Adlai Stevenson, Philadelphia Orchestra / Eugene Ormandy;
Cleveland Pops Orchestra / Louis Lane; St Louis SO / Andre Previn
(Sony Essential Classics SBK 62 401)
A fine concert that opens with a Fanfare for the Common Man and ends with words from a President. The two ought really to have followed each other (they did on the original LP), though by prefacing Lincoln Portrait with The Red Pony Suite, Sony highlight - wittingly or not - a subtle thematic connection between the Portrait and the Suite's "Grandfather Story". All performers hit target, with Andre Previn easing from one ranch- style episode to the next and Louis Lane's Cleveland Pops Orchestra showing great tenderness in Rodeo's "Saturday Night Waltz", especially from the strings. A shame that "Buckaroo Holiday" is cut (why, I wonder?), though the trombonist has a whale of a time and "Hoe Down" really kicks the dust.
Less memorable is An Outdoor Overture, calculated "to appeal to the adolescent youth in the country" but somewhat over-long. Lane does a worthy job (he was, after all, Szell's assistant at Cleveland), but for genuine charisma, beam up to the last track (12, not 13 as per Sony's booklet), where Adlai Stevenson parades a statesman's authority and an actor's sense of timing for a truly noble account of Lincoln Portrait. Lincoln's words will set the blood coursing through your veins and Ormandy's band plays on to magnificent effect.
Cesar Franck: Prelude, Choral et Fugue; Prelude, Aria et Final; Variations symphoniques
Alfred Cortot, with Jacques Thibaud, LSO / Landon Ronald
(Biddulph LHW 027)
Franck as interpreted from a decidedly Wagnerian stand-point, dark, grand and with a rolling left hand that seems to summon sonorities way beneath the instrument's natural compass. But then it's easy to forget that, in 1902, Alfred Cortot had conducted the French premiere of Gotterdammerung; he was a genuine free spirit who, although steeped in the ethos of late Romanticism, was equally capable of elegant phrasing and featherlight textures.
The Prelude, Choral et Fugue opens wistfully, settles to a broadly arpeggiated Choral and makes as strong a case as any for the Fugue's somewhat uncomfortable juxtaposition of themes.
Even finer is a cool, superbly graded account of the little-known Prelude, Aria et Final, the Prelude especially, while Cortot provides positively rapturous support for his friend Jacques Thibaud in a spontaneous (and extremely famous) 1929 recording of the Violin Sonata. Here Thibaud's Kreislerian poise and delicate tone find the perfect foil in Cortot's orchestrally fashioned piano-playing (especially in the first two movements), but if you'd rather hear a more relaxed Cortot, then his earliest recording of the Variations symphoniques should fit the bill, not least for the sweeping cello line in Landon Ronald's responsive LSO accompaniment. The sound is pretty dusty, but the ear soon adjusts.