BBC Legends: October – November 2001

0 of 5 stars

Janet Baker
Les nuits d’ete (London Philharmonic/Giulini – 1975)
Poeme de l’amour et de la mer (LSO/Svetlanov – 1975)
Song of the Wood Dove (LSO/Norman del Mar – 1963)
BBCL 4077-2

John Barbirolli
Symphony No.7 in A
Symphony No.35 in D, K385 (Haffner)
Siegfried Idyll
(all Halle Orchestra – 1968/67/66)
Conducted by Sir John Barbirolli

BBCL 4076-2

Thomas Beecham
Symphony No.1 in C (BBCSO – 1956)
Polovtsian Dances (London Philharmonic Choir, Royal Philharmonic – 1954)
Le Coq d’or – Suite (RPO – 1956)
Conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham

BBCL 4084-2

Adrian Boult
Anacreon – Overture (RPO – 1963)
The Barber of Baghdad – Overture (BBCSO – 1954)
Symphony No.9 in C ’Great C major’
(BBCSO – 1969)
Conducted by Sir Adrian Boult

BBCL 4072-2

Clifford Curzon
Andante and variations in F minor
Petrarch Sonnet No.104
Berceuse (second version)
Valse oubliee
Sonata in B minor
Impromptus, D899 – E flat, G flat and A flat (all 1961)
Clifford Curzon (piano)
BBCL 4078-2

Annie Fischer
Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs
Sonata in F minor, Op.5
Rhapsody in C major, Op.11/3
Trois Etudes de concert – Un sospiroGrandes Etudes de Paganini – No.6 (all 1961)
Annie Fischer (piano)
BBCL 4054-2

Jascha Horenstein
Kindertotenlieder (Janet Baker/SNO – 1967)
Symphony No.9 (LSO – 1966)
Conducted by Jascha Horenstein

BBCL 4075-2 (2 CDs)

Wilhelm Kempff
Sonata in F minor, Op.5
Papillons, Op.2
Fantasie in C, Op.17 (all 1969)
Wilhelm Kempff (piano)
BBCL 4085-2

Yehudi Menuhin & Benjamin Britten
Violin Sonata
Sonata for piano and violin in G
Sonata in A, D574 (all 1959)
Fantasy in C, D934 (1957)
Yehudi Menuhin (violin) & Benjamin Britten (piano)
BBCL 4083-2

Sviatoslav Richter
Sonata in G, K283
Piano Sonata No.4 in C minor
Etudes-tableaux – Op.39/3 in F sharp minor, Op.39/4 in B minor
Sonata No.9 “Black Mass”
The Seasons – January, May, June, November (all 1966)
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
BBCL 4082-2

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: May 2002
CD No: BBCL 4077-2 & See Below

Of Janet Baker’s three Royal Festival Hall performances, the best – and the best recorded – is the earliest, the Gurrelieder extract. Here, with del Mar’s exemplary projection of Schoenberg’s precipitous use of tonal harmony and a Romantic orchestral palette already fragmenting to its constituent parts, Baker’s vividly characterised singing is at its freshest. Later there’s a tendency for something less spontaneous, her technique more exposed, if with no lack of communication and vibrant tone. Svetlanov is an unexpected and wholly sympathetic advocate of Chausson’s sub-Wagnerian, love-dominated seascape; he produces some voluptuous playing. The sound for Berlioz is curiously colourless, perhaps drained by over-zealous re-mastering; if plummy tones threaten Baker’s pitch, Giulini’s conducting is exquisite, every detail and inflexion given a wealth of expressiveness. Tempi are slow; the combined intensity of singer and conductor hold the attention. No printed texts!

Barbirolli’s ’Haffner’ is emphatic, the orchestral fabric weighty. There’s no denying Barbirolli’s affection in both this and the Wagner, the latter leisurely, although the distant mono sound conspires against intimacy. Beethoven 7 is an important addition to JB’s discography. Despite the 1968 Royal Festival Hall recording being rather constrained and wispy, this is a vital, articulate account, once settled, with buoyant rhythms and openhearted expression. The flowing ’trio’ is well timed, the finale rather more trenchant than usual, to advantage. For dedicated Barbirollians.

The Beecham selections play to his strengths – elan, relish of extravaganza, delight of colour and tunefulness, and uncomplicated pleasure of musical enjoyment. Parts of Balakirev’s symphony is a bit rowdy, yet Beecham’s nudging of the music’s folksy inclination, the robust melodies and atmospheric slow movement has undoubted appeal. Beecham overplays the brasher aspects, but winsome ideas fall gratefully on the ear. Coq d’or unveils a rich vein of fantasy; copious instrumental felicities illuminate sweet and soft phrasing that is rather special. The LP Choir, singing in English presumably, is scratchily reproduced; the honours go to some sparkling orchestral work (although I wish Beecham didn’t like the ’noise’ of percussion so much!).

Sir Adrian Boult was one of the finest interpreters of Schubert’s ’Great C major’ – and this Proms performance is a beauty. It’s preceded by an alive, imperiously unfolded account of Cherubini’s overture, a work that Toscanini, Klemperer and Karajan also conducted by a composer Beethoven admired – under Boult the coda is deft and exhilarating – and followed by Cornelius’s jolly and tender curtain-raiser. Schubert 9 itself is superbly articulate; a spacious rendition thoughtfully integrated and magisterially controlled that grows in stature with each listen. With every repeat observed in the scherzo and trio, and flexibility of pulse within a grand outline, Boult’s is a patrician reading.

The Liszt part (from the 1961 Edinburgh Festival) of Clifford Curzon’s CD begins with an especially thoughtful account of the Petrarch Sonnet, one which admits showy roulades out of rumination. Curzon’s focus on the interior of music, its psycho-linguistics, is constantly revealing of Liszt’s depths – not something one gets from show-pianists; the Berceuse is rather more than its title suggests in its unpredictable harmonic course, the Valse oubliee light and darting. The great B minor sonata is a complete experience, urgent but contained until the true climaxes, always searching and restless, moments of repose integrated; Curzon, despite finger-slips and awkwardness, is the master of design and felicities. (A shame about intrusive applause on the still-sounding final chord.) The Haydn and Schubert are from BBC sessions in London, the former classical, acutely detailed, emotional banks threatening to burst, which duly occurs as Haydn appointed; the three Schubert Impromptus are sparkling and soulful, each with depth of expression.

Of Annie Fischer’s pianism, the word vibrant comes to mind. Note-spills count for nothing when she presses the ignition switch. That she thought deeply about the music she played is self-evident; her re-creative fire seems of the moment, when poetry and declamation meld. Her Brahms sonata is dramatic, the slow movement inward and smouldering. The Bartok returns her to native soil, Hungarian plains conjured, souls of composer, artist and compatriots bared, inflections and emphases, the ’swing’ of numbers 9 and 10 innate. Liszt and Dohnanyi, fellow Nationals, are at one remove here in these salon pieces: Un sospiro is emotionally aflame, the study after Paganini dazzling, Dohnanyi’s febrile and gloriously expansive Rhapsody played without inhibition.

Jascha Horenstein was a truth-teller, his music-making penetrative, unvarnished and long-viewed. The Mahler 9 he conducted at the Proms in 1966 makes heavy weather of the second movement Landler; deliberately disjoined, otherwise one would think Horenstein inept or contrived. He was neither. This is not a crowd-pleasing performance, it’s fallible and inaccurately played too (try the errant timpani towards the end of ’Rondo-Burleske’) but with no lack of conviction … and there is much illumination. The middle movements are Klemperer-like, albeit without quite his unflinching stoicism. The outer ones, devoid of unnecessary Technicolor and false emotion, will test a listener’s depth of response and appreciation. The music comes first here. Baker and Horenstein make a good partnership. A younger-voiced Baker, if not quite as innate as Ludwig, confides Mahler’s heartfelt consciousness without artifice.

Kempff’s London recital compels attention. He was the antithesis of the virtuoso superstar, epitomising musical grace, classicism, beautiful sound and architectural awareness. There’s fire too, which always comes from the inner reaches of the music – Brahms, first movement – and a lyric beauty and dynamic refinement that in the ’Andante’ reaches an exceptional level of fluid expression and range of touch. Kempff’s ’interior’ playing is miraculous, his drops to pianissimo ethereal, his trills so expressive; demonstrative passages are unforced and wonderfully poised between the hands. Papillons dances and sparkles; Fantasie’s chivalric deeds, ardour and heroism are revealed as a spontaneous love-poem. This CD is a beguiling example of great pianism.

Of Menuhin and Britten’s Aldeburgh Festival collaborations I’m less certain. One senses their rapport, the give and take, yet Menuhin’s intonation is dubious at times and he doesn’t always have Britten’s ease of execution. Haydn’s uncharacteristically foursquare sonata emerges rather monochrome; the opening of Schubert’s finds a more idiomatic response from Britten. Menuhin’s dri-ish sound affects the reflexes of Debussy’s ecstatic sense of fantasy, which Britten is more attuned to. Best of all, perhaps the finest music here, is Schubert’s C major Fantasy. From two years earlier, Menuhin is freer in technique, his lines more entrancing. The sense of imagery suggested is palpable – spontaneity, productive interplay and intellectual regard.

Richter’s recital in Aldeburgh’s Parish Church finds him relaxed, unforced, spontaneous and communicative. The Mozart is gentle and buoyant, the finale scampers playfully. Tchaikovsky’s miniatures are played simply and with affection – June being an especially good month! – while Rachmaninov’s etudes have all the coruscating power needed without degenerating the music to showpiece artifice. Scriabin’s existentialism is hypnotically conveyed, effects integrated into musical argument. Prokofiev’s underrated Fourth Sonata, classical and concentrated, epigrammatic and soulful, finds Richter at one with this personal piece and relishing the virtuosity of the finale.

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