15 AUGUST 1958, Page 12


The Revelation of Tebaldi

By COLIN MASON THE complete orchestral works of Bach, played by the Philomusica of London directed by Thurston Dart, are now being issued on Oiseau-Lyre. The first four records contain the Suites 1-4, the Brandenburg Concertos 3, 5 and 6, the Concerto for two violins, the Concertos in C major and C minor for two harpsichords, and the F minor for one harpsichord. In addition Desmond Dupre and Thurston Dart have re- corded the three Sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord. The aim of these performances is liveliness and expressiveness by means of the utmost possible authenticity of detail. They succeed magnificently, and of the suites and sonatas certainly there is no better version to be bought. With the Brandenburgs the .situation is complicated by the existence of 'several other first-rate sets. For anybody who is interested in one or two favourite works rather than com- plete sets, there is an ideal record in OL 50160, which contains the Brandenburgs 3 and 5 and the Double Concerto. In No. 3 the small forces enable the conductor to adopt the necessary brisk pace without loss of clarity when the solo arpeggio-figurations reach the cello part. This version also includes a convincing slow move- ment, taken from one of the lesser-known violin sonatas. No. 5 is notable for some very fine harpsichord playing by Thurston Dart, and I enjoyed the interpretation of the Double Con- certo more than on any other recorded version I know except the pre-war German HMV 78 set.

Around this series the Philomusica's activities extend as far back as Dowland and as far for- ward as Mozart, whose Kleine Nachtmusik and Serenata Notturna are joined with some of the 'Epistle' Sonatas (OL 50162). Although Mozart is outside Dart's special sphere, they are excel- lently done, and the Kleine Nachtmusik has the , additional interest of the inclusion of an extra movement in accordance with a suggestion of Einstein's. The Dowland record (OL 50163) is of the seven Lachrinue Pavans, with fourteen other dances and instrumental pieces—an en- chanting collection, beautifully played. Also recommended : 'William Byrd and his Age' (Vanguard), a collection of songs, with three instrumental interludes, sung by Alfred Deller with the Wenzinger Consort.

The alleged Callas-Tebaldi rivalry has always been something of a mystery to me as I have never found Tebaldi a singer of anything ap- proaching the force of vocal or musical personal- ity of Callas. The new (Decca) Tebaldi Recital No. 2, so-called, has been a revelation. She sings better here than on any of her complete operatic recordings, and has given me pleasure for once in an example of that barbarous invention, the LP song recital. Her programme contains Scarlatti, Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Bellini and a few others, including alas Tosti, sung with tone of such full and flawless beauty, and such perfectly poised phrasing, that it would be a delight to the musical sense if the music were Tosti all through. Callas herself turns up again (Columbia) in some recondite arias from Cherubini's Medea and La Vestale by Spontini—the composer who advised the young Wagner not to continue with operatic compo- sition as he himself had already said the last word that opera could say in his Agnes von Hohenstaufen. On the other side are arias from I Puritan! and La Sonnambula. The diva is on her best vocal behaviour. Her top notes are of a less agonising quality than usual, and even where they are distorted her musical intention, and her complete realisation of it, overrule all the ear's objections. A similar and hardly greater dis- tortion and impurity in the top notes of Birgit Nilsson's performance of a group of the big Verdi and Wagner arias (Columbia) I found rather more destructive to my enjoyment of her otherwise admirable singing. Erika Koth, singing the arias of the Queen of the Night, Constanze and Zerlina (HMV), performs fantastic technical feats of coloratura without quite making them musically or dramatically exciting. Tenor recitals include a recommendable miscellany of Verdi and others by Carlo Bergonzi (Decca), and 'The Best of Caruso,' Volume I (RCA), including fifteen favourites from Handel to Caruso,, from which it is possible to get some idea of his style (surprisingly restrained), but very little of his voice, which comes out completely lifeless and colourless.

The 'Great Recordings of the Century' series continues with the Chopin Waltzes of Cortot, which have transferred very well from the origi- nal recording made in 1934 (HMV). My Qrst im- pression of these was of the affected rhythmic treatment, which I found so disturbing that I could hardly enjoy the sensibility of Cortot's playing in other respects until I began to com- pare this set with the more faithful but un- imaginative new recording by Alexander Uninsky (Philips). Even in Cortot's performance, fourteen waltzes at a stretch, or for that matter seven, on one side only, car become very boring. The same holds true to some extent of the Nocturnes, although they are more varied. An excellent new performance of these by Brailowsky has just been issued on two RCA records, but since Chopin stands in no need of scholarly 'complete editions' there seems to me almost more to be said for recording his works in mixed recitals with examples from various categories, as in the beautifully played Horowilz selection (RCA, RB16064), containing two scherzos, four nocturnes and the barcarolle.

Less familiar piano music includes two sets of Liszt rarities played by Alfred Brendel (Vox), one a selection from the Harmonies poetiques et religieuses, an enterprising issue spoilt by a dead recording, the other containing some of his operatic transcriptions—real curiosities of nine- teenth-century taste. Parlophone have issued six of Shostakovitch's twenty-four Preludes and Fugues in all the keys, played by the composer, which are a welcome start on one of the most beautiful and important works of twentieth- century piano literature, though it is disappoint- ing not to have the complete set. Shostakovitch gives a real composer's performance, with many slips and stumbles, numerous apparently im- promptu variants of the published text, and a fine disregard for his own metronome markings. No doubt the work will soon be available in more careful performances, and complete, but this is a collector's piece not to be missed, an historical document, and musically worth every penny for the sublime F-sharp minor fugue alone.

Finally a handful of chamber-music issues with some promising names. A group including Stern, Tortelier and Myra Hess plays Schumann's Piano Quintet, backed by Brahms's G major String Quintet (Philips). The Schumann is well done except for some poor rhythmic definition at the beginning of the last movement, but in the Brahrns the ensemble is very poorly attuned and balanced. Rudolf Serkin and members of the Philadelphia woodwind play the Mozart and Beethoven Quintets (K.452 and Op. 16) on one record (Philips), with a perfect blend of tone and style, smooth and serene almost to the point of sleepiness, and yet full of musical life and feeling. The Barchet Quartet's performance of Dvorak in G,'Op. 106 (Vox) is not up to the standard of their fine Mozart series. Heifetz plays Bloch's Violin Sonata No. 2 (Poeme Mystique) incon- gruously yoked to Grieg's Sonata No. 2, a com- bination unlikely to recommend itself widely. Admirers of Bloch should certainly prefer the Mercury coupling of the two Bloch sonatas, very passionately and finely played by Rafael Druian and John Simms. Also recommended : Schubert Op. 29 by the Budapest Quartet (Philips).