Friday, December 14, 2012

Sunday Classics preview: Three "K"s -- remembering three conductors who were great artists


The gossamer "Ballet of the Sylphs" from Berlioz's Damnation de Faust is played by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Rafael Kubelik in this 1950 EMI recording, from a four-CD Kubelik "Portrait," one of the treasures that came out of my nearly 17-pound Berkshire Record Outlet carton this week.

by Ken

I'd been good for so long. Oh sure, I usually scanned the new classical overstock and cut-out listings on the Berkshire Record Outlet website most every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and sure, I dumped stuff in my shopping cart. But that didn't commit me to anything, and I figured that by and large the things that interested me would interest enough other site followers that they would soon enough go out of stock -- "soon enough" in this case being "in time to protect me from actually buying them."

Every now and then, something appears that (a) I really want and (b) I know can't remain in stock very long. Which happened just recently with a CD issue -- finally! -- of the not-quite-complete series of Beethoven string quartets recorded by the Paganini Quartet for RCA Victor between 1947 and 1953. Not only have these never been on CD; I'm not aware of them ever being reissued on LP. And in fact, all the LP copies I've ever come across have been really chewed up. They may not have sold a huge number of copies, but the people who bought them apparently played the heck out of them.

What that means, when there's an item I really want, is that I have to take a look at my shopping cart, to see what might still be available. And apparently it had been long enough since my last order that, even though yes, a fair number of things I'd dumped in had indeed gone out of stock, there was a heckuva a lot of stuff still poised for purchase. I started studying the list like it was a work of scholarship, or maybe a primary source document. I tried everything in my powers (which unfortunately include only a small store of willpower) to jettison items to get the order down to manageable size. But still there remained something like 46 other items (CDs and DVDs, many of them of course multiple sets). What could I do? The flesh is weak.

I won't tell you how much the order came to in dollars, but in weight it came to nearly 17 pounds. Since it arrived earlier this week, andI've only begun to sift through the treasures. But I noticed a number of samplings from conductors of a sort I'm especially fond of.

It goes back to a point I was making just last week, contrasting performers who think they can assemble performances by tacking bunches of notes together following some rules they think they've found in some book or article with performers who understand that the only way you find you way inside a piece of music is by finding how and why it moves from the inside.

We've already heard a morsel from one of our "three 'K's," Rafael Kubelik's "Ballet of the Sylphs,' above, and we'll hear another Kubelik tantalizer in a moment, along with samples from our other conducting "K"s.

RAFAEL KUBELIK (1914-1996)

The most obvious thing I can think of to say about this opening movement of the Hindemith Symphonic Metamorphoses is that it makes a person want to hear the rest, doesn't it? (One of these weeks, one of these weeks.)

HINDEMITH: Symphonic Metamorphoses of Themes by Weber:
i. Allegro

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Rafael Kubelik, cond. Mercury, recorded 1953

RUDOLF KEMPE (1910-1976)

It was actually Kempe who set me off in this inquiry. The order included his Met Rosenkavalier broadcast, which turns out to be quite wonderfully conducted, and a very inexpensive compilation of his late Munich Philharmonic recordings of the four Brahms symphonies and two Bruckners. Here are two smatterings of Act I of the Rosenkavalier, the orchestral prelude and a bit of breakfast (after the Marschallin and Octavian have settled down from the athletic activity suggested by the Prelude), which soon develops into a different sort of frenzy.

R. STRAUSS: Der Rosenkavalier, Op. 59

Act I, Prelude

Act I, Breakfast Scene, Octavian-Marschallin, "Marie-Thérès!' Octavian!" . . . "Der Feldmarschall sitzt im krowatischen Feld" ("The Fieldmarshal sits in the Croatian forest")
The MARSCHALLIN's breakfast has been brought into her bedroom. Now OCTAVIAN setas himself close beside her. They breakfast very tenderly. OCTAVIAN buries his face in her lap. She strokes his hair. He looks up at her.

OCTAVIAN: Marie-Thérès'!
OCTAVIAN: Bichette!
OCTAVIAN: My darling!
[They continue breakfast.]
OCTAVIAN: The Fieldmarshal sits in the Croatian forest
and hunts bear and lynx.
And I, i sit here,
young as I am, and hunt what?
I am in luck! I am in luck!
MARSCHALLIN [as a shadow crosses her face]: Leave the Fieldmarshal in peace!
I dreamt of him.
OCTAVIAN: Last night you dreamt of him?
Last night?
MARSCHALLIN: I don't order my dreams.
OCTAVIAN: Last night you dreamt of your husband?
Last night?
MARSCHALLIN: Keep your eyes in your head!
I can do nithing about it.
For once he was home again.
OCTAVIAN: The Fieldmarshal?
MARSCHALLIN: There was a noise of horses and men
in the courtyard, and he was there!
The shock woke me suddenly.
No, look, look how childish I am.
I can still hear the noise in the courtyard.
I can't get it out of my ears.
D'you hear something too?
OCTAVIAN: Of course I hear something!
But does it have to be your husband?
Think where he is --
in Raitzenland, even farther than Esseg.
MARSCHALLIN: Is that really very far?
Well then, it'll be somethng else.
Then all is well.
OCTAVIAN: You look so anxious, Thérès'!
MARSCHALLIN: D'you know, Quinquin --
even if it is far --
the Feldmarshal is very swift, you know.
One time --
[She hesitates.]
OCTAVIAN [jealous: What happened one time?
[The MARSCHALLIN listens absentmindedly.]
What happened one time? Bichette! Bichette!
What happened one time?
MARSCHALLIN: Ah, be good!
You don't need to know everything!
OCTAVIAN [throwing himself on the sofa in despair:
That's how you play with me!
I am an unhappy creature!
MARSCHALLIN: Stop being difficult.
Now it's serious. It is the Fieldmarshal.
If it were a stranger
the noise would be outside my antechamber.
It must be my husband
who wants to come in through the dressing room
and is arguing with the servants.
Quinquin, it's my husband!

Risë Stevens (ms), Octavian; Lisa della Casa (s), Marschallin; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Rudolf Kempe, cond. Live performance, Jan. 18, 1956


Let's listen to just another minute and a half's worth.

[OCTAVIAN takes his sword and runs to the right.]
MARSCHALLIN: Not there, there is the antechamber!
There my warrant-holders are sitting,
and half a dozen servants.
[OCTAVIAN runs over to the small door.]
Too late!
They're already in the dressing room!
Only one thing to be done!
Hide yourself . . . [a short pause of indecision] . . . there!
OCTAVIAN: I'll jump in his path.
I'm staying with you!
MARSCHALLIN: There, behind the bed!
There in the curtains!
And don't move!
OCTAVIAN [hesitating]: If he catches me there,
what will happen to you, Thérès'?
MARSCHALLIN: Hide yourself, my dear!
OCTAVIAN [by the screen]: Thérès'!
MARSCHALLIN [stamping her foot impatiently]:
Be quite quiet!
[with blazing eyes]
I would like to see anyone dare
to make a move in that direction
whlie I stand here!
I am no Neapolitan general!
Where I stand, I stand!
[going energetically toward the small door and listening]
They're stalwart fellows, my footmen.
Don't want to let him in.
They say I'm asleep.
Very good fellows!
[The BARON's voice is heard outside.]
That voice!
But that isn't the Fieldmarshal's voice!
They're addressing him as "Herr Baron"!
It's a stranger!
Quinquin, it's a visit! [She laughs.]

JOSEF KRIPS (1902-1974)

There was only one Krips item in the big box: a performance of Wagner's Meistersinger I'd never heard from the 1961 Bayreuth Festival -- a match-up of perhaps the most deeply humane of operas with one of the most deeply humane of conductors.

WAGNER: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg): Act III, Prelude and David's entrance

The curtain rises on the inside of SACHS's workshop. At the back is the door to the street, and there is a window in the back wall. SACHS is seated near the window with a large folio in his lap; he is absorbed in reading it. DAVID comes along the road outside, peeps inside the window, sees SACHS, and then enters the room quietly. He has a basket in his hand from which he takes some food and flowers, etc. He prepares to eat some of the food; SACHS noisily turns over a page. He had previously not noticed DAVID.

DAVID: Right away, Master, here!
The shoes have been delivered
to Herr Beckmesser's place.
It seems to me as if you just called me?
[Aside] He's pretending he hasn't seen me.
It means he's angry, when he doesn't speak.
[He approaches SACHS humbly, slowly.]
Ah, Master, will you forgive me?
Can an apprentice be perfect?
If you knew Lene like I do
then you would certainly forgive me.
She's so good, so gentle with me,
and often looks at me so tenderly.
When you strike me, she caresses me
and along with it smiles so sweetly.
If I'm made to go hungry, she feeds me,
and is in all ways so loving.
Only yesterday, when the knight sang his doom,
I couldn't get her to give me the basket.
That hurt me, and when I found
last night that someone was standing in front of her window,
and sang to her, and screeched like mad,
I gave him a real thrashing.
Lene has just explained everything to me
and gave me festival flowers and ribbons.
[He breaks out in even greater fear.]
Ah, Master, speak just a single word!
[Aside] If only I had put the sausage and cake away first!

Gerhard Stolze (t), David; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Josef Krips, cond. Live performance, 1961


More Krips, more Kubelik, and especially more Kempe.

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