The name of José Itubi may perhaps evoke vague recognition amongst men and women of a specific age, although most most likely as a cultural figure praised by earlier generations. Iturbi, who died aged 84 in 1980, was a celebrated Spanish pianist and conductor who migrated to Hollywood films in the 1940s, when he also had a 20-year recording contract with RCA, starting in the mid-1930s. them. But even although he was beloved by numerous, he never ever fairly entered the pantheon of musicians whose names nonetheless resonate.
Sony Classical begs to differ, apparently, possessing just reissued all of Iturbi’s RCA recordings in a 16-disc collection. This lavish dig is rather flippantly titled ‘From Hollywood to the World’ – despite the fact that if something, the nouns ought to be reversed in this case. Like the label’s earlier sets devoted to pianist Oscar Levant and the excellent contralto Marian Anderson, this 1 is basically a coffee table book with CDs inside — the music is nicely complemented by a wealth of historical pictures, discographies, and an extended, if any, biographical essay of the set’s co-producers. singer and Tin Pan Alley scholar Michael Feinstein.
Iturbi was nothing at all if not Catholic in his musical tastes, and numerous of the most significant names in the regular repertoire get at least some representation right here, such as Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Ravel and Rachmaninoff. Only Brahms and Schubert are conspicuously absent. Far more important is the treasure trove of Spanish keyboard music performed by Iturbi — substantially of it in duet with Amparo Iturbi, his talented younger sister. For very good measure, this set generously contains all of her solo piano recordings for RCA (about two CDs worth) as a welcome added.
Her contribution to this gathering ought to not be minimized for in her modest way, Amparo is her brother’s equal in talent — and most likely superior to him in musicality. Her sense of the operates of Spanish composers like Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados and Joaquin Turina is as strange as his. But she evokes additional colour and power in Ravel than he achieves, just as her Mozart surpasses his in elegance and elasticity. And guess which brother recorded Shostakovich in 1954? (A single suspects that this release is, inadvertently, a further indictment of the classical music culture of the 20th century, in which gifted girls seldom enjoyed the identical respect as their male counterparts.)
Even though mainly a pianist, José Iturbi also performed and, as confirmed in this set, managed a credible functionality of orchestral warhorses, numerous of them led from the keyboard, such as two Mozart concertos: no. 20 (K. 466) and, with his sister as companion, No. ten for two pianos (K. 365). Each operates are integrated twice in this set, recorded 12 years apart, with the earlier versions, from 1940, regularly superior in verve and character.
The identical can be stated for Itubi’s two recordings of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. three, from 1941 and 1952, although each are admirably animated depictions that deserve renewed focus. Two purely orchestral operates, Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony and Dvořák’s “New Planet” Symphony, possess moments of ragged excitement inside the quadrangle, and their key interest now are examples of Itubi’s connection with the Rochester Philharmonic, exactly where he was music director from 1936 to 1944. .
In addition to the concerts, numerous pieces for solo piano are repeated, amongst them Schumann’s “Arabesque”, Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” and “Reverie” and Chopin’s “Heroic” polonaise. And when once more, earlier readings are frequently additional satisfying, the standard wisdom getting that Hollywood destroyed Iturbi’s art even as it expanded his fame.
As is in some cases the case with such anthologies, previously unpublished material is extensively readily available. Right here, the most compelling exhumation — Manuel de Falla’s endlessly listened to “Seven Spanish Folk Songs,” with the fine Spanish soprano Consuela Rubio accompanied by Itubi on the piano — ought to, alas, have remained buried. The singer sounds unusually shrill and pronounces badly, and the balance does not go in the favor of Iturbi.
None of Iturbi’s contributions to the seven MGM musicals seem on these discs. But a nicely-marked filmography shows his important involvement in this when well known medium. His face, immediately after all, opens Anchors Away (1945), starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. And his look in “Music for Millions” (1944) confirms that he could hold his personal against such seasoned film stars as Margaret O’Brien, June Allison and Jimmy Durante. These interested will discover most of his films on DVD and in standard rotation on the Turner Classic Motion pictures cable channel.
So, in addition to its aural pleasures, this set documents a time when classical music and its practitioners have been not regarded exclusively elitist, but as an alternative as a thing of the tight thread that weaves the American cultural tapestry. That time appears pretty much as distant now as it did when stovepipe hats and higher-buckled footwear have been trendy. José Iturbi, in his sophisticated but unpretentious way, reminds us that this was not generally accurate.
-Mister. Mermelstein is the Journal’s classical music critic.
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