'THE CHICAGO PRINCIPAL'
MOZART: Oboe Concerto in C, K. 314. Horn Concerto No. 3 in
E Flat, K. 447. Bassoon Concerto in B Flat, K. 191. HAYDN:
Trumpet Concerto in E Flat. SCHUMANN: Konzertst¸ck in F, Op.
86. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Concerto for Bass Tuba in F Minor.
BRITTEN: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, Op. 31. RAVEL: BolÈro.
Ray Still, oboe; Adolph Herseth, trumpet; Dale Clevenger, Richard
Oldberg, Thomas Howell, Norman Schweikert, horns; Willard Elliot, bassoon;
Arnold Jacobs, tuba; Robert Tear, tenor; Chicago Symphony Orch/Claudio
Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Carlo Maria Giulini and Sir Georg Solti, cond.
DG 27982 (2 CDs for the price of one) (ADD/DDD) TT: 69:53 & 69:12
BUY NOW FROM ARKIVMUSIC
a digital repackaging of mainly excellent music making from the post-Martinon
period in Chicago: from 1976 (Solti’s
remarkably relaxed Boléro, at Ravel’s tempo, which lets
everyone star) to1984 (Adolph Herseth’s high-wire Haydn Trumpet
Concerto). Basically, with the principal exception of hornist Dale Clevenger,
who joined the roster in 1966, this was the Reiner Chicago Symphony of
1953-62, inherited by Solti in 1969, who stayed for 22 years. But Sir
Georg’s label was London/Decca, not DG, although both are properties
today of Universal Classical Group along with Philips, under the umbrella
of UMG Recordings, Inc., with an Eighth Avenue address in New York City!
The first principal conductor to share Solti’s podium was Giulini,
here by Britten’s poignant Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings,
written in 1943 after returning to the UK from a three-year absence in the US,
to Peter Grimes. The first recording was on 78-rpm Decca monodiscs in
the work’s commissioner, Dennis Brain, as horn soloist, and Peter Pears
as tenor soloist, accompanied by the Boyd Neal Orchestra under Britten’s
direction. A stereo remake was taped in 1963, several years after the uniquely
characterful Brain had been killed in a late night accident, driving home to
London from the Edinburgh Festival. (As a sidebar, Eugene Ormandy shared a long-held
secret that he’d begged Brain, following their performance together at
the Festival, to wait until morning; Ormandy had a premonition, but the young
hornist wanted to see his children.) Pears sang in the 1963 remake, again with
Britten conducting, but this time either the London Symphony or English Chamber
Orchestra strings (Decca’s ADRM reissue is remarkably unforthcoming about
who played in which of three song cycles on a treasure of a disc),but Barry Tuckwell
had replaced Dennis Brain, with a lovely
if cushier sound backed by solid musicianship.
Giulini’s 1977 version featured tenor Robert Tear (of the latter-day Pears
timbre) and Clevenger, who ran a distinguished race, no mean feat even if he
did come in second. This performance has a haunted undercurrent, wonderful in
its way, also found in Giulini’s Los Angeles Verdi Falstaff, and furthermore
plushly recorded. For that alone I’d keep the set. But there are other
keepsakes: Ray Still’s singular oboe sound and adroit musicianship of 1983
in Mozart’s C-major Oboe Concerto (with cadenzas by his son Thomas), accompanied
by Abbado, who led all the Mozart as well as Herseth’s Haydn. In other
words, the Third Horn Concerto in E-flat, K. 447, with Clevenger, made in 1981,
and the Bassoon Concerto with Willard Elliot in stellar form., recorded at the
same session. For original instrument fans there are too many strings, and for
the rest of us an overbright sound that DG has fancied in many of its transfers
from analog to digital. If you have tone controls it can be moderated, but if
yours is a purist preamp, that kind of sound can be fatiguing to hear in one
sitting of Mozart and Haydn.
Abbado was Giulini’s successor as principal guest, but a blinkered management
chose Barenboim rather than Abbado as Solti’s successor. Here DB conducted
two of his best performances from the ‘70s: the Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto
with incomparable Arnold Jacobs as soloist in March of ‘77, when he also
led the pace-setting Schumann Konzertstück for four horns and orchestra,
with a stellar solo quartet led by Clevenger. It’s hard to reconcile DB’s
muscular vivacity back then with his faux-Furtwängler posture subsequently,
which has led the Chicago Symphony of palmier days into a musically turgid, rhythmically
foggy cul-de-sac since 1991, leaving Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland
York to fight over first place stateside.
That said (OK, off my chest), this packaging offers the most personable set of
solo performances by orchestra personnel since the best of Sir Thomas Beecham’s
years with the London Symphony just before WW2, and with the Royal Phil after.
R.D. (June 2003)