Replay

Robert Cowan reviews two of the latest reissues

"Wherever did you get the idea of becoming a conductor, young man? Go back to your little home and become a bookseller." Surly advice for young Hermann Abendroth - and a hurtful snub from the legendary Felix Weingartner. But Abendroth persisted, took up appointments at Lubeck, Essen, Cologne and Leipzig, guest-conducted the wartime Berlin Philharmonic and shaped the post-war Leipzig Radio Orchestra.

Abendroth's interpretations are wildly unpredictable, even within a single piece - Schumann's Spring Symphony, for example, where the first movement is impetuous, the Larghetto impassioned and the Scherzo and Finale oscillate, accelerate and deliberate with such alarming frequency that you're left gobsmacked.

Abendroth's Brahms First is equally outlandish, swelling massively for the opening Andante, then stamping forth with grim resolve, swooning through the slow movement and leaning heavily on the first note of the Finale's big string tune. Thereafter, Abendroth steps on the gas, pushing the argument to fever pitch and never mind the lack of detail.

Kalinnikov's Borodin-soundalike Second Symphony gets a sympathetic airing and there's a Strauss family miscellany: the Emperor and Blue Danube waltzes plus the Waldmeister and Gipsy Baron overtures - bluff, excitable and somewhat approximate performances that will raise both smiles and hackles. The recordings are OK, just.

The sexiest Carmen on record was born in Barcelona in 1895 and died in childbirth some 40 years later. Contemporary reports compliment Supervia for her charm and magnetism, while the insistent, rattling vibrato that's such a striking characteristic of her recordings wasn't nearly so apparent on stage.

This particular compilation - beautifully transferred from 78s - is dominated by a scintillating Rossini sequence, arias from L'Italiana in Algeri, La Cenerentola and Il Barbiere di Siviglia all delivered with an elegance, intensity and virtuosity that were rare even in the so-called "Golden Age" of the 1920s. The Carmen extracts are extraordinary, the "Card Scene" suggesting a lethal combination of sweetness and terror, while the "Gipsy Dance" sports X-rated powers of seduction.

Supervia wasn't yet 16 when she sang Octavian at the first Rome performance of Der Rosenkavalier and her 1928 recordings of the "Presentation of the Rose" and the final duet (the latter with Ina Maria Ferraris) are among the most valuable tracks on the CD. Then there's Mignon's "Connais-tu le pays?" (by Thomas) and a quartet of songs, ending with "Have you seen but a whyte lily grow" - tender and spicy, a warmingly human rendition to place beside Kathleen Ferrier's chaste sublimity.

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