REINER Rarities Volume 2 (1950-54) - PASC294

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REINER Rarities Volume 2 (1950-54) - PASC294

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MOZART A Musical Joke
BRAHMS Alto Rhapsody
DEBUSSY (orch. Henri Busser) Petite Suite
LIEBERMANN Concerto for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 1950-1954
Total duration: 67:20 

Marian Anderson contralto
Robert Shaw Chorale of Men's Voices Robert Shaw
RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra
Sauter-Finegan Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
NBC Symphony Orchestra
conductor Fritz Reiner

This set contains the following albums:

More excellent 1950s recordings from Fritz Reiner

Second set of rarities in new Obert-Thorn transfers

Like the earlier release in this series (PASC 235), this volume of Reiner Rarities features works which are rare in more than one sense. First, these are Fritz Reiner's only commercial recordings of the works presented. In addition, none of them have ever received an "official" commercial CD reissue from RCA.

The Mozart was originally coupled with his Divertimento No. 11, K.251. While the latter has been reissued on CD by Testament, filling out a Reiner/Chicago Mozart program, the Musical Joke has remained "orphaned" until now. Of Marian Anderson's three recordings of the Alto Rhapsody, RCA only released the second (1945) recording with Pierre Monteux on CD, rather than this sonically superior final version from five years later. The Debussy originally shared an LP side with Reiner's NBC studio recording of Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin. While this was reissued in the Reiner volume of the IMG Artists/EMI series "Great Conductors of the 20th Century", its discmate has remained unavailable for over half a century (although the broadcast performances of both works which preceded the recording session have appeared on CD several times).

Finally, the Liebermann work, though originally recorded in stereo, was not issued in that form on LP until 1981. However, it had previously been released as a two-track open reel tape in 1955, and it was from this that the present transfer was made. Oddly, this recording has never been commercially reissued on CD by RCA or its successor, Sony. It is easy to imagine Leonard Bernstein, a former Reiner conducting pupil at the Curtis Institute, being inspired by Liebermann's score (a set of dance variations on a twelve-note row) when he sat down to compose West Side Story shortly after this recording first appeared.


Mark Obert-Thorn

  • MOZART A Musical Joke (Ein musikalischer Spass) K522
    Daniel Guilet solo violin
    NBC Symphony Orchestra

    Recorded 16th – 17th September, 1954 
    in Manhattan Center, New York City
    First issued on RCA Victor LM-1952

  • BRAHMS Alto Rhapsody Op. 53
    Marian Anderson Contralto
    Robert Shaw Chorale of Men's Voices Robert Shaw
    RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra

    Recorded 20th October, 1950 
    in Manhattan Center, New York City
    First issued on RCA Victor LM-1146

  • DEBUSSY (orch. Henri Busser) Petite Suite
    NBC Symphony Orchestra 
    Recorded 21st January, 1952 
    in Carnegie Hall, New York City
    First issued on RCA Victor LM-1724

  • ROLF LIEBERMANN Concerto for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra STEREO
    Sauter-Finegan Orchestra
    Chicago Symphony Orchestra

    Recorded 6th December, 1954 
    in Orchestra Hall, Chicago
    First issued on RCA Victor LM-1888
    Original STEREO recording transferred from RCA two-track tape ECS-3 (pub. 1955)

    conductor Fritz Reiner

Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Fritz Reiner 

Total duration: 67:20

Fanfare Review

He conducts as if he were in a sunny mood; the results certainly would have justified it

I heard Fritz Reiner conduct a performance of A Musical Joke in Chicago years ago. Apparently afraid that the audience wouldn’t “get it,” he encouraged the orchestra to clown its way through the piece. It may have been a relief for them to make the sort of mistakes that would have gotten them ruthlessly fired on any other day. If nothing else, it was the worst playing I ever heard from a professional orchestra but, for what it was, the audience did seem to appreciate it. Happily, this recording, one of several Reiner made in connection with the bicentennial of Mozart’s birth, is done absolutely straight, as if the conductor believed he were conducting a masterpiece, which, in a way, is what A Musical Joke is. I find the piece much more effective if the orchestra and conductor take it seriously. After all, the mediocre contemporaries Mozart was poking fun at were quite serious and probably had a reasonably high opinion of the stuff they were churning out.

The Reiner/NBC Symphony pairing, so effective in the Musical Joke, also proves to be a potent combination in Henri Büsser’s orchestration of Debussy’s Petite Suite. “En Bateau” is deliciously languorous while Reiner takes more conventional tempos in the following movements and takes full advantage of the orchestra’s brilliant woodwinds. The recording, a bit on the dry side, yields the kind of detail that one expects to hear when this conductor is involved. I have no idea what Reiner’s feeling was during the sessions but he conducts as if he were in a sunny mood; the results certainly would have justified it.

The oddity of the CD is Rolf Liebermann’s Concerto for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra, an early Reiner/Chicago stereo recording that was, if memory serves, originally coupled with Strauss’s Don Juan. As Pristine’s annotator/producer Mark Obert-Thorn notes, the piece is a set of dance variations on a tone row. Liebermann himself described it this way: “Three classical jazz forms were used: the ‘jump,’ the ‘blues,’ and the ‘boogie-woogie.’ Since these dances are all in 4/4 time, the interludes of the symphony orchestra were largely built on irregular meters (3, 5, 7, 9). In the end the two orchestras come together in the South American dance rhythm of the mambo.” Reiner’s first Don Juan was released on CD many years ago. RCA did release a stereo LP of the Liebermann back in 1981, but both of its CD appearances have been unofficial, first from Haydn House and now from Pristine. Just to mention it, during Reiner’s first Chicago season, he had the violins divided left and right with cellos on his left and violas on his right. You can hear this on the first Don Juan recording. At some point, he decided to put both groups of violins on his left with the violas and cellos to his right, and there they stayed for the rest of his tenure. I am guessing that he believed the violinists would hear each other better on the stage of Orchestra Hall if they were seated together. I wonder if RCA held back on releasing a stereo LP of the Don Juan because it wouldn’t sound like “real” stereo. In fact, RCA had him record the piece again with the second configuration. I wonder if that’s why Also sprach Zarathustra was also (unnecessarily) rerecorded. I suspect that the original mono LP of the Liebermann didn’t exactly jump out of stores’ browsing bins and RCA saw no point in reissuing it (a two-track stereo tape, which Obert-Thorn used for this CD release, was issued in 1955). It’s an interesting enough novelty and the recording, per se, is brilliant but, for me, the Concerto wore out its welcome after the novelty wore off. Putting on such a piece now would involve hiring a lot of proficient extra musicians and, I expect, considerable rehearsing. In any case, the big band era was in its death throes by 1954. On top of that, the Sauter-Finnegan band used original, unorthodox arrangements, frequently of offbeat music. A devoted but limited following could not sustain it and, after it inevitably broke up, Eddie Sauter headed for Broadway and Bill Finnegan made his living in Hollywood. As for Liebermann, he became better known as an opera producer.

As we all presumably know, there are no objective aesthetic standards—beauty is indeed in the eye or, in this case, the ear of the beholder. You may believe, as I do, that Mozart was a better composer than, say, Minkus, but there’s no way to prove it. Our reactions to voices are also subjective. I am stating this disclaimer because of the fourth piece on this CD, the Brahms Alto Rhapsody. No, I’m not going to pick at Brahms, Reiner, or Robert Shaw; the fact is, I have never heard a single recording by Marian Anderson that I enjoyed … not one … no matter what kind of music she was singing, and that goes for her three recordings of the Rhapsody. I haven’t heard the one she recorded with Pierre Monteux for many years but, having heard the Ormandy recording and this one, I can easily predict my reaction. Reiner conducts sensitively, the orchestra plays well, the men’s chorus, trained by Robert Shaw, is excellent. Objectively speaking, it’s a good performance that’s being heard by the wrong listener. It’s from late in her career, but if you are an Anderson fan, you will probably like it. Too bad Pristine couldn’t have used the Monteux 78 rpm set’s cover, which was reproduced on Reiner’s LP cover, that of a well-dressed hiker seeing a vision of his beloved’s face in the sky. I kept the LP just for that!

James Miller

This article originally appeared in Issue 35:3 (Jan/Feb 2012) of Fanfare Magazine.