Michael Tilson Thomas – Orff, Beethoven, Gershwin (1974-76) [Reissue 2019]
SACD Rip | SACD ISO | DST64 2.0 & 5.1 > 1-bit/2.8224 MHz | 145:18 minutes | Front/Rear Cover | 6,21 GB
or DSD64 2.0 Stereo (from SACD-ISO to Tracks.dsf) > 1-bit/2.8224 MHz | Front/Rear Cover | 3,29 GB
or FLAC 2.0 Stereo(converted with foobar2000 to tracks) 24bit/96 kHz | Front/Rear Cover | 2,99 GB
3LP on 2SACD | Features Stereo and Quardophonic Surround Sound | Label: Dutton Epoch/Vocalion # 2CDLX 7369
Eclectic, diverse or just plain odd – three descriptions to describe the coupling of Carl Orff, Ludwig van Beethoven and George Gershwin on a single release. Of course, in reality what we have are three different LP releases of modest length from the early/mid 70’s all conducted by the young Michael Tilson-Thomas with his presence on the podium the single unifying thread.
Michael Dutton has remastered these LP’s from the original Quadrophonic master tapes to multi-channel SA-CD (also stereo compatible) discs. A minor frustration is that the English only liner – which meticulously reprints the liner essays from all three original albums does not include any technical detail about the how or why Michael Dutton chose these recordings to lavish such care upon – including how multi-channel is the new incarnation; 4.0, 5.0 – not 5.1 surely? And indeed care has been lavished here because all of the performances sound very fine indeed. Apart from the classic, ground-breaking Gershwin disc, I have never encountered these recordings before either in original LP or early standard CD format. Given the distinctly “varied” nature of the repertoire it is best to treat it as three unrelated programmes which happen to have been brought together.
Curiously – and I stand to be corrected on this – I do not recall the Tilson-Thomas Carmina Burana ever featuring on any “best of” listings. From around the mid 70’s there was Previn/LSO/EMI or Frubeck de Burgos/New Philharmonia/EMI or Jochum/Deutsche Oper/DG regularly competing for top spot. CBS also had Ormandy/Philadelphia and that’s not forgetting the Eurodisc video and audio release from Kurt Eichhorn or even Smetacek for Supraphon. So perhaps I just missed Tilson-Thomas in this blizzard of well-regarded versions because in fact this is a very good performance indeed. The soloists are particularly strong. I am not completely won over by Kenneth Riegel’s Roasted Swan, but Baritone Peter Binder seems to me pretty ideally ardent and firm voiced and soprano Judith Blegen is simply ravishing. The reprinted liner by original producer Andrew Kazdin remarks how Blegen came into the sessions and nailed the very demanding Dulcissime on the first take. Likewise the Cleveland Orchestra and Choruses are in good form and Tilson-Thomas directs a very forthright, exciting and sharply contrasted performance.
The big “but” for a modern listener is how much they enjoy the level of aural intervention enacted by Kazdin and recreated so skilfully on this Dutton disc. Again the liner details how carefully the original sessions were planned to create a maximum of aural separation between the four channels. This involved the performers being seated in the round with usual orchestral groupings changed. Furthermore, the aural positioning of groups – instrumental and choral – were further altered between sections. I listened to the SA-CD stereo channel and, even lacking a sense of front-to-back, this is very clearly – often disconcertingly – defined. I can imagine that circa 1975 this was a great demonstration disc showing off your new fangled music centre. Now, it sounds simply overly interventionist. Huge credit to Tilson-Thomas for bringing off such a convincing performance – there are a couple of little ensemble wobbles but nothing too troubling. But I have to say the wandering glockenspiels and very-closely miked instruments/singers which then shift around did detract from my listening enjoyment. Certainly the CBS engineers were not aiming to create any soundstage effects like Decca did for their opera recordings. This is a very consciously synthetic creation of a large instrumental/choral group. Perhaps we are too attuned now to the ideal of a “natural concert hall” recording to accept such a manufactured experience. Worth saying – as with all the recordings presented here – the actual orchestral sound is very good indeed. Yes there is some residual analogue hiss which is only noticeable when it drops out at the end of a track. Also, the Masonic Hall in Cleveland does sound cavernous with the bass drum in particular having a wallowing overhang which does it and the music little service. But overall, a version I am very happy to have heard.
Just a couple of months later in 1974, Tilson-Thomas was over at Abbey Road recording rare Beethoven choral music. The surprise is that some 45 years later this repertoire remains pretty much just as rare. Certainly – I am not a Beethoven expert – I had heard none of this music previously in any version. At Abbey Road, Tilson-Thomas was leading the London Symphony Orchestra – which at this time was in the middle of its Previn-inspired pomp. They play very well and again – with original producer the great Paul Myers – are very well recorded. But the chief joy of this part of the set is the singing of the professional Ambrosian Opera Chorus. To my ear they sing with exactly the right kind of alert attack and fearless accuracy. This is especially important given that Beethoven could be unforgiving in the tessitura of his writing – the Ambrosians here rise as one to the challenge and the unanimity of attack and intonation is a consistent delight. Of course little, if any, of the music here is “great” Beethoven but all the performers make you thing it might well be just that. So whether it is the occasional works such as the Opferlied or the more substantial writing in the King Stephen – Incidental Music all the works are performed here with compelling energy and conviction. Reading elsewhere, it seems as though Tilson-Thomas tinkered with some of the music as far as distribution of parts and some judicious cutting was concerned. In an age of more historically informed practice that might be more of an issue than when this LP was originally released. In my state of blissful ignorance I have to say I enjoyed all of these performances very much. Again the original LP was a Quadrophonic production but there seems to be less of a “legacy” here as far as the new SA-CD version is concerned. Yes some of the vocal parts are more sharply separated than one would expect them to be today but, that aside, the balance and integration of choir and orchestra is very good. Again, slightly disappointingly as far as this new reissue is concerned, no texts either here or for the Orff are included. Whilst there might not have been space on the back of the original LP cover, to miss them here seems a bad oversight – especially since the Beethoven is far from common. One other minor thing – to accommodate these three albums across two discs the Beethoven is split between the two.
Earlier in 1974 Tilson-Thomas was with the New York Philharmonic to record Gershwin’s An American in Paris. Tilson-Thomas has returned to Gershwin later in his career but this first recording still sounds very well indeed. It is a pretty brisk, jaunty performance with rhythms well sprung and melodies allowed to be sensuous or dynamic as the music requires. This is the only music released here where I can make a direct comparison between an early CBS/Sony standard red-book CD release and Michael Dutton’s remastering. Without a doubt this new version is a very substantial improvement in every respect; clarity of the instrumentation is so much better, the whole orchestral image is “firmer”, more present and the orchestral sound has greater life. A performance that I knew already to be good becomes very good. Again, the sound for a 45 year old recording is very, very good indeed. As far as I can hear from the stereo layer of the SA-CD remix the quadrophonic element is handled in a more restrained manner than it is for the Orff. Yes, the famous taxi horns in the work’s opening are very clearly separated and later – and less effectively because you would never choose to sit the instruments apart – the saxophone parts are very deliberately and stereophonically divided. A benefit in contrast is hearing an interesting cor anglais line that I am not sure I have ever registered before.
This two disc set is completed by the one performance offered here that has retained famous if not classic status. It is the Columbia Jazz Band playing the original Ferde Grofé’s jazz band instrumentation of Rhapsody in Blue – a rarity back in the 70’s. What was rarer still – and still remarkable to this day – was the creation of a pianola solo part for the work from Gershwin’s playing of the original solo piano version. To create a solo part alone the producers had to tape over every little hole on the pianola roll that corresponded to an orchestral part leaving just the solo lines. Technically it was an extraordinary achievement – more of a concern at the time and still now is the manner of Gershwin’s playing of the part. To say it is brusque is a slight understatement. An average performance will clock in around 17 – 18 minutes. Steven Richman’s Harmonie Ensemble of New York, seeking to recreate the original spirit are no slouches at 15:30. This Gershwin-fueled rocketship comes in at 13:44. Make no mistake – the playing of the Columbia Jazz Band is utterly sensational – articulation and ensemble are nigh on miraculous but time and again it feels simply too fast if not positively impatient. Again, the quality of this new remastering is excellent. Simply put it has never sounded better with the solo piano/pianola having a warmth of tone that slightly ameliorates the driven nature of the performance. If this were not Gershwin playing this would be dismissed out of hand as a slightly bizarre virtuoso display. Because it is Gershwin playing there has to be a little lingering doubt that perhaps, just perhaps, this is how he did want it to go. My feeling is he made this solo pianola version to impress the domestic market with never a thought that anyone would try to superimpose a live band on top of it. Just how well Tilson-Thomas and his band do play this is a huge testament to their skill and dexterity and as such it will always remain a reference if not seminal version.
So in fact, for three such divergent composers, this has proved to be a very enjoyable collection. As my first encounter with Dutton’s remasterings of these classic analogue recordings it has made me keen to hear more. The documentation is good as far as it goes with the original notes and session photography enjoyable to read and view. Absence of texts and an explanation of the choices and processes involved in these new releases seems a bad mistake. By definition I would expect the target market for these discs to be audiophiles interested in exactly that kind of information.
That caveat notwithstanding – a set of disparate delights. (Review by Nick Barnard)
01. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: O Fortuna
02. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Fortune plango vulnera
03. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Veris leta facies
04. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Omnia sol temperat
05. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Ecce gratum
06. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Tanz
07. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Floret silva
08. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Chramer
09. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Reie round dance
10. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Swaz hie gat umbe
11. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Were diu werlt alle min
12. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Estuans interius
13. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Olim lacus colueram
14. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Ego sum abbas
15. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: In taberna quando sumus
16. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Amor volat undique
17. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Dies nox et omnia
18. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Stetit puella
19. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Circa mea pectora
20. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Si puer cum puellula
21. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Veni veni venias
22. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: In trutina
23. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Tempus est iocundum
24. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Dulcissime
25. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: Ave formosissima
26. Carl Orff – Carmina Burana: O Fortuna
27. Beethoven: Late Choral Music – Elegischer Gesang, Op. 118 (Elegiac Song)
28. Beethoven: Late Choral Music – Opferlied, Op. 121b (Song Of Sacrifice)
01. Beethoven: Late Choral Music – Bundeslied, Op 122 (Fellowship)
02. Beethoven: Late Choral Music – Meeresstille und Glückliche Fahrt, Op. 112 (Calm Sea And Prosperous Voyage)
03. Beethoven: Late Choral Music – Incidental Music To King Stephen, Op. 117: Overture
04. Beethoven: Late Choral Music – Incidental Music To King Stephen, Op. 117: I. Ruhend von Seinen Thaten
05. Beethoven: Late Choral Music – Incidental Music To King Stephen, Op. 117: II. Auf Dunkelm Irrweg
06. Beethoven: Late Choral Music – Incidental Music To King Stephen, Op. 117: III. Victory March
07. Beethoven: Late Choral Music – Incidental Music To King Stephen, Op. 117: IV. Wo Die Unschuld Blumen Streute
08. Beethoven: Late Choral Music – Incidental Music To King Stephen, Op. 117: V. Eine Neue Strahlende Sonne
09. Beethoven: Late Choral Music – Incidental Music To King Stephen, Op. 117: VI. Maestoso Con Moto; Andante Maestoso; Maestoso Con Moto
10. Beethoven: Late Choral Music – Incidental Music To King Stephen, Op. 117: VII. Heil Unserm Könige!
11. Beethoven: Late Choral Music – Incidental Music To King Stephen, Op. 117: VIII. Heil! Heil Unsern Enkeln!
12. George Gershwin – An American In Paris
13. Gershwin – Rhapsody In Blue (Original Version – The Legendary 1925 Piano Roll)
Carmina Burana > The Cleveland Orchestra (Originally released as “Carmina Burana” M/MQ 33172 – 1974)
Late Choral Music > London Symphony Orchestra, Ambrosian Opera Chorus (Originally released as “Beethoven: Late Choral Music” M/MQ 33509 – 1975)
An American In Paris > New York Philharmonic (Originally released as “An American In Paris/Rhapsody In Blue” M 34205 – 1976)
Rhapsody In Blue > The Columbia Jazz Band, George Gershwin – piano (Originally released as “An American In Paris/Rhapsody In Blue” M 34205 – 1976)
Carmina Burana > Recorded on August 5-6 & September 4, 1974 at the Masonic Auditorium, Cleveland & Columbia’s 30th Street Studio, New York.
Late Choral Music > Recorded on December 19, 1974 at Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London, U.K.
An American In Paris > Recorded on February 11, 1974 at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York.
Rhapsody In Blue > Recorded on June 23, 1976 at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio, New York.
Remastered from original analogue tapes by Michael J. Dutton.