on 4 July 2007
While the accompanying re-release of Richard Strauss' "Don Quixote" and "Don Juan" with the same forces sadly betrays its age, this CD remains one of the true classic Fritz Reiner discs, sounding as fresh as if it was recorded last week.
Fritz Reiner's account of De Falla's ballet "El amor brujo" with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Leontyne Price remains one of the finest ever put on disc. The vivacity, the attack and rhythm, the sense of atmosphere and colour, the extreme emotions found in this music are rendered here with superb mastery. The virtuosity and precision of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1963 is downright stunning, while Leontyne Price's gripping dark-throated vocal contribution is for not being idiomatically authentic still totally apt.
The only regret one might have is that De Falla's magnificent "The Three-Cornered Hat" isn't complete. The three fragments, recorded in 1958, including the irresistibly lilting final dance, boast the same qualities as found in "El amor brujo". Two excerpts from De Falla's opera "La Vida breve", the interlude and the well-known dance, are also played with great zest and understanding.
The remainder of the programme from 1958 consists of orchestral transcriptions of three piano pieces from Isaac Albeniz' "Iberia", done with immense flair by Enrique Arbós. Here too the playing of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is second to none, with Reiner again evoking all the unbridled Latin passion of the "Fête-Dieu à Seville" and "Navarra". The Intermezzo from Enrique Granados' "Goyescas" is offered as a final bonus.
The three-channel SACD format is breathtaking by its clarity, presence and bloom. The orchestral balance and colour is rendered here to perfection (just listen to the build-up in the final dance from "The Three-Cornered Hat" with its powerful bass drum, sparkling percussion and colourful brass).
A magnificent disc.
This disc, created from recordings made in 1958 and 1963, is something of a sonic miracle. I owned these recordings way back in about 1970 but finally found the sound too shrill and the full brass was over-modulated and distorted at the biggest climaxes.
This is no longer the case. What we have here is a recording quality that would give most modern recording a real challenge. Reiner, of course, was known for giving his orchestra a real challenge too and the CSO was known for meeting that challenge head on and surviving with honours.
This disc is really a display vehicle for a Spanish feast with the main item El Amor Brujo, getting one of the finest performances ever recorded. Leontyne Price's vocal timbre is especially suited to this piece being so satisfying dusky and 'gypsy-ish.' The remainder of the programme is of generally lighter fare but is played throughout with the conviction and attention to detail that would be applied to more substantial repertoire. The result is a complete enhancement of musical satisfaction.
I would suggest that this very successful example of the new technology being applied to older technology is an unmitigated success. I have immediately ordered more form the series!
In conclusion I would suggest that this disc is deserving of the most serious consideration from anyone interested in either the programme or in investigating the latest advances in technology applied to famous old recordings. Quite an ear-opener.