|VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Symphony No. 6 in E minor. TCHAIKOVSKY: Romeo
and Juliet Fantasy Overture. MOZART: Symphony No. 35 in D, K. 385 Haffner. SCOTT:
From the Sacred Harp. WEINBERGER: Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper.
New York Philharmonic/Leopold Stokowski, cond.
CALA CACD 0537 (F) (ADD) TT: 78:58
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PAUL VAN KEMPEN - Berlin Philharmonic/Amsterdam Concertgebouw/La Scala
HAYDN: Symphony No. 104 in D "London." SIBELIUS:
Symphony No. 5 in E Flat, Op. 82. SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 9 in C "The
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E Flat "Romantic" (Telefunken
Symphony No. 9 in E minor "New World" (mvts. 1 & 2 1952 live
rec). WAGNER: Tannhäuser Overture (1947). Flying
Dutchman Overture (Decca 1947).
The Cala issue, the third and last in their series of Stokowski's New York Philharmonic Columbia studio recordings (the others are CALA CACD0533/34, see REVIEW), contains treasures for the Stokowski collector. The Vaughan Williams symphony was recorded shortly after Stokowski gave the New York premiere Jan. 27, 1949, and was highly praised when originally issued. This is the original version as the composer later revised the scherzo. About a decade ago this recording was briefly available on Sony Classical in their "British" series (SMK 58933, coupled with Dimitri Mitropoulos/NYP recordings of the composer's Symphony No. 4 and Tallis Fantasia). It's great to have it back in this splendid remastering. The vivid performance of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet is played with Stokowski's effective soft shimmering ending. Mozart's Haffner is a welcome addition to the conductor's limited Mozart recordings, and filling out the CD we have two rarities. American composer Thomas Jefferson Scott wrote From the Sacred Harp at the suggestion of the conductor who included it in a NYP concert of Jan. 30, 1949 recorded for inclusion on V-Disks which provided entertainment for US servicemen after World War II. The composer's brief introduction heard on the V-Disk is included on Cala's CD. Finally we have a stunning performance of the Polka and Fugue from Weinberger's Schwanda, the only time Stokowski conducted music of this composer It's a rouser in every sense and even though the mono broadcast sound conveys the dynamic interpretation, it's unfortunate we don't have it in better sonics.
Willem Mengelberg first presented Bach's St. Matthew Passion on Palm Sunday 1899, after which it became a highly anticipated annual event. His performance is on a grand, Romantic scale, with six veteran soloists. It is not totally complete: producer Mark Obert-Thorn points out in his notes that Mengelberg made a number of cuts, particularly a large one from No. 49 to No. 54. How fortunate we are that the Dutch radio recorded the concert April 2, 1939 which Philips issued on LP, much later on three CDs (416 206). Now the only Philips edition available is their Duo series issue (462 871) in which they made the questionable decision to further truncate the work so it would fit onto two CDs. Naxos has solved the problem simply by using three well-filled CDs which give the collector Mengelberg's St Matthew plus all of his other Bach recordings as listed above. This superbly remastered St. Matthew—plus the other Bach recordings—costs less than the abbreviated Duo issue. Another remarkable Naxos/Mark Obert-Thorne product!
Pearl's CD is of major importance to opera collectors as it offers excerpts from two live Covent Garden performances: Otello, June 17, 1926, and Faust, June 22, 1928. Notes by Prof. Stanley Henig and producer Roger Beardsley tell of the manifold problems in making these recordings, particularly contract difficulties—some singers were not under contract to Gramophone Company/HMV and the late legendary producer Fred Gaisberg was not permitted to record these artists. A particular loss is Lotte Lehmann's Desdemona (although her "Willow Song" recorded in 1924 can be heard on another Preiser CD), and John Charles Thomas's Valentin. We can hear one of the great interpreters of Otello, Giovanni Zenatello, in splendid voice—but, unfortunately, not the opening Esultate! Giuseppe Noto is a superb Iago, Vincenzo Bellezza conducts. The Faust excerpts recorded two years later give us the opportunity to hear the great Feodor Chaliapin in a live performance of highlights from a role for which he stated he had little sympathy. The legendary bass and conductor Eugene Goossens disagreed about tempi, obvious at times in this performance. Tenor Joseph Hislop is extraordinary in the title role. Nothing is said about him, so here are a few facts. He was born in Scotland in 1884, made his debut at the Stockholm Royal opera in Faust, later appearing at Covent Garden, La Scala and in America, later settling in Gothenberg where he taught and was director of the Municipal Theater and Conservatory. Pearl's CD cover proclaims these are "The First Live Recordings" which is rather ambiguous. They aren't the first live opera recordings—Mapleson had recorded live at the Met more than two decades earlier, and the HMV/Gaisberg crew already had recorded (May 1926) excerpts from Mefistofele with Chaliapin, which will be included in the next Pearl CD in this series. Recorded sound is remarkably vivid and there are occasional abrupt beginnings and endings. This is a worthy addition to the operatic CD catalog.
Paul Van Kempen, born in the Netherlands May 16, 1893, began his musical career as a violinist with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra where he was highly influenced by Willem Mengelberg. His first major conducting position was in 1934 when he was appointed conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic where he remained for eight years. Although he remained active in Hitler's Germany throughout the war years, he eventually was permitted to return to the Netherlands in 1949 when he became conductor of the Hilversum Radio Philharmonic. In 1953 he was made music director in Bremen, but died December 8, 1955 just as his career was beginning to flourish.
In past years, Van Kempen was better represented on CD than he is now. In 1995 Berlin Classics issued a CD (0090722) of recordings made about 1950 of Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture,Beethoven's Symphony No. 8, Schubert's Unfinished, and Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. Philips had a 3-CD set of all of his Tchaikovsky recordings, made in 1951with the Concertgebouw (Symphonies 5 and 6, Capriccio italien, Slavonic March, Romeo and Juliet, 1812 Overture), and in 1955 with the Lamoureux Orchestra (Serenade for Strings, Suite No. 4). Philips also issued a twin-CD set of the conductor's vivid performances of Beethoven's Symphonies 3, 7 and 8 recorded in the '50s with the Berlin Philharmonic (438 533). DGG issued in Japan Van Kempen's May 1943 recording of Symphony No. 9 by Schubert; there might have been other reissues as well. Van Kempen's performance of Rossellini's Stampe della vecchia Roma can be found in the first Concertgebouw anthology (see REVIEW). Fortunately still available is the splendid set of Beethoven's works for piano and orchestra recorded in 1953 with Wilhelm Kempff and the Berlin Philharmonic, as well as earlier Dresden recordings with Kempff of Beethoven's Concerto No. 3 and Mozart's Concerto No. 20. The conductor also can be found in DGG's 13-CD Centenary Edition conducting a Mozart Rondo with Kempff, Nicolai's Merry Wives of Windsor Overture and the finale from Schumann's Cello Concerto with Enrico Mainardi.
We are indebted to Tahra for these three twin-CD sets which make available many Van Kempen recordings previously not on CD, even though all are not among the conductor's finest recordings. Volume I includes a brief bio of the conductor, Volume II contains the first part of a discography by Michael Gray covering from 1929 through 1950, along with pictures of two of the original 78rpm labels, and Volume III continues Gray's discography, from 1951-1955 (the LP era), with pictures of two of the original LP covers. Liszt's Les Préludes, recorded in 1937 with the Berlin Philharmonic, is remarkably staid—one would never suspect Van Kempen had performed this work with Mengelberg conducting when he was a violinist with the Concertgebouw. The Haydn, Sibelius and Schubert symphonies from May 1943 were recorded for Polydor with somewhat dry sound suggesting they were not recorded in the Concertgebouw. The Schubert is strongest of the three; it's surprising that the beginning of the Sibelius, with its horn error, wasn't redone. Horn slips also occasionally diminish the Telefunken studio recording of Bruckner's Symphony No. 4. The first two movements of Dvorak's New World symphony, from a live broadcast in 1952, are all that remain of a fine interpretation although the Hilversum Radio Orchestra, of which Van Kempen was director from 1949-1953, sounds rather tentative. A pianist almost unknown today, Adrian Aeschbacher, is sterling soloist in Concerto No. 2 of Brahms recorded in 1952, nine years after a concert performance with the same artist and the BPO conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler (available on Tahra 1006). The two Wagner recordings are excellent; the La Scala orchestra plays superbly and the early Decca recording has fine sonics. While William Tell is surprisingly tame, Kempen's Benvenuto Cellini blazes, as intense a performance as Kempen's Concertgebouw recordings of Tchaikovsky's Marche slave and Pathétique made the same month in Amsterdam. There's much of interest in these sets, but you might have difficulty finding them. If so, they can be acquired directly from Tahra (http://www.tahra.com). Today's collectors surely would welcome reissue of the conductor's Philips recordings of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, in new, improved remasterings.
R.E.B. (June 2004)