STRAUSS: Horn Concerto No. 1 in E flat, Op. 11. An Alpine
DOHNÁNYI: Variations on a Nursery Song, Op. 25. Konzertstück
for Cello in D, Op. 12. Piano Concerto No. 2 in B minor, Op. 42.
"From the First Night of the Proms 1943"
GERSHWIN: Porgy & Bess
Finally on a commercial CD we have the magnificent recording of Strauss's An Alpine Symphony made in 1966 with Rudolf Kempe and the augmented Royal Philharmonic Orchestra! Originally recorded for RCA by the legendary team of Charles Gerhardt as producer and Kenneth Wilkinson as engineer, it remains a sonic showcase. Kingsway Hall was the venue, and Gerhardt and Wilkinson took full advantage of the hall's superb acoustics. Much of the story of the recording is related in Mike Ashman's comprehensive CD notes, although his statement that Gerhardt was "equivocal" about Kempe as a conductor really isn't true: Gerhardt mentioned to me several times how much he admired Kempe's artistry, and he wanted to record much more with him (including Elektra), but RCA wasn't interested. Kempe's RPO version of Dvorák's Symphony No. 9 for the Digest hopefully will be reissued; it is one of the best. At any rate, on Testament's new release we hear Strauss's mountain journey in all of its glory including the 20 horns, 6 trumpets, 6 trombones, organ, wind and thunder machines, and heckelphone—a total of 130 players. This is far superior to Kempe's 1971 Dresden remake (now available in a budget EMI set—see REVIEW). As a bonus, we have the Horn Concerto No. 1 with Alan Civil as sterling soloist recorded in 1967 engineered by Wilkinson but produced by George Korngold. This is a most welcome release!
The Praga Digitals label is issuing a series of worthy older recordings in digital DSD remasterings on SACD in "surround sound." This issue of recordings by Hungarian pianist-composer Ernö Dohnányi is of keen interest. The Variations on a Nursery Song is a favored work of mine, and it is of interest to hear the composer's own interpretation. The two piano/orchestra works were recorded for EMI with Sir Adrian Boult and the RPO, issued on an Angel LP, long out of print, and it seems this is their first release on CD. Even though Dohnányi was 79 in 1956 at the time they were made, he still had a formidable technique. Janos Starker's 1957 recording of Konzertstück is another welcome reissue. CD program notes are sophomoric; perhaps they make more sense in the French and German translations. Even though I welcome this issue, there is a question of why this is issued on SACD in artificial "surround sound" —and at super premium price. The sound is excellent early EMI stereo, but one can achieve the same aural effect just by playing the stereo channels over multiple speakers.
We all are very familiar with the fabulous BBC Proms concerts, and particularly the various Last Night of the Proms that have been issued either on CD or DVD. Well, here is The First Night of the Proms (or what of it was in the archives) recorded June 19, 1943. This CD contains 77:17 of the concert; some of the works on the program exist but in very poor sound, so here we hear the best of what is available, and it is well worth a listen. A varied program features Moura Lympany in brilliant form in two movements from the Saint-Saëns concerto, and an oddity is American composer Lamar Stringfield's 9-minute A Negro Parade. Stringfield (1897-1959) was founder of the North Carolina Symphony and conducted it from 1932-1938. It is an example of Sir Henry Wood's imaginative programming; this would be the final concert conducted by Wood, who died the following year after leading the concerts for almost a half-century. The sound is surprisingly good for the time. Of great historic interest!
Another treasure from the vaults—this time from Berlin, a 1952 live performance before a very appreciative audience of Gershwin's Porgy & Bess. Eleven performances were given as part of the Berliner Festspiele—the fifth is heard here.The original tapes had been forgotten for a half-century. This production is by the Everyman Opera Company which had been organized the year before for the purpose of touring this opera across the globe. Performances were given in Berlin, Vienna, London, and Moscow, as well as Broadway. The cast could not be bettered. This is an historic performance, and the mono sound is perfectly balanced and of remarkable quality. Text is not provided but there is a synopsis for all 58 tracks. Highly recommended!
R.E.B. (January 2009)