Blast from the Past: Dimitri Mitropoulos
For my weekly salute to the good old days, I thought I'd salute Dimitri Mitropoulos, a conductor who never fails to impress me -- at least from recordings, which are all I have to go by (he was long gone before I got interested in classical music). I've featured Mitropoulos before in this blog, and will no doubt continue to do so, since I find in his music-making a truly unique mix of drama and poetry, humanity and spirituality.
One of my favorite examples of Mitropoulos in action was captured live at a performance of Verdi's "La forza del Destino" in Florence in 1953, so I thought that's what I would share today. What he does with the Overture is, to me, simply astonishing and spine-tingling. And it's such a daringly individualistic interpretation.
No one I know of has ever slowed down just before the coda to punch out each of the chords, for example (around 5:50 on this audio clip). There are many other distinctive touches, too, including his shaping of the great, arcing melodic line that rises and falls in the strings early on in the overture (starting at 1:43); Mitropoulos has the strings accent the descending notes of the theme in such a way as to bring out an extra layer of inner torment.
This is not just a live recording, but a fully alive performance, and a demonstration of inspired conducting.
For comparison purposes, I've followed the Mitropoulos clip with a recording by the legendary Arturo Toscanini, which has its own considerable appeal -- you won't ever hear me knocking Toscanini -- and provides a faithful account of the printed score. Note the smoother descending string line at 1:32 and the normal steady push of the pre-coda chords at 5:35.
I don't expect everyone to agree with me that Mitropoulous is supreme in the "Forza" Overture, but I hope you'll grant that this is one mighty blast from the past:
1:32 on Toscanini)