I noted in my review of the first volume in this Landon Ronald
series that there was another fine example of the conductor’s
Tchaikovskian credentials in the next disc. It’s his 1925 early
electric recording of the Fourth Symphony, again with the Royal
Albert Hall Orchestra. For the time this was a fine recording,
with good frequency response in all orchestral sections. Ronald
was not as incendiary a conductor in this repertoire as his
colleague Albert Coates, and he didn’t enjoy the reputation
of Beecham or, from a later generation, Constant Lambert in
the Russian muse. But he did nevertheless possess significant
gifts of his own. The performance is taut, no-nonsense, and
possesses some highly personal touches, though they’re hardly
Mengelbergian in their extremes. There are some rather vitalising
metrical moments, as well as decelerandos, and a corpus of luscious
portamenti, though quite discreetly employed – they’re actually
more pervasive in the New World Symphony which shares
disc space with the Tchaikovsky. The strings have to count hard
in the pizzicato passages but they emerge relatively unscathed.
Some of the brass playing is a bit sticky. The conclusion is
powerful. It demonstrates again Ronald’s buoyant strengths as
a symphonic conductor. This is an important document for at
least one reason. There were no acoustic recordings of the symphony.
Isolated movements, yes – by Cuthbert Whitemore for Vocalion,
Henry Wood for Columbia and Karl Muck for Victor – but no complete
recording, so this Ronald inscription is the first ever set
down. For many people this makes it a mere curiosity, but for
the archivally minded it’s rather more than that. As well as
the two Symphonies curated by Historic Recordings, Ronald recorded
the Sixth in 1923 (acoustically), the Piano Concerto No.1 with
Mark Hambourg (now on Pristine Audio PASC223), as well
as other isolated movements and various smaller pieces.
Collectors of a serious bent – and I stress the seriousness
of the obsession – will know that Ronald recorded Dvořák’s
Ninth on two occasions. The first, with the RAHO once more,
was recorded between 1919 and 1922. It was the first complete
recording of the symphony to be issued, though as with the Tchaikovsky
single movements of the Largo had appeared. In January 1927,
taking advantage of the new advances made in recording techniques,
Ronald set down his electric remake, again with the RAHO. In
the meantime Hamilton Harty had set down his very brisk Columbia
version. Ronald’s approach is stern, brusque in places, cultivating
a stygian response from his quite Germanic bass-up string sound.
These he contrasts powerfully with the yielding wind statements.
The strings play with plenty of portamento – there’s one passage
in the first movement, and another in the finale, where the
sliding in a single phrase is fantastically co-ordinated – though
occasionally they could be tidier. The brass playing is rugged
and strong, the whole ethos dramatic. This is a far graver,
more measured and sepulchral interpretation than Harty’s.
The Tchaikovsky transfer is excellent. There’s one evident side
join (it’s at 4:03 in the finale) but otherwise it preserves
the fine sound of the HMV electric, and though it’s hissy with
one or two clicks it’s very listenable indeed. It demonstrates
just how good electric recording could be, even at this early
date. I was disappointed however with the Dvořák which
has utilised a very different transfer technique. HMV shellac
hiss has been computer-curtailed but a steely swish has replaced
it. It’s a torrid sound.
There are no notes, as usual from this source. Acknowledging
the caveat about the New World, this disc conjoins two
historically important recordings, very well worthy of investigation.