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Pristine Classical
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3

Fabien Sevitzky and the Indianapolis Symphony: Volumes 1-3
rec. 1941-1946, Murat Theatre, Indianapolis. Mono
Available separately
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC479/509/520 [3 CDs: 227:06]

Pristine and Mark Obert-Thorn rejoice in historic recordings and usually turn their gaze upon corners that others have dismissed. So it is with their Fabien Sevitzky/Indianapolis Symphony series. MusicWeb International has already reviewed these well-filled discs individually. There are to be two more releases: one mainly featuring Grieg and the other with ballet music by Delibes and Khachaturian.

Fabien Sevitzky (1893-1967) was born a Koussevitzky and was a nephew of Serge. In 1937 Fabien became conductor at Indianapolis, a post he held for upwards of twenty years. His work with Victor resulted in these studio recordings from the 1940s and 1950s. The transfers are by Mark Obert-Thorn, a producer and audio restoration engineer who combines astute technical skill with well-founded artistic judgement. The sound, derived from the original 78s, most now approaching eighty years old, has been smartened and sweetened. This produces mono audio that is both natural and very listenable. Background scrape and bristle has been tamed to nothing. The sound at this ‘undergrowth’ level is cleaner than for example in Pristine’s equivalent two-decade older Stokowski Brahms series.

The first disc takes on 19th century Russian repertoire. Going by the other CDs here this genre was a happy hunting ground for Sevitzky. There’s a racy Ruslan and Ludmila, a slashingly athletic and imaginative Baba Yaga, a Dubinushka that is a touch rigid and a stately powerhouse of an Onegin Waltz. The headline here is the world’s first complete recording of Manfred. At over an hour’s duration this must, in the 1940s, have been a very expensive proposition and a heavy and bulky package of 78s to yomp back from the retailer. That’s paying no regard to how much shelf space it would have taken up in the home.

As for the Manfred performance, it is expansive yet precise with an anxiety-driven bustle. The lovingly shaped and slowly paid-out horn solo in I at 6:33 is notable. That solo can be taken as a measure of Sevitzky’s aesthetic apparatus - an indicator of a predilection for the happy and the seriously judged. His readings are certainly not over-run with glitz. This is in evidence again in a remarkably leisurely Andante con moto (III). In fact, this movement is over-cooked and soon develops a tendency almost to fall apart. The recording of the finale is superbly judged with one of its best touches coming at 11:32 with a subtle aureole around the harp and strings. Tchaikovsky’s passionate turbulence is there again, in this movement, around 15:15.

The second and third volumes offer less weighty fare. In volume 2, the intensely nationalistic Glazunov suite, From the Middle Ages shows the orchestra’s strings in satins and silks. The Scherzo reminds us that Glazunov also had a weakness for the Dies Irae. The Serenade of the Troubadour is strong on poetic nectar while the sturdy Crusaders finale is taken, by and large, at full tilt and at other times as if part of a ceremonial march. The diverting, if not wildly prepossessing, Fugue for 18 violins (1932) by Arcady Dubensky (1890-1966), has its delicate moments. It reminds us that this composer was favoured by Stokowski in Philadelphia and also by Sevitzky (in Philadelphia) on another release from Pristine. The same composer makes play with a typically sentimental Stephen Foster medley over which he cannot resist adding a Tchaikovskian overlay. Sevitzky lets rip with the museum piece that is Negro Heaven by Otto Cesana (1899-1980). This paves the way for Robert Russell Bennett’s very nicely calculated Porgy and Bess medley. Bennett, we are reminded, made this “symphonic picture” at the commission of Fritz Reiner. Sevitzky’s version is tender and dazzling. However, Gershwin’s own take (a suite called Catfish Row), the last word in authenticity, short of hearing the whole opera, is be preferred. I first heard the Gershwin in the 1970s on Vox via the St Louis Symphony conducted by the then fairly obscure Leonard Slatkin.

Volume 3 launches with a group of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances. I have heard more heady versions of the First. Sevitzky stands out because he is very deliberate and steady as she goes; much the same applies to the Seventh. On the other hand, his way with no. 3 is full of character - a bit hick-rustic but that is all to the good. The conductor’s way with these four Dvořák Slavonic Dances is pretty impressive - strong on flames and grace. He is no also-ran when up against the best that the Czech lands could field: Talich. It’s to Sevitzky’s and Victor’s credit that both Enescu Rumanian Rhapsodies were on the session roster. They are done with great feeling and good taste although I confess that these pieces rarely hold my interest. On the contrary, the Khachaturian Gayaneh Suite, in eight movements across half an hour, works very well, both as a work and as a performance. The invention is good even if the Sabre Dance does pall pretty quickly; not helped because my player stumbled over this track; the only instance of this happening across these four discs. On the other hand, among many other frankly lovely moments, the gently lilting Lullaby works superbly. The Dvořák, Enescu and Khachaturian should stand out as dating from 1953 although they do not sound markedly better than the other recordings on these four discs.

Look out for the later volumes in this revelatory series. For my part, of these four discs, I would, on the basis of repertoire, go for volumes 1 and 4 (which I reviewed separately) if I wanted anything less than total immersion.

Rob Barnett
Previous reviews: John Quinn (v1) Jonathan Woolf (v2) Jonathan Woolf (v3)
Volume 1
Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857) Russlan and Ludmilla: Overture [5:13]
Nikolai RIMSKY- KORSAKOV (1844-1908) Dubinushka, Op 62 [4:15]
Anatoly LIADOV (1853-1914) Baba Yaga, Op 56 [3:51]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Waltz from Eugene Onegin [5:16];
Manfred, Op 58 [60:25]
rec. 1941-1946, Murat Theatre, Indianapolis

Volume 2
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936) From the Middle Ages, Suite Op. 79 (1902) [24:48]
Arcady DUBENSKY (1890-1966) Fugue for 18 Violins (1932) [4:25]
Stephen FOSTER Theme, Variations and Finale (1940) [12:16]
Otto CESANA (1899-1980) Negro Heaven (c. 1933) [7:52]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937) Porgy and Bess; A Symphonic Picture (1935) arr. Robert Russell Bennett [19:46]
rec. 1941-45, Indianapolis
Volume 3
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 (1869): No. 1 in G minor [3:41]: No. 3 in F major arr. Martin Schmeling [2:34]: 3 No. 7 in A major (F major for orchestral version) [1:26]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904) Slavonic Dances, Op. 46 (1878); No. 8 in G minor [3:55]: No. 2 in E minor [4:28]: No. 4 in F major [7:11]: No. 1 in C major [3:32]
George ENESCU (1881-1955) Romanian Rhapsodies, Op. 11 (1901): No. 1 in A major [11:44]: No. 2 in D major [10:51]
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978) Gayaneh – Ballet Suite (1939, rev 1941-42) [29:34]
rec. 29 January 1942 (Brahms): 22–23 January 1953 (Dvořák, Enescu and Khachaturian), Murat Theatre, Indianapolis

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