Last summer there was a memorable concert in Toronto featuring Menahem Pressler and friends. Now 86 years of age, Pressler retains his dexterity, musical sensitivity and perfect ensemble. Not many of his fans remember or even know that before the Beaux Arts Trio, Pressler had an illustrious career including numerous guest appearances with many of the world’s finest orchestras. Circa 1950, dozens of solo recordings and concertos were available on LP, including works by Mozart, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Shostakovich and others. DOREMI has begun restoring many of these early recordings to CD, beginning with an all Mendelssohn disc (DHR-7889). The Mendelssohn First Concerto in a vivacious, sparkling performance conducted by Hans Swarowsky, is followed by an enthusiastic reading of the Piano Sextet opus 110 where Pressler is accompanied by a string ensemble led by violinist Daniel Guilet, who was to become a founding member of the Beaux Arts Trio. This performance foreshadows the emergence of Pressler as the consummate chamber musician. Delightful performances follow of the Six Children’s Pieces Op.72; the Variations Sérieuses Op.54 and the happy Rondo Capriccioso Op.14. Good sound.
An impressive release from Archipel (ARPCD 0433, 2 CDs) features the complete Beethoven concert given by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra conducted by Herbert von Karajan on August 27, 1955 with Wolfgang Schneiderhan playing the violin concerto. Schneiderhan, born in Vienna in 1915, was an all round musician; soloist, chamber musician and concert master of the Vienna Philharmonic from 1937 until 1951. Best known as a soloist via his many recordings on DG, his technical command of his instrument was blended with old time charm and on this live occasion he is in top form. Supported by Karajan he offers a most engaging and sweeping performance. The concert begins with the Coriolan Overture and concludes with an all-stops-out, energised performance of the Seventh Symphony. As a bonus Karajan and the Philharmonia play the Mozart 39th Symphony in Salzburg in 1956. Excellent sound and exciting dynamics throughout. A fine document.
The French label TAHRA has a new CD, “Le Violon en Fête!” (TAH 692) featuring two fine violinists of the past. It opens with a sublime version of the Brahms Violin Concerto played by Nathan Milstein with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra under Herbert von Karajan, recorded live on 17 August, 1957. We find the great Milstein on ‘a very good day’. A sublime treat, not exactly unexpected from this legendary player, whose flawless playing is well supported by Karajan and the Festival Orchestra, an inspired, if not ‘perfect’ ensemble. The Sibelius concerto follows played by Bronislaw Gimpel with the Berlin Philharmonic under Eugene Jochum recorded live on 21/22 April 1956. Gimpel did not have as brilliant a career as Milstein but based on the evidence presented here, he should have had. This is an exciting performance exhibiting immaculate musicianship, lush sororities and perfect intonation. Jochum was not known as a Sibelius conductor but his support is echt Sibelius. The sound on this disc is clear, accurate and dynamic. A fine addition to the catalogue.
Bavarian Radio is opening their vaults and offering some remarkable performances, the latest of which features Martha Argerich playing two popular concertos with the Bavarian Radio Symphony (BR 403571900701). This 1983 Beethoven First concerto predates her commercial recording of 1985 for DG. Such splendid music-making could lead the listener to believe that this is the best concerto of the five. Guest conductor Seiji Ozawa’s support is wholly sympathetic, with an engaging freshness that is at a finer level of excellence than his average recorded legacy. He certainly benefited from fronting one of the very best orchestras, honed to the highest level by Jochum and Kubelik. Argerich’s Mozart Concerto No.18 KV456, conducted by Eugen Jochum from 1973, while a good performance, is a few rungs below the Beethoven.
The “Philadelphia Sound” described the glorious sound of that orchestra during the reign of Leopold Stokowski and his successor Eugene Ormandy. A DVD from EuroArts (EA 2072258) of Ormandy directing sumptuous performances of the Stravinsky’s 1919 Firebird Suite and Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony were documented live in 1977 and 1979. What a mighty orchestra this was and their tonal richness and fullness of sound are something to hear. The 5.1 surround sound does full justice to these performances. Highly recommended on all counts.