performance with the Vienna Philharmonic of Bruckner's Seventh Symphony on 21 August 1968, both on Sony Classical. This year's cru is modest but still noteworthy including several releases on Orfeo, notably a 1977 Kleines Festspielhaus solo recital by Sviatoslav Richter - to be acquired without hesitation - Richter and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in a 1970 performance of Brahms' Die schöne Magelone and a 1972 performance by Richter and David Oistrakh of the Brahms Sonata for Piano and Violin in A Major Op. 100 and the Prokofiev Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in F Minor Op. 80.

Anyone with a serious interest in Beethoven's great masterpiece, Missa solemnis, or an interest in Herbert von Karajan's aesthetic approach to Beethoven should consider his Salzburg Festival performance of 19 August 1959 where the Austrian conductor's robust, dramatic delivery of the score is a tribute not only to the composer, but also to the ideal musical forces at his disposal and the greatest vocal quartet ever assembled for the Missa solemnis.

Perhaps less urgent, but also of interest, is Herbert von Karajan's musical direction of Brahms' Deutsches Requiem on 22 August 1957 in Salzburg, a performance which attests to Karajan's strong affinity for this work. The natural stage acoustics of the Felsenreitschule and Karajan's absolute complicity with a slightly uneven but thoroughly committed Vienna Singverein and the Vienna Philharmonic produced a strict, but suitably transparent and contemplative vision of the Requiem. Lisa della Casa and Dietrich Fischer Dieskau are both eloquent in their declaimed performances. That said, this mono recording would appeal more to the collector.

Operanet's review of a 1958 Salzburg Festival performance of Verdi's Requiem and Bruckner's Te Deum will be published in the near future.

Joseph E. Romero

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Vivaldi: L'estro armonico, 12 Concertos op.3

L'estro armonico is a key work by the 18th century Italian master. After all, Bach thought so highly of it that he transcribed three of these concertos (3, 8, 12) for harpsichord. The Sicilian Fabio Biondi and his band, Europa Galante, excell in these works. Strong rhythms and a heightened sense of meter provide the necessary drama, style and radiant warmth that is often lacking in the sometimes overly poised, pitch-perfect performances by baroque interpretors of this literature in Northern Europe.

Joseph E. Romero

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Stravinsky/Scriabin: The Firebird/Prometheus:
Prokofiev: The 5 Piano Concertos

Musical director Valery Gergiev's extraordinary achievement of turning around the Kirov opera and orchestra (although the Kirov ballet is still in need of being turned around) in the face of economic devastation and growing political chaos has yet to be fully understood. His determination to establish economic stability (marathon tours, recordings, Friends of the Kirov associations abroad, etc.) for the Kirov/Maryinsky has been heroic. Moreover, Gergiev's Kirov series on Philips has brought quite a feather to the Dutch label's cap. Two recent relases, one devoted to Stravinsky's ballet, The Firebird, and Scriabin's Prometheus - The Poem of Fire and the other to the complete Prokofiev piano concertos, are no exception. Both recordings are further proof of the forty-four-year-old Moscow-born conductor's ability to mobilize his orchestra and soloist in order to reproduce and communicate their unique cultural soundscape. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Gergiev's primary objective in The Firebird is to deliver the score as a ballet and not as an orchestral showpiece to be heard in concert. His emphasis is on narrative and a well delineated though stylish treatment of rhythm, metre and over-all tempo which succeed admirably in recreating the dazzling drama of the colorful Russian tale for both dancer and listener. Gergiev's collaboration with pianist Alexander Toradze in Scriabin's sulfurous Poem of Fire is strong on detail and makes us keenly aware of the compositional similitudes of The Firebird and Prometheus. However, the performance lacks the bite and excitement generated by Martha Argerich and Claudio Abbado in an earlier recording.

More compelling evidence of Gergiev and Toradze's unique artistic chemistry can be heard in their striking performances of Prokofiev's Five Piano Concertos. Here, both musicians make a formidable case for their analytical and colorful approach to music-making, notably in the dramatic narrative of Prokofiev's second piano concerto and their cutting-edge tempi and bravura in the third.

Joseph E. Romero

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Glazunov/Kabalevsky/Tchaikovsky
Violin Concerto in A minor, op.82
Violin Concerto in C major, op. 48
Souvenir d'un lieu cher, op. 42; Valse-Scherzo op.34

After a delightful disc of works by Dvorak for violin and piano with sister Orli Shaham (DG 449 820-2), Gil Shaham teams up with Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra to give equally top-drawer performances of the Glazunov A-Minor violin concerto, Glazunov's orchestral arrangement of Tchaikovsky's Souvenir d'un lieu cher and Tchaikovsky's Valse-Scherzo. As is often the case with this violinst, the chosen repertoire has an immediate, mainstream appeal without pandering to popular tastes or market pressure and the interpretations are filled with Shaham's habitual charm and musicality. Moreover, the American violinist and his Russian partners even manage to put a playful spin on Kabelevsky's well-crafted, but uninspired violin concerto.

Joseph E. Romero

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Piano Transcriptions of works by Johann Strauss II:
Konstantin Scherbakov, piano

Among the Russian pianists who seem to be sprouting like mushrooms, the Siberian-born Konstantin Scherbakov (b. 1963) is a formidable virtuoso. His début recording on EMI is not only remarkable for the quality of the pianism and rhythmic stablility, but also for the musical maturity and poise that he brings to these fiendishly difficult golden age keyboard gems by legendary pianists such as Karol Tausig, Alfred Grünfeld, Ignaz Friedman and Moritz Rosenthal. Scherbakov's overview of Strauss paraphrases dating from the middle of the nineteenth century to the present day also includes lesser known, but equally fascinating transcriptions of assorted Strauss waltzes by Max Reger, Edvard Schutt, Erno Dohnanyi and György Cziffra.

Joseph E. Romero

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Schubert: Piano Trio in E Flat Major D 929; Notturno D 897

Dähler's fortepiano interpretations of Schubert's Impromptus op. 90 and op. 142 on the Swiss label Claves some years ago were moving and should be heard. Here, neither Dähler nor his partners achieve the same musicality and refinement. Overall, the ensemble playing is mediocre and an unpleasant surprise from a lable whose classical and jazz production are often synonomous with quality.

Joseph E. Romero

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Fauré: Piano Quartet No. 1; Piano Quintet No. 1

Because of the exagerated emphasis on solo training in French conservatories, ensemble playing in France is often problematic. In this instance, however, there is total complicity between the Paris-based Quatuor Ysaÿe and French pianist Pascal Rogé. Their well-tailored musicianship and delivery of nuance and detail in the delicate textures of both works are a strict model of French elegance and refinement. The only reservation to this otherwise highly pleasureable performance is an occasional Gallic overcautiousness as if the French players were suddenly walking on eggs - perhaps too aware of the subtlety of Faurés music when the element of fantasy in the scores calls for more freedom in their delivery.

Joseph E. Romero

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