The Art of Dmitri Mitropoulos:
Broadcast Performances 1945-55 - Volume 2 CD1 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 CD2 Johann Sebastian
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050 (1721)
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 CD3 Serge PROKOFIEV(1891-1953) Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor Op.16 (1913 rev. 1923)
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 CD4 Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
String Quartet No. 2 Op. 10 (1908) (orch. Schoenberg)
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
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.
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.
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