There is no end of recordings of these seven popular Rhapsodies for Orchestra, but among the very best have for many years been those of conductor Antal Dorati and the London Symphony Orchestra.
I confess that for the big two, Georges Enesco’s Roumanian Rhapsody No. 1 and Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, I have long held a preference for the old Stokowski recordings available now on RCA Living Stereo and, even better, on a JVC XRCD. But for the Enesco and all six of the Liszt Rhapsodies on one disc, there is nothing finer than Dorati’s old Mercury edition.
Tempos and contrasts sound well judged, although not as effortlessly integrated as Stokowski’s. Still, there is plenty of color and excitement to Dorati’s performances. The big two come off with plenty of élan and sparkle; the Fourth Hungarian Rhapsody is appropriately “rhapsodic” (the word “rhapsody” as applied to music was apparently first used by Liszt for his earliest piano versions of these pieces); the Fifth appears properly moderated; and the Sixth, “The Carnival in Pesth,” is as jubilant and festive as any “Carnival” could be.
The sound is open and vibrant and very wide spread across the front speakers. It’s available on this SACD in its original three-channel format and in regular two-channel on a hybrid disc that one can play on an SACD player or a conventional CD machine. Mercury made the recordings of the Enesco and the Liszt Second and Third in 1960 and the other four Liszt Rhapsodies in 1963, all with the LSO. The later recordings sound very marginally quieter and smoother than the three earlier ones, but the differences are small, indeed.
If you already own this collection on the regular Mercury CD released in the early Nineties, there is not a lot of difference in the sound of the new one in regular stereo. I found the new SACD mastering very slightly brighter and a touch more revealing, but it may have been my imagination, even comparing them side-by-side in separate players. If you don’t already own the collection, though, the SACD hybrid would be a first choice, even if it is a few dollars more than the regular issue.
Finally, I should add in closing that not only is there a fine recording of the Roumanian Rhapsody by Stokowski available but also a disc by Willi Boskovsky on EMI that duplicates the Liszt items on this Dorati one. Boskovsky’s renditions of Liszt are almost as good as Dorati’s, and with the prices of the two discs very low, it might behoove those interested in the repertoire to own all of them.