name may perhaps spark some vague recognition in these of a specific age, even though most most likely as a cultural figure lauded by earlier generations. Iturbi, who died at age 84 in 1980, was a celebrated Spanish pianist and conductor who migrated into Hollywood motion pictures in the 1940s, when he simultaneously held a coveted recording contract with RCA that endured for 20 years, beginning in the mid-1930s. But even though beloved by several, he in no way fairly entered the pantheon of musicians whose names nonetheless resound.
Sony Classical begs to differ, apparently, getting just reissued all of Iturbi’s RCA recordings in a collection of 16 compact discs. This lavish excavation bears the rather flippant title “From Hollywood to the World”—though, if something, the nouns ought to be reversed in this case. Like earlier sets from the label devoted to the pianist
and the good contralto
this 1, as well, is basically a coffee-table book with CDs inside—the music handsomely supplemented by a multitude of historic photographs, discographies and an extended, if fulsome, biographical essay from the set’s co-producer, the crooner and Tin Pan Alley scholar
Iturbi was nothing at all if not catholic in his musical tastes, and several of the regular repertory’s greatest names get at least some representation right here, which includes Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Ravel and Rachmaninoff. Only Brahms and Schubert are conspicuously absent. Extra worthwhile is the trove of Spanish keyboard music performed by Iturbi—a very good portion of it in duet with
his talented younger sister. For very good measure, this set generously consists of all her solo-piano recordings for RCA (about two CDs’ worth) as a welcome fillip.
Her contribution to this set really should not be minimized for in her modest way, Amparo is her brother’s equal in talent—and arguably his superior in musicality. Her really feel for the performs of Spanish composers like
is as uncanny as his. But she summons a lot more colour and vigor in Ravel than he achieves, just as her Mozart exceeds his in elegance and elasticity. And care to guess which sibling, in 1954, recorded Shostakovich? (One particular suspects this release is, inadvertently, one more indictment of 20th-century classical-music culture, in which gifted ladies seldom enjoyed renown equal to their male counterparts.)
Even though initial and foremost a pianist, José Iturbi also carried out and, as confirmed in this set, managed credible performances of orchestral warhorses, several led from the keyboard, which includes two concertos by Mozart: the No. 20 (K. 466) and, with his sister as companion, the No. ten for Two Pianos (K. 365). Each performs are incorporated twice in this set, recorded 12 years apart, with the earlier versions, from 1940, regularly superior in verve and character.
The exact same can be mentioned about Iturbi’s two recordings of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. three, from 1941 and 1952, even though each are gratifyingly animated accounts deserving renewed focus. Two purely orchestral performs, Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony and Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony, possess moments of scrappy excitement inside a foursquare framework, their principal interest now becoming examples of Iturbi’s association with the Rochester Philharmonic, exactly where he served as music director from 1936 to 1944.
In addition to the concertos, numerous pieces for solo piano are repeated, amongst them Schumann’s “Arabesque,” Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” and “Rêverie” and Chopin’s “Heroic” Polonaise. And after once more the earlier readings frequently yield higher pleasure, the traditional wisdom becoming that Hollywood sapped Iturbi’s artistry even as it expanded his fame.
As is at times the case in compendiums like this, material previously unissued finds its way to wide availability. Right here the most enticing exhumation—
Manuel de Falla’s
endlessly listenable “Seven Spanish Folk Songs,” with the fine Spanish soprano
accompanied by Iturbi on piano—is, sadly, 1 that really should have remained buried. The singer sounds uncharacteristically shrill and enunciates poorly, and the balances do Iturbi no favors.
None of Iturbi’s contributions to seven MGM musicals seems on these discs. But a nicely-annotated filmography demonstrates his notable involvement with this after-well-liked medium. His face, right after all, opens “Anchors Aweigh” (1945), starring
And his look in “Music for Millions” (1944) confirms he could hold his personal against such seasoned screen stars as
June Allyson and
These interested sufficient will come across most of his motion pictures on DVD and in normal rotation on the cable channel Turner Classic Films.
So, beyond its aural pleasures, this set documents a time when classical music and its practitioners have been not regarded exclusively as elitist, but as an alternative as some of the sturdy yarn from which America’s cultural tapestry was woven. That time now appears practically as distant as when stove-pipe hats and higher-buttoned footwear have been trendy. José Iturbi, in his sophisticated but unpretentious way, reminds us that wasn’t often correct.
—Mr. Mermelstein is the Journal’s classical music critic.
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