DALLAPICCOLA: Tartiniana for Violin and Orchestra. SHAPERO: Symphony for Classical Orchestra. LOPATNIKOFF: Concertino for Orchestra.
Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein/cond. Ruth Posselt, violin (in Dallapiccola)
Sony Classics 60725 (F)  [ADD, mono] TT: 74:08
Bernstein recorded these performances in Manhattan's 30th Street Columbia Studio on March 31-April 1, 1953---nearly a year before stereo took root, and five before he became music director of the New York Philharmonic. The Columbia Symphony was an ad-hoc orchestra of free-lance musicians, plus sit-ins from the NBC Symphony, the NYP, and the Metropolitan Opera. During that same period the RCA Victor Symphony was a related group, often using the same players.

None of the works here became repertory staples, although the Sharpero Symphony was an agreeably tonal, sometime very funny surprise at a time when Schoenberg was newly deceased, Stravinsky was turning to Anton Webern’s brand of serialism, and Paul Hindemith had more people copying him than copied Stravinsky in the latter’s Neo-Classic period.

One of the Hindemith clones was Nikolai Lopatnikoff (1903-76), a Russian-born emigré who reached the U.S. in 1939 by way of Finland, then Germany until 1933, and finally London. A protégé of Serge Koussevitzky, he settled in Pittsburgh from 1945 until his death. Bernstein probably met him through Fritz Reiner (Pittsburgh's music director from 1938 to 1948, and Lenny-B's first and best conducting teacher at the Curtis Institute). In any event, the three-movement Concertino is a professional, proficient, typically "busy" combination of Hindemith and Neo-Classic Stravinsky (in that order of importance), as forgettable as yesterday's weather report. (While Lopatnikoff was composing and teaching at the Carnegie Institute, another Hindemith clone, Bernard Heiden, taught at Indiana University, west by southwest of Pittsburgh. What I heard of their music was indistinguishable.)

Shapero's 1947 Symphony superimposes stylistic elements from Prokofiev's Classical  Symphony and Stravinsky's Balanchine ballets on a floor plan of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. It is the only Shapero work that found a place on the outer fringes of the repertory, thanks chiefly to this Bernstein recording. André  Previn made it in stereo with the Los Angeles Phil for Philips, but he lacked the sheer brio of Lenny-B at age 35. It has been entertaining to hear again, whether or not I ever listen another time.

Luigi Dallapiccola's 1952 tribute to Giuseppe Tartini is significantly more, a work of substance as well as wit based on four sonatas by his 18th-century paisan. Dallapiccola (1904-75) was Italy's most distinguished composer of concert music in more than a century and a half---a disciple of the Second Viennese School who bent the rigid rules of 12-tone composition with remarkably expressive results. (But then so did Alban Berg, Aaron to Schoenberg's Moses, and the short-lived Greek composer, Nikos Skalkattos.) The four movements here are notably emotional as well as intellectual, and Ruth Posselt plays them beautifully. Two other recordings currently in Schwann Opus, both on Stradivarius, use a version for violin and piano, one of them accompanied by the composer. I don't know either, but now don't have to, thanks to Sony's CD restoration. Mono sound is no problem, although some deterioration in the master tapes is faintly audible; better that, though, than CEDARized sound, or other systems that mute "surface noise" but in the process usually dull, flatten, and otherwise distort originals.

I could have wished for something other than Lopatnikoff, but it may be that the Sony/CBS/Columbia vaults have no other mono material from Lenny-B's pre-NYP period. Try not to be put off by the latest hyperbole from Sony sloganeers: Modern Masters and Bernstein Century. Only Dallapiccola was a certified Master, while Bernstein Century could summon a regiment of the living dead headed by Arturo Toscanini, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Leopold Stokowski, Koussevitzky, Reiner, Sir Thomas Beecham, Herbert von Karajan, and Yevgeni Mravinsky, all claiming precedence on musical grounds.

R.D. (Oct. 2000)