Friedrich Wührer (1900-1975) was an Austrian pianist and academic, sadly almost forgotten today, who is possibly remembered only by collectors via his VOX recordings from the vinyl era. His forte was, as might be expected, Beethoven and Schubert but he played and recorded Chopin, Prokofiev, Schumann and others. Tahra has issued a four CD set of Wührer playing Beethoven containing the five piano concertos, the Triple Concerto and the last three piano sonatas (TAH 704-707). As I don’t recall listening to these performances before, there were no feelings of nostalgia or sentimentality attached. That said, I was totally absorbed into a world where musicians recorded those works that they understood and embraced, passing their pleasure along to the listener without the all too pervasive practice of “listen to me”. These performances unfold like a narrative, driven by Wührer’s joy filled playing. The collaborating artists in the Triple Concerto are Bronislaw Gimpel and Joseph Schuster; the orchestras are the Pro Musica groups from Vienna and Stuttgart, the Bamberg Symphony and the Württemberg State Orchestra. Conductors are Heinrich Hollreiser, Walther Davisson and Jonel Perlea. The surprisingly fine sound completely belies the dates of the originals, 1953-1957, being sinewy, lucent and free of artefacts. The booklet promises a further Wührer collection. Reviewing this set has taken far too long because instead of writing the impulse to simply sit back and listen has been irresistible as I’m sure it will be for many others.
The London Philharmonic Orchestra has been issuing live concerts by their late conductor, Klaus Tennstedt of music by Haydn, Wagner, Bruckner and Mahler, the latest of which is the Mahler Second. The performance dates from 20 February 1989 with soprano Yvonne Kenny and mezzo Jard van Nes together with the London Philharmonic Choir (LPO 0044 2CDs at a reduced price). Like Bruno Walter, Tennstedt took Mahler deeply to heart and his performances reflect his total absorption into the score, far beyond the usual technical matters. There is an uncommon but perceptible celebration of life as a fleeting experience in every movement. This is achieved in part because there is a pulse, either heard or felt, and by ever so delicate fermatas both in the music and the rests. All this is accomplished without any histrionics. Running 93 minutes, some 10 to 15 minutes longer than other versions, this is a glorious presentation of Mahler’s masterpiece by a disciplined apologist. The archive recording was engineered by Tony Faulkner and excels in every respect including dynamics and perspective. This is a remarkable document.
DOREMI has issued a third volume in their Michael Rabin Collection composed of 14 more live performances (DHR-7970/1, 2CDs). The set opens with the Mozart Fourth Concerto, a work he never recorded commercially and only infrequently played in concert. Rabin may have thought that the strict classical repertoire was not suitable for his flamboyant virtuoso style in which he was a true champion. Nevertheless, he is graceful and stylistic. The next two concertos, Tchaikovsky and Glazunov, are works that he played frequently, heard here in performances appearing for the first time. Items from the legendary 1952 Australian tour were discovered only three years ago. The ABC hosted the tour but did not archive them and for over half a century they were considered lost. Rabin was a frequent guest on the Bell Telephone Hour and the June 18, 1955 items appear for the first time, including several gems with orchestra which he recorded later with piano accompaniment.
Universal continues to issue The Originals, re-mastered versions of critically acclaimed recordings from the DG, Decca, and Philips catalogues. Newly re-energised and dynamic sound make these much sought after by discerning collectors who look for the best performances in the best sound. From recent additions here are two that I remember being excited about when they were first published...
Mahler 9th Symphony played by The Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein (4778620). This prize-winning performance, live from the Philharmonie in October 1979, was seen on PBS-TV accompanied by Bernstein’s penetrating analysis of the work. From the opening there is a pervading aura correctly presaging a performance of uncommon perception and intensity. Karajan recorded the Ninth twice with his Berliners, in 1979-80 and then two years later an ardent live performance of September 1982 was issued. But neither of these could displace the transcendent Bernstein.
WHITE NIGHTS: Romantic Russian Showpieces; Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra and Chorus (4782122). This material suits Gergiev to a T: a crack orchestra and the expertise to galvanise them to transparent perfection. Selections include Russlan and Ludmilla Overture; Sabre Dance and the Adagio from Spartacus; The Polovstian Dances; Baba-Yaga and Kikimora; and The 1812 Overture. These pieces demand little more than fervour and technical excellence to bring down the house and that they do. This brilliant CD is a model of its kind.