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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Great Conductors of the Twentieth Century: Artur Rodzinski
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908) Russian Easter Festival, Op. 36* [14’40"]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881) Khovanshchina: Prelude* [5’26"]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Symphony No 2 in E minor, Op. 27** [42’59"]
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868) William Tell Overture*** [11’19"]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Die Walküre The Ride of the Valkyries**** [4’55"]; Magic Fire Music**** [6’55"]; Götterdämmerung: Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey**** [9’34"]; Funeral March**** [6’50"]; Tristan und Isolde: Prelude to Act 1***** [10’19"]; Isoldes Liebestod***** [5’59"]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949): Salome: Dance of the Seven Veils****** [9’09"]; Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24 ****** [23’25"]
*Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Recorded, Abbey Road Studios, London, 26 April, 6 May 1958
**New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Recorded, Carnegie Hall, New York, 15 November, 1945
*** Columbia Symphony Orchestra. Recorded, 30th Street Studios, New York, 14 November 1950
**** Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Recorded, Walthamstow Town Hall, London, 14 April, 1955
***** Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Recorded, Orchestra Hall, Chicago, 13 December, 1947
****** Philharmonia Orchestra. Recorded, Abbey Road Studios, 14 September, 1957 & 29 April, 1958
All items conducted by Artur Rodzinski

I detect something of a pattern with this series, though whether or not it’s intentional or imagined will not be clear until the series is complete. At present it seems that to qualify for inclusion a conductor must be dead – so no place for Abbado, Sir Colin Davis or Haitink, to name but three illustrious candidates. Secondly, several of the more obvious often recorded maestri have been excluded so we wait to see whether Bernstein, Furtwängler, Karajan, Solti or Toscanini will be included in this Hall of Fame. If the series continues in this way it may come to seem a little lopsided. However, an important positive side to this ‘policy’ is that it enables the series to illuminate some conductors that posterity may regard as lesser luminaries – sometimes unfairly. One such beneficiary is Artur Rodzinski (1892-1958).

Polish-born, he went to the USA in 1926 as Stokowski’s assistant in Philadelphia, staying there until 1929. For most of the next two decades he occupied a prominent position in American musical life, successively directing the Los Angeles Philharmonic (1929-33), Cleveland (1933-43), New York Philharmonic (1943-7) and Chicago Symphony (1947-8). Thereafter health problems restricted his career significantly.

The full story of his career is outlined in David Patmore’s absorbing liner note. Patmore pays particular attention to his career in the recording studio, which went rather in fits and starts.

Throughout his career Rodzinski was noted for his interpretations of Russian music. Rimsky’s Russian Easter Festival, set down at some of his last sessions, is alert and vibrant. The composer’s colourful orchestral palette is well realized and the rhythms are strong and buoyant. Beecham’s RPO respond with playing of fiery conviction. This combination of orchestra and conductor are just as successful in a very different context, the atmospheric Khovanshchina prelude. Rodzinski leads a masterfully controlled account of this short piece.

The Rossini overture rather sticks out amid a programme otherwise comprising entirely Russian and German music. Actually, there’s an almost Slavic passion to the opening passage for the cellos. David Patmore sums up the remainder of the reading felicitously when he refers to "pistol-shot trumpet playing and a vigorous tempo that together would have certainly given the Lone Ranger a run for his money." All I can say is that, after listening, I felt completely out of breath, unlike Tonto, by the end. I should say that the sound on this particular track is rather boxy and constricted in the tuttis.

The Rachmaninov Second Symphony was recorded at a time when it was usual for conductors to make heavy cuts in Rachmaninov’s substantial score. Rodzinski follows this practice and that’s a cause for regret because the music that is played comes across very well indeed. The brooding intensity of the first movement, which I think is complete (I didn’t have access to a score), suits this conductor particularly well. The NYPO play very well indeed for him and, apart from slightly vinegary reproduction of the oboes, the sound is remarkably good for its vintage (much better than that on the Rossini recording, made five years later). There’s real sweep and feeling in the first movement. The second is very athletic indeed, driven along with great vigour. Some may feel that the Big Tune in this movement could be savoured at slightly more leisure but I must say I found Rodzinski's direct way with the tune refreshing and he certainly extracts all its romantic fervour. The slow movement, though badly disfigured by cuts, is warmly phrased with a soulfully eloquent clarinet solo. I’d love to have heard this team play the complete score. That said, we could be listening to Stokowski and his Philadelphians and I can’t pay Rodzinski a higher compliment than that where this music is concerned. The finale has enormous dash and vitality, making one regret once again the cuts that are made. However, that’s the way the work was usually presented in those days and, with that one qualification, I’d say the performance as a whole is extremely successful. I’m delighted that it has been rescued from CBS/Sony’s vaults and restored to general circulation.

The second disc is given over entirely to German music, including substantial chunks of Wagner, another composer with whom Rodzinski was closely associated. The Ride of the Valkyries is described by David Patmore as "truly driven". I’m sure he doesn’t mean that in a pejorative sense. The pace is exhilaratingly fast and the piece has a truly Gothic feel. Splendid! Equally successful is the Magic Fire music – there’s real grandeur here. Rodzinski packs great power and intensity into his account of Siegfried’s Funeral March. In this piece the recording can’t quite cope with the huge climaxes but generally speaking these 1955 tapes come up well. So too do the earlier Chicago recordings. We hear saturated string lines in the Tristan prelude. This is played with great ardour and atmosphere; equally true of the Liebestod, which is very fine.

The Strauss performances are just as ear-catching. I don’t care greatly for the Dance of the Seven Veils, a much over-recorded piece. But it is presented colourfully and dramatically and I enjoyed it more than I usually do. In Tod und Verklärung the opening pages are pregnant with atmosphere. Listen to the remarkable depth of sonority in the chord for bass instruments and oboes at 0’17" to get a sense of Rodzinski’s command of orchestral colour (and scrupulous attention to detail in rehearsal, I suspect.) The main allegro is launched like a whipcrack (5’15") and the following pages are exciting and turbulent. When it comes, the transfiguration music is noble, not bombastic and the very end of the piece is extremely carefully balanced and weighted; yet more evidence of attention to detail.

I confess that I didn’t know quite what to expect from this set, as I’d not heard too many examples of Rodzinski’s work previously. This collection has been well chosen, I think. Without exception the pieces are well played and the music-making is very communicative, bespeaking a conductor who knew his own mind and knew also how to get results. This has turned out to be one of the most interesting releases that I’ve encountered in this series to date and I warmly recommend it.

John Quinn

EMI/IMG Great Conductors of the Twentieth Century

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