Piano legend Alexis Weissenberg, as he sounded when he had turned 20 and had made his American debut with the New York Philharmonic only a year earlier. This performance, coming from the weekly radio series, Pioneers Of Music from NBC Radio and broadcast on March 26, 1949, features Alexis Weissenberg, then known as Sigi, with the San Antonia Symphony conducted by Max Reiter in what was a program of Italian orchestral music. This piece, Scrlatiana, was composed by Alfredo Casella in 1926.
Casella, and the generazione dell’ottanta (“generation of ’80”), including Casella himself, Malipiero, Respighi, Pizzetti, and Alfano — all composers born around 1880, the post-Puccini generation — concentrated on writing instrumental works, rather than the operas in which Puccini and his musical forebears had specialised. Members of this generation were the dominant figures in Italian music after Puccini’s death in 1924; they had their counterparts in Italian literature and painting. Casella, who was especially passionate about painting, accumulated an important collection of art and sculptures. He was perhaps the most “international” in outlook and stylistic influences of the generazione dell’ottanta, owing at least in part to his early musical training in Paris and the circle in which he lived and worked while there. He died in Rome in 1947.
Alexis “Sigi” Weissenberg was born Bulgaria in 1929. In 1947, Weissenberg made his New York debut with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and George Szell in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and with Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy, with which Weissenberg won the Leventritt Competition. Between 1957 and 1965, he took an extended sabbatical for the purpose of studying and teaching. Weissenberg resumed his career in 1966 with a recital in Paris. Later that year he played Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in Berlin conducted by Herbert von Karajan, who praised him as “one of the best pianists of our time”.
Max Reiter was an Italian-born American conductor who founded the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra in 1939 and developed it to the rank of a major symphony orchestra. He led the San Antonio Symphony until his death in 1950.
Weissenberg was 20 when this broadcast was done, and there appears to be no mention of it anywhere, so it is indeed rare.
You get to hear it for the first time since it was last broadcast 69 years ago.