What, forever asks the commentator, does a conductor really do?

Well, he does the sort of thing Fritz Reiner is doing in the full page portrait decorating his French RCA recording of the Bach orchestral suites. His baton-holding hand raised crisply above his head, a handsome show of starched white shirt-cuff next thereto, he’s fixing the left side of an invisible orchestra with a look that might terrify a Martian, a call to action flamed in part by an instant invocation of stage despair, or maybe it’s the sullen dignity of a challenged monarch (here, now, this instant, the most important thing in the world is your entrance!) while his left hand waits in reserve at waist level, ready to italicize a point. He is, in other words, mesmerizing his musicians into sharing with him one hundred and one percent, as if by instantaneous transfusion, an emotional moment, some superb phraseological felicity transferable by a magnificent glance. Ordered yet passionate, this optical sting is emblem of a style almost stark in its beauty yet rich in nuance of the subtlest and warmest sort.

Chief assets as follows: the remarkably discriminating tone of Reiner’s performances, handsome yet never narcissistic as they purr along like so many Rolls or Mercedes; his ever-graceful phrasing, neat as the work of a Beaux Arts craftsman; then the instrumental balances as revealing as they’re exquisite. And this is not to mention the trademark vitality I as a teenage listener to those Saturday afternoon broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera came to expect when Milton Cross announced that “Fritz Reiner is making his way into the pit.” Vitality, this, that came from the eye and the stick, because Reiner was not one to use the podium as a trampoline. Although his puffing cheeks and creeping brow and even an occasional little kick of the foot were as useful as Pierre Monteux’ mustache.

Another asset was Reiner’s extraordinary astuteness in balancing peaks along the mountain range of a long symphonic, or operatic, thought. One’s tempted to say he moved through his Wagner operas/Brahms symphonies/Rachmaninoff concertos as Henry James said Oliver Wendell Holmes made his way through life, “like a full glass carried without spilling a drop.” The refreshingly brilliant critic Virgil Thomson who had a habit of hitting on the head nails he had shifted slightly from their proper place, used to say that Reiner was “as calculable as the stars and about as distant.” This sounds just right until one remembers the frequent warmth of Reiner performances, and the soulful little Moments, surrounded to be sure in some cases by relatively “cold” patches designed to set them in relief. Reiner’s moments can put one in mind of what Robert Louis Stevenson extolled in fine writing as the “unobtrusive pregnant implication.”

Watching a 1954 video of Reiner conducting his new band, the Chicago Symphony, in Beethoven’s Egmont overture, is not only instructive but downright exciting. Yes, you can see the vitality crossing the room in shafts of shock-and-awe and adhering like some magic glue to the players. Standing absolutely erect, using his left hand sparingly (although sometimes to mop his brow), frequently beating with his long is-it-Nikischy? baton one-to-the-bar, no excess movement being necessary, and slicing the air quite frequently as if with a machete, and zigging to the players subsidiary rhythmic accents on the fly, rigorous Reiner, subtly benign, leaves no proferred nuance unseen. The old saw about his “vest pocket” beat is not always borne out, he carried a big stick. But sometimes it did seem to hang like what Nabokov might call a limp something, with a lot of “outer vest pocket” activity going on at its quivering furthest inches. I knew the fabled bass player in the Pittsburgh Symphony, Reiner’s estimable orchestra before his Chicago tenure, who, heaven help him, trained a pair of binoculars on Reiner as a prank – of course I knew Jerry when he was in another orchestra: Josef Krips was happy to have him some years later in San Francisco.

Now to my desert-islandest Reiner performance, the March 1960 broadcast of Brahms’ Second with the New York Philharmonic, a feisty bunch playing their souls out for this whip-cracking seducer on their Carnegie Hall podium: notice especially that Tabuteau-trained oboist Harold Gomberg, playing with a haunting beauty as if his life depended on it. Behold then a Tiffany window of a performance, a necklace of perfectly set gems. Gentle as can be is the arboreal theme at Letter A, the second theme at D seems to swim like a time-taking sylph, and the great legato sequences overlapping in upper and lower strings later in the exposition, poco f espressivo says their composer, are no less delightfully aquatic. Mellifluous as well, but not too much so, are the violins in tempo ma piu tranquillo after the great horn solo in the recapitulation, vibrant, confident, patient.

It’s in the second movement, though, that Reiner’s textbook balances and palpable but subtle rubati with their solemn-saucy little lilts are at their richest. See how in the second full bar the sometimes steamrolling cellos marked poco f are not allowed to compromise the curling crescendo of the bassoons who’ve come to the party with something to say as well. And as the cellos go enchantingly on and on and on (“this reminds me of another story,” it could almost be, and I’m not complaining!) Reiner within a framework of rhythmic crispness lets the tempo drift just a little with an enriching virus of asymmetry, pausing slightly, for instance, before the upbeat final eighth in bar 4 (here he’s entering the magnetic field of a soon-to-be-established piano for the cellos, they’re confiding in the corner, so to speak) and there are more exquisite mini-shadings of this sort a little further on. Which, by the way, rather remind me of the piano playing of the much-extolled Richard Goode.

Well, as Reiner used to tell his incoming pupils at Curtis Institute in the Thirties, “Conducting is basically a simple business as long as the tempo doesn’t change, any fool can beat time evenly.” So he went ahead, his biographer Philip Hart reports, and set his students conducting operatic recitatives! And, in a perfect matchup with that Egmont video, Reiner would tell them — Lukas Foss, Boris Goldovsky, young Lennie Bernstein — that the only general rule in conducting is “to infuse all gestures with precision, clarity, and vitality.” Very interesting, meanwhile, to read that a look into Reiner’s personal score of Brahms’ Second after his death found, in German and English, “fanciful programmatic comments.” So of course, it wasn’t all style.

Time now for an alphabet of Reiner performances on disc, starting with J.S. BACH. This was a composer for whom he obviously had fond feelings even if there wasn’t much in the way of repertoire for a full Chicago or Pittsburgh Symphony. The solution was chamber sessions in New York with favorite free lance musicians that netted us all the orchestral suites and Brandenburg concertos. Yes, the cover photo on one of Reiner’s Bach albums reveals what his Met assistant Tibor Kozma called an “almost menacing elemental temperament” (blended, to be sure, with “an immensely disciplined intellect”) but these Bach performances out of a mid-century Manhattan studio are so full of charm they suggest a kind of drawing room comedy of sound. A different charm, say, from Sir Thomas Beecham’s rather coy variety, but charm nonetheless. My ever-expanding hi-fi ark headed for that tropic island will certainly have to include Reiner’s FIRST BRANDENBURG (10-28-49) which slips in out of some baroque nowhere with light short steps. To shift our metaphor outdoors you could call the opening allegro a road trip, notes tramping, phrases soaring. Was Kerouac ever like this? For Reiner-watchers ever concerned about a possibly too cool reading on his temperature chart — which reminds of the gag about George Szell: “when he had a fever it reached 89 degrees” – they needn’t worry because the adagio movement, with Reiner’s partner-in-warmth Robert Bloom serenading us on his elegant oboe, is heartfelt and then some. Another snappy allegro and then like happy cats swiveling on our furry backs we can snuggle in a minuet taken here at a reverential adagio, with the second trio a cradle song predicting Brahms!

BARTOK CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA, Chicago Symphony 10-22-55 – Reiner was Hungarian and that helps, I imagine, but it’s mainly because Reiner is Reiner that this performance is the most engaging in my memory, supple, organic, maximally melodic, absolutely swinging when appropriate, and somehow more human and funnier than some of its more solemn brethren.

BEETHOVEN EROICA SYMPHONY, Chicago Symphony, 12-4-54 – Luminous, sonorous, squeaky clean, amply heroic, Beethoven’s crucial horns given their full buzzy due, this is the perfect performance for days when you’re not in the mood for a gloriously “neurotic” Eroica a la Mengelberg or Fried. Connoisseurs of tempo should be advised that Reiner takes the scherzo about sixteen charming beats to the minute faster than its timid author prescribed. The most interesting passage is the finale’s great poco andante where Reiner in setting up a characteristic “control” tempo against which rubati and ritenuti may be placed proposes a brisker oboe solo than we encounter in some of the most emotionally charged Eroicas in the annals, only to slow palpably for the dusky response of low-placed strings eight measures on. And a dozen bars after that the leaning sequences of we-must-get-on-with-it violins are remarkably plaintive.

BEETHOVEN PASTORAL SYMPHONY, Chicago Symphony, April 1961 – I’ve long had a soft spot for this recording especially thanks to the low-stress grazioso of a first movement pitched at about 54/53 rather than Beethoven’s thrill-ride 66 beats to the arriving-in-the-countryside minute. Thanks perhaps to Reiner’s revealing immaculateness of rhythm, the veiled oom-pah-pah of a pair of adenoidal muted cellos engaging at the outset of the Scene by the Brook in an asymmetrical legato suggests nothing so much as the slightly compromised breathing of a brookside swain. Tempos, tempos: well, the picnic scene works at 92 rather than the composer’s 108, similarly the storm at 88 vs. 80, and the finale at 66/69 vs. 60! But enough of numbers.

BRAHMS ACADEMIC FESTIVAL OVERTURE, Curtis Institute Orchestra at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, 11-28-37 – We interrupt for a few biographical notes . . . A precocious leading conductor at the Dresden Opera during the Great War, Reiner landed a solid post as musical director of the Cincinnati Symphony in 1922 and had an excellent run in this very musical and Germanic city,  until a rather hasty jump from second to third wife propelled the powers-that-be in this also very conservative town into tizzy mode — and out went Reiner with no other big symphonic post in prospect. So, until he took over the virgin Pittsburgh Symphony in ’38 his base position, kingly but obscure, was professor of conducting and head of the student orchestra at the top drawer Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, with passing opera gigs at not very exalted fees in London and San Francisco along with one creative season of well-remembered but budget-sinking opera in conjunction with the Philadelphia Orchestra, musical directorship of which Reiner was unable to achieve when Leopold Stokowski relinquished it . . .  And here at the Met in Thanksgiving season 1937 is the Curtis orchestra, loaded with first-chairs-to-be, doing the bidding of a near-demonic piper who sees the Academic Festival Overture as virtual symphonic poem, brooding tragically one minute in (well, it was written as a kind of companion piece to the Tragic overture), constructing a very mighty iambic fortress several measures after that, and fairly throttling us with Jubilation at the eight minute mark. When I first heard this live recording some years ago I focused on its startling crispness and exhilaration, enough it seemed to reach the Astor Hotel down the street. And when I returned to it recently I wondered if I was over-listening to hear in it a thread of serious anger, for here is this conductor who knows he’s great and lives at 815 Park Avenue in Manhattan but has to commute to Philly to teach and conduct, well yes, wonderful students, but students nevertheless. Reiner’s career like the maverick writer Nabokov’s might have advanced more quickly if he hadn’t had a reputation of being more amazing than the next fellow, and therefore a magnificent threat.

BRAHMS FOURTH SYMPHONY, Royal Philharmonic, October 1962 – Not as immediately fetching as his live Brahms Second with the New York Philharmonic, this recording does contain much interpretive magic. The opening movement, propulsive, a bit restless, not without intimacy but a tad dry, is more a Chablis than a California Chardonnay. But with Reiner there are always pocket phraseological Shangri-La’s, enchanting moments of pure Beauty one remembers like an outrageously pretty girl glimpsed across a too-wide street. Zoom to measure 242 where Reiner, having injected one bar previous his own Moment-preparing diminuendo in the first clarinet’s mooning eighths, treats us to an instant Sieglindan pathos in the violas descending to the murky triple piano of the next bars, bars in a lyrical halfway house poised one step closer to the mysterious measures paving the way to Brahms’ tidal recapitulation. Then in the second movement, Reiner seeming to warm more and more to his task (he was not, by the way, in the best of health) produces in the second subject the most fetching blend of legato cellos with first violins whose rest-interrupted line suggests in this recording more than ever a tip-toeing from garden stone to stone.

DEBUSSY, AFTERNOON OF A FAUN, NUAGES, FETES, members of the New York Philharmonic, playing anonymously for a record club release, 11-22-38 – No surprise that a conductor of such finesse, and dramatic sensibility, as Reiner should be a capital Debussyan. His full-blooded Faun is indolently expectant, erotically enflamed, and the balance between flute and harp is perfect too. Nuages begins in an atmosphere of doubt, the pathétique element seeping into it from Debussy’s famous opera about wispy star-crossed lovers soon apparent. Then in the festive six minutes that follow Reiner seems always to have adopted an ultra-snappy tempo — Debussy simply asks at the start for animation and precise rhythm. The ‘38 version verges on textbooky without an audience but a “live” replay from Chicago 3-13-57 is absolutely possessed, all throbbing glands and debonair percussion out of some midnight St-Tropez of the conductorial mind . . . and GERSHWIN/ROBERT RUSSELL BENNETT, A SYMPHONIC PICTURE OF PORGY AND BESS, Pittsburgh Symphony, 3-27-45 – In one word, Wow! Reiner could easily be mistaken for Lennie Bernstein or Michael Tilson Thomas in this expansive-hilarious-utterly idiomatic recording out of smoky old Pittsburgh. At the risk of sounding analytical this commentator must enumerate for your attention the sweetness and ample languor of Reiner’s albeit tasteful Summertime, the rum-tum twang of his banjo-ist in I’ve Got Plenty of Nuttin’, and best of all perhaps, the deep fried vibrato of the strings in Bess You Is My Woman Now.

LISZT, MEPHISTO WALTZ, Chicago Symphony, 12-10-55 – We were crowing about the Weingartner version of this dazzling bit of Faustiana some pages back, and it does remain rather a gem, but with Reiner of Mephistophelean brow on the podium this is a performance of much more fizz, buzz, intensity. Proper Weingartner for all his delicacy and perfume manages to skimp on eroticism, while out of Chicago pours an undisguised voluptuousness. In the central section the curves and coyness of Lenau’s “shy and black-haired maiden” are clearly discernible.

MAHLER FOURTH SYMPHONY, Chicago Symphony, December 1958 – Here it is, the essential Reiner, equal parts structural engineer and unashamed poet, the diagrammarian with a taste for the Dionysian. Yes, there generally was in his style that element of calculation noted by good Mr. Thomson in the Herald Tribune – Reiner was the sort of fellow all we sweaty-palmed flyers need to drive an Airbus 320 right through an invasive flock of birds and on up to the desired 39,000 feet. But the emotional range was wide, and the two worked together: providing a neat cushion (or well greased rails?) for poetry could make the poetry all the clearer. The same with terror! The opening movement is very light, sleek as aluminum, and playful to be sure, moving delicate threads of melody to the ticky rhythm, it seems, of toy clocks. The great slow movement begins in autumnal/reverential mode and duly achieves a silvery Elysian airiness. Tears ensue. Then Reiner the calculator brings maximum drama to the cataclysmic whacks of the timpani near the end of this movement because the percussion is so FOCUSED – a Bruno Walter live performance picked at random, 1-4-53 in New York, is at this parlous moment haphazard in comparison, although a performance of many subtleties and charms.

MOZART, THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, Metropolitan Opera (with Cesare Siepi, etc.), 3-1-52 – Crisp and sparkling. Notice how Figaro’s measuring stick dances in the opening duet, then the pinpoint chords in Se Vuol Ballare, the echt-sonorous marching-out-the-door of Cherubino at the end of Act 1, the seemingly growling strings as the Count in the second act commands Susanna to emerge from that closet. Etc, etc. Between his Pittsburgh and Chicago posts Reiner had found a spotlight at the Met: we ancients all remember his Salome, Fliegende Hollander, Falstaff – more on that in a moment . . . and RACHMANINOFF, RHAPSODY ON A THEME OF PAGANINI, with William Kapell and the Robin Hood Dell (Philadelphia) Orchestra, 6-27-51 – No problem, of course with the inspired Kapell, but what I especially treasure in this performance is that in variation 3 you can really hear the fluttering — like the rustling of party skirts — in the flute department . . . and RAVEL, DAPHNIS AND CHLOE SUITE NO. 2, Columbia Broadcasting Symphony, 9-2-45 – From the great days when there was either the New York Philharmonic or this broadcast orchestra on the radio Sunday daytime the full year around  — “Good afternoon!” Gene Hamilton would intone on the dot, and especially in the summer excellent maestri from the “provinces” would be in Manhattan to do their stuff. A fabulous if not Chicago-plush performance, rippling, iridescent and indolent in the Daybreak scene, and startlingly, spellbindingly slow in the Pantomine section wherein Reiner drops anchor at a yawning, shrugging, mate-nibbling 60 eighths-to-the-minute, more or less, rather than the 104 (!) of his old friend the composer himself. A post-coital larghissimo to shut out the world. Do Not Disturb!

RIMSKY KORSAKOFF, SCHEHERAZADE, Chicago Symphony, 2-8-60 – Couturier Rimsky this, silken and sexy, like chamber music in the relatively private innings of this concerto for orchestra . . . next I must point you to a newsy bit in a STRAUSS, DEATH AND TRANSFIGURATION with the RCA Victor Symphony 9-27-50, an extremely guarded tempo for the post-introduction allegro molto agitato, Reiner taking the view that the five pages of miniature score leading to the big alla breve at Letter F constitute an uphill swim, requiring what you might call an “approach tempo” . . . and  STRAVINSKY, DIVERTIMENTO FROM THE FAIRY’S KISS, Chicago Symphony, 4-28-58 – “Stravinsky made a god of the eighth note, but I don’t.” So commented Fritz Reiner who liked some of Stravinsky’s music a lot but knew it sounded better with more line so to speak than just the choo-chooish  movement its composer cued from many a podium onto which he used to leap with such alacrity. So I would go with this lilting, glowing Stravinsky from Michigan Avenue.

TCHAIKOVSKY, PATHETIQUE SYMPHONY, Chicago Symphony, 4-17-57 – A revelation is the organic drama of this performance, the despair of the introduction for instance easing so logically into a cautious, reserved allegro non troppo which remains in that state until the famous second subject. And no less remarkable is its oceanic orchestral foundation, a thing of Roaring surge and Mighty whoosh, as in the largamente triple forte of tremolo basses in that great set piece for a near-convulsing but very mellow super-orchestra just before (we’re still in movement 1) the recapitulation of the proto-Hollywoodian second subject. I’m reminded of that remark by our old friend Nabokov: “The books [substitute music here] you like must also be read with shudders and gasps” . . . and VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, FANTASIA ON A THEME BY THOMAS TALLIS, Chicago Symphony “live,” 11-28-57 – Sadness here smooth as cream. We could be meditating by a sunlit window in an English country church.

VERDI, FALSTAFF, Metropolitan Opera (with Leonard Warren, Giuseppe di Stefano, et al), 2-26-49 – There is something of a history of conductors from north of the Brenner taking to this caviar opera, a contrapuntalist’s dream wherein at least one combination of 6/8 and alla breve must be taken in stride along with a final fugue of fugues. I have fond teenage memories of William Steinberg applying to Verdi’s score a forcefully shaking bald head and the hypnotic arabesques of his nimble wrists, down there in the San Francisco Opera pit with only a blank sheet of white paper on his lectern. Bruno Walter in the centennial year of 1913 took time out from stock in trade Mozart-Wagner-Strauss to treat his Munich audiences to numerous performances of Verdi’s masterwork. And you may remember from some pages back in these adventures the felicitous Leipzig Falstaff of Hans Weisbach in ’39 . . . Which brings us to this radiant Reiner matinee, exceedingly crisp, as vital as you’d expect, comedy-ready without a doubt in its concentrated shades of unctuousness, coquettishness, the amorous, the conspiratorial: it comes as no surprise no stone is left unturned on its road to total scintillation. Why, the scampering-in of the pageboy midway in scene 1 has in Reiner’s Manhattan fiddles the perfection of a Lully dance. The orchestra is an imp in dandy dress.

WAGNER, TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, Royal Opera Covent Garden, with Flagstad, Melchior, etc., “live” 5-18-36 (but prelude to act 1 is 6-2-36) – Craftsmanship with soul! Notice in act 1 the innocent, quietly persistent movement of the almost jolly Sea theme, Tristan’s care not to lag as he tells Isolde in their first and formal encounter “the journey will soon be over,” the attention to passing staccati like dancing reflections on water, and legati that warm the orchestra navigating a salty course. But most remarkable in the slightly more than hour-and-a-quarter of this opening act is the generalship of a conductor who balances calm and heat in exquisite proportions. And at a paltry fee of 66 pounds sterling for an evening’s work! Act 1 is of course a dance of veils with the TRUTH the naked thing to be duly revealed. Reiner knows he musn’t burn too many expressive bridges on the long route to a bull’s eye of dramatic climax, the point at which Tristan and Isolde drink the potion, embrace, and are released to the truth of their feelings. He has on the stage before him a heroine who shuttles from a core stateliness to near-hysteria, she is quelque chose and she musn’t drown in her own lava. At the risk of binge-ing on the epigrammatic let’s put it this way: Reiner creates a real time in which the act seems to heat up at a rate more or less precisely equaling the increase in risk, via a combination of will and fate, confronting Isolde and friend. But that, a famous and eccentric professor of Russian literature would say, is Tolstoyian!

The act 1 prelude from June 2, presumably similar to that of two weeks earlier, is an exceedingly clever piece of work. It begins in intimo-pathetico mode, slightly clouding with doubt as Reiner carefully lapses into his subtle retardation trick: the music is amorous enough but sober, dignified. Well, this is the negative space on Reiner’s canvas which before we know it will be invaded by what’s really on the music’s mind. Sex! Amazingly enough in hearing this prelude hundreds of time I never realized until Reiner’s clarity of purpose outlined it so vividly here that the road to the music’s climax – and I use the word climax innocently for the moment – is in point of fact the road to that other sort of climax, the one involving consciousness-raising Orgasm. As if some pre-ejaculatory fluid smartly making its way along the long corridor of arousal were driving the Royal Opera Orchestra in that oldtime Coronation (excuse me, Abdication) year, this lubricant captures for our amusement in deft crescendo the gradual but absolutely favorable approach to the great Moment of a heated male who will, with the help of appropriate music and an energizing maestro, achieve his goal. To anyone who has co-habited, the energy here suggests a quite satisfactory outcome.

ACT 2, TRISTAN, San Francisco Opera, with Flagstad and Melchior again, in Los Angeles, 11-15-37, “live” – After the home season ended the SFO would take a midnight train down the coast to L.A., poker games afire as the Southern Pacific ambled along Mr. Steinbeck’s valley. Then instead of rehearsing between performances the company could sit by the hotel pool. Presumably the aquatically inclined Dr. Reiner took some dips. Whether or not there’s a correlation with all this laidbackness, this second act from Figueroa Street opens in quite a different tone from its Covent Garden counterpart of the year previous. While Reiner in London comes on as an elegant snake, the sinuous Mayfairian carrier of nocturnal illicit passion, the identical podium hawk let loose in the Wild West is a veritable tiger, his introduction more urgent, enflamed, even slightly jagged. Wagner’s poco accelerando crescendo going into the eighteenth bar is perceptibly more tenacious than on Bow Street back across the Atlantic. But hark, subtleties abound! Very instructive, this performance, in what it tells of the interaction between a “dictator” of the baton and an idiosyncratic singer like Kathryn Meisle whose white voice rode the thinnest line of intonational purity but who interpreted the role of Brangaene with such zest for nuance it could be lieder. Reiner admits readily to the orchestral bloodstream Meisle’s dainty but magnificently provocative sotto voce, clearly he relishes the shadowy shadings of this Brangaene who in her great warning speech early in the act pulls back, at the mention of spy (meaning Melot), to a slightly delayed piano more naked and conspiratorial than I ever remember hearing it, fairly taking a Wagnerian half note for a dance in her nimble, secretive head tone. Sui generis!

And there are other Wagner broadcasts with their encyclopedias of felicities from which to drink: — an incomplete list would point you to the uniquely springy glide of the PARSIFAL Transformation Scene as relayed from Covent Garden spring of ’37 . . .  then the deep and delicious lyric pang Reiner teases from his principal oboe midway in the MEISTERSINGER third act Quintet, that great island of a set piece – now we’re at the re-launched Vienna Opera in May ‘55, a minute and twenty seconds into this ensemble – this pang transpiring on the top of a leaning two-note afterthought-of-a-phrase, under which the composer has marked the descending half of a “hairpin” (you can picure a little arrow) with its not-always-detected implication of an accent at the start, and I must also tell you that we’re a bar and a half into a poco rallentando espressivo and Eva surrounded as she is by loving swain and loving mentor too has begun to muse on the meaning of her joy; then in the next scene as the meister approach the rostrum Vienna’s seriously energized Philharmoniker flickers like strobe lights at a disco . . . and for fifty years I’ve been savoring the unique head tone of the low-lying entrance of deep-breathing strings beginning their mellifluous sequence of legato sighs at the first piano of the stormy Act 2 prelude to Die Walkuere (the lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde are fleeing the dreadful Hunding), Reiner’s haunting gesture occurring in the justly celebrated San Francisco broadcast of 11-13-36 featuring as never happened elsewhere both Kirsten Flagstad and Lotte Lehmann. Those sighs, crumbs of amorous remembrance, boast curves upon which no Vogue model or Playboy bunny could improve.

And oh in that Meistersinger, the dizzying blizzard of Eva’s delight when her Stolzing turns up in Act 2. Five star stuff. Here, my friends, the greybeards of the Philharmoniker are “immersed” in what a famous and rather daring author, in the totally different context of a certain deliriously lyrical novel, would call “the euphoria of release.” And I’ve missed something else extraordinary-and-then-some, the Reiner/Chicago Isle of the Dead of Rachmaninoff — Sibelius’ dashing Lemminkainen would shred half his libido to get to this Michigan Avenue island where the music is so buoyantly/rapturously orgasmic as to set a new standard in such matters. The best music to do it with I’ve found yet. And what about Reiner’s prancing, loose-limbed, nose-thumbing, incomparably leggiero Peter and the Wolf of Prokofieff (with his old San Francisco Siegmund Lauritz Melchior as narrator!), a performance that moves like a quick-witted child.

And now a question: who is it that adds an addictive lap-slapping snare drum to the fourth act prelude of Bizet’s Carmen (Met broadcast 1-31-53)? Reiner of course. Formidable!