Tuesday, July 08, 2003

[7/8/2011] Recordings note: The Budapest's stereo Beethoven and James Levine's RCA Mahler (continued)



Short of learning that the CD remastering is inadequate, I can't imagine anything saving me from (re)buying the Budapest Beethoven set, which I've long treasured on LP. The conventional wisdom has always been that the Budapest's early-'50s mono Beethoven cycle is the one to have, that the stereo remake is indulgent and less well played. Like so much conventional wisdom, well, I don't think so. The stereo cycle has stupendous richness of humanity and string playing (though the latter is the sort of thing that tends not to translate well to CD). For the price I can afford to gamble on the technical quality of the reissue.

BEETHOVEN: String Quartet No. 16 in F, Op. 135:
iv. Der schwer gefasste Entschluss (The difficult resolution):
Grave ma non troppo tratto; Allegro

Budapest String Quartet (Joseph Roisman and Alexander Schneider, violins; Boris Kroyt, viola; Mischa Schneider, cello). Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded c1961 [not from the CD!]

[Naturally this doesn't sound so wonderful to me now! But I picked this movement blind, with no time to do more than get it into MP3 form. Oh well. We'll see when the CDs arrive!]


It may surprise readers familiar with my perpetual hacking away at poor Maestro Jimmy Levine that when he came upon the scene I was a fan, before it began to become clear that his obvious virtues of clarity and precision were pretty much his only actual performing virtues, and that only at first blush did they conceal the gaping emptiness beneath. But that enjoyment extended to his early stab at a Mahler cycle for RCA, in the '70s, which I'm kind of surprised to be reminded eventually came to encompass eight of the ten symphonies, including a complete(d) Tenth (Deryck Cooke version). RCA conveniently pulled the plug, presumably on economic grounds, before committing to the really expensive-to-record symphonies, Nos. 2 and 8 -- though No. 3, which is the longest of the symphonies and also requires an alto soloist and chorus, was recorded, with the Chicago Symphony.

Now those eight symphonies have been gathered in a 10-CD box, one of a whole bunch of interesting reissues dumped out by the Sony BMG Classics operation. I don't remember loving any of the performances, but I did like them, especially the ones with the Philadelphia Orchestra (Nos. 5, 9, and 10), which perhaps simply out of habit provided some of the richness of orchestral texture for which the maestro has never had much use. At the $22.40 I've paid for the copy I've ordered, how could I resist? Even, as Amazon reviewers warn, with no notes or accompanying material of any kind. It will be interesting to rehear these performances.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor:
iv. Adagietto

Philadelphia Orchestra, James Levine, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded c1977 [not from the CD!]

Again, I don't have these CDs yet, so these shouldn't be considered proper "reviews." I just couldn't resist them. I'll report when I've had a chance to play with them.


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