The reputation of conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos hit a rough patch toward the end of his life. At one point in his career, Mitropoulos was regarded as one of the top conductors in the world, but when he parted ways with New York Philharmonic in 1957, his profile took a nosedive; by the time of Mitropoulos' death in at age 64 in 1960 he still had not found a permanent position elsewhere. Despite his heartbreak, several of Mitropoulos' best recorded performances come from this last period, including half of this disc, Music & Arts' Dimitri Mitropoulos Conducts Schoenberg, Scriabin and Schmidt.
The music of Schoenberg was particularly dear to Mitropoulos' heart, and he performed it extensively throughout his lifetime. Music & Arts credits the performance of Schoenberg's Op. 5 Pelleas & Melisande to the "Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra," presumably New York, in a searing performance sourced from Mitropoulos' own archive dating from 1953. If the mono sound quality was not as restrictive as it is toward high-end frequencies, this would be the greatest Pelleas & Melisande ever recorded, so fiery and intense is the nature of Mitropoulos' interpretation; it lifts one out of his/her chair. Mitropoulos' Vienna Philharmonic performance of Verklärte Nacht is six minutes longer than his stereo Columbia recording with New York, and he takes his time here -- pauses are pregnant and Mitropoulos would never rush such potently Romantic music by as would, say, Pierre Boulez. To Mitropoulos, Schoenberg's early music is Romantic music, plain, pure, and simple, and it sounds good that way.
The Scriabin Prometheus, the Poem of Fire, a recording with a pedigree similar to that of Pelleas & Melisande, still suffers from the same cramped perspective. Yet it is still a glorious performance -- it is a shame the piano soloist involved is an unknown quantity. Franz Schmidt was another composer to whom Mitropoulos exercised strong ties, and his Schmidt Symphony No. 2 is a decent performance somewhat marred by the Vienna Philharmonic's flute section being out of tune in the opening -- unfortunately, the flutes have many pages of music in this part of the work. By the time the second movement rolls around, the situation has improved and Mitropoulos' effort proceeds as it should, and the remainder is of far better than average caliber for those who are willing to stick around for it.