Some outstanding issues and reissues of the season:
Beethoven: The Nine Symphonies. Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan. DG 2740172, eight records. By now it is an accepted fact that there is always room for another set of these tireless masterpieces. And you won't find any performances of all of them to surpass these, which are Karajan's second time around with the BPO. The first, second, fourth, sixth and eighth have a wonderfully alert yet relaxed manner when they should. There is none of the driven quality that was present in the fourth, for example, on the last visit here of these musicians. If the soloists are not the best on records, and the chorus a bit distant, the ninth is nevertheless one of the great accounts, especially in the slow movement.
Brahms: Violin Concerto. Itzhak Perlman, the Chicago Symphony, Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor. Angel 37286. None more beautiful in every way.
And while we're at it, Perlman has just made the Goldmark Concerto, with the Pittsburgh Symphony under Andre Previn, on Angel 37445. For its slow movement, alone, it is worth some of your holiday money. If you don't have the old Milstein, and you like the violin, you want this. It is paired with a topnotch "Zigeunerweisen" by Sarasate.
The Mendelssohn Octet has been recorded often. Once it was done by Arturo Toscanini and the entire string section of the NBC Symphony with such style and brio that I have waited for years for some new and inspired realization. Now we have it, and with the proper eight players: the Cleveland and Tokyo Quartets, on Victor 2532. Notice the opening tempo, the rising fervor, the impeccable changes in bowing and phrasing, the balance in sound. The scherzo, one of the great pages in all music, matches the opening, and for a wonder, the finale is sustained with no sense of lost impetus.This is one of the great recordings.
Leonard Bernstein is moving from country to country, orchestra to orchestra in recordings these days. Thus on Columbia 3455, you can hear him with the New York Philharmonic, the Westminster Choir and soprano Judith Blegen, in the Poulenc Gloria. Once past an overaccented opening section, the performance is gorgeous. Blegen makes the music sound as it rarely has since Adele Addison sang its premiere. On the other side is a Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms with the London Symphony and the English Bach Festival Choir, which could be any one of the good London choral groups. The results are excellent in what remains one of the top Stravinsky achievements.
The Liszt Sonata in B Minor. For years, about 45 to be precise, there has been no serious challenge to the recording made by Vladimir Horowitz, which is still available. Now comes Horowitz, on RCA 2548, to show how his mastery of the sonata remains unrivaled, and to open up new ideas about some pages of the music.It is again a gigantic account. In the huge moments, the Horowitz tone is almost more than even today's equipment will adequately project. At times I wish the piano were farther from the microphone, or the whole thing in a larger recording area. But the magical pedaling that always accompanies those immense moments keeps everything clear. The more you are willing to raise the volume while listening the better the new recordings sounds.
As for the quiet lyric passages, and those entwined chromatic scale melodies, they remain, as always, a kind of secret maze, whose center opens only to this incredible man. The richness of the recording is superbly enhanced by a Faure Impromptu, Op. 102, No. 5, and one of the last Nocturnes, No. 13 of Op. 119. This is music of an imaginative novelty that far too few can associate with Faure. Horowitz reveals every nutance in playing of superb beauty.
When Carlo Maria Giulini conduts the Chicago Symphony - see the Brahms Concerto above - the results are unsurpassed by any conductor and orchestra of my acquaintance. In the Bruckner Ninth Symphony on Angel 37287, the sound is equalled by the playing, and the latter has a splendor that mirrors the deep spiritually with which the composer filled the score.
Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra have lately reached new heights in sound as RCA has conquered every detail needed to reproduce their extraordinary playing. On 2528 Ormandy presents, as he has before, but never more tellingly, the "Tristan" Prelude and Love Death, the Prelude and Good Friday Spell from "Parsifal," and the overture to the "Flying Dutchman." In the "Parsifal" excerpts, perhaps, there is most clearly present the kind of unhurried breadth that makes this one of the finest of all recordings of the familiar music.
For those who want to remember this Christmas with sentiment and nostalgia, perhaps even trivia, Robert White's new RCA recording, 2450, called "I Hear You Calling Me," will bring back memories. To some they may be of John McCormack, who is White's obvious idol as he sings "Danny Boy," "Ah, Moon of My Delight," "The Lord is My Light" and a dozen more. For others, who may not know a thing about McCormack, White sings these ballads, which have at times been among the world's most popular songs, with a fine clear sound that suits them ideally. He is handsomely partnered by pianist Samuel Sanders.
Now for some of the great treasures of the past, just reissued:
Rudolf Serkin and Adolf Busch, on Odyssey Y 34639, play three Beethoven sonatas, including the Kreutzer and the G Major; both sonatas by Schumann, and the E Major Sonata by Bach. Most of this set, incidentally, was recorded in the Library of Congress.
On Odyssey 34644 the Budapest Quartet of 1952, with Roisman, Gorodetsky, Kroyt and Mischa Schneider, play the late quartets of Beethoven. You will never hear them better played, nor can I imagine that they ever were.
On Odyssey 34643, and sounding really wonderful, is the Budapest Quartet of 1932-36, when the Schneider brothers were joined by Roisman, with violist Istvam Ipolyi. Originally made by EMI, these records bring you the Brahms B Flat Quartet, Bartok No. 2, the Mozart in D, K. 499, Beethoven No. 8 and No. 13 in B Flat, the Mendelssohn in E Flat, and the Wolf Italian Serenade. Again we have, in the Wolf, a perfect performance. It makes you wonder why no other quartet players so thoroughly understood just how this short piece should go.
Finally, and in no sense any less magisterial than anything that has gone before, the Mozart Requiem, on Odyssey 34619, Bruno Walter is the conductor, the Westminster Choir, in some of its finest work, and for soloists at their very peaks, Irmgard Seefried, Jennie Tourel - you must hear her - Leopold Simoneau and William Warfield. the Requiem suffers from inadequate recordings these days. This one is a model in all ways.