Sunday, October 31, 2010

Budapest Quartet Beethoven Middle Quartets 1951-52

Earlier today someone asked me if I were going to do a Halloween post. As I was already working on these Budapest early 50's recordings of the Beethoven middle quartets, I will simply say, as a nod to All Souls eve, that it is downright scary that these fine and famous recordings are not on CD.

Bridge records has a set of the group doing the middle quartets in live performances dating 1940-1960, but I have been unable to find this Columbia commercial set, performances which for many set the standard for the time. One link promised to bring me to a site that had these performances in digital format, but the link led to a German photographic site, so I plowed forward with my own restorations.

If I can find the early and late quartets from this early fifties essay, I will put those up too. At present I have only the later stereo version of those works by the Budapest.

Have a bewitching time listening to these justly famous recordings.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Scherchen: Bach Cantatas 35 and 42

Recorded in Vienna in 1964, in stereo, this is one of the best in Scherchen's many notable Bach recordings. The recorded sound is better, Scherchen's approach to the music had developed a bit, but had not lost its sincerity ("Sincere" is the characterization of David Federman for the performances), the orchestra is secure and its playing stylish, without "authentic" affectations, and the performance was blessed with the best set of solists Scherchen was able to pull together for this project.

No. 35, "Geist und Seele wird verwirret", is a contralto cantata sung by the incomparable Maureen Forrester, the sensuous beauty of whose voice adds immeasurably to the spiritual import of the music, as odd as that may seem to certain manichean sensibilities. (I confess that the poems of St. John of the Cross, The Song of Songs, Bernini's Saint Sebastian speak more to me of the possibility of God than all the dry, questionable assertions of theologians and others who speak of what cannot be spoken through history. The creator of this universe, if there be one, is nothing if not transcendentally voluptuous.)

Number 42, "Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats", for the first Sunday after Easter, or Quasimodigenti, is an exquisite cantata, exquisitely sung here by the fine vocal quartet mentioned above -- Teresa Stich-Randall, Maureen Forrester, Alexander Young, and John Boyden. Listen in particular to the "Despair not" duet for Soprano and Tenor and try to imagine it sung more perfectly.

I believe that this record is the last of Scherchen's Bach Cantata recordings, the others having come much earlier. I have not seen a citation, nor to I own, any cantata recordings later than this. If it was, indeed, the last of the series, it was a stunning and fitting end to an important recording project. Scherchen died in 1966, mourned by many ever since.

Link to all files

Friday, October 22, 2010

Petri: Westminster Hammerklavier

This record was very kindly provided to me by a visitor to the blog, Ray Pratt. He mailed me the LP, even sending a second, clearer copy when he found one.

The performance is what finally made sense of this sonata for me. The difficulty I had "getting it", even through performances by brilliant pianists, including my beloved Rudolph Serkin, undoubtedly speaks to a lack in my musical insights and abilities, but I am grateful to finally be enlightened. Petri recorded the work earlier, and that recording was issued on a Columbia Special Products LP which I have long owned. While it went some way in lifting the veil of my incomprehension, I had to wait for this Westminster recording to finally find my way fully into the work.

My difficulty with the Hammerklavier has been embarrassing, a little bit like one's initial struggling to understand the subjunctive voice -- elusive and not really felt in one's bones. To finally hear the piece as a whole is deeply gratifying.

I replaced the original cover art photo included with this post with a much improved version that a friend of the blog, Jan Henrik Amberg, very kindly sent to me. Many thanks. The visitors here are so often so helpful; my occasional misanthropy is humbled

Links to all files