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The Art of Dmitri Mitropoulos: Broadcast Performances 1945-55 - Volume 2
Gustav MAHLER (1864-1911)
Symphony No.6 in A Minor (1903-05) [74:07]
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/Dmitri Mitropoulos, rec. 10 April 1955
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050 (1721) [21:43]
Mischa Mischakoff (violin); Carmine Coppola (flute); Dmitri Mitropoulos (piano and conductor)
NBC Symphony Orchestra, rec. 16 December 1945
Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C, Op. 26 (1917-21) [26:19].
Dmitri Mitropoulos (piano and conductor); NBC Symphony Orchestra, rec. 16 December 1945
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Symphonie Espagnole Op. 21 without Intermezzo (1874) [28:35]
Zino Francescatti (violin)
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/Dmitri Mitropoulos, rec. 3 April 1955
Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor Op.16 (1913 rev. 1923) [32:19]
Pietro Scarpini (piano)
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/Dmitri Mitropoulos, rec. 7 November 1954
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No. 4 in F minor (1935) [32:10]
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/Dmitri Mitropoulos, rec. 5 April 1953
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
String Quartet No. 2 Op. 10 (1908) (orch. Schoenberg) [29:31]
Astrid Varnay (soprano)
Strings of the NBC Symphony Orchestra/Dmitri Mitropoulos, rec. 13 December 1945
Erwartung Op.17 (1909) [28:08]
Dorothy Dow (soprano)
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/Dmitri Mitropoulos, rec. 18 November 1951
MUSIC AND ARTS CD1214 [4 CDs: 74:07 + 76:46 + 64:35 + 57:34]
Experience Classicsonline

Volume Two of Music & Arts’s Mitropoulos survey carries on the good work where the first volume ended. The earlier set included Szigeti’s performance of the Busoni Concerto, Robert Casadesus’s Beethoven C minor Concerto, the concert in honour of Busoni held in December 1941 which included Szigeti, again, playing the concerto and Petri the Indian Fantasy. There was VW’s Tallis Fantasia, Chausson’s Symphony, Stravinsky’s The Firebird, Schumann’s First Symphony, and Strauss’s Alpine Symphony.
Volume two opens with a mighty performance of the Sixth Symphony that has already appeared on the NYPO’s ‘Mahler Broadcasts’ box. It was given in April 1955. There is a Cologne/Mitropoulos performance to be reckoned with but this New York traversal is surely not a bit less intense or blazing. Mitropoulos had given the American premiere of the symphony and his commitment to the work is total, unrelenting and all embracing. It should be noted that his placement of the slow movement second is reflective of standard performance practice at the time. Mitropoulos keeps an iron grip on the architecture of the work and spans its length without ever deviating into lyric recesses. Throughout the NYPSO plays with stunning concentration and corporate strength, responding to Mitropoulos’s direction with unbridled brilliance.
The second disc relinquishes this heart-constricting drama slightly. The old fashioned way with Bach’s D major Brandenburg Concerto comes as a bracing shock, given the contemporary sounding maelstroms enshrined in the Mahler. Concertmaster Mischa Mischakoff’s violin sometimes sounds a little under-recorded; his flute partner is the long standing principal of the orchestra, Carmine Coppola, father of Francis Ford and grandfather of Nicholas Cage. Mitropoulos is pianist and conductor. The expressive slow movement is the work’s highlight; there are a few outsize, though not outré, gestures in the finale. The conductor is also soloist/director in the Prokofiev Third Concerto, as he was a year later when he recorded it commercially with the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra – i.e. the Philadelphia. This was another work closely associated with Mitropoulos, as he had first introduced the work in Berlin and was subsequently often heard in this dual capacity. It’s characteristically intense and kinetic, incisive and dynamic. Occasionally it can be blurry in detail. The Second Concerto – then as now seldom played – is served by the intrepid Pietro Scarpini who flings himself into it with, if anything, even more tensile strength than Mitropoulos.
Francescatti essays one of his party pieces, the Lalo, sans intermezzo. He is characteristically elegant and poised, playing with beautifully moulded eloquence. It’s only in the Rondo finale when he’s tempted to some rather overdone vibrato that the performance lowers in stature. 
Mitropoulos’s superb commercial performance of the Fourth Symphony of Vaughan Williams should lead one to expect similar excellence in this performance given three years beforehand - and so it proves. The orchestra was well aware of the work, having had it in its repertoire for a decade and having given three performances before this 1953 broadcast. It fully deserves to sit alongside the Columbia LP as a testament to the conductor’s affiliation with this work and that of the composer more generally.
One composer where ‘affiliation’ is not the right word was perhaps Schoenberg. Mitropoulos went through agonies over Erwartung. According to William Trotter’s biography of the conductor he said to David Diamond of Erwartung that ‘I don’t hear anything in this piece’ after a rehearsal of it. He wrote in a letter of its ‘screwy beauty’ which sounds a little better but added that it was an ‘egotistical occupation’ to conduct it. So we’re back where we started. At any rate the performances that Mitropoulos and soprano Dorothy Dow eventually gave were the first ones in America. They recorded it the day after this broadcast. The orchestration of the Second Quartet is an altogether more malleable and approachable piece, here heard with Astrid Varnay, no less.
Dramatic, and volatile, intellectually probing and architecturally whole, this box reflects Mitropoulos’s greatest strengths with considerable assurance. The booklet notes are insightful and though there are momentary ensemble lapses at several points in these discs they are trivial set against so much that is monumental and unyieldingly vital in his conducting.
Jonathan Woolf


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