MENGELBERG and the CONCERTGEBOUW ORCHESTRA
VOLUME II: SUPPÉ: Poet and Peasant Overture
1932). STRAUSS: Perpetuum Mobile (rec. May 1932). TCHAIKOVSKY: Waltz
from Serenade for Strings (rec. May 1928). Romeo
and Juliet Fantasy
Overture (rec. May 1930). Symphony No. 4 in F Minor (rec. June
1929). Symphony No. 5 in E Minor (rec. May 1928). BIZET: Adagietto
from L'ArlÈsienne (rec. June 1929). GRIEG: Two Elegaic
Melodies (rec. June 1931). MAHLER: "Adagietto" from
Symphony No. 5
(rec. May 1926). RAVEL: BolÈro (rec. May 1930). ALTERNATE
TAKES: BEETHOVEN: Coriolan Overture (rec. May 1926). Egmont Overture
(rec. May 1926). WAGNER: Tannh”user Overture (rec. May 1926).
MENDELSSOHN: Scherzo from A Midsummer Night's Dream (rec.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 (mvts. 2 and 3) (rec. June 1927). Waltz
from Serenade for Strings (rec. May 1928)
Pearl issued these two major sets in 1993. They are major releases in the field of historic recordings. The amount of work that went into preparing these six CDs is mind-boggling. To be able to find mint or near-mint copies of all of these recordings, and to transfer them as flawlessly - and caringly - as they are here, is an almost superhuman task, ably achieved by the expertise of Mark Obert-Thorn, who has achieved the near impossible. There were many technical problems -- all overcome -- including pitch changes on occasion from the beginning of a 78 rpm side to the end. Can you imagine what was involved in joining together the four sides of Ravel's BolÈro? Surface disturbance and noise is minimal with no diminution of high frequencies. Hats off for a job magnificently done!
Performances offer a total view of the Mengelberg style, particularly portamento and vibrato, high energy and almost perverse interpretive views. There has never been a performance of Tchaikovsky's Fourth like this one, which many may find irritating, particularly in the finale. The same composer's Fifth has major cuts in the finale, but the added cymbal just before the closing pages is a stroke of genius (topped only by Paul Van Kempen in his 1951 recording with the same orchestra, where he uses two cymbals). No question whatever that the most important recording of the group is the 1926 Mahler Adagietto; Mengelberg and Mahler were close friends and worked closely together. In 1920 Mengelberg led a festival of all of Mahler's orchestral works, and we can assume that Mengelberg's interpretations were approved by Mahler. And we must not forget Mengelberg's live 1939 recording of Mahler's Fourth, a performance that Bernhard Haitink feels is far too indulgent, although there is no doubt that this is the way he felt it should be performed. Mengelberg's Bach, with its huge string sound, surely will not appeal to purists, but there is no question of the rightness of the concept.
All is not perfect. This BolÈro is untidy, the Mendelssohn Scherzo odd to say the least. But there are supreme glories - the 1932 Tannh”user Overture (the late Charles Gerhardt felt the brass sound in this was among the most beautiful he had ever heard), the super-dramatic Les PrÈludes, the grandeur of the Weber overtures, the power of all of the Beethoven works. Just listen to the sheer ebullience in the performance of Perpetual Motion (with its minor horn slip at 1:33), and marvel at the incredible success Columbia's engineers had more than 70 years ago in capturing superb orchestral sound. I have read that Mengelberg very much enjoyed the recording process and that sometimes his enthusiasm at the end of a "take" would be marked by a sound of pleasure; the side would have to be redone - I wonder if any of those out-takes exist? It'd be fascinating to hear. In the meantime, these two superb sets are essential for all serious collectors of orchestral recordings. However, both have been deleted. Naxos is in the process of remastering and reissuing all or most of these recordings.
R.E.B. (AUG. 2000)