WAGNER: Parsifal
Set Svanholm (Parsifal). Astrid Varnay (Kundry). George London (Amfortas). Hans Hotter (Gurnemanz). Lawrence Davidson (Klingsor). Luben Vichey (Titurel). Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra / Frit z Stiedry, cond.
PRISTINE CASSICAL PACO 171 (three disks) TT: 4 hr. 24:04

BAX: Overture to a Picaresque Comedy. HARTY: With the Wild Geese. Scherzo from An Irish Symphony. DAVIES: Solemn Melody for Organ and Orchestra. ELGAR: By theWayside from The Apostles. Dream Children, Op 43. Enigma Variations, Op. 36.
Hallé Orchestra / London Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Hanmilton Harty, cond.

DVORAK: Symphony No. 9 in E minor. Op. 95 From the New World. JANACEK: Taras Bulba.
Vienna Symphony Orchestra (Dvorak). Berlin Phiharmonic Orchestra / Jascha Horenstein, cod.

During the first half of the 20th Century the Metropolitan Opera presented outstanding performances of Wagner and they had the great singers of the time available. We are fortunate that this magnificent Parsifal, broadcast April 17, 1954, is typical. The sterling cast: Hans Hotter as Gurnemanze, George London early in his career as Amfortas, Astrid Varnay as Kundry, and Set Svanholm in the title role. The Met Chorus and Orchestra was conduced with authority by Fritz Stiedry, who led about 300 Met performances. First-class all the way! Andrew Rose's XR remastering lets us hear this superb performance with utmost clarity. We have Milton Cross's closing announcement, and a special feature is a 15-mimite radio discussion between Acts I and II hosted by Boris Goldovsky along with Rose Bampton and Charles Kullman. This is a major issue for collectors.

Irish conductor Sir Herbert Hamilton Harty (4 December 1879 – 19 February 1941) also was pianist and organist. He was best known as a conductor of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester which he led 1920 to 1933. During his tenure he became known for his interpretation of Berlioz and made a number of recordings, mentioned on this site (REVIEW). Harty also championed contemporary music, and this important new CD contains his recordings of music by British composers made with the Hallé Orchestra 19160- 1931. The featured work here is Elgar's Enigma Variations recorded in 1931.Pristine already as issued Harty's recording of Elgar's Cello Concerto with soloist H. W. Squire (PASC 383). This new CD opens with Harty's 1935 recording of Bax's Overture to a Picaresque Comedy recorded with the London Philharmonic. Superb transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn. This is an intriguing disk of performances by an important almost forgotten conductor.

Here is a very special addition to the Horenstein discography. He recorded the Dvorak in 1952 for Vox with a Viennese orchestra; this recording is heard here in XR remastering that enhances as much as possible the original mono sound. The performance is unique, with caeful attention to detail and an individual approach ththroughout The third movement scherzo is particularly fascinating with tempo changes and careful phrasing. It is to the credit of the fine Viennese players that they were able to provide virtuoso playing to convey Horenstein's concept. And in the finale, Horenstein is one of the few conductors who makes much of the cymbal crash towards the beginning of the finale. Most conductors subdue this effect (the only time in the symphony the instrument is used). It occurs at 1:53 into the movement. The only other conductor who emphasizes this is Willem Mengelberg in his 1941 Telefunken version (where it occurs at 1:46). This New World should be investigated by all who cherish this music. Taras Bulba is a live performance from Usher Hall at the Edinburgh Festival August 30, 1961. Horenstein had stepped in at the last minute for an indisposed Rafael Kubelik. Horenstein always had championed Janacek's music. In 1955 he had made a Vox recording of Taras Bulba with the Vienna Symphony but here he has the luxury of the great Berlin Philharmonic. This surely is one of the finest recorded performances of Janacek's rhapsody for large orchestra, and the audio is appropriately rich. This is a major addition to the Horenstein discographt.

R.E.B. (July 2020)