Great Historical Musicians

I have been absorbed in classical music for thirty years and have a major interest in historical conductors. I am especially interested in the conductors Willem Mengelberg, Sir Thomas Beecham, Eduard van Beinum (link to Classical CD-Review Page), Eugene Ormandy, Yevgeny Mravinsky, Bruno Walter, Hans Knappertsbusch, Clemens Krauss, Richard Strauss, Karl Boehm, Wilhelm Furtwaengler, Karel Sejna, Josef Krips and Philippe Herreweghe. Above all, Willem Mengelberg is the winner. What is more, his orchestra, the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam in itself is a great one. At the moment, I will be discussing only Mengelberg.

Mr.Brendan Wehrung also compiles his unique Megelberg's discography that is now available here.

(If you are interested in Carl Schuricht, I recommend a visit to a page by Dr. Kobayashi.

Willem Mengelberg (1871.3.28 The Netherlands~1951.3.22 Switzerland)

When I was a junior high school student, I came across his name and some of his recordings. At that time, I was already familiar with Furtwaengler, Knappertsbusch, and Walter, who all have unique personalities. But Mengelberg overwhelmed me completely. I was very much amazed at his sense for harmony, dynamics, and his strong personality. I have been absorbed in his art ever since. It is my pleasure to introduce some of his recordings.

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.6, recorded twice in 1937 and 1941

These are among Mengelberg's most popular recordings. However, Mr. Haruhiko Kohri, a Japanese historian of recorded music, set forth in an article in the record magazine, Record Geijutsu, in July, 1993, some startling findings. According to him, all CD transfers of the Pathetique were conflations of the two versions. The latter half of the first movement and the whole of the third movement came from the 1941 recording sessions, while the rest came from the 1937 sessions. (By contrast, the early Capitol LP issued in the United States (P 8103) came entirely from the 1941 sessions, while all other LPs used the 1937 sessions.) Mr. Kohri is also a superb transfer engineer of 78s and has issued the genuine both versions through Warner Japan in 1994. They are now available in Japan and are accomplished at a quite high level. Unfortunately, however, Teldec in Germany turned down the plan to issue the series, since they prefer digital filtered sound to Mr. Kohri's natural sound. Which do you like better?
Warner Japan : WPCS-4327~30

Complete Columbia 78s

Pearl Records in Great Britain issued six wonderful CDs consisting of all the British Columbia recordings, plus some related items discussed below. They were transferred by Mr. Mark Obert-Thorn, who is one of the best transfer engineers nowadays. This discs, in addition to all those issued by British Coumbia, which span the years 1926 through 1932, also contain some quite rare items. One is a 1927 recording of the second and third movements only of the Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony, which was issued only on French Odeon. (The entire work was recorded in 1928 and is a common item.) In addition, the CDs include an alternate take of Scherzo in MSND by Mendelsshon (which was issued) and an unissued first take of the Tchaikovsky Serenade Waltz, which seems fine on its own, until one hears the more perfect third take, the one that was issued. The Tchaikovsky items are the result of great efforts of three American collectors, Mr. Don Hodgman, Mr. Ronald Russel and Dr. Frank Forman, to locate these rare discs used for the transfers.The last person is also popular for his discography of Yvgeny Mravinsky, which was coauthored with Kenzo Amoh and first published in Osaka and updated and reissued in the ARSC Journal, ARSC being the Association for Recorded Sound Collections. Secondly, the transferred sound quality is most beautiful. At any rate, this set shows what many regard as Mengelberg's best era. In particular, the recording of the Suite No. 2 by J.S.Bach, the Anacreon Overture by Cherubini, several Beethoven overtures, the Brahms third symphony, Les Preludes by Liszt, Tchaikovsky's 4th and 5th symphonies, and the Poet and Peasant Overture by Suppe are all unforgettable and miraculous perfomances.
Pearl Records : GEMM CDS 9018, 9019

Bartok: Violin Concerto No.2

Mengelberg gave over three hundred world premier performances. Recordings of some of these survive, such as Kodaly's Peacock Variations and Hindemith's Violin Concerto, both of which are available on CD and are very fine. But the Bartok Violin Concerto is even more special. The soloist, Zoltan Szekely, was a friend of Bartok. In this case, the first performance of a masterpiece is also the best recording of all time!
Hungaroton' LP was very wonderful. Philips: 426104-2PLC

J.S.Bach: St. Matthew Passion, BWV244

I must single out this item. Mengelberg was a boy singer in his childhood and had beautiful voice. He was familiar with choral music in church, including that composed by Palestrina and Bach. When he was appointed to be director of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, he insisted on performing the Bach St. Matthew Passion and assembled the Toonkunst Choir. He performed this work every year for over 40 years, beginning in 1899. The 1939 performance was recorded on sound track film and is currently available.
Philips: I don't have the catalog number handy.