ANTHOLOGY OF THE ROYAL CONCERTGEBOUW ORCHESTRA - Volume III

BACH: Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052 (Glen Gould/Mitropoulos/Aug. 10, 1958, Salzburg). SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 4 in C minor (Rosbaud/Feb. 29 (sic), 1961). Symphony No. 8 in B minor (Ormandy/Nov. 12, 1967). HINDEMITH: Mathis der Maler (Ormandy/Nov. 12, 1967). MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 3 in G, K. 216 (Valery Klimov/Ormandy/Nov. 12, 1967). MAHLER: Symphony No. 7 in E minor (Haitink/Nov. 16, 1969). BRAHMS: Tragic Overture (Monteux/May 14, 1962). STRAUSS: Don Quixote (Fournier/Szell/June 19, 1964). WAGNER: Brünnhilde's Immolation (Nilsson/Monteux/July 1, 1963). SCHOENBERG: Piano Concerto (Bruins/König). HEPPENER: Eglogues (Jochum/Mar. 21, 1965). SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2 (Szell/Nov. 26, 1964). MARTIN: The Four Elements (Haitink/Dec. 19, 1965). Six Jedermann Monologues (Vessières/Jochum/Oct. 28, 1962). RAVEL: Shéhérazade (Angeles/Monteux/Nov. 20, 1963). BARTÓK: Concerto for Orchestra (Leinsdorf/June 17, 1965). Violin Concerto No. 1 (Menuhin/Boulez/June 29, 1966) NONO: Il canto sospeso (Hollweg/van Sante/Lenz/Boulez/Jan. 17, 1965). DUTILLEUX: Métaboles (Szell/Nov. 27, 1966). MENDELSSOHN: Symphony No. 3 (Maderna/July 14, 1965). BRITTEN: Les Illuminations (Pears/Colin Davis/Feb. 23, 1966). VARÉSE: Ionisation (Maderna/Jan. 12, 1968). Déserts (Maderna/April 17, 1966). BERG: Five Orchestral Songs (Lukomska/Maderna/Jan. 14, 1968). Three Orchestral Pieces (Rosbaud/Feb. 1, 1961). WEBERN: Four Songs (Lukomska/Maderna/Jan. 14, 1968). HENZE: Double Concerto for Oboe and Harp (Heinz & Ursula Holliger/Henze/Oct. 27, 1968). SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 6 (Kondrashin/Dec. 20, 1968). STRAVINSKY: Fireworks (Henze/Oct. 31, 1968). Song of the Nightingale (Boulez/Feb. 25, 1960). PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 1 (Ancerl/Feb. 23, 1969). LUTOSLAWSKI: Musique funèbre (Lutoslawski/May 11, 1969). Three Poems of Henri Michaux (NCRV Ens/Waart/May 11, 1969). Jeux vénitiens (Maderna/Mar. 5, 1967). KETTING: Symphony No. 1 (Rosbaud/Feb. 1, 1961). BACEWICZ: Music for strings, trumpet and percussion (Rowicki/Jan. 25, 1962). ESCHER: Nostalgies, Op. 21 (Devos/Haitink/Feb. 18, 1962). DEBUSSY: Jeux (Boulez/July 6, 1961). DALLAPICCOLA: Variations for Orchestra (Rosbaud/Feb. 29, 1961). BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 8 (Monteux/May 14, 1962). VERMEULEN : Symphony No. 1 (Haitink/May 5, 1964). VERDI: Falstaff (Corena/Capecchi/Alva/Freni/Ligabue/Barbieri/Giulini/June 20, 1963). Victor Borge in Concertgebouw

RCO LIVE RCO 05001 (14 CDS) TT: 17 hours 24 min.
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Despite rumors some months ago that the RCOA series might be discontinued (fortunately unfounded), here we have Volume III, a 14-CD set that contains much of interest, but surely—for this collector—doesn't live up to its potential. For me, ideally that would concist of some of the outstanding performances of great symphonic music played by this magnificent orchestra, recorded in the extraordinary acoustics of the Concertgebouw with the usual Radio Nederland sonic expertise. During the decade represented in this set (1960-1970) the Concertgebouw Orchestra's programming often emphasized contemporary music and that surely is reflected in this album. We have well over five hours of music by Martin, Varèse, Berg, Webern, Henze, Lutoslawski, Nono and Dallapiccola as well as Dutch composers Ketting, Escher, and Vermeulen, and Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz's Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion, an 18-minute three-movement work of imagination and vivid scoring. However, most of the rest is of limited interest to many collectors. One can understand an orchestra's allegience to their native composers, but works by the three Dutch composers are prosaic at best; I cannot imagine how they talked Hans Rosbaud into conducting Ketting's Symphony No. 1 for three performances in 1961. No one would question these "modern" works are superbly performed, and it is a salute to the Concertgebouw Orchestra that they play them so brilliantly. But I shall probably not return to these recordings, particularly Lutoslawski's Three Poems of Henri Michaux, parts of which sound like a riot in a subway. In more standard repertory, does anyone really need Bruno Maderna conducting Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3? The date given for Rosbaud's Schubert Symphony No. 4 is not accurate—1961 was not a "leap year," and this brings to question dates given for other performances.

Four of these performances are useless duplications of performances that have already have been issued on CD: the Fournier/Szell Don Quixote, Ravel's Schéhérazade with De Los Angeles and Monteux, and Ancerl's Prokofiev Symphony No. 1. Shostakovich's Symphony No. 6 is a performance identified from December 20, 1968 with Kiril Kondrashin conducting. The same work was included in the now-discontinued Philips multiple-CD series of Kondrashin live performances, with the date given as January 21, 1968. It's odd Haitink's Mahler Symphony No. 7 is included as we already have his magnificent live performance of this music from a concert December 25, 1985 included in the Philips Dutch Masters Kerstmatinees Mahler set; this one dates from much earlier: November 16, 1969. Haitink made two commercial recordings of the work, December 1969 and a digital recording in December 1982 included in the Philips set of Haitink commercial Mahler symphony recordings—did we really need another one?

There are, of course, many rewarding and intriguing performances. Verdi's Falstaff in this production, called by one critic "the most perfect Falstaff," was given six times in three locations during the 1963 Holland Festival and was a tremendous success for good reason—the cast is outstanding (including a very young Mirella Freni), Carl Maria Giulini's conducting masterful, and the opera had the luxury of one of the world's greatest orchestras in the pit. Falstaff occupies more than one CD; the second is filled out with Vermeulen's prosaic Symphony No. 1, musically many leagues below the magnificent fugue that ends Verdi's masterpiece. Birgit Nilsson's Wagner represents her in 1963 in the prime of her fantastic career. Unfortunately this recording, made July 1, 1963 in Kurhaus, Scheveningen, has the worst sound of the set, quite thin and unpleasant. Glenn Gould's Bach concerto recorded at the Salzburg Festival August, 1958 doesn't quite fit into the producer's decade concept, but is a welcome addition. It has been suggested that Eugene Ormandy's popularity in Amsterdam was partly because in a general way he resembled Willem Mengelberg who had led the orchestra for a half-century. Ormandy made a series of guest appearances with the Concertgebouw beginning in 1953 (through 1969) and by programming music of American composers was able to avoid conducting music by Dutch composers. In this set we have most of the concert of November 12, 1967, with Valery Klimov as violin soloist. It's unfortunate the concluding work on the program, Ravel's La Valse, isn't included somewhere in this set—instead, perhaps of Victor Borge's unnecessary (although amusing) 14-minute gig on the final CD. Of course, Pierre Boulez's live Stravinsky and Debussy are welcome additions to the catalog, although he has made commercial recordings of both works with other orchestras.

Eduard van Beinum conducted the first Amerstdam performance of Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra in 1947, and they recorded it for Decca September 20, 1948. This was not the first commercial recording made of the work as stated in the new RN program notes—the first was Fritz Reiner's Pittsburgh 1946 recording, two years after Serge Koussevitzky gave the premiere in Boston. The work was recorded three more times in Amsterdam: 1960 with Bernard Haitink, 1983 with Antal Dorati, and in 1995 with Riccardo Chailly. This performance conducted by Erich Leinsdorf is more than welcome. George Szell's fine Sibelius Symphony No. 2 is from a concert November 26, 1964; about a week later they made their famous Philips recording of the work. Also welcome are Yehudi Menuhin's performance of Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 1, and fifty-five year old Peter Pears singing Britten's Les Illuminations from a concert Feb. 23, 1966, which was the first of Colin David's many appearances with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. The two works of Varèse conducted by Bruno Maderna really aren't necessary; both were recorded, along with other orchestral works of the composer, in 1997 with Riccardo Chailly for Decca.

I'm glad to have this set, even though the repertory is too "modern"-based for my tastes. I'd trade all of the Nono/Dallapiccola et al for one of Haitink's superb live performances of Rite of Spring. This set is not inexpensive - 14 mid-priced CDs not available separately. As of now it is not available in the United States. Let us hope Volume IV will be more satisfying in content.

R.E.B. (March 2005)