Thursday, October 22, 2009
Great recordings without the spin
This wonderful Christian Steiner portrait of Charles Gerhardt(1927-99) featured in my 2007 post LPs were like the force of gravity. Gerhardt's important contribution as a conductor, producer and champion of twentieth-century composers such as Howard Hanson, whose Second Symphony is the main work on the disc above, has never been fully recognised. So I was delighted when David Cavlovic sent me a link to a wonderful appreciation of Gerhardt's work. Reading Robert E. Benson's memories of Gerhardt prompted me to dig some of his great recordings out of my collection, and to write my own appreciation below.
Charles Gerhardt was a champion of the music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and collaborated with the composer's son George on recordings of his film music. One result was the 1972 LP seen above conducted by Charles Gerhardt and produced by George Korngold, which is a true sonic and musical delight. At one time it was available as a Chesky CD transfer, but I can find no trace of it in the catalogue today.
Another result of the Korngold collabaration was the LP seen below of the composer's Symphony in F-Sharp which Charles Gerhardt produced with Rudolf Kempe (another grossly under-rated musician) conducting the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. Again there is a long-deleted CD transfer. This was the first recording of the Korngold Symphony, and it stands head and shoulders above later versions from other conductors. The playing of the Munich brass in the scherzo still makes the hairs on my neck stand on end. There may be more corn than gold in the symphony, but inspired playing like this can still make it sound like great music.
One of the other conductors who subsequently recorded the Korngold Symphony was André Previn, who, to my amusement, has made several Korngold CDs for Deutsche Grammophon in recent years. When I was at EMI in the 1970s I suggested Previn consider a Korngold recording, but was told that, due to the conductor's Hollywood past, he did not want to be linked with composers of film music. Strange how locust years can change musical judgements. And, anyway, didn't Previn staples Shostakovich and Prokofiev also write film music? Just to prove every path has a twist, a few years later Previn took over tinsel town's own Los Angeles Philharmonic. His successor Esa-Pekka Salonen was less leery of film music, and early in his tenure with the orchestra made an excellent recording of Bernard Hermann's film scores.
But back to Korngold. The bust of the composer on the handsome RCA dust jacket is by Anna Mahler, who was married for a short time to Ernst Krenek, the composer of the opera Jonny spielt auf. Anna's mother featured here recently, quite appropriately, in Mrs Mahler - may I take my jacket off?
Charles Gerhardt also worked with Sir John Barbirolli, and their LP of Sibelius' Second Symphony is considered to be one of the great recorded accounts of the work. More Barbirolli in Glorious John in New York.
All LPs and CDs are from my collection. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk. Version 1.2 - 23/10/2009