• Fri. Mar 24th, 2023

‘From Hollywood to the World’ Critique: José Iturbi, Film-Star Pianist


Mar 18, 2023

José Iturbi’s

name might possibly spark some vague recognition in these of a distinct age, even although most in all probability as a cultural figure lauded by prior 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, starting in the mid-1930s. But even although beloved by quite a few, he by no signifies quite entered the pantheon of musicians whose names nonetheless resound.

Sony Classical begs to differ, apparently, getting 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 a thing, the nouns ought to be reversed in this case. Like prior sets from the label devoted to the pianist

Oscar Levant

and the excellent contralto

Marian Anderson,

this 1 specific, also, is essentially 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

Michael Feinstein.

Iturbi was totally nothing at all if not catholic in his musical tastes, and quite a few of the standard repertory’s greatest names get at least some representation suitable right here, which involves Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Ravel and Rachmaninoff. Only Brahms and Schubert are conspicuously absent. A lot far more helpful is the trove of Spanish keyboard music performed by Iturbi—a superb portion of it in duet with

Amparo Iturbi,

his talented younger sister. For superb measure, this set generously requires all her solo-piano recordings for RCA (about two CDs’ worth) as a welcome fillip.

Her contribution to this set ought to not be minimized for in her modest way, Amparo is her brother’s equal in talent—and arguably his superior in musicality. Her definitely really feel for the functions of Spanish composers like

Isaac Albéniz,

Enrique Granados


Joaquín Turina

is as uncanny as his. But she summons considerably far more 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? (A single suspects this release is, inadvertently, an more indictment of 20th-century classical-music culture, in which gifted ladies seldom enjoyed renown equal to their male counterparts.)

Even although incredibly very first and foremost a pianist, José Iturbi also performed and, as confirmed in this set, managed credible performances of orchestral warhorses, quite a few led from the keyboard, which involves two concertos by Mozart: the No. 20 (K. 466) and, with his sister as companion, the No. ten for Two Pianos (K. 365). Each and every functions are integrated twice in this set, recorded 12 years apart, with the earlier versions, from 1940, on a regular basis superior in verve and character.

The identical can be pointed out about Iturbi’s two recordings of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, from 1941 and 1952, even although each and every are gratifyingly animated accounts deserving renewed interest. Two purely orchestral functions, Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony and Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony, possess moments of scrappy excitement inside a foursquare framework, their principal interest now obtaining examples of Iturbi’s association with the Rochester Philharmonic, specifically exactly where he served as music director from 1936 to 1944.

In addition to the concertos, a lot of pieces for solo piano are repeated, amongst them Schumann’s “Arabesque,” Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” and “Rêverie” and Chopin’s “Heroic” Polonaise. And as quickly as when far more the earlier readings usually yield greater pleasure, the normal wisdom obtaining that Hollywood sapped Iturbi’s artistry even as it expanded his fame.

As is at occasions the case in compendiums like this, material previously unissued finds its way to wide availability. Ideal right here the most enticing exhumation—

Manuel de Falla’s

endlessly listenable “Seven Spanish Folk Songs,” with the fine Spanish soprano

Consuela Rubio

accompanied by Iturbi on piano—is, nevertheless, 1 specific that ought to 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 appears on these discs. But a nicely-annotated filmography demonstrates his notable involvement with this as quickly as-effectively-identified medium. His face, quickly following all, opens “Anchors Aweigh” (1945), starring

Frank Sinatra


Gene Kelly.

And his appear in “Music for Millions” (1944) confirms he could hold his individual against such seasoned screen stars as

Margaret O’Brien,

June Allyson and

Jimmy Durante.

These interested sufficient will come across most of his films on DVD and in widespread 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 alternatively as some of the sturdy yarn from which America’s cultural tapestry was woven. That time now seems quite considerably as distant as when stove-pipe hats and greater-buttoned footwear had been trendy. José Iturbi, in his sophisticated but unpretentious way, reminds us that wasn’t generally precise.

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