It must have been quite something to have heard
Koussevitzky in these two Carnegie Hall concerts given just over a week
apart in 1942. That said, we can relive at least part of the experience,
deprived of the kinetic visual quotient, via these excellent restorations
made by Lani Spahr. Both concerts are previously unissued, which adds
immeasurably to the excitement.
The first concert with the NYPSO, as it then was, begins with the hyphenated
Corelli-Pinelli confection, the three-movement Suite for String Orchestra.
The wide dynamics achievable in recording direct from Carnegie Hall
can be measured in this performance and so too the establishment and
maintenance of a strong bass line. That’s certainly the case in
the opening imposing Sarabande
, where most of the piece’s
expressive weight falls, things becoming progressively lighter, ending
with the deft well-articulated strings in the Badinerie.
is the kind of thing Beecham did with Handel, and Barbirolli with Purcell.
Daphnis and Chloe
(Suite No.2) follows in a most exciting and
successful performance. There are a few exposed wind passages, some
of which are a touch awkward, and the New York strings are more Russian
in tone than the French-honed Bostonians Koussevitzky customarily directed,
but the results are still idiomatic. The concert concludes with Shostakovich’s
Fifth Symphony. A number of American-based maestros all rushed to perform
one or other of Shostakovich’s symphonies; one thinks of Rodzinski,
Stokowski and the vacillating Toscanini, most prominently. In Koussevitzky’s
case he at first turned down performance of the Fifth, leaving it instead
to his Boston assistant, the fiddle-player Richard Burgin. A performance
of the work by Stokowski doubtless piqued his interest and perhaps his
gladiatorial instincts. In any case this is a major addition to Koussevitzky’s
discography. He first performed it in Boston in 1941, but never otherwise
took it into the studio. There’s real tension here. Note that
a Boston performance of the Fifth under Koussevitzky, which survives
in the archives of the Library of Congress, will be released in due
course on WHRA. Excellent note writer Tom Godell has great regard for
this New York performance but reserves even higher praise for the yet-unissued
Boston one. I prefer Stokowski to Koussevitzky in this work - so far,
The second disc houses the second concert. Both the chosen works in
this 1 March performance operate on a blistering scale. There is something
about the New York performance of La Mer
that sets it apart from
the famous studio recording Koussevitzky left of it in Boston. That
‘something’ is the sheer intensity of the thing. Koussevitzky
delineates a performance that outrivals Toscanini for its hot-blooded
but sensuous, indeed voluptuous power. It’s quite stunning in
its impact - both weighty and yet quicksilver, surging and glistening,
visceral and vertiginous. Truly remarkable. Because it’s more
of a known quantity his performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony
may not impress quite as much, but it’s really a question of degree.
True, it’s less revelatory, and tends to serve to amplify his
known strengths in this repertory - driving attacks, manipulation of
tempos, whipped-up drama - but it’s well worth hearing, not least
in the context of the outstanding La Mer.
Indeed this finely engineered twofer is very strong both for its excellent
repertoire and often magnificent performances.
Masterwork Index: La