Mengelberg Edition, Vol.2

Author: 
Richard Osborne

Mengelberg Edition, Vol.2

  • Symphony No. 6, 'Pathétique'
  • In the Steppes of Central Asia
  • Peer Gynt, SUITE No. 1, Op. 46

When Grieg visited Amsterdam in 1897 he insisted that Willem Mengelberg, the brilliant young Principal Conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, should conduct his music from Peer Gynt, rather than he himself. Nor did Grieg regret his decision; it is said that after the performance he jumped on to a chair and exorted the orchestra to cherish its young conductor. Nowadays no one really plays Grieg with the sweetness, style and depth of romantic melancholy his music so obviously exudes. Hearing Mengelberg conducting the First Peer Gynt Suite live in 1943 is a pleasure comparable to hearing his piano music played by Percy Grainger or Artur Rubinstein. (I am thinking in particular of Rubinstein's video recording of the Grieg Concerto—Decca, 1/89—in which the old man's playing and physiognomy are object-lessons in untarnished affection for the music.) There is some rather nasty tape drop-out in the ''Morning'' section, but the performance should not be ignored on that account.
Mengelberg's way with Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony is familiar from the 1937 recording now on a Teldec CD (9/89). This later 1941 account is said to have a finale that is less obviously constrained by the playing time of 78rpm sides. At 9'30'' (the CD case says 12'00''!) it is a minute longer than the 1937 version; but it doesn't feel all that different. The private rhetoric of Mengelberg's reading is much as before. Technically, the 1937 recording is probably to be preferred; it certainly fades to silence far less brutally at the end of the symphony.
In central Asia, that hauntingly beautiful distillation of all that is most alluring about Borodin's music, is exquisitely realized by the Concertgebouw players: in particular by the solo woodwinds and by the luminously beautiful upper strings. In music as expertly scored as this, one realizes afresh what a wonderful body of musicians Mengelberg had assembled and nurtured in his 40 or more years in Amsterdam.'

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