WHEN CARLOS PAITA's first record, a collection of Wagner overtures and preludes with the New Philharmonia W Orchestra, was issued here in 1969, Irving Kolodin found it "necessary to report that this recording of the Tristan Prelude and Love-Death is the best to be heard in years, on a plane of musical perfection and emotional eloquence rarely heard since the passing of Furtwa ngler, Knappertsbusch, Beecham and . . . Toscanini." Kolodin cited Paita's "almost complete adherence to Wagner's repeated injunctions . . . which are often ignored by some who think they know the composer's mind better than he did," and summed up: "It is to Paita's great credit that he can be both correct and exciting."
Two of the conductors mentioned by Kolodin -- Furtwa ngler and Toscanini -- were Paita's gods when he was developing his craft in his native Argentina, and Furtwa ngler's widow became one of his supporters when he settled in Switzerland in the 1960s. Among his other supporters are several Swiss admirers who created a record company -- Lodia -- last year to give Paita's art wider circulation. The Lodia discs have become available here as Paita is about to make his debut as guest conductor with the National Symphony Orchestra this week.
Paita, who grew up in the electronic era (he's now 49), is especially aware of the value of recordings and of the medium's capacities. He knows what is involved in getting the sound he wants on discs, and follows up his sessions by supervising the mixing and mastering..
All of his recordings issued here until now came out in London/Decca's "Phase 4" series, a series actually produced by pop-oriented people and mastered to achieve splendiferous sonic effects. It was when his prize-winning recording of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, issued originally on French Decca, was slated for "Phase 4" treatment that Paita balked. His backers then bought up all his existing recordings, enabled him to "de-Phase 4" them for reissue on Lodia, and also initiated a new series of digital recordings with the National Philharmonic Orchestra in London.
The Lodia discs, meticulously mastered, pressed by Teldec in Hamburg and sumptuously packaged, are among the finest being produced now under any label. There are only nine items so far, but most of them are unusually appealing, both musically and sonically. All the material is available on cassettes, too.
Both the earliest and the last of Paita's analog recordings won the Grand Prix du Disque, and are exceptional by any standards. The former is the Wagner collection which Kolodin greeted so enthusiastically (LOD 770); the latter is the Fantastique, with the London Symphony Orchestra, perhaps the most exciting performance of this work ever put on records and blessed with stunning sound many listeners have mistaken for digital (LOD 777).
The first of Paita's digital recordings, Tchaikovsky's Pathetique with the National Philharmonic (LOD 778), also belongs in the select handful of distinguished interpretations of this much-recorded work; it is exciting, yet never without dignity, and is extremely well balanced. His Brahms First (LOD 779), with the emphasis on lyricism, is more individualized but highly persuasive in its way. A new "Pictures at an Exhibition," with short pieces by Mussorgsky and Glinka as fillers, is being readied for release now.
Since Paita is making his Washington debut in Mahler's Ninth Symphony, his Royal Philharmonic performance of the Mahler First (LOD 776) may be of special interest. This has been a controversial item, receiving a most enthusiastic review from Mahler's biographer, Henry-Louis de La Grange, but put down as eccentric by some other critics. The extended Luftpausen in the finale may not be to everyone's taste but the sweeping intensity of Paita's vision makes this a convincing experience, and a memorable one.
Also notable among the analog material are a splendid collection of Rossini overtures with the Royal Phil (LOD 775), a majestic Eroica with the Scottish National Orchestra (LOD 774), and overtures by Berlioz, Beethoven, Wagner and Brahms with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic (LOD 771). The precision, intensity, wit, color and overall communicativeness of the Rossini performances perhaps tell us as much as the stunning Berlioz, Wagner and Tchaikovsky about this conductor.