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Artur Rodziński (conductor) New York Philharmonic - The Complete Columbia Album Collection
rec. 1944-50, Carnegie Hall except Columbia 30th Street Studio (CDs 12 and 13), New York City SONY 19439787752 [16 CDs: 750:10]
Rodziński first conducted the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York in 1934, later sharing the 1936-37 season with the man who was to lead the orchestra for four years, John Barbirolli. By December 1942 Rodziński was at the helm, the orchestra’s first Music Director to be so named, though his time there was characteristically short. In that time, however, he made a series of outstanding recordings that complement others made earlier with the NBC and Cleveland orchestras – Pristine Audio have recently been investigating this element of his discography so these releases dovetail nicely allowing the listener a superb vista to survey the Polish conductor’s recorded legacy.
The first thing to note about Sony’s 16-CD box, as with all their recent boxes, is that the 78s and, later, LPs have been magnificently transferred. As with Barbirolli’s recordings with the orchestra, similarly all now transferred by Sony, we are in a privileged position to be able to hear what contemporary audiences could not hear: just how much sonic detail there is enshrined in them. Everything is remastered from the original analogue discs and tapes using 24bit/98kHz.
Rodziński is always tagged with the status of one of the century’s great orchestra builders, and with good reason. He worked with the NBC for Toscanini and his work in Cleveland paved the way for Szell’s later hegemony there. The first thing to observe is that for all his reputation as more-than-slightly unhinged – Halina Rodziński addressed the conductor’s gun-toting in her autobiography decades ago and asserted that it was a good luck charm and not intended to scare the orchestra to death – his musical persona was admirably direct and devoid of frippery, hysteria or romanticised excesses. These last qualities, after all, would hardly have been Toscanini’s ideal as an orchestral trainer.
So, taking each disc in order is a rewarding undertaking revealing essential facets of his musicianship. He recorded the first two Brahms symphonies (1945-46) and both show taut expressive qualities consonant with Toscanini’s own conception; drama and lyricism held in fine balance. The Second also graphically shows the gulf between Rodziński and Barbirolli, whose recording with the same orchestra, made only a few years before, is thoroughly eclipsed by Rodziński’s far more mature reading. Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition may not be the Sonic Spectacular that Kubelík and Mercury were to unleash on an astonished audio world just a few short years later but it’s a brilliantly colourful and incisive reading nonetheless, percussion not excepted.
Disc three houses a magnificently streamlined and perceptive recording of Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, one that’s more direct than Koussevitzky’s near-contemporaneous Boston recording, and that excavates the music’s piquant Beethovenian echoes with flexible but brilliantly articulated playing. Disc four bucks the trend of one work to a CD with a sequence of 78s on a single disc. There’s The Nutcracker Suite, Op.71a to enjoy – not rushed - and whilst the Mozartiana suite sounds a bit cool and rather too correct, Enescu’s evergreen Romanian Rhapsody No.1 redresses the balance and there’s a really (very) fizzy Wolf-Ferrari Il segreto di Susanna overture to conclude.
Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, recorded in December 1944, is housed in disc five and makes an interesting point of comparison with his LP remake. The New York recording is yet another example of his symphonic control yet it also reveals him to have been a somewhat cool Tchaikovskian; turn to the brooding power of Koussevitzky and you will hear a marked difference in aesthetics. Disc seven shows him in his accompanist role. Robert Casadesus plays Saint-Saëns’ Fourth Piano Concerto in gleeful form though you’ll still need to turn to the pianist’s later inscription in New York with Bernstein for a real knockout reading. The rest of this disc is given over to Robert and Gaby Casadesus playing Satie’s Trois Morceaux en forme de poire.
Americana dominates the next disc. There’s Morton Gould’s Spirituals for Orchestra which was popular at this time, also broadcast by Stokowski with great fervour, but this Rodziński reading is its world premiere recording. Copland’s Lincoln Portrait is declaimed by Kenneth Spencer with authority and An American in Paris brings out the colourful cosmopolitan in Rodziński in a really rousing recording. Disc 9 is a bipartite one. Rodziński directs Ibert’s Escales well but can’t quite match Monteux – who could? – in his San Francisco recording. If you thought Rodziński too unyielding and in some ways doctrinaire for the youthful Bizet’s Symphony in C major, think again. Here’s the conductor in appropriately unbuttoned – but still disciplined - mood, extracting the delights and lyricism of the Symphony without demur. What remains on this disc is Milhaud directing his own Suite Française with whimsical ebullience.
Rodziński was a notable opera composer and a loving Wagnerian. Here we have the whole of Act III of Die Walküre with Helen Traubel and Herbert Janssen, with Irene Jessner taking the roles of Sieglinde and Otlinde. The conductor proves a fluid, very fleet and resourceful operatic director here and the two principals, justly famous, make their accustomed mark and this is, indeed, one of Traubel’s most extended recorded ventures. Note the Met’s chorus on the recording includes some interesting names, Martha Lipton’s among them. There are also other pieces of Wagneriana, including extracts from Tristan and Lohengrin and orchestral passages. Traubel takes various roles - Sieglinde, Isolde, Elsa - whilst Emery Darcy assumes the roles of Siegmund and Lohengrin.
There are two ‘Twilight Concerts’ which are Pops-based, with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. The miscellaneous repertoire covers the bases, with some sizzling Rossini, gossamer Mendelssohn and the appearance of Leonard Pennario in the opening movement (only) of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. He was later to make a famous coupling of the composer’s first and fourth concertos with Previn and the Rhapsody with Fiedler. Martha Lipton appears again singing None but the Lonely Heart rather beautifully. He directs the Allegretto of Franck’s Symphony in the second Twilight Concert, a work he had recorded in full and very well – though not as well as Toscanini – back in 1939 for the World’s Greatest Music label, an enterprise that issued its product cloaked in artist and orchestra anonymity. Find it on Pristine Audio PASC619. Genevieve Rowe sings Summertime and there’s a single movement from Rimsky’s Scheherazade.
The last three discs return to solid music-making. Rodziński had shown in his 1941 Cleveland recording of Sibelius’s Symphony No.5 (it’s on the Pristine twofer cited above) just what a powerful interpreter he was of the composer’s symphonic music. In March 1946 he turned to the Fourth and proved equally cogent, his grip unremitting, his perceptive control of transitions quite exceptional in every way. These days complete symphonic cycles are commonplace but it’s hard not to wonder just what a Sibelius cycle Rodziński could have delivered in the 1940s. He had everything as a Sibelian.
He also recorded Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony with then-standard cuts in 1945 as Mitropoulos also employed cuts in his own recording. This is an exciting and compelling reading, the romantic longing of the slow movement never indulged but equally not suppressed and the finale is particularly rousing. The last disc contains the same composer’s Second Piano Concerto played by György Sándor. Two things to note: firstly, this is available in Sony’s Sándor box in what is obviously the same transfer and, second, Rodziński is subtly attentive to the differing approaches of Sándor and, in the Twilight Concert, Pennario in their very different conceptions of the first movement. His prowess as an accompanist should never be overlooked.
In terms of the discography, there’s barely any overlap here with Scribendum’s box devoted to the conductor, which is largely focused on the later stages of his recording career. I think it’s clear by now that this is a major undertaking by Sony and its investment in artwork, remastering and in James North’s booklet notes has been hugely beneficial.
Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
Prokofiev: Two Pieces from The Love of Three Oranges, Op. 33b
Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a
Tchaikovsky: Suite No. 4 in G major, Op.61 'Mozartiana'
Enescu: Romanian Rhapsody No.1 in A major
Liszt: Mephisto Waltz No. 1
Wolf-Ferrari: Il segreto di Susanna Overture
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 'Pathétique'
Brahms: Symphony No.2 in D major, Op.73
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 4 in C minor, Op. 44
Robert Casadesus (piano)
Satie: Trois Morceaux en forme de poire
Gaby and Robert Casadesus (piano)
Gould, M: Spirituals for Orchestra
Copland: Lincoln Portrait
Gershwin: An American in Paris
Bizet: Symphony in C
Milhaud: Suite française, Op. 248 conducted by Darius Milhaud
Wagner: Die Walküre: Act 3
Helen Traubel (soprano) – Brünnhilde: Irene Jessner (soprano) - Sieglinde/Ortlinde: Herbert Janssen (baritone) – Wotan/Vocal Ensemble of the Metropolitan Opera
Wagner: Siegfried Idyll
Wagner: Die Walküre: Act 1 Scene 3
Wagner: Tristan and Isolde: Prelude to Act I; Act I Scene 3 (Isolde’s Narrative): Prelude to Act 3; Act 3 Scene 4 (Liebestod)
Wagner: Lohengrin Act 1 Scene 2 (Elsa’s Dream); Act 3 Scene 2 (Bridal Chamber Scene)
Helen Traubel (soprano) – Sieglinde, Isolde, Elsa: Emery Darcy (tenor) – Siegmund, Lohengrin
Rossini: Guillaume Tell Overture
Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night's Dream: Scherzo
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18; Movement 1
Leonard Pennario (piano)
Tchaikovsky: Serenade for strings in C major, Op. 48: II. Waltz
Tchaikovsky: None but the lonely heart, Op. 6 No. 6
Martha Lipton (mezzo soprano)
Bizet: L'Arlesienne Suite No. 2: IV. Farandole
Debussy: Clair de Lune (from Suite Bergamasque)
Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody, S244 No. 2 in C sharp minor
Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Offenbach: Orphée aux Enfers Overture
Franck: Symphony in D minor – Movement 2 (Allegretto)
Debussy: Fêtes (from Trois Nocturnes)
Prokofiev: The Love for Three Oranges – Movements 3 (March) and 4 (Scherzo)
Gershwin: Summertime (from Porgy and Bess)
Genevieve Rowe (soprano)
Dinicu: Hora staccato arr Heifetz
Rimsky Korsakov: Scheherazade, Op. 35: The Young Prince and Princess
Glière: Russian Sailors' Dance from The Red Poppy
Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Sibelius: Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 63
Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18
György Sándor (piano)