1992 Records To Die For Page 11
Jerry Hadley, Candide; June Anderson, Cunegonde; Adolph Green, Dr. Pangloss/Martin; Christa Ludwig, Old Lady; Nicolai Gedda, Governor/Vanderdendur; Della Jones, Paquette; Kurt Ollman, Maximilian/Captain; others. London Symphony Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra; Leonard Bernstein
Deutsche Grammophon 429 734-2 (2 CDs only). Gregor Zielinsky, eng.; Hans Weber, prod. DDD. TT: 1:51:32.
As fate (aka the God of Record Reviewers) would have it, I received the new Candide just a couple of days after the missive from RL requesting the "Recommended Recordings" submission. I knew within ten minutes' listening that this would have to be one of my additions to the listing. As presented here, Bernstein's score emerges as arguably the best he's written for the theater, and the cast---especially Jerry Hadley in the title role---is hard to fault. Bernstein conducts with sensitivity and panache; the sound is clean, with tremendous dynamic contrasts.
Joan Sutherland, Turandot; Luciano Pavarotti, Calaf; Montserrat Caballé, Li;gu; Nicolai Ghiaurov, Timur; others. John Aldiss Choir, Wadsworth School Boys Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra; Zubin Mehta
London OSA 13108 (3 LPs, nla); 414 274-2 (2 CDs). Kenneth Wilkinson, Michael Woolcock, engs.; Ray Minshull, Michael Woolcock, prods. AAA/ADD. TT: 1:57:08
Together with the von Karajan La bohème, this seems to me to represent Pavarotti at his best: beautiful, apparently effortless singing, and a sense that he really means what he's singing about (a kind of meta-communication that transcends linguistic boundaries). Sutherland was considered an unusual choice in a role typically sung by sopranos of the Wagnerian mold, but I find her more vulnerable characterization works quite well. Add the ravishingly floated top notes of Montserrat Caballé, idiomatic conducting from Mehta, top-flight '70s London/Decca analog engineering (the CD almost a match for the original LP), and the result is a classic.
SCHUBERT: String Quartet 15 in G, D887
Juilliard String Quartet: Robert Mann, Isadore Cohen, violins; Raphael Hillyer, viola; Claus Adam, cello
Columbia SAX 2535 (LP). AAA. TT: 42:56
BEETHOVEN: Symphony 3 ("Eroica"), Coriolan Overture
Roy Goodman, Hanover Band
Nimbus NI 5122 (CD only). DDD. TT: 54:39
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony 5
RACHMANINOV: The Rock
André Previn, London Symphony Orchestra
RCA Victor 86801 (CD only). James Lock, eng.; Peter Dellheim, prod. ADD. TT: 63:00
BRITTEN: A Midsummer Night's Dream
Alfred Deller, countertenor; Elizabeth Harwood, Heather Harper, sopranos; Josephine Veasey, mezzo; Helen Watts, contralto; Peter Pears, Robert Tear, tenors; John Shirley-Quirk, Thomas Hemsley, baritones; Owen Brannigan, bass; Stephen Terry, speaker; others; William Lang, trumpet; Choirs of Downside & Emanuel Schools; London Symphony Orchestra, Benjamin Britten
London 425 663-2 (2 CDs only). Gordon Parry, eng.; John Culshaw, prod. ADD. TT: 2:24:12
BERLIOZ: Benvenuto Cellini
Christiane Eda-Pierre, soprano; Jane Berbié, mezzo; Janine Reiss, speaker; Nicolai Gedda, Derek Blackwell, Hugues Cuénod, tenors; Robert Massard, Raimund Herincx, baritones; Jules Bastin, Roger Soyer, Robert Lloyd, basses; Chorus of Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis
Philips 416 955-2 (3 CDs only). Hans Lauterslager, eng.; Erik Smith, prod. ADD. TT: 2:40:33
With only five recordings to nominate from over 30 years of stereo listening, I've decided simply to detail those which I find myself going back to most frequently for stimulation, both sonic and musical.
All but one are now available on CD, that one being the Juilliard Schubert G-major Quartet of 1963, familiar to me (and judged for sound here) in its British LP incarnation, but acknowledged on the label to CBS Epic origins. This is a perfect example of how to record a small ensemble for an almost-in-the-room effect: occupying nearly the full soundstage and carrying no more than a wisp of backing ambience, yet never sounding spikily overbright. I do respect the alternative, set-back approach for such music, but this particular recording has always struck me as vividly successful in placing the players just behind the loudspeakers. As for the performance, the work's intense drama and plaintive sadness are juxtaposed here with power and conviction which always bowl me over. I wrote in 1964 that it "should touch the heart and fire the enthusiasm of any Schubert lover," and I stand by that.
The opposite recording philosophy aims to take the listener out into an acoustic set around the players, and this was done with resounding success---employing the simplest of microphone setups---in Nimbus's 1987 Beethoven "Eroica" (XII-1), with the smallish "authentic" Hanover Band performing in a reverberant London church. Played at a decently high level (preferably via Ambisonic decoding or some equivalent, to enhance the "I'm right there" feeling), I find this recording fascinating in its unsophisticated naturalism. Just sample the opening of the coupled Coriolan: quite stunning. And the performances have that indefinable yet decisive feel of being real events, exhibiting a rare vitality and power which puts this "Eroica" at the top of my list despite vast competition.
Having praised a purist, deeply set orchestral recording, my next choice involves a more conventionally balanced, relatively up-front production, albeit contrived in the spacious Walthamstow Assembly Hall: RCA's 1965 Shostakovich Fifth. I keep going back to this as an example of just how splendid a large orchestra can sound via two-channel stereo. Its full-bodied yet brilliant impact and sense of depth within the texture are outstanding, while the massed strings in the Largo are superbly handled. (Footnote 1) And Previn's performance is masterly.
Finally, two operas: Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream from Decca (1966), and Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini from Philips (1972). The composer in the former and Colin Davis in the latter managed to generate such devotion and enthusiasm in their performance, and the two production teams to make such imaginative and dramatic use of space, perspective, and movement in their respective venues (Walthamstow and Brent Town Hall), that these recordings are forever being dipped into. I cannot imagine either the hallucinatory humor of Shakespeare/Britten or the riotous Renaissance kaleidoscope of Cellini/Berlioz ever being better served. The subtly shifting sonic veils in one and the dynamic panorama of the other are irresistible.
Footnote 1: RCA's UK recordings were usually captured by Decca engineer Kenneth Wilkinson, with Charles (Chuck) Gerhardt often producing, the same team responsible for the classic Reader's Digest recordings rereleased by Chesky.---JA
BRAHMS: Symphony 1 Jascha Horenstein, London Symphony
Chesky CD19 (CD only). Kenneth G. Wilkinson, eng.; Charles Gerhardt, prod. (Reissue: Bob Katz, technical dir.; David & Norman Chesky, prods.) ADD. TT: 57:56
Horenstein's trademark management of tension and release is evident throughout this blistering reading. Unlike Editor Lehnert, I wouldn't name it the greatest on record---there are too many contenders for that honor, with Furtwängler and Klemperer/Philharmonia my favorites on CD. Those two recordings, however, cannot compare with the vivid, lucid sound captured by the original Reader's Digest team and the Chesky remastering. One of the first few CDs to convince me that the medium wasn't just hype, but promise as well.
BRAHMS: Piano Concerto 2
Sviatoslav Richter, piano; Erich Leinsdorf, Chicago Symphony
RCA ???? (LP), 6518-2 RG (CD). AAA/AAD.
Richter's recording, taken shortly after a legendary live performance from the pianist's first US tour, is about as wayward and idiosyncratic as they come. It's also fantastically right, hair-raising in the first movement, lyrical and unashamedly rhapsodic in the slow. Leinsdorf, pinch-hitting for an ailing Fritz Reiner, is completely in sympathy with Richter.
Best part is, you get all the great sound of RCA in Symphony Hall, without the attendant tight-assed and tyrannical Reiner performance. (I haven't heard the CD version.) Addendum: The Howard Hanson recordings of Ives's Three Places and Symphony 3 have been reissued on Living Presence CD. The remastering is as good as I anticipated in my earlier contribution to the "To Die For" list, so this inexpensive, readily available CD must supplant the LP version. Good thing, too, as all my vinyl burned up in the Oakland Hills fire.