There can be few symphonies more downright lovable than the one Karl Goldmark composed under the title "The Rustic Wedding" (Die laendliche Hochzeit), and fewer still that combine warmth of heart and a real substance with the superb craftsmanship so evident in this score. It does not turn up often in our concert halls, and even on records it has hardly been overexposed. o Angel has just issued a new recording of the work by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Andre Previn (Sz-37662). It is a handsome performance, and the sound itself is impressively rich.
While this is the sort of thing that should win new friends for the piece, listening to it brought to mind Stravinsky's retort to the purists who complained about his "tampering" with early music. "You respect," he said, "but I love." Previn actually shows a great deal of affection for this work (how could he not?), but he seems a little self-consciously respectful, and the latter quality, as it does so often, tends to inhibit the former.
This is particularly apparent in the long opening movement, a wedding march with variations in contrasting character: The variations, or episodes, are marked off from each other too sharply, leaving precious little sense of flow and even less of spontaneity. The three inner movements are exquisitely done, but the concluding "Dance" is perhaps just a bit too tidily staged.
Much as there is to enjoy in Previn's recording, there is more in the earlier one by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic (Columbia (s-7261). Brnstein's response to the music is effortlessly natural -- "all-out" yet enormously polished. The performance does proceed with apparent spontaneity and, in a word, the joy that Previn just misses. Previn respects; Bernstein loves.
When the Bernstein version was issued about a dozen years ago it too seemed to qualify for the "sonic showpiece" category (it was one of the few really successful recordings made in what is now called Avery Fisher Hall). Now it is noticeably less sumptuous than the new Angel, but still pretty nice by any standards. However, if Deutsche Grammophon is looking for suggestions for Bernstein's next session with the Vienna Philharmonic (the orchestra that gave this work's premiere under the composer's direction and made the first recording of it under Robert Heger), "The Rustic Wedding" should be a knockout with that particular combination.
Goldmark is almost forgotten now except as "a friend of Brahms," though his Violin Concerto does turn up now and then. Another "friend of Brahms" -- whose own music is very well known indeed -- composed a violin concerto that is almost totally unknown. This, of course, is Robert Schumann, whose Violin Concerto is performed by Vaclay Snitil with the Prague Symphony Orchestra under Libor Hlavacek on a new Supraphon disc (1110.2288).
Schumann composed the Concerto in 1953, not long before before he was confined in a mental institution. He claimed the theme of the slow movement was dictated to him by the spirits of Schubert and Mendelssohn. Joseph Joachim, for whom he wrote the Concerto, had serious misgivings about it, and gave the score to the Prussian State Library with the proviso that the work not be performed till the centetary of Schumann's death. In 1937, however, Joachim's grandniece Yelly d'Aranyi (the famous violinist for whom Ravel wrote his. "Tzigane") announced that she had been visited by the spirits of her granduncle and Schumann himself, instructing her to retrieve the score and make the work known.
George Kulenkampff gave the premiere in Berlin in November 1937, Yehudi Menuhin gave the U.S. premiere the following month, and both recorded the Concreto. It has had few champions since then, but Snitil has made a new performing edition that makes the piece a little more tractable, and his performance makes a very strong case for it. It does not fit on a single side, as earlier recorded performances have done; the disc is filled out with Schubert's even less familiar Konzertstweck. It is an agreeable filler, though one might have wished for Schumann's own Fantasy, Op. 131, which Joachim did play (actually, there would have been room here for both). In any event, it would be hard to imagine either the Schumann Certo or the Schubert piece more persuasively performed, and both are worth knowing.