DVORAK: Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 33. Sviatoslav Richter, piano; Bavarian State Orchestra, Carlos Kleiber conductor (Angel S-37239). There are at least two reasons why this lovely work had never sounded so good on records before.One is that, in honor of the work's centenary, some traditional adulterations of Dvorak's score have been removed and at last we hear what he wrote.
Another is that one of the paragons in the performance of romantic music, Sviatoslav Richter, has taken this essentially fragille creation under his wing and collaborated with Carlos Kleiber in a performance that enchantingly captures the work's simple emotional ardency.
Do not expect Dvorak at his most profound. The concerto is a lyrical, unaffected, occasionally ungainly work in which the young Dvorak is beginning to break the bonds of what sounds most like a prim and proper Mendelssohn model in the classical concerto to expand its expressive range. And we also hear him grope for that balance between the bucolic and the brooding that would typify so much of the best of his maturity.
As well, do not expect to hear the concerto better performed than here. Such superlative skills are rarely lavished on so nonvirtuoso a vehicle. The work is full of tricky scale passages that are hard enough just to play without breaking the line, much less with such unfailing pearly tone. Richter brings to this vulnerable product of an inexperienced but very talented young man the same kind of perfectly focused piano sound and evenness of articulation he brings to the most sublime Schubert. The concerto is full of octaves that with most any other pianist would become percussive.Not here.
But the performers realize that to inflate the work to a scale beyond its range would only show up its short-comings and overshadow its delights (those of the capriccio-like last movement in particular).
We've been hearing less and less of this Soviet piano giant in recent years; one hopes this performance is a harbinger of change.
RAVEL: Rapsodie espagnole. Menuet antique, Valses nobles et sentimentales, Alborada del gracioso. Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Haitink conductor (Philips 3500 319). Let there be no doubt that this is virtuoso Ravel playing. Each of these pieces is an obstacle course for the members of an orchestra, and when the course is run with the Concertgebouw's prowess, excitement inevitably ensues.
Do not expect here the emphasis on highly refined tonal niceties that would come from a Boulez or even a Karajan. This is not Ravel a la francaise ; it is Ravel a la hollandaise . Not that the details of Ravel's luxuriant orchestral panoply are obscured, it is just that the timbre is more generalized, a circumstance enhanced by the somewhat distant miking of the recording.
Haitink's way works best with the sweeping Hispanic dance sections of the Alborada . There is a brisk, intoxicating swing to the opening, and he handles the difficult cross-rhythms with precision. The muted trumpet triplets later on are amazingly exact. Maybe this isn't as atmospheric as some versions, but the execution is quite breathtaking.
Where the Haitink approach works less well is in the more atmospheric pieces. The opening Perlude de la nuit of the Rapsodie paints a rather overcast night. Its effect is one of studied deliberation and the problem isn't just the question of phrasing and tempo. This is where Boulez's ear for sound pays off. Ravel was one of the master orchestrators of all time, and usually he had in mind not just a generally well-rounded tone, but a particular timbre.
For this one must go to Boulez, or Karajan, or Munch, or several of the others among the 20 stereo versions of this work now listed.
MOZART, W.: Eine kleine Nachtmusik. MOZART, L. (Atrributed to Haydn): Toy Symphony. GLUCK: Dance of the Blessed Spirits, from Orfeo ed Euridice. SCHUBERT: Entr'acte in B flat from Rosamunde. HANDEL: Largo. BACH, J.S. (arr. Trevor Connah): Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Neville Marriner conductor (Angel S-37443). This is one of the most engagingly relaxed releases to come along recently. The indefatigable Marriner uses a fine, fluent performance of Mozart's extraordinary essay in cheerfulness as the foundation for an old-fashioned collection of popular chestnuts.
This may not be the definitive version of Mozart's peerless serenade. There are 28 other stereo versions listed, including another from Marriner. But certainly it is a most beguiling one, with the last movement delightfully pointed.
Purists are likely to cringe at the Stokowskian arrangement of the Bach - certainly a shock from a stylist of Marriner's credentials. In its way, though, it is in tune with the mellow spirit of the whole record.