“RETURN TO RUSSIA.” Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6, plus music by Johann Strauss/Shostakovich, Grieg, Paganini, Prokofiev, Gershwin and Sousa. National Symphony of Washington, conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich. Sony Classical SK 45836.
Given the political waves that Rostropovich made under the Brezhnev regime, this is certainly the most important of all the recent Russian homecomings. Yet in this live 1990 Moscow concert, he turns in a surprisingly restrained “Pathetique,” one that presses energetically ahead without serving up the expected glut of hand-wringing Angst . The long list of encores, mostly standard Rostropovich/National tour staples, is a lot of fun, particularly the witty Shostakovich takeoff on a Strauss polka and Slava’s roughhouse way with “Tybalt’s Death” from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
WEILL: “Berlin im Licht”; other songs and instrumental music. Rosemary Hardy, soprano; Ueli Wiget, piano; Ensemble Modern, conducted by H. K. Gruber. Largo 5114.
As the calling card for a far-ranging accumulation of Weill rarities and discoveries, the song “Berlin im Licht” is rather slight, an ironic ‘20s romp in a dated arrangement. Rather, the pieces to savor on this CD are the barbed suite from “Gustav III” (“Bastille Musik”), some fascinating machine music and the notorious “Muschel von Margate” from “Konjunktur” (“Ol-musik”), and a set of sardonic marches and tangos from “Marie Galante” (“Suite Panameenne”). The expert Ensemble Modern is led with brio by Gruber, who also sings with a wild Brechtian rasp.
DVORAK: Symphony No. 8. RAVEL: “Ma Mere l’Oye” Suite. Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini. Sony Classical SK 46670.
Still quite active in Europe, Giulini continues to take refuge in his core repertory. This is the second go-round for the Dvorak Eighth, one that finds the Italian maestro wrapping his warm, legato blanket even more snugly around the score--at the expense of the exuberant rustic elements. As for his three recordings of the Ravel, they have become progressively slower, but the latest one uses time in the most ravishingly languorous manner yet and elicits nuances and details that eluded his previous two versions. Mostly on the strength of the Ravel, this is one of Giulini’s better recent discs.