STRAUSS: Die Frau ohne Schatten
Leonie Rysanek (Empress); Jess Thomas (Emperor); Christa Ludwig (Dyer's Wife); Walter Berry (Barak); Grace Hoffman (Nurse); Lucia Popp (Guardian); Fritz Wunderlich (Apparition); Margarita Lilowa (Voice from above); Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orch/Herbert von Karajan, cond.
DGG 457 678 (mono) (3 disks) (F) TT: 62:45 / 53:21 / 55:14

MOZART: Symphony No. 29 in A, K. 201. ALWYN: Symphony No. 3. GRIEG: Symphonic Dances, Op. 64.
Royal Philharmonic Orch (Grieg); BBC Symphony Orch/Sir Thomas Beecham, cond.
SOMM-BEECHAM 23 (mono) (F) TT: 77:47

STRAVINSKY: Violin Concerto in D (Heinz Stanske, violin). The Fairy's Kiss. Four Etudes for Orchestra. Concerto in D for String Orchestra. Petrushka (Maria Bergmann, piano). Agon. Pulcinella Suite.
Southwest German Radio Orchestra, Baden-Baden/Igor Stravinsky, cond.
MUSIC & ARTS CD 1211/12 (2 disks) (M) TT: 68:00 / 62:00


The Beecham CD, all first releases on disk, is of particular interest as it contains the premiere performance of William Alwyn's Symphony No. 3, a work commissioned by the BBC. Completed in 1955, the symphony's premiere was scheduled for October 10, 1956 with the BBC Symphony at Royal Festival Hall to be conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. However he felt unable to conduct at that time, so Sir Malcolm Sargent was asked and he declined. At short notice, Beecham took over the premiere and learned the symphony in three days, conducting it from memory. Even if you have later recordings with the composer, Richard Hickox and David-Lloyd Jones, you probably will wish to have this expansive performance of the premiere. The CD opens with an elegant performance of Mozart's Symphony No. 29, a favorite of Beecham, from the same concert. Also we have another specialty of the conductor, Grieg's Symphonic Dances in a performance recorded in Studio No. 1, Maida Vale December 20, 1955 and broadcast five days later on Christmas. The monophonic sound is excellent for its time.

Music & Arts' new twin-CD set of Igor Stravinsky conducting his own music in live performances supplements their 2-CD set issued about two years ago. It always is important to hear composers interpreting their own music even though they might not be very good conductors. Surely that was the case with Stravinsky, whose podium technique left much to be desired, further complicated by his sometimes erratic interpretations, even of his own music. He preferred a lean orchestral sound and the German orchestra provides it. Stravinsky appeared often in Germany, and most of these performances were recorded in 1955 except for Petrushka (1951), Agon (1957), and Pulcinella (1954). Petrushka is presented as an "orchestral suite," which omits the opening and closing pages as well as all of the drum rolls. Both of the Music & Arts issues are major additions to the catalog. Collectors should also investigate the relatively unknown video of Stravinsky conducting the New Philharmonia Orchestra in a suite from Firebird, recorded in September 1965 when he was 83. For a review of this, read this REVIEW. And there's another oddity to check out: the composer's 1929 recording of his Rite of Spring recorded in Paris with an orchestra that couldn't play the notes, not helped by Stravinsky's "conducting."

R.E.B. (July 2008)