WAGNER:  A Faust Overture.  STRAUSS:  Don Quixote, Op. 35 ( Pierre Fournier, cellist, and Klaas Boon, violist).  Four Last Songs ( Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano).
Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orch/George Szell, cond.


RAVEL:  ShÈhÈrazade (Victoria de los Angeles, soprano).  Daphnis et ChloÈ (complete). (Netherlands Radio Choir).  Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orch/Pierre Monteux, cond.

Strength on strength in regard to historic importance on these two releases which show two leading conductors of the century at the helm of one of the world's greatest orchestras. Szell's CD opens (after a slightly tentative initial chord) with a stunning account of A Faust Overture of Wagner from a concert of November 27, 1966 and is completed with two works of Richard Strauss from a concert June 19, 1964 that he did record commercially with the same soloists—but not in Amsterdam:  Don Quixote with Pierre Fournier was recorded with the Cleveland Orchestra for Columbia/Sony, and Four Last Songs with soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in Berlin for EMI about a year after this concert. Fournier's Don is magnificent; he is ably assisted by the Sancho Panza of Klaas Boon, principal violist of the Concertgebouw. The only negative to this recording is that the producers have provided only one track for the entire work (39:46).

Schwarzkopf has been identified with Four Last Songs ever since her1953 EMI recording with Otto Ackermann conducting, a magnificent performance that has never been out of the catalog. Her later recording with Szell is not as assured vocally as her first, and it would be foolish to pretend that this live performance a year earlier shows the soprano in top form. No retakes and editing here as doubtless there were during her second EMI recording. Her artistry remains, but the voice is somewhat thin, breath control diminished. 

Pierre Monteux's Ravel CD is glorious beginning with a radiant account of ShÈhÈrazade from a concert November 20, 1963.  The Spanish sopranoVictoria de los Angeles has the proper fragile sound for these three exquisite songs and was in peak form at the time. The complete Daphnis, from a concert June 23, 1955, as well as ShÈhÈrazade, has been issued on CD before but have never sounded as good asthey do here. On both CDs it's obvious producers had access to original radio tapes, with well-balanced mono sound throughout. The Monteux CD lists "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Idomeneo" before the Ravel, but this music is not to be found on the CD, nor is it listed in the notes.

Needless to say, both CDs are highly recommended. .

R.E.B. (April 2001)