The Classic Records Reissues – Part 2

[Readers may find the introductory paragraphs to the first part of this continuing survey useful – Ed.]

LSC 2150 – Prokofiev Lieutenant Kijé Stravinsky Song of the Nightingale Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner. Producer: Richard Mohr. Engineer: Lewis Layton. Recorded in Orchestra Hall, Chicago.

LSC 2150 presents two distinctly different Russian scores. Kijé is from the mainstream Prokofiev stable: folk tunes scored with great invention and combined with sections of sarcasm and wit. The Stravinsky tone poem, Song of the Nightingale, is music taken from his opera, The Nightingale. It is a score of great brilliance and demands the utmost virtuosity from every player. Here, under the watchful eye of Fritz Reiner, the Chicago Symphony delivers the goods. The score receives playing of both great delicacy and power. Kijé and Song of the Nightingale receive wonderful interpretations from Fritz Reiner, a conductor with more tricks up his sleeve than most. Special mention must be made of two particular orchestral contributions: Adolf Herseth’s trumpet playing in Kijé and Donald Peck’s fluting as the Nightingale are simply spectacular. It doesn’t get any better.

As for the recording? Fabulous! Nightingale shimmers and sparkles, yet bellows when the score dictates. It will leave you awed and exhausted. The recording of Kijé displays the wonderful Orchestra Hall in all its glory. The snare drum adds a little bit of extra dimension as its rolls reverberate around the back of the stage. The bass is very deep, with transients from quick tone bursts knife-edged yet easy on the ear. The recording’s clarity also helps in the Prokofiev. The placement of the offstage trumpet just outside the left hand entrance door to the stage sounds ethereal.

This reissue may be purchased with confidence. The overseers have taken great care with their tasks and produced a gem.

LSC 2201 – Moussorgsky (orch. Ravel) Pictures at an Exhibition Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner. Producer: Richard Mohr. Engineer: Lewis Layton. Recorded in Orchestra Hall, Chicago.

This justly famous record shines on magnificently through the Classic Records’ reissue. Much has been said and written about this performance. It’s all true! The Chicago Symphony’s ensemble is immaculate and the many solos are played with great distinction. This orchestra was full of stars, hired intelligently in the ’50s by Rodzinski, Kubelik and Reiner. Peck, Still, Herseth, Farkas, Druzinsky, Jacobs and Brody, to name a few, play with an integrity and individual style that has seldom been matched. As such, the solos are phrased splendidly and enjoy flawless intonation.

There are many great things to enjoy, but what really jumped out at me in this recording was Ravel’s astonishingly good orchestration. We’ve all heard the music umpteen times, and, like many comfortable things, we tend to take it for granted. Reiner and his heroes will refresh your memory of Ravel’s (and Moussorgsky’s) genius with unassailable playing and a rich interpretation. Like all great things, it just seems right. The magic continues with the warm recorded sound. The soundstage is wide if not deep, and imaging is similar to the hall perspective. Some audiophiles seem to think that each section of the orchestra should be imaged and separated into blocks of sound. In reality, this is incorrect. From my view, Layton and Mohr get the blend just right.

Turn the lights down and live the experience of goblins, troubadours, bustling markets, witches, caves and the squabbling of the rich and poor. It is a startling experience.

LSC 2398 – Khachaturian Masquerade Suite Kabalevsky The Comedians RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kiril Kondrashin. Producer: Richard Mohr. Engineer: Lewis Layton. Recorded in the Manhattan Center, New York.

I’m not sure why Michael Hobson bothered to release this RCA. Surely a wonderful recording, but little else, especially with music of such crushing mediocrity and performances of little distinction. Kiril Kondrashin, usually a shoe-in for cracker-jack performances, does little to help matters. As for the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra (a pseudonym for the New York Philharmonic, perhaps?), they boast a good violin section and fine clarinet soloist, but, on this recorded evidence, little else. The percussion section has nightmares throughout, playing continuously behind the beat. It must have been a real adventure! Pass on this one.

LSC 2449 – Gounod Ballet Music from “Faust” Bizet Carmen Suite The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden conducted by Alexander Gibson. Producer: Ray Minshull. Engineer: Kenneth Wilkinson. Recorded in Kingsway Hall, London.

This is a superlative record. Certainly, one of the finest in the RCA and Classic Records’ library. Journeyman Scottish conductor, Sandy Gibson, coaxes terrific playing from the orchestra members, who play with great ardor and accuracy. I am not a great lover of Gounod’s music or his Parisian musical establishment mentality, but this record does much to dispel my musical bias. The Faust ballet music is magical and winsome, and the playing is well nigh perfect. Musically, the Carmen Suite is superior, and is also performed spectacularly well. For an extra treat, RCA added Gounod’s charming Funeral March of a Marionette, known world-wide as the signature tune for the Alfred Hitchcock TV show. The clarinet tone on this cut alone is worth the price of admission.

This Wilkie Kingsway is of demonstration quality. The violins are very sweet, wind tone and percussion sound seem just right, and imaging is all that a lover of live music could ask for. Listening to the sound and performance reminds one of viewing huge Romantic canvasses. The sound comes in very broad brush strokes and can overwhelm the listener if played too loudly. But what a thrill! Along with LDS 6065 (see below), this effort showcases the brilliance of the RCA/Decca team like no other. Your purchase will reward you for many years.

LDS 6065 – “The Royal Ballet Gala Performances” Ernest Ansermet conducts music fromSwan Lake, The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Sylphides, Giselle, Coppélia, Boutique Fantastique and Carnaval. The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Producer: Michael Williamson. Engineer: Kenneth Wilkinson. Recorded in Kingsway Hall, London.

This is the stuff of which dreams are made. The Royal Ballet Gala is one of the finest RCAs recorded in London’s Kingsway Hall. The chunks of great ballet music are well served by orchestra, conductor and engineer. Performances are executed to a very high standard – the Royal Opera House Orchestra, both then and now, rank as one of the finest of opera orchestras. In fact, their celebrated status could live on indefinitely by virtue of their great RCAs!

Conductor Ansermet keeps the pace moving, giving the listener the impression of a dance event rather than a dramatic concert hall reading. With the exception of some of the Tchaikovsky scenes, the music is light and remains so under Ansermet’s gentle touch. Each ballet is given full attention by the players, something not always attained at Covent Garden during long ballet nights! The threat of eternity does have its merits.

The recorded sound is simply amazing! Lustrous is one word that comes to mind, accurate is another. Tonally, Messrs. Williamson and Wilkinson have used their considerable talents to capture the orchestra superbly. Woodwind and strings glow and resonate, transporting this listener to a time when simpler recording was better. Brass ring out thrillingly and percussion effects are very musical. Be it a bang, swish, rattle, crack or snap, each percussionist is situated perfectly within the beautiful Kingsway soundstage. Even the difficult-to-record sound of the celeste is captured in its purely mechanical form. Its delicate sound is heard to great effect during the Nutcracker – originating stage left, the sound decays across the stage of Kingsway with sparkling beauty. Wonderful.

This is a superb recreation by Classic Records of one of the great RCAs. The original notes and sumptuous booklet are models of excellence and beauty. Go on, treat yourself.

To be continued…