Suite, Op. 20. Lieutenant Kij╚, Op. 60.
KHACHATURIAN: Gayne Ballet Suite
Vienna Symphony Orch; Vienna State Opera Orch (Khachaturian)/Hermann Scherchen, cond.
Westminster 471 265 (M/S) (M) TT: 62:51
MAHLER: Symphony No. 7
in E Minor "Song of the Night"
"The Nixa Recordings"
|Here are three
important releases in the recorded legacy of Hermann Scherchen, the first
two beautifully remastered Westminster
recordings from the early '50s, and a special group identified as "The Nixa Recordings"
September 15 - 28, 1953, recorded in London's Walthamstow Assembly Hall. These monophonic
recordings were made for Nixa
Record Company, later called Pye/Nixa and finally Pye Records. The
tapes now belong to EMI and were licensed to Tahra for this major reissue.
It's a handsome production in an oversize box (6" x 10")
a bit more than 1/2 inch thick containing 24 pages, with color pictures
of original Westminster LP issues along with programs notes and commentary
by Sami Habra, artistic
director of Tahra. There is a bit of confusion regarding the
orchestra performing Symphonic fantastique. The CD label says
it is the Royal Philharmonic, but CD notes in the booklet say it is the
London Symphony Orchestra, which doubtless is
accurate as the sessions were during the same time period as the Tchaikovsky
and Rimsky-Korsakov works, which are played by the LSO. This
is one of the strangest - and most compelling - recordings of Symphonie fantastique,
distinguished by effective accents and wide, often exaggerated, tempos.
There's no cornet in the second movement (Un Bal); I expected that Scherchen, with his incredible insight
into scores, would have elected to include it. After a brisk, direct March
to the Scaffold (without repeat), we have the last movement, Witches'
Sabbath, which is particularly arbitrary, with a very slow introduction, the brass outburst beginning at 1:40 into track 5
played at a perversely slow tempo, which continues for the Dies Irae section,
after which the final pages are frantically exciting. The other Berlioz
work, Harold in Italy, commissioned by Paganini but rejected by
him because it wasn't flashy enough (although later he realized the merit
the score), is given a more standard performance with superb playing from
violist Frederick Riddle. Riddle had a long, distinguished career; he had
recorded the Walton Viola Concerto with the composer conducting about two
decades earlier. He was principal violist of the Royal Philharmonic,
and had recorded Harold in Italy with Beecham and the RPO. Two
years after this Nixa recording, Riddle performed Harold with Beecham/RPO,
a performance now issued on BBC Legends (BBCL 4065).
Scherchen does for Antar what he did for Gli╦re's Ilya Mourometz. This Antar is the most voluptuous, passionate performance on records, particularly the finale, The Pleasure of Love. I've long admired this performance on the original LP as well as on its previous CD issue (Nixa 6021), but it sounds even better on this superbly-mastered new issue. The other Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky works are performed with Scherchen's usual attention to detail. Russian Easter begins very slowly with an appropriately reverential mood, plenty of orchestral fireworks in the blazing conclusion. Romeo and Juliet is a reading of grandeur with the slower passages very slow, the fight sequences vigorous, the love scene super-romantic. Marche slave, Capriccio Italien and 1812 are given big-scale treatment with scrupulous attention to detail.
Mahler's Symphony No. 7 was particularly close to Scherchen who in 1911 played violin/viola in a Berlin orchestra when Oskar Fried conducted the symphony, making a lasting impression on the young musician. In 1953, forty-five years later, Scherchen made this recording which was my introduction to the music (a photo of the original Westminster 2-LP release is included in the booklet). Scherchen's imaginative interpretation is hindered by a smallish-sounding orchestra and some tentative playing. This was recorded about a year after Scherchen recorded his famous Gli╦reIlya Mourometz.
The Prokofiev-Khachaturian coupling is a winner. Scherchen captures all of the frenzy of Scythian Suite as well as humour of Kij╚. The1951 mono sound of both is well-balanced with surprising dynamic range for the time - superior sonically to the Mahler Seventh recorded two years later. The 20-minute suite from Gayne, recorded in 1957, is an example of early stereo at its best - how unfortunate the multi-channel stereo process wasn't developed earlier!
As mentioned above, all of the new transfers do justice to quality of original tapes. These are welcome major additions to the Scherchen discography. To purchase the TAHRA set, go to their website.
R.E.B. (June 2002)