Symphony No.1 in C, Op.21
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.36
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92
Serenade for Strings in E, Op.22
Symphony No.4 for string orchestra
Quattro forme per archi
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No.2, Op.51
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Overture, Op.21, and Incidental Music, Op.61
Serenade in D, K250 (Haffner)
Scherzo à la russe
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.2, Op.26
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.5, Op.96
Abu Hassan – Overture
Preciosa, Op.78 – Overture
Vocal soloists and Bavarian Radio Chorus [Mendelssohn and Schoenberg]
Henryk Szeryng (violin)
Alexander Tcherepnin (piano)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam
English Chamber Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra
Recorded between 1963 & 1974
CD No: DG 477 5838 (8 CDs)
Duration: 9 hours 46 minutes
Reviewed: March 2006
“Rare recordings 1963-1974” is the generic title given to this Original Masters box from DG – but I’m not sure that this epithet is entirely appropriate. Rafael Kubelík die-hards will be quick to tell you that the Dvořák Serenade, Beethoven symphonies, Weber Preciosa, Abu Hassan and Jubel overtures, live “Gurrelieder” and Mendelssohn’s overture and incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream have all previously made it onto CD.
That said, there are undoubtedly rarities and (more importantly) genuine treasures to be had here. Take, for instance, Kubelík’s utterly cherishable Beethoven Second Symphony with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, from 1974, a reading of such entrancing poise, vigour and luminosity to make you fall in love with the work all over again. Kubelík’s LSO Beethoven 1 (also from 1974) is very nearly as fine (orchestral execution once more displays real finish and fresh-faced application), while his 1971 Berlin Eroica, if not as heaven-storming as some might like, has purposeful drive, songful flexibility and spiritual nourishment aplenty. As a consequence, all of Kubelík’s composite Beethoven symphony cycle (a different orchestra for each symphony) has now made it onto silver disc: 4-6 and 7-9 are available on a couple of DG ‘2CD’ compilations, and the cycle was boxed in Japan a few years ago.
In case you were wondering, the Beethoven 7 included here is not Kubelík’s enjoyable 1974 Vienna Philharmonic version (part of the cycle) but a far more feisty and invigorating affair from four years earlier with his Bavarian Radio SO, last available internationally on a DG Privilege LP (and which has also been released on CD in Germany).
Pride of place among this set’s very real discoveries has to go to the Second Violin Concerto by Jean Martinon (a one-time composition pupil of Roussel). Lasting just over half an hour, it’s a work of considerable substance and imagination, and presented here with utter dedication by Henryk Szeryng, Kubelík and his trusty Munich band (the original LP coupling was this team’s very fine Berg Concerto, previously issued on CD in DG’s 20th Century Classics). The Martinon is preceded by the Second and Fifth piano concertos of Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1977), featuring the 69-year-old composer as the adroit soloist. If neither is a forgotten masterpiece, both pieces boast plenty of ear-tickling colour, incident and red-blooded melodic appeal.
Great, too, to have Kubelík’s May 1967 versions of Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s Fourth and Eighth symphonies restored to currency. Composer and conductor were close friends, and it was Kubelík who gave the Munich world premiere of No.8 in 1963 (the year of Hartmann’s untimely death aged just 58). Stravinsky’s Scherzo à la russe and Circus Polka sound just a tad stiff and efficient in the hands of a slightly recalcitrant Berlin Phil.
First heard at the 1966 Lucerne Festival, Kubelík’s own resourceful and beautifully crafted Four Forms for ten solo strings originally shared an LP with the uncommonly discerning and subtly shaded account of the Dvořák String Serenade also included here. In both works Kubelík draws minutely responsive playing from the English Chamber Orchestra. Back in Munich, Bavarian Radio SO leader Rudolf Koeckert shines in his major concertante
role on the delectably lyrical and nicely sprung 1963 recording of the 20-year-old Mozart’s ambitious ‘Haffner’ Serenade, and if the March 1965 concert performance of Schoenberg’s “Gurrelieder” may not possess the heady lustre or all-round vocal strength of digital offerings from the likes of Chailly, Abbado and Sinopoli, its abundant musicality and characteristic generosity of spirit certainly make it worth experiencing.
To round off an enticing package, Mendelssohn’s complete Midsummer Night’s Dream music (still one of the most entrancingly poetic and sublimely articulate renderings of this vernal score I’ve ever heard) is preceded by a snapshot from those same November 1964 Herkules-Saal sessions of Kubelík rehearsing the overture. His manner is typically patient, painstaking and self-effacing: what a very great musician he was!
DG’s transfers give no cause for complaint. All in all, a set to return to with undiluted pleasure for many moons to come.