SAINT SAËNS: Highlights from Samson and Delilah. TCHAIKOVSKY: Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin.
Risë Stevens, mezzo-soprano; Jan Peerce, tenor; Robert Merrill, baritone; Robert Shaw Chorale; NBC Symphony Orch/Leopold Stokowski. cond./Licia Albanese, soprano; Symphony Orch/Leopold Stokowski (Tchaikovsky).
CALA CACD0540 (F) (ADD) TT: 76:35

GRIEG: Holberg Suite. SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 63 (incl. rehearsal). FRANCK: Les Eolides. RAVEL: La Valse. BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5 (first movement); ROSSINI: William Tell Overture. "Garibaldi's War Hymn." Star Spangled Banner.
NBC Symphony Orch/Arturo Toscanini, cond.
GUILD GHCD 2298/99 (M) (2 CDS) (ADD) TT: 2:18:31

WAGNER: Ride of the Valkyries and Wotan's Farewell from Die Walküre. Dawn, Siegfried's Rhine Journey, Death and Funeral March from Götterdämmerung. Entry of the Gods into Valhalla from Das Rheingold. Forest Murmurs from Siegfried. Tannhäuser Overture. Rienzi Overture. Preludes to Acts I and 3 of Lohengrin. Prelude to Die Meistersinger.
Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Klaus Tennstedt, cond.
EMI CLASSICS 86248 (2 CDs) (B) (ADD) TT: 44:21 & 52:50

VIVALDI: Twelve Violin Concertos, Op. 8. Concerto in D for Two Violins, RV 513.
Louis Kaufman and Peter Rybar, violinists; Concert Hall Chamber Orch/Henry Swoboda, cond./Winterthur Symphony Orch/Clemens Dahinden, cond.
NAXOS 8.110297-98 (2 CDs) (B) (ADD) TT: 63:51 & 62:43

Cala's issue of this famous recording of excerpts from Saint-Saëns' exotic opera is of particular interest to collectors. It was recorded in September 1954, just pre-stereo, in New York's Manhattan Center. Stokowski up to that time had somewhat limited experience with opera although in 1929 he conducted concert performances in Philadelphia of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov (Stokowski's 1952 recording of highlights from this opera is available on Cala 535), and the U.S. premiere of Berg's Wozzeck in 1931 (his sensational Met performances of Turandot with Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli didn't take place until 1961). Samson and Delilah here has three superb singers: Risë Stevens had sung this role often at the Met and was in her prime; Jan Peerce, although he had never sung Samson on stage, is a strong foil, and Robert Merrill could not be bettered. Stokowski conducted from a vocal piano score with instrumental cues penciled in. Saint-Saën's opera has never sounded as voluptuous as it does here; the Maestro is a master of rich orchestral textures and sensuous flowing lines—and there's plenty of excitement in the familiar Bacchanale. When this recording was originally issued by RCA on LP it wasn't possible to include the "La victoire facile" section from Act II, although it was in the 45 rpm version, so this 6:22 track may be new to many collectors. Cala's superb transfer is from RCA's master tape. A bonus is the "Letter Scene" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin recorded February 6, 1951, sung by Licia Albanese who learned the role in Russian for this recording, which originally was issued on a 10-inch LP coupled with Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 of Villa-Lobos. Congratulations to Cala on another job brilliantly done.

Guild's twin-CD set contains two Toscanini-NBC broadcasts, including commentary. The first, April 27, 1940, consisted of works of Norwegian, Finnish, Belgian and French composers reflecting the conductor's concern about then-current political circumstances in each country. No question that the powerful performance of Symphony No. 4 is truly extraordinary with uncommon attention to detail. Toscanini takes a number of liberties with the score, as outlined in Robert Matthew-Walker's insightful notes, and inclusion of a half-hour rehearsal of the work is another plus. The other broadcast took place September 9, 1943 and was called "Music for Freedom" to commemorate Italy's liberation from the Fascist yoke. The first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is an obvious choice, more so than William Tell Overture, although the subject of that also is freedom from tyranny. Two patriotic works end the concert, Garibaldi's War Hymn, a loud bit of claptrap, and Star Spangled Banner which had been adopted as the National Anthem only twelve years earlier. Jonathan Wearn, producer for this Toscanini reissue series, has done what could be done with original recordings but the fact remains that quality of orchestral sound per se is miserable, tight, lacking in resonance and there is no low bass whatever. However, for Toscanini collectors there surely is interest here, and the set sells for the cost of two mid-priced CDs.

The late Klaus Tennstedt (June 6, 1926 - January 11, 1998) made these Wagner recordings 1980-1983 in Berlin's Philharmonie, with John Willan as producer and Michael Sheady as balance engineer. Sonics were dismal on original LP issues—thin and lacking in bass. Now in this budget 2-CD set the sound is improved considerably. Playing time is rather limited; EMI easily could have included other Tennstedt recordings to augment this—but if you're interested in this conductor's fine work, here's an opportunity to obtain these recordings quite inexpensively. And don't overlook EMI's budget issue of Tennstedt's recordings of Mahler symphonies (REVIEW).

This is the recording that started it all. Currently there are approximately 180 recordings available of The Four Seasons of Antonio Vivaldi, the first four of the twelve violin concertos of his opus 8, subtitled Il Cimento dell' Armonia d dell' Invention ("The Contest between Harmony and Invention"). The distinguished violinist Louis Kaufman had "discovered" this music in a library in Brussels, had a microfilm copy produced and recorded the first four concertos in December 1947 in Carnegie Hall with Henry Swoboda conducting the "Concert Hall Chamber Orchestra." The remainder of the concertos were recorded in Switzerland in 1950 with Kaufman as soloist conducted by Clemens Dahinden with members of the Zurich Radio and Symphony orchestras and the Winterthur Symphony Orchestra. Also recorded was the concerto for two violins RV 513 in which Peter Rybar played the second violin. Originally issued on Concert Hall Society, the recording of The Four Seasons won the Grand Prix du Disque in 1950. Restoration producers Victor and Marina Ledin, and restoration engineer Anthony Casuccio, have done a superb job in remastering this important monophonic recording. Another star for Naxos!

R.E.B. (April 2005)