Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 9.
Cello Concerto in b.
Symphony No. 1
Willem Mengelberg, cond;
Grand Orchestre de Radio-Paris;
class="ARIAL12">Maurice Gendron (vc);
Maria Neuss (vn)
ANDROMEDA 9111 (2 CDs: 128:36)
For me, Willem the Wayward has been an acquired taste. One accepts that older generations of conductors were a law unto themselves. (In their heart of hearts, I wonder if today’s enlightened conductors secretly wish they could stomp on pocket watches
Toscanini and strike equal fear in musicians’ hearts. For that we have the Russians.) But I could rarely wrap my ears around Mengelberg’s capricious variances from the scores, albeit my favorite conductors are imaginative and spontaneous. Only two are so willful that they make me reach for the Dramamine, Koussevitzky and Mengelberg; add Stokowski when he’s on a
This collection of Dvorák orchestral works, with a bonus of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, was recorded between 1940 and 1944. It provided a welcome chance to reassess Mengelberg. Although he was a notorious collaborator with the Nazis when they occupied the Netherlands, they didn’t supply him with the newly invented tape recorder that captured Furtwangler’s wartime concerts in such excellent sound for the time. The present transfers are from shellacs in variable condition, and Andromeda has generally retained some surface swish and grit. High-tech remastering could have cleaned up the sources without hampering their frequency range, but if surface noise must be kept, that’s better than robbing us of realistic highs.
In the 1940 “New World” Symphony the orchestral sound is fairly well balanced but dim and without strong impact. However, Mengelberg’s conception is powerful and well played. The music always feels alive and fresh, a virtue his fans rejoice in. In the
the tempo starts to slip and slide a bit queasily for me. I can sympathize; Mengelberg is adding variety to a movement that’s repetitious even without the repeats. The cello concerto from Paris in 1944 with Maurice Gendron has a totally scoured surface, which makes the sound somewhat dull unless played at high volume. But it’s a sprightly reading, again very alive. The cello is miked closely enough to feel lifelike, and Gendron plays with ebullience. I know very few historical accounts of the piece, but this one is a beauty.
From 1943 comes the violin concerto played by Maria Neuss, who was unknown to me. (A little Googling revealed that Neuss was Dvorák’s great-great-granddaughter.) The reading is just as vigorous and exuberant as in the cello concerto, with the violin close up and realistic. Dvorák wrote an orchestral part nearly as symphonic as what Brahms, his idol, composed for his own violin concerto, and Mengelberg makes the most of it. It’s too bad the source sounds so worn, filled with pops and ticks. Collectors should search for a less bumpy source, since the performance is so compelling.
The Beethoven First from 1943 comes in a clean and fairly full-sounding transfer (interrupted at one point by an annoying repeated thump). Mengelberg and his Concertgebouw execute the score with considerable enthusiasm and freshness. This, too, is a treasurable recording. I was wrong-headed to wait so long to catch on to Willem the Wayward, who turns out to be quite as charismatic as his reputation holds. All performances are with the Concertgebouw except the Cello Concerto, done with the Radio-Paris orchestra. No program notes.
FANFARE: Huntley Dent
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Cello in B minor, Op. 104/B 191 by Antonín Dvorák
Maurice Gendron (Cello)
Written: 1894-1895; USA
Date of Recording: 01/16/1944
Venue: Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris
Length: 36 Minutes 4 Secs.
Concerto for Violin in A minor, Op. 53 by Antonín Dvorák
Maria Neuss (Violin)
Written: 1879-1880; Bohemia
Date of Recording: 03/25/1943
Venue: Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
Length: 29 Minutes 40 Secs.
Symphony no 1 in C major, Op. 21 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 04/14/1940
Venue: Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
Length: 24 Minutes 9 Secs.
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