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Nikolai Sokoloff and the Cleveland Orchestra - Complete Recordings
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Valse Triste (from Kuolema, Op. 44) [3:42]
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
Polovtsian Dances (from Prince Igor, Act 2) [11:19]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27 [46:16]
Cleveland Orchestra/Nikolai Sokoloff
rec. studio, New York City, 1928

This is the third disc of Pristine Audio's and Mark Obert-Thorn's 3-CD collection of Nikolai Sokoloff's recordings. Nikolai Sokoloff (1885-1965) is hardly a familiar name; for example ranking, in terms of catalogue coverage, below the likes of Cantelli, Schmidt-Isserstedt and Doráti. He occupied a special place in the USA's musical history. There are so many examples but he commissioned Ned Rorem's Second Symphony (1956) and conducted the premiere in La Jolla - the very place for which Martinů wrote his Sinfonietta of the same name. Sokoloff was born in Kiev and studied music at Yale. Active among West Coast orchestras, he recorded works by Rózsa, Lopatnikoff, Dello Joio, Martinů and Britten. He died in La Jolla in 1965 having conducted Hovhaness's Symphony No 5 with the Seattle Youth orchestra in 1963. He was the uncle of the pianist Vladimir Sokoloff who was much in demand as accompanist to the Hollywood likes of William Primrose. Vladimir premiered George Rochberg's Viola Sonata with Joseph De Pasquale.

We are talking 78s and mono from the 1920s. I have not heard CDs 1 and 2 but was delighted to encounter these three substantial works recorded in 1928. They have been caringly transferred with well-founded decisions that discreetly balance a bristly rustling surface to preserve the vigour of the intrinsic sound. Before the world premičre recording of the Rachmaninov we have the Sibelius Valse Triste which seems very fast now - think quick-think Golovanov - but the tempo is slowed most touchingly as the work closes. The Borodin works well until towards the end when an unaccountably stiff and stilted rigidity takes hold.

Students of Rachmaninov's Second Symphony need to hear this Sokoloff. Quite apart from being its first outing on disc - must have been quite a few 78s - this is a reading that has invigorating merits. It's a work that thrives on deep lush-plush sound but despite the inevitable absence of that quality there are many delights here. Before touching on a few of these I will mention a number of readings that enrich listening to a work that has now become tired through over-exposure. Rozhdestvensky and the LSO should never be forgotten; likewise Svetlanov from the 1960s and the super-heated Golovanov from a decade earlier. Ormandy on CBS remains a perennially good choice but four other readings from slightly more modern times are well worth tracking down: José Cura, full of character on Avie, Sanderling and the Philharmonia, broad and expansive on Warner, Otaka - much under-rated yet especially intense on Nimbus - and the vigorous and passionate De Preist and the Oregon orchestra on Delos. Sokoloff's Rachmaninov Second is not presented complete but the impact of the work is no less telling. In the first movement the yearningly-paced gloom at 9:14 is very effective although the shifting sands of the final pages seem eccentrically slurred. There's an exaggerated rallentando at the end of the first movement. I have not heard it phrased in this way before. It works well. In the second movement the music's red-blooded emphasis is well caught (4:50). As for the big Adagio it is completely engaging and engulfing - a case well made for hearing this version. The finale - an alloy of weigh and dynamism - is sabre fast. The Cleveland orchestra proves a more attractively yielding instrument than it was on occasion to become in the hands of George Szell.

Thanks for this disc are due to producer and audio restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn and, for source material, to Nathan Brown, Jim Cartwright’s Immortal Performances, Inc., Frederick P. Fellers, Michael Gartz, the collection of the late Bob Hunter, Richard Kaplan, and Charles Niss.

Rob Barnett



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