Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 20. September 3, 1968
I must preface this column with an observation that last month's classical record releases were of the highest overall standard that I have heard. Looking back at outstanding recordings reviewed in the last four years, 1 cannot find a month in which every disc was of such a consistently high standard. So bear with me and pardon the rush of rhapsodic praise.
Seiji Ozawa is one of the Internationa] concert jet-set. At the tender age (for a conductor) of 32, he has already been musical director of the Chicago Ravinia Festival for five years, and has also been director of the Toronto Symphony for the past three years. Now he has set his sights higher and moved on to San Francisco. Despite instant acclaim by the crities and very high regard within USA and European musical circles, his recording career has not kept pace with his concert work. His first US recording was in 1965. and since then there has only been the occasional disc, always accompaning a soloist. Now at long last he makes his solo debut on RCA LSC 2977 Pictures at an Exhibition and Britten's The Young Persons' Guide to the Orchestra.
This is one of the best recordings of an orchestral work that I have heard. The Chicago Symphony has long been one of my favourite orchestras, and on this disc they really excel themselves. Prominent Chicago music critic Roger Dettmer considers that this orchestra plays better for Ozawa than anyone since Fritz Reiner. Their brass section is possibly the best in the world, and this statement is justified by the beautiful precision work in Pictures-excellent phrasing, outstanding tone control and most important, no imbalance with the rest of the orehestra.
Moussorgsky's music might not be particularly appealing, but Ozawa's direction, outstanding playing and splendid stereo recording, all combine to make this record a must for an) collection. My only complaint is must wait so long for another release from this magnificent orchestra. I have no doubt that Ozawa will be recording frequently with them, so let us hope that RCA will press the discs out here.
There is quite a choice of recent releases of Beethoven's Eroiea Symphony—all available in record stores. If one is on a limited budget where every dollar counts, there is good value on ACE of Diamonds SDD 103 ($3.50). Ernest Anserment and the Suisse Romande give a solid performance and this touched up stereo sound is quite adequate. In 1966 Decca recorded Hans Schmitt-Isserstedt and the Vienna Philharmonic (SXLM 0232). This was released out here last year and at the time proved the best recording. A powerful interpretation with first-rate orchestral work.
Now HMV have produced a version that is even better. (ASDM 2348 Stereo). 1968 is going to be the year that belongs to Sir John Barbirolli, Outstanding recordings of Butterfly and Sibelius, and now the best ever Eroica. (Lovers of the brash orchestral gymnastics evoked by Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic will disagree with this opinion.) The first movement begins at a rather staid, dramatic tempo which sets the pace for Barbirolli's interpretation. Highlight is the sedate, sympathetic account of "Marcia funebre", The BBC Symphony orchestra anno match for the VPO on the Decca LP, however their playing is of surprisingly good standard. Stereo recording is excellent.
On top of these discs are two outstanding HMV recordings of the New Philharmonic. On ASDM 2355 Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos conducts the complete Ravel Daphnis and Chloe with the Ambrosian Singers. On ASDM 2358 is a moving account of the Faure Requiem with David Wileox conducting the choir of Kings College Cambridge, and soloists John Carol Case and Robert Chilcott.
Until 1 heard the de Burgos LP I had previously only listened to recordings of the second part of the ballet. While it is pleasing to be able to listen to the complete work I hardly feel that all my life 1 have been missing out on something. De Burgos is building up quite a reputation as an expert with full-blooded ballet scores and it is not his fault that two complete sides of Ravel become rather wearisome. The Requiem is much more attractive to my ears. The album has been universally praised overseas. Alec Robinson (music editor of Gramophone) lauded it as "a recording as near as can be to absolute perfection." The choral work is delightful and HMV have managed to get a nice clean sound.
Julian Bream produces a seemingly endless number of outstanding records, all of which sell very well but receive little critical acclaim or attraction. His latest, The Dances of Dowland (RCA LSC 2987 Stereo) contains beautiful and sensitive performances of recently unearthed music. According to the excellent sleeve note written by Shirley Flemming, Dowland became lutenist to King Christian IV Denmark. After eight years he was dismissed "under a cloud of debts and financial entanglements", returned to England and finally ended up as a mere "one of the Musicians for the Lute" appointed by James I. Most of his music was unpublished during his lifetime and it is virtually only Bream's recent efforts that have brought universal recognition to his music.
The pieces are even more delightful than their quaint names—"Lachrimae antiquae", "The Shoemaker's Wife" and "Sir Henry Gifford's Almaine". As to be expected Bream's lute playing is impeccable. A very good stereo recording.