BBC Music Magazine
Christopher Dingle takes in a selection of recently released archive recordings
The historical discs covered this month all feature truly outstanding performers. As the only one whose career is still ongoing, it is especially enlightening to encounter a live Recital of Mikhail Pletnev from 1979, the year after his triumph at the International Tchaikovsky Competition. From the commanding opening of JS Bach’s A minor Suite to an exquisitely controlled Chopin E minor Nocturne, this is playing that draws in the listener. Pletnev’s clarity as he rips through Scarlatti sonatas is breathtaking, yet it is the strength of musical vision that dazzles. If Beethoven’s early F major Sonata is too aggressive in Pletnev’s hands, Chopin’s Third Sonata mesmerises, the Scherzo bubbling with energy and the Largo a lesson in stillness (Melodiya MELCD 1002581 ★★★★).
The curiously titled Abbado Rediscovered provides a different perspective on relatively early thoughts. It features a freshfaced Claudio Abbado in a live performance with the Vienna Philharmonic in May 1971 of Schubert’s Fifth and Eighth symphonies. For those that know Abbado’s more spritely later view of the Unfinished, this may come as a bit of a shock. The opening movement here is beautifully crafted, but along Brucknerian lines as a slow-burning affair. While the Fifth’s sunny outer movements have more zest, the inner movements are a touch laggardly. In this repertoire, Abbado definitely improved with age (DG 483 5620 ★★★).
The British conductor John Pritchard was at a similar point in his career in 1956 when he conducted Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito – in translation as The Mercy of Titus – for a BBC studio recording. The youthful performer that catches the eye and ear amidst a strong cast, though, is Joan Sutherland as Vitellia, a few years before the international acclaim that followed her switch to bel canto. Although slightly buttoned up at times, the gorgeous tone and phrasing are already there while Pritchard and the London Mozart Players keep the action flowing with natural grace (Nimbus NI 7967 ★★★★). Sir John Barbirolli was certainly no newcomer when he gave the January 1963 concert with the Hallé Orchestra that forms the latest disc from The Barbirolli Society.
The repertoire, though, was novel, for this was not just the first time he conducted any of Shostakovich’s symphonies – the Fifth here, while Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration was far from central to his repertoire. The shaping and pacing of the Strauss is masterly and, with the Hallé on top form, the performance of the Shostakovich is remarkably good despite the muffled sound, emphasising the symphony’s lyrical elements more than most
(The Barbirolli Society SJB 1095 ★★★★).
The eighth volume of Naxos Historical’s Fritz Kreisler – The Complete Recordings would provide an ideal set of encores for any of these discs. Featuring recordings the Austrian violinist made in 1926 and 1927 while still at his peak as a performer, the characteristic clear-honeyed tone, easy charm and apparently effortless technique are in abundance across the 24 tracks. Especially noteworthy among these collected gems are the foremost accounts of his own Liebesfreud and Liebesleid, as well as the only recording of Kreisler playing solo Bach with the Adagio from the G minor sonata (Naxos 8.111409 ★★★★★).