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The Art Of Dimitri Mitropoulos Vol 1 - Berg, Beethoven, Vaughan Williams

Berg / Beethoven / Schumann / Szigeti / Walter
Release Date: 08/12/2008 
Label:  Music & Arts Programs Of America Catalog #: 1213   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ralph Vaughan WilliamsErnest ChaussonIgor StravinskyRobert Schumann,   ... 
Performer:  Egon PetriJoseph SzigetiJoseph SzigetiJean Casadesus
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 4 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 4 Hours 38 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



THE ART OF DIMITRI MITROPOULOS, VOLUME 1 & Dimitri Mitropoulos, cond; Joseph Szigeti (vn); 1,4 Jean Casadesus (pn); 2 Egon Petri (pn); 3 NBC SO; 1 P-SO MUSIC & ARTS 1213, mono (4 CDs: 278:54) Live: 2/23/1957; 5 8/29/1943; Read more class="SUPER12">6 11/15/1953; 7 11/23/1947; 8 12/28/1941 9


BERG Violin Concerto. 1,5 BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 3. 2,5 VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. 6 CHAUSSON Symphony in B?. 6 STRAVINSKY The Firebird: Suite. 6 SCHUMANN Symphony No. 1, “Spring.” 7 R. STRAUSS Eine Alpensinfonie. 8 MOZART (arr. Busoni) Idomeneo: Overture. 9 BUSONI Indian Fantasy. 3,9 Sketches for Doktor Faustus. 9 Violin Concerto in D 4,9


& “Szigeti Recalls Busoni”


THE ART OF DIMITRI MITROPOULOS, VOLUME 2 Dimitri Mitropoulos (pn, 1,2 cond); Carmine Coppola (fl); 1 Mischa Mischakoff (vn); 1 Zino Francescatti (vn); 3 Pietro Scarpini (pn); 4 NBC SO Strings; 5 Astrid Varnay (sop); 6 Dorothy Dow (sop); 6 NBC SO; 1,2 P-SO MUSIC & ARTS 1214, mono (4 CDs: 269:02) Live: 4/10/1955; 7 12/16/1945; 8 4/3/1955; 9 11/7/1954; 10 4/5/1953; 11 12/13/1945; 12 11/18/1951 13


MAHLER Symphony No. 6, “Tragic.” 7 BACH Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. 1,8 PROKOFIEV Piano Concertos: No. 3; 2,8 No. 2. 4,10 LALO Symphonie espagnole. 3,9 VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphony No. 4. 11 SCHOENBERG String Quartet No. 2 (orch. Schoenberg). 5,12 Erwartung 6,13


Greek-born conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos, who died in 1960, made a goodly number of commercial recordings with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, the two ensembles with which he had the most long-standing relationships. He could and should have made more, however, particularly in New York, but various circumstances intervened, and relatively few of the recordings he made in either of those cities remain available on CD today. In other words, unless they caught the fruits right as they fell from the tree, younger Mitropoulos collectors probably have many lacunae on their shelves. Collections such as the present ones won’t fill all of those lacunae, of course, but they comprise a useful and important addition to the conductor’s discography. These are live broadcast performances dating from between 1941 and 1957, newly remastered by Lani Spahr. Some of the material will not be new to the more diligent collectors, but I suspect much of it will be, and there’s nothing here that does a disservice to the conductor’s reputation.


What was the conductor’s reputation? I hope that will become clearer as one reads the comments below. For now, suffice it to say that Mitropoulos was one of his generation’s most passionate exponents of new music, and he was a great friend to young composers. This trait did not endear him to conservative audiences and critics, but Mitropoulos believed it was his duty not to dwell exclusively on the past. He was an early advocate of Mahler as well. Also, particularly under live conditions, his conducting was often uncommonly expressive and intense. This was not a matter of tempo for the most part, and not self-indulgence on the part of the conductor, either. At his best, he illuminated the music from within, rather than shedding his own light upon it.


The two volumes are only available separately, four CDs for the price of three. (I can’t imagine anyone wanting to purchase one and not the other.) The booklet is the same for both sets: 12 pages of Mitropoulos lore by biographer William R. Trotter ( The Priest of Music ), and 10 pages of comments about the performances by Fanfare ’s own James Miller.


Whether he was in Minneapolis or New York, Mitropoulos gave contemporary music its due. Nowadays Berg’s Violin Concerto seems almost old-fashioned, but it is good to remember that in 1945 it was only a decade old. Louis Krasner commissioned the Concerto and was its first performer. Szigeti, however, was an “early adopter” and performed it several times—for example, in Los Angeles with Otto Klemperer, and with the New York Philharmonic (also with Mitropoulos). This concerto might have been tailor-made for Szigeti’s intellectual musicianship and pungent tone. Mitropoulos and the NBC Symphony Orchestra serve as excellent foils for Szigeti’s playing, giving the music more sensual colorings than one might expect. The recording places Szigeti very much to the fore, and is surprisingly vivid, given its age. Surface noise suggests LP origins, but it is not distracting.


Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 highlights Jean Casadesus, brother of Robert (with whom Mitropoulos made a commercial recording of the “Emperor” concerto). Mitropoulos was not given the opportunity to make many studio recordings of Beethoven’s music, so this is an important addition to the conductor’s discography. The performance is typical of Mitropoulos’s high-powered approach to the Classical repertoire. Casadesus, whose nervous yet effective playing—apparently he was affected by stage-fright throughout his career­—further increases the volatility. The middle movement, however, is as calming (yet alive) as anyone could ask for. This is a performance worth coming back to, particularly if one wants his or her Beethoven on the bacchanalian side.


Mitropoulos, in his zeal to program modern music, sometimes made strange bedfellows (Morton Gould and Mahler, for one). The combination from the concert of August 29, 1943 works well, though, and all three works benefit from proximity to each other. Mitropoulos must have liked Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia and Chausson’s Symphony, because alternative performances exist of both of these works. The former was one that he recorded in Minneapolis for Columbia Records. The tempos in that 1945 recording are significantly faster than those heard here. He also recorded it commercially with the New York Philharmonic, again for Columbia, but in stereo. That performance clocks in under 13 minutes, and is too precipitous for me. In other words, the version presented here is the slowest of the three, and I find it to be the most effective. The conductor emphasizes the contrasts between the three string groups, as well as the contrasts in dynamics, and if the results do not feel very English to me, they have an intensity that cannot be denied. Mitropoulos also recorded the Chausson Symphony in Minneapolis (for Columbia, again)—a very fine reading from 1946, and very similar in spirit, but not as well recorded. The Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra arguably has a more appropriate timbre than the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra in New York, though, and some of the woodwind-playing from the latter is slovenly here. In the early 1990s, AS Discs released a 1953 performance of this work with Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic. It is brisker, very exciting, and better played, but now it is hard to find. The suite from Stravinsky’s Firebird is played with an appreciation for the score’s drama and color. As in the Chausson, moments of unfortunate woodwind-playing do their damage, but on the whole, this performance is as good as anyone else’s, and, in its straight-ahead excitement, better than most.


One’s ears perk right up at the opening fanfare of Schumann’s “Spring” Symphony, not just because of the detailed, spacious sound, but also because of the momentous quality that Mitropoulos brings to this passage. The movement proper dashes along without being rushed, and Mitropoulos gives us light balanced with shade, and energy balanced with respite where they are due. Mitropoulos never recorded this symphony commercially; more’s the pity, although he might not have surpassed what he accomplished here, had he been given the chance. Mitropoulos was an avid mountain-climber, so how could he have avoided Richard Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie ? In 1947, it was not considered music from the composer’s top drawer. It has taken time—and recordings such as Bernard Haitink’s version with the Concertgebouw Orchestra—for the work to be reevaluated and more highly ranked. Mitropoulos’s performance treats it like picture music, and as such it is highly enjoyable, but that’s not the whole story with this music, and its more philosophical elements go unrealized. As many conductors do, Mitropoulos gallops up the slope, which tends to make the work sound lopsided, and anticlimactic in the second half. Still, this is quite an achievement for a live performance; I like to imagine members of the audience sitting in Carnegie Hall with stunned expressions. It is surprising how much detail and impact—and bass information from the organ—are preserved by the recording, although it is not as good as the Schumann.


The Mozart and Busoni were previously released on Music & Arts 1052. Mitropoulos, pianist Egon Petri, and violinist Joseph Szigeti all had been personally acquainted with Ferruccio Busoni, and the memorial concert preserved here honored the composer, who died 17 years earlier. Perhaps inspired by the occasion, the orchestra is in fine fettle, and the presence of Petri and Szigeti (still at the top of his game) makes this concert desirable, and also makes one wonder why Busoni’s popularity as a composer seems to have dwindled in the past few decades. Busoni’s Idomeneo is a curiosity, as is the somewhat naive but likeable Indian Fantasy, based upon Native American melodies. The two Doktor Faust sketches make a greater impression here than in other performances I have heard, and the Violin Concerto is intriguing and at times garrulous. Szigeti recorded it later on for Columbia—not with Mitropoulos, though, but with the Little Orchestra Society of New York, conducted by Thomas Scherman. (I haven’t heard it.) The chief problem with this last Volume 1 disc is its sound. Particularly early on, there is noise suggesting tape print-through, and flutter as well. A little more tolerance is required here than on the three other discs in this volume. Still, it’s worth it to hear unusual repertoire performed by musicians who knew the composer well. The disc closes with a few minutes of Szigeti speaking about Busoni, taken from a talk that Szigeti gave in 1965 at Harvard.


We now come to Volume 2. Several years back, Music & Arts released a Mitropoulos Mahler 6 from 1959 with the Cologne Radio Orchestra (1021). Although the overall timings and that of the individual movements are very close, these performances have less in common than one might think. For example, the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra version from 1955 presented here places the Scherzo as the third movement, whereas in Cologne it is the second. More important, however, the 1955 version is much better played. This is an exhausting symphony, and it challenges orchestral musicians under the best of conditions. The Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra rises to the challenge though, and the occasional faults are quickly forgotten, given the force of the musicianship. Mitropoulos was first to conduct this symphony in the United States. This was in 1947, and, according to the note by James Miller, the only copy of the score was in the Library of Congress. There is a tendency to give too much credit to Leonard Bernstein for what he did to advance Mahler’s reputation. Bernstein certainly played an important role, but Mitropoulos yielded nothing to Lenny, as this performance demonstrates over and over again. From the opening measures on, this is implacable, fate-haunted Mahler. At the same time, Mitropoulos realizes all of the composer’s nuances of mood. The Scherzo, for example, is treasurable for its alternations between irony, fatalism, and paternal tenderness. The sound is good, although a whistling noise halfway through the final movement had me thinking I had forgotten to turn off the teakettle. It doesn’t last long, fortunately. This is a Mahler 6 with which any Mahlerian should become acquainted.


Mitropoulos was one of those conductors who also was a fabulous pianist, and the first two items on the second CD of Volume 2 find him not only playing both roles simultaneously, but doing so twice in the same concert. The Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 (no harpsichord, please!) sounds like a testimony to how much fun it is to make music together. Baroque style doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s mind that much. Still, Mitropoulos and the musicians of the NBC Symphony Orchestra seem to be “jamming” here, and the outcome is hard not to enjoy. The Prokofiev is a bigger handful—literally. Although it would be easier to find a pianist who plays the solo part with more silk and gossamer—there are some casualties here—Mitropoulos is wonderfully acerbic, like a naughty boy who dabbles in nuclear physics. The third movement takes off in a way I’ve not heard before, and the ending is almost overwhelming. Both performances have appeared on other CDs: for example, The Piano Library 314. The Music & Arts restoration is superior: clearer, more open, and with richer bass. As was often the case during this era, the Symphonie espagnole is given without its Intermezzo. The work’s opening is hammered out with maximum imperiousness, and Francescatti’s response is like that of a bullfighter sneering at the bull. Similarly, the beginning of the Andante has an intensity one doesn’t expect from this work. It’s a tremendously characterful performance, from both the conductor and the soloist. The sound in all three items is very acceptable. The performances? I can say only, “Wow!”


Italian pianist Pietro Scarpini (1911–97) made his American debut with this performance of the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 2. Not much remembered today, he was a specialist in 20th-century music, so it seems appropriate that he and Mitropoulos should have made music together—not just the Prokofiev concerto included here, but also Mozart’s Piano Concerto in E?, K 482. This Prokofiev is one of my favorite concertos, and it is a real finger buster. While Scarpini doesn’t survive it unscathed, he takes a lot of chances, and his is one of the most exciting versions I’ve heard. Mitropoulos and the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra back him up admirably, and the performance has an overall toughness that is seldom realized in other recordings, but that suits the music well.


At face value, Mitropoulos’s intensity on the podium seems ill matched to Vaughan Williams’s music. The Fourth Symphony, first heard in 1935, is one of the composer’s least peaceful works, however. There was a commercial recording with these same forces in January 1956 (Sony Essential Classics 62754). The commercial recording is not troubled by the flutter heard here; the brass climax in the second movement really suffers. Nevertheless, this live recording is the more emotionally powerful of the two, particularly in the opening movement, which moves like a behemoth here. Incidentally, Mitropoulos is the first conductor who made me realize that the symphony’s third movement might have been Jerry Goldsmith’s inspiration for his score to the first Star Trek movie; there are strong thematic similarities.


Scared of Schoenberg? Audiences of Mitropoulos’s time certainly were. He programmed the composer’s own arrangement for string orchestra of his String Quartet No. 2, both in Minneapolis and New York, with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. In New York, he had Astrid Varnay on hand for the second two movements, and she makes the work sound, if not easy, then at least approachable for those open-minded enough to make the effort. Mitropoulos conducts as if the music were Mahler with wrong notes—surely not a bad way to introduce this piece to new listeners. Mitropoulos fans know his studio recording of Erwartung (now out of print again); this performance took place a day earlier. The studio recording is better recorded and is a bit faster; this version has a little more dramatic bite and is (appropriately) a little crazier. One way or the other, Mitropoulos’s faith in the score comes across strongly, and Dow, whose voice is large and handsome, throws herself into the piece as well.


It had been a while since I listened to so much Mitropoulos at once. I wondered, as I dove into these eight discs, if the magic still would be there for me. It was, and more than ever. Both historically and artistically, this set is of very high importance. It will be self-recommending to those who already admire this conductor. For those who have yet to discover him, this is a pretty good way to do so, given the current scarcity of Mitropoulos CDs. Two thumbs up!


FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

1. Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1910/1919; England 
Date of Recording: 08/29/1943 
Venue:  Live  Carnegie Hall, New York, NY 
Length: 17 Minutes 25 Secs. 
2. Symphony in B flat major, Op. 20 by Ernest Chausson
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1889-1890; France 
Date of Recording: 08/29/1943 
Venue:  Live  Carnegie Hall, New York, NY 
Length: 32 Minutes 3 Secs. 
3. Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1919/1945;   
Date of Recording: 08/29/1943 
Venue:  Live  Carnegie Hall, New York, NY 
Length: 20 Minutes 37 Secs. 
4. Symphony no 1 in B flat major, Op. 38 "Spring" by Robert Schumann
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1841; Germany 
Date of Recording: 11/15/1953 
Venue:  Live  Carnegie Hall, New York, NY 
Length: 31 Minutes 27 Secs. 
5. Eine Alpensinfonie, Op. 64 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1911-1915; Germany 
Date of Recording: 11/23/1947 
Venue:  Live  Carnegie Hall, New York, NY 
Length: 41 Minutes 54 Secs. 
6. Indian Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 44/K 264 by Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  Egon Petri (Piano)
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; Berlin, Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/28/1941 
Venue:  Live  Carnegie Hall, New York, NY 
Length: 23 Minutes 1 Secs. 
7. Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 35a/K 243 by Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  Joseph Szigeti (Violin)
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1899; Berlin, Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/28/1941 
Venue:  Live  Carnegie Hall, New York, NY 
Length: 23 Minutes 57 Secs. 
8. Szigeti recalls Busoni (from a talk given in 1965 at Harvard University) by Spoken Word
Performer:  Joseph Szigeti (Spoken Vocals)
Date of Recording: 1965 
Venue:  Live  Harvard University 
Length: 3 Minutes 43 Secs. 
9. Concerto for Violin by Alban Berg
Performer:  Joseph Szigeti (Violin)
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; Austria 
Date of Recording: 12/11/1945 
Length: 24 Minutes 43 Secs. 
10. Concerto for Piano no 3 in C minor, Op. 37 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jean Casadesus (Piano)
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 02/23/1957 
Venue:  Live  Binghampton, NY 
Length: 32 Minutes 9 Secs. 
11. Idomeneo, K 366: Overture by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Egon Petri (Piano)
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Period: Classical 
Written: 1781; Munich, Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/28/1941 
Venue:  Live  Carnegie Hall, New York, NY 
Length: 4 Minutes 47 Secs. 
12. Studies (2) on Doktor Faust, Op. 51/K 282 by Ferruccio Busoni
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Berlin, Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/28/1941 
Venue:  Live  Carnegie Hall, New York, NY 
Length: 17 Minutes 20 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Violin Concerto: I. Andante: Scherzo
Violin Concerto: II. Allegro: Adagio
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37: I. Allegro con brio
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37: II. Largo
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37: III. Rondo: Allegro
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Symphony in B flat major, Op. 20: I. Lent - Allegro vivo
Symphony in B flat major, Op. 20: II. Tres Lent - Un peu plus vite - Tempo I
Symphony in B flat major, Op. 20: III. Anime
The Firebird Suite (1919 version): I. Introduction
The Firebird Suite (1919 version): II. The Firebird and its Dance
The Firebird Suite (1919 version): III. Variation of the Firebird
The Firebird Suite (1919 version): IV. Round dance of the Princesses
The Firebird Suite (1919 version): V. Infernal Dance of King Kashchei
The Firebird Suite (1919 version): VI. Lullaby
The Firebird Suite (1919 version): VII. Finale

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