BEETHOVEN:  Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 36  (rec. May 14, 1936).  Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 (rec. May 22, 1938).  Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92 (rec. May 21, 1936).  Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61 (Louis Zimmermann, rec. April 18, 1940).

TAHRA TAH 420-421 (2 CDs) (F) (ADD) TT:  75:53 & 77:17


This is Tahra's "final set" of previously unissued recordings of Willem Mengelberg, four works of Beethoven from the early days of Dutch Radio broadcasts of Concertgebouw concerts (how fortunate we are that they not only broadcast many concerts but recorded them as well!).  Listening to these remarkable performances I am astounded by the conductor's total control and imagination. These performances are like no others (even those conducted by Mengelberg) and deserve a spot in any Mengelberg collection. he Pastorale is distinguished by a remarkable storm sequence; both this and the 1940 live performance are superior to the 1937 Telefunken recording (which can be heard on  Pearl GEMS 0074). Tahra states acetates for the 1936 Symphony No. 7 were in "pretty bad shape" and they replaced "most damaged parts with the identical passages from the recording of April 1940."  They have accomplished this with great success; it is not possible to hear their editing. And what a performance it is!  Equally welcome is the Violin Concerto from a broadcast April 18, 1940 with the orchestra's concertmaster, Louis Zimmermann, as soloist. This is the second available live recording of this work conducted by Mengelberg; the first was from a broadcast May 6, 1943 with Guila Bustabo as soloist (see REVIEW).  

Tahra includes in their notes comments on Mengelberg.  Musicologist Fred Goldbeck wrote, "Willem Mengelberg was the perfect dictator/conductor, a Napoleon of the orchestra....through non-stop rehearsal he transformed a sleepy little provincial orchestra into a world famous one...the intensity and precision of the strings, the triumphant crescendo, all became legendary.  His rehearsals were magnificent even though they were those of a dictator." Conductor Igor Markevitch wrote, "Willem Mengelberg...one of history's greatest conductors, combined the despot's intransigence with unlimited coarseness. Such human meanness is a cause of great regret, for here was a great musician who, after having brought glory to his country, ended his life in exile, lost and forgotten....(the orchestra) believed Mengelberg to be musically corrupting, a man who abused his power to dominate the soul of other men." And current Concertgebouw conductor Riccardo Chailly, has said ..."He was a dictator, but he was also a libertarian and incredibly  resourceful, impressive in his capacity to understand musical scores, and a perfectionist as far as sound is concerned.  But he was a tyrant, ideologically ambiguous and politically dangerous.  His interpretations were full of excesses and he took surprising liberties with the score.....he was not a nice man....Holland's true monarch....although he was an incredible manipulator, his daring and his genius made of him one of the giants of the 20th Century."

Let us hope these are not truly the last of the Mengelberg broadcast legacy.  Some of his Mahler performances were broadcast. Let us hope they exist somewhere. In the meantime, this TAHRA set is highly recommended even for those who have other Mengelberg recordings of the repertory.

R.E.B.(Sept. 2001)