‘From Hollywood to the World’ Overview: José Iturbi, Film-Star Pianist
name may well spark some vague recognition in these of a particular age, even though most probably 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 films 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 lots of, he never ever very entered the pantheon of musicians whose names nonetheless resound.
Sony Classical begs to differ, apparently, obtaining 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 excellent 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 absolutely nothing if not catholic in his musical tastes, and lots of of the normal repertory’s largest names get at least some representation right here, like 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 great portion of it in duet with
his talented younger sister. For great measure, this set generously incorporates 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 extra 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? (1 suspects this release is, inadvertently, yet another indictment of 20th-century classical-music culture, in which gifted girls seldom enjoyed renown equal to their male counterparts.)
Even though 1st and foremost a pianist, José Iturbi also performed and, as confirmed in this set, managed credible performances of orchestral warhorses, lots of led from the keyboard, like 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 integrated twice in this set, recorded 12 years apart, with the earlier versions, from 1940, regularly superior in verve and character.
The very same can be stated 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 consideration. 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, many 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 again the earlier readings commonly yield higher pleasure, the traditional wisdom becoming that Hollywood sapped Iturbi’s artistry even as it expanded his fame.
As is in some cases 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, regrettably, 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 properly-annotated filmography demonstrates his notable involvement with this after-well-known medium. His face, immediately 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 discover most of his films on DVD and in standard rotation on the cable channel Turner Classic Films.
So, beyond its aural pleasures, this set documents a time when classical music and its practitioners had 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 nearly as distant as when stove-pipe hats and higher-buttoned footwear had been trendy. José Iturbi, in his sophisticated but unpretentious way, reminds us that wasn’t generally correct.
—Mr. Mermelstein is the Journal’s classical music critic.
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