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CLASSICAL CD REVIEW 

NEW RELEASES CALL FOR A RE-EVALUATION OF OFFENBACH, SCHUMANN, PROKOFIEV

 

By Joel Kasow

NEW YORK, 26 JULY 2007—Three new symphonic issues on CD have come to my attention, all worthy of consideration. We tend to catalogue Jacques Offenbach as one of the great composers of operettas, and also the grand opera, Les Contes d’Hoffmann, but we easily overlook other facets of his career as little has received aural documentation. We must not forget that Offenbach was a virtuoso cellist, composing a great many works for his instrument, including the Concerto Militaire that is given a premiere recording here in its original state. Earlier recordings had to make do with a version put together—aside from the first movement—from the composer’s sketches, but diligent searches and serendipitous finds now allow the work to be given as intended. And the wait has been worthwhile. Jérôme Pernoo makes us understand why Offenbach was considered the Paganini of the cello, and the multiple challenges are easily met. It is a pleasure to encounter the Overture and Ballet music from Die Rheinnixen, which was only brought back to life a few years ago and still enchants us. The Snowflake Ballet from Le Voyage dans la lune is another find showing Offenbach’s incredible invention.

Schumann’s symphonic works have always suffered under the stricture that he was not a good orchestrator, a statement that Leonard Bernstein eloquently disproved in his recordings and performances with the New York Philharmonic. When Gustav Mahler conducted the Vienna Philharmonic (and later the New York orchestra) he "edited" the scores, thinning out the orchestra so that comprehension of the composer’s intentions was facilitated. He also "edited" the dynamic markings which is where his own vision came into play. It is this very edition that Riccardo Chailly and the Gewandhaus Orchestra bring vividly to life. Without a score in hand, one is not always immediately aware of the many revisions (355 for the Second Symphony, 466 for the Fourth) and, as always, it is the conviction of conductor and musicians that make us join in their belief in the scores being performed. I am certain that Chailly is eminently capable of using Schumann’s own material and bringing it to life in the same fashion, but it is fascinating to hear Mahler’s "take" on a composer he greatly admired.

Prokofiev’s symphonies have undergone re-evaluation: after years when one only heard the First and Fifth, with rare appearances of the Sixth and Seventh, and then reading Shostakovich’s denigrating remarks on his colleague as reported by the not always reliable Solomon Volkov, musicians are allowing us to renew acquaintance with a significant body of work. The Third and Fourth owe their origins to stage works that were not successful at the time—The Prodigal Son and The Flaming Angel, respectivelyv—so that one can understand the composer’s reluctance to let such highly charged music go unheard (did not composers of earlier times do the same thing). In the meantime George Balanchine’s ballet is central to the repertory of many a company, and the opera has been heard in most operatic centers today. The Fourth exists in two versions, the later considerably longer and more bombastic than the original, but also highly effective. The Second is in two movements only, the second being a Theme and Variations that demonstrate the composer’s versatility, delicacy after the thunder of the first movement. And who has not fallen under the charm of the First (the "Classical Symphony"). But it is surely the triptych of the last three that elicit our admiration, particularly as Valery Gergiev retains the original ending of the Seventh rather than the forced exhilaration required by the Soviet authorities. Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra, recorded in live performances at the Barbican Center, are exactly the advocates needed to plead the composer’s cause; the conductor long admired for his Shostakovich performances shows that he is equally persuasive when it comes to Prokofiev. 

Offenbach Romantique
Jérôme Perno,cello
Les Musiciens du Louvre
Marc Minkowski, conductor
Archiv 477 6403 (notes in English, French and German)

 

Schumann: Symphonies 2 & 4 – The Mahler Arrangements
Gewandhausorchester
Riccardo Chailly, conductor
Decca 475 8352 (notes in English, French and German)

 

Prokofiev: The Complete Symphonies
London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev, conductor
Philips 475 7655 (4 cds; notes in English, French and German)

 

Joel Kasow is a senior editor at Culturekiosque.com

Related CK Archives

Opera Review: La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein

Interview: Valery Gergiev

Homage to Boris Kochno 1904 - 1990 

Interview: Riccardo Chailly

CD Review: Prokofiev: The Fiery Angel



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