Saturday, November 14, 2009

Second Edition?

It was during the sesquicentennial celebration of the birth of Johannes Brahms that my interest in his music began to escalate from the serious to the exhaustive. At the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, the Guarneri Quartet joined forces with the trio of Joseph Kalichstein, Jaime Laredo, and Sharon Robinson to perform a series of programs that covered all of the chamber music that Brahms composed for piano and strings. My wife-to-be Linda and I attended every one of those concerts (even inviting my parents up from Philadelphia for one of them); and I still remember how revelatory each evening was for me.

That was a time when I did a lot of browsing in the many Manhattan record shops that had interesting collections of classical music. On one of our "dates," Linda saw a Deutsche Grammophon box marked Brahms Edition containing all of his songs performed by soprano Jessye Norman and baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, all accompanied on piano by Daniel Barenboim. We were both crazy about Norman; so there was no question of adding this to my collection, even if I was not the most enthusiastic Barenboim follower. (I would later play the track of "Von ewiger Liebe," Opus 43, Number 1, at our wedding.) Over the following months I picked up several more of the Brahms Edition boxes, all of which had vocal content: the Vocal Ensembles collection, the Choral Works, and the Works for Chorus and Orchestra. As I have previously written, we grew particularly fond of Giuseppe Sinopoli's approach to the German Requiem in that last collection.

With the move into the era of compact discs, it seemed as if the masters of many of my favorite Deutsche Grammophon recordings had been condemned to languish in the archival vaults. This included all of the Brahms Edition material, which may have been set aside under the assumption that demand would not be particularly high in the absence of any major anniversary celebration. After a couple of decades of waiting (and living with the decision to get rid of all of my vinyls when we "downsized" to our condominium in San Francisco), I eventually decided to satisfy my Gesamtwerk approach to listening to Brahms with the Brilliant Classics' collection of his complete works, using this blog to document several impressions of its assets and liabilities. Recently Deutsche Grammophon finally released their own Complete Edition box, and I looked forward to reviving my memories of those vinyls that were eventually played to death. I even wrote about that anticipation in conjunction with reexamining Sinopoli's Requiem performance in light of all the negative things I had been reading about him.

Thus, when the Deutsche Grammophon box arrived, the first thing I did was review the "table of contents" booklet. It was neatly organized in sections that corresponded to the individual boxes of vinyls that had originally been released, but I was surprised to discover that the Sinopoli Requiem was not there. It had been replaced by a performance conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini, while all the other Sinopoli recordings from the original box were included. Checking the recording details, I discovered that this "substitute" was recorded in 1987, roughly five years after all of the Sinopoli recordings for the vinyl box had been made (and four years after the sesquicentennial year). Was this a reaction to all of Sinopoli's negative press receptions? That seemed unlikely, since Deutsche Grammophon had already released the complete recordings that Sinopoli had made with the Philharmonia Orchestra of the music of Gustav Mahler.

Further investigation revealed that the CD version was, indeed, a "second edition" of the original vinyl product. All of the Herbert von Karajan recordings of the symphonies and Haydn variations made with the Berlin Philharmonic had been recorded in 1987 and 1989; and the recordings of the piano sonatas were made in 1996! Were those replacing the recordings that Krystian Zimerman had made in 1979 and 1982 that had been released as their own 2-CD set? When a book goes into a second edition, there is usually at least a rough account of what has changed and what motivated those changes. However, the Compete Edition booklet provides no information other than the lists of all the tracks and the recording details. Is there a story behind the decision that the second edition should revise the content of the initial project?

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