In the current frenzy to capitalize on the popularity of compact discs, the putative savior of classical recording, something oddly familiar is happening:
The emergence of a horde of fly-by-night outfits inundating the market with heretofore obscure interpretations by old and not-so-old masters--the usual Klemperer, Furtwaengler, Callas, Sviatoslav Richter and the more esoteric gleanings of De Sabata, Mitropoulos, Michelangeli, etc. Most of these amount to nothing more than transferring wretched sonics, missing measures (if not pages) and all--what we used to call "pirate recordings"--to CD.
Simultaneously, the big outfits bombard us with their legitimately acquired historical products. But the decisions being made are hardly as discriminating as they were in the cautious infancy of CD, for example, Angel's near-manic propagation on CD of the Otto Klemperer legacy.
Without disparaging the late German conductor's lofty stature, one must nonetheless question the need for every one of his 1960s efforts with the Philharmonia Orchestra to be memorialized. A case in point: Mendelssohn's music to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (Angel 47230), a dense, often lumbering affair, devoid, obviously, of the requisite faerie grace, in spite of exquisite solo contributions by Heather Harper and Janet Baker.
This release seems all the more gratuitous in view of the recent CD appearance on the same label of as scintillating, as magical and as complete a "Midsummer Night's Dream" score as we've ever had: a reissue (Angel 47163) of the 1977 edition in which Andre Previn leads the London Symphony, with the added masterstroke of an ethereal children's chorus in place of the usual heavyweight band of mature women (as in Klemperer) to suggest the woodland sprites.
Angel has had an even odder notion in considering worthy of American exposure a pair of compact discs, originating with the German Harmonia Mundi label, in which German cult conductor Guenter Wand gives us his thoughts on Beethoven's "Eroica" (Angel 47594) and Brahms' Fourth symphonies (Angel 47589).
The Wand cult seems to have its origins in the fact that he cancels more engagements than he fulfills. Spectacularly true to form, he even aborted his U. S. debut, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a couple of seasons ago.
This pair of performances indicates that Wand likes fast tempos and crisp accents without regard for orchestral polish--the North German Radio Orchestra is his scrappy band--or dynamic subtlety. Well, better fast pedestrianism than slow.
London Records' revival of the month is the CD debut of a very fine and relatively unsung conductor active from the late-1920s until his death in 1956: Vienna-born Erich Kleiber, father of another and quite possibly better-known conductor, the eccentric Carlos Kleiber.
The vehicle for the elder Kleiber is, again, the "Eroica," a gutsy, enthusiastically played--by the Vienna Philharmonic--and superbly detailed interpretation, with whiplash climaxes, rather after the Toscanini fashion (London monophonic 414 626).
Speaking of Toscanini and, again, the "Eroica": American RCA continues to reissue items from its catalogue of recordings by that once-venerated conductor and his NBC Symphony. The "Eroica" is now coupled on CD with Beethoven's First Symphony (RCA monophonic 7197), in typically fleet, intense and, some might aver, brutal readings recorded in Carnegie Hall, New York, in 1949 and 1951, respectively.
Whatever one's reaction to Leopold Stokowski's highly personal treatment of 19th-Century repertory (to say nothing of what he did to Bach), the "Old Wizard" found the music of the French impressionists not only congenial but unimprovable, as in a 1961 program with the French National Orchestra reissued on compact disc (Angel 47423).
Debussy's three Nocturnes and "Iberia" and Ravel's "Alborada del Gracioso" and "Rapsodie Espagnole" are treated to the trademark Stokowski sumptuousness of tone and all-out emotionalism, yet not too much of either to get in the composers' ways.
A second reissue of 1960s originals (Angel 34481, LP; 47521, CD) shows Stokowski's notorious face. His interpretation of Bartok's edgy, bristly Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is so benign and lacking in tension, with playing (by a New York pickup orchestra) and recorded sound so edgeless, that the composer's dark, muscular message is drowned in a sea of sweet cream.
Schoenberg's "Verklaerte Nacht" and Barber's Adagio for Strings, which make up the remainder of the program, are more amenable to Stokowski's lush personalization, although neither profits from it.