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CD Review

Russian Orchestral Works

Orchestra dell'Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Roma/Jacques Rachmilovich
EMI Classics 66886 ADD monaural 75:26
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Paris Philharmonic Orchestra/Manuel Rosenthal
EMI Classics 66887 ADD monaural 76:46
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I'm an unabashed fan of Glière's epic "Ilya Muromets" Symphony, a macho display of Slavic muscle, and hearing Rachmilovich's 1949 recording added to my understanding of it. As with just about every other conductor, Rachmilovich uses a heavily cut edition. The complete score requires about 80 minutes to perform; Rachmilovich, like Stokowski and Ormandy, takes just over 48 minutes to describe the Slavic hero's "heroic deeds and petrification." This is not entirely a bad thing, because Glière's longueurs add bulk, but not necessarily brain, to the music.

Rachmilovich brings a welcome light touch to this awesome score. In so doing, he emphasizes an incipient athleticism in the music that other conductors miss. The 50-year-old recording doesn't hide the care that the conductor has taken to expose and shape Glière's picturesque details. Kabalevsky's three-movement Second Symphony was premièred in 1934. In spite of its minor key, its overall mood is positive; it is capped by a racy Prestissimo scherzando finale that contains the same kinds of unexpected rhythmic twists that make the composer's Colas Breugnon overture so popular. I have not heard it until now, so I can't comment on the relative merits of Rachmilovich's version, except to say that it shares the virtues of his Glière recording. Glinka's overture is given its due in Rachmilovich's spicy, sensitive reading. Because he was a protégé of the Slavophile conductor Albert Coates, it is not surprising that he is so good in this repertoire. The Roman orchestra, a veteran of so many operatic recordings, is not of the very first rank, but it is up to the demands of these scores. As with other Capitol Classics reissues, this CD was remastered by Wayne Hileman of Squires Productions. Just a little extra surface noise betrays the 78-rpm origins of these recordings.

An amusing typo in the booklet and on the inlay card insists that Glinka's dates were 1840-1957. This would have made him a two-year-old when he wrote Russlan and Ludmilla, and 117 at the time of his death! (The correct dates are 1804-1857.)

Who wrote Gaîté Parisienne ? Strictly speaking, it was not Jacques Offenbach but Manuel Rosenthal, who arranged and orchestrated the ballet from Offenbach's melodies in 1938. Rosenthal was born in 1904 to French and Russian parents, and he spent most of his career in France as a conductor who composed on the side. The recordings on the second Capitol Classics issue reviewed here date from 1952, shortly after Rosenthal had returned from the United States, where he had briefly served as the Music Director of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. The Scriabin and Loeffler both are works that Stokowski associated himself with, and it is interesting to compare the two conductors. Rosenthal is the cooler-headed of the two, and less of a showman. His Poem of Ecstasy doesn't writhe like Stokowski's; he seems more interested in its harmonies and timbres than he is in its (admittedly, somewhat fatuous) program. The Loeffler is a fine work, and unaccountably neglected. Although it contains a prominent role for piano, no pianist is credited here. Nevertheless, Rosenthal again chooses to emphasize the music's classical bearing, rather than the eroticism which bubbles under the tone poem's surface. The last half-hour of the disc (again, the inlay card gets this wrong) is devoted to a suite from Glazunov's ballet Raymonda. This score is less charming than The Seasons, but it still contains some grand ballet music in the traditional vein, notably the Grand Adagio. Rosenthal's skills as a ballet conductor come to the fore in this suite. The Paris Philharmonic Orchestra (what orchestra is this?) plays well, if without the personality that I expect from a French orchestra of this era. Despite EMI's warning about irreperable sonic problems in the Loeffler tapes, the sound throughout is very listenable; Hileman's digital remasterings make the most of these somewhat dated monaual recordings.

Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle