on January 25, 2004
We sometimes think that the Vienna Philharmonic tends to be a bit conservative in their repertoire. That misconception has been largely fueled by their commercial recordings. In concert, as this very fine set from Andante shows, their repertoire is far more mixed. Recorded in concert from 1951 to 1985 the set has many fine performances. The first disc contains works that the orchestra had not played at all up the time of the concerts. Ansermet leads Honegger's 5th (at the time a new work) while Kubelik gives the orchestra a work out in the Janacek "Sinfonietta" . Markevitch as ever gives a compelling performance of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring". If the orchestra seems a bit unsure it is probably due to lack of familiarity with the work. Composer/conductor Lukas Foss pointed out in an article that for some 30 years after its premiere performances of the Rite were fairly rare. So Vienna in 1952 were , like other orchestras of the time, just getting into the work. Make no mistake though this is a formidable performance.
The second disc is a trio from the Second Vienna School.The Schoenberg "Pelleas und Melisande" was briefly available on DGG a few years back and has Bohm where he was at his best; live in concert. Bohm is fully into the work and gives us a flowing performance. From the same concert a performance of Berg's "Der Wein" performed by Dorothy Dorow who made the works of the Second Vienna School one of her specialties. It is good to have a recording of her in this work. Webern completes the trio with 2 fine performances led by Mehta.
The 3rd disc brings 2 relatively rare works and in my opinion the finest performance in the set. Haitink conducts "Prosperos Beschwörungen" by the nearly forgotten Egon Wellesz. It is a fine if often subdued work that makes me want to hear other works of his. Lastly comes a truly superb performance of Franz Schmidt's Symphony No.2 led by Erich Leinsdorf. Schmidt's at times thick orchestral textures have tripped up many a conductor but not Leinsdorf. Orchestral detail is very clear in this sweeping and at times bracing performance. One hopes that maybe in the radio archives of numerous European stations there are tapes of other Schmidt works led by him.
The recordings come from Austrian Radio and the Vienna Philharmonic's own archives and are newly remastered for the set. The first disc is mono but the last two are stereo. Extensive notes in English, French and German as well as illustrations all in a hardbound book which is the size of a cd case. The discs are in sleeves at the front and back of the book. The book is in a slip case. The album title indicates this is volume one of 20th Century works. Hopefully volume 2 is not long in coming.