C1822. WILLEM MENGELBERG Cond. Concertgebouw Orch.: Elegiac Melodies Nos. 1 & 2 (Grieg); Anacreon - Overture (Cherubini); Ein Heldenleben (Strauss); WILLEM MENGELBERG Cond. NYPO: Le Rouet d'Omphale (Saint-Saëns). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL 78-1018, recorded 1927-31. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“I liked Mengelberg. Him I played with many times. He was crazy. In the Chopin e minor Concerto, he followed beautifully. All the rubatos. And when I changed something, he was always there.”
- Claudio Arrau
“Willem Mengelberg, like Henry J. Wood, spent half a century with an institution classifiable as a national monument: from 1895 to 1945 he was music director of...the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. Like Arthur Nikisch he was an early example of the commuting conductor and regularly departed Holland 1907 to 1920 for concerts in Frankfurt.
Mengelberg remained in Europe after 1930, recording for Columbia until the Depression cut into recording budgets, then for the German firm Telefunken. With the coming of the war Mengelberg accepted the Nazis…to conduct and record – meanwhile saving at least sixteen Jewish members of his orchestra and…defying the ban on playing Mahler.
Dr. Berta Geissmar, Wilhelm Furtwängler’s Jewish secretary, has written in TWO WORLDS OF MUSIC about the kindnesses extended by Mengelberg on her Amsterdam visits in the late Thirties, and there are other examples of his natural non-partisan good-heartedness. Politics bored Mengelberg….He lived, in a sense, on his own special island, a monarch among invaders as well as a prince among friends….his soul was drenched in music. With virtually every performance he was living in the music’s lining and hurling himself at the barricades of interpretation....It’s not surprising that Otto Klemperer, rejected by the Third Reich, conducted a memorial concert for Mengelberg in Amsterdam shortly after his death.
Perhaps a clue to Mengelberg’s wartime indiscretions, sinful and virtuous, may be found in a character summation supplied by one of the wisest ever of conductors’ wives, Doris Monteux. As she writes in IT’S ALL IN THE MUSIC, Mengelberg was ‘one of the most fascinating personalities I ever met; he was at the same time kind and generous, unkind and small, bombastic yet gentle, childishly naïve, foolishly proud and pompous yet ridden with a feeling of unworthiness, religious yet at times positively hedonistic. Truly a more complex character never lived’.”
- Arthur Bloomfield, MORE THAN THE NOTES