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Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra: Great Recordings from the Archives

IMG RSPO 1000-2 [1001-1008] [8 CDs: 71.04 + 79.17 + 70.19 + 79.40 + 79.54 + 74.07 + 77.54 + 78.20]

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV565
Leopold Stokowski
Recorded May 1939
Alban BERG (1885-1935)

Violin Concerto
Louis Krasner (violin)
Fritz Busch
Recorded April 1938
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Four Last Songs
Sena Jurinac (soprano)
Fritz Busch
Recorded May 1951
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Tristan und Isolde – Act I Prelude and Liebestod
Arturo Toscanini
Recorded December 1934
Siegfried Idyll
Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
Recorded May 1963
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Symphony No. 39 in E flat major K543
Bruno Walter
Recorded September 1950
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Symphony No. 8 in F major Op. 93
Overture – Leonore No. 3
Wilhelm Furtwängler
Recorded November 1948
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Chant du Rossignol – poème symphonique
Victor de Sabata
Recorded September 1947
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Symphony No. 4 in E minor Op. 98
Otto Klemperer
Recorded April 1958
Variations on a Theme by Haydn Op. 56a
Constantin Silvestri
Recorded March 1962
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

Pohjola’s Daughter Op. 49
Tor Mann
Recorded April 1958
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)

Guillaume Tell; Overture
Carlo Maria Giulini
Recorded April 1960
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)

Ancient Airs and Dances for Lute – Suite no. 1
Pierre Monteux
Recorded October 1961
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)

Requiem Op. 48
Gunilla af Malmborg (soprano)
Rolf Leandersson (baritone)
Musikaliska Sällskapet Choir
Åke Levén (organ)
Rafael Kubelik
Recorded September 1964
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Symphony No. 5 in E minor Op. 64
Ferenc Fricsay
Recorded March 1957
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)

Chamber Symphony No. 1 Op. 9
Jascha Horenstein
Recorded December 1967
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Josef Krips
Recorded April 1973
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Symphony No. 5 in B flat major Op. 100
Paul Kletzki
Recorded November 1968
Hugo ALFVÉN (1872-1960)

En skärgårdssägen Op. 20
Herbert Blomstedt
Recorded January 1977
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Slavonic Dances Op. 46
No. 1 in C major
No. 3 in A flat major
No. 8 in G minor
István Kertész
Recorded November 1970
Symphony No. 6 in D major Op. 60
Antal Dorati
Recorded December 1973
Franz BERWALD (1796-1868)

Sinfonie singulière (Symphony No. 3) in C major
Igor Markevitch
Recorded September 1978
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Don Juan Op. 20
Sixten Ehrling
Recorded June 1964
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)

Symphony No. 7 in E major
Rudolf Kempe
Recorded April 1975
Daniel-François-Esprit AUBER (1782-1871)

Gustave III ou Le Bal Masqué; Ouverture
Gennady Rozhdestvensky
Recorded May 1976
All items with Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra – conductors and dates as above.

One of the most exciting features of the last decade or so has been the emergence of the large, celebratory box sets issued by distinguished orchestras and containing mouth-watering historic and archival material. One thinks of the New York set for example or the recent Minnesota twelve CD set and the current Concertgebouw retrospective and the others that happily proliferate, whether on wide commercial terms or on a subscription basis. Now we can add the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic to the list in a set issued to celebrate its centenary. It is produced in four slimline doubles housed in an attractive slipcase and containing a fine and attractively designed booklet, 132 pages long and in four languages. The performances range from Toscanini’s Wagner in 1934 to Markevitch’s Berwald in 1978 and offer a fascinating perspective on music-making in the city in a forty plus year survey, rich in local and much visiting talent.

We begin with Stokowski in 1939 and his Bach Toccata and Fugue, as ever intensely and dramatically overpowering but with occasional scrappy playing and brief acetate damage. The first disc also contains the earliest items, with Toscanini’s intense and beautifully moulded Wagner. One must counsel care with these two items however because they have survived in pretty poor shape. There is a veil of surface noise and damage in the Act I Prelude and one part of the Liebestod, equally afflicted, has had to be excised and these can really only be considered aural souvenirs of Toscanini’s visit. It’s the other items here that are the focus of most interest; in fact in many ways they are the most treasurable items in the whole set – Krasner’s Berg and Jurinac’s Four Last Songs, with Fritz Busch happily conducting on both occasions. We know Krasner’s way with the work from the BBC/Webern live performance made in 1936 and available on Testament as well as from the commercial Cleveland/Rodzinski set made in 1940. It’s always fascinating to learn from Krasner in this work, so associated with him. He is much faster with Busch than he was with Webern – incredibly so at points. In the space of two years, under two conductors, Krasner has tightened the work by nearly four and a half minutes (29.43 with Webern, 25.30 with Busch) with the greater weight of revised tempi taking place in the first part of the concerto. Krasner’s astringent, dry tone and his very fast vibrato (especially on the upper strings) are part of an idiosyncratic personalised armoury; added to this are his quick portamanti. They create a powerful patina, unignorable in the history of the work on disc. As exciting is the Jurinac/Busch Strauss. This was taped in 1951 and though the sound is not quite as good as one would have hoped from this period (the orchestra is rather distant) it’s still a noble document. The box reveals the sometimes up and down fortunes of the standards of execution of the orchestra – this certainly wasn’t a consistently well oiled machine – but when Busch is in charge there is little wrong. Jurinac is deeply expressive and moving. Her In Abendrot is utterly compelling and Busch time and again points revealing orchestral strands and supports the voice with his well-known instinct for vocal and operatic understanding.

The second disc gives us Bruno Walter’s 1950 Mozart, somewhat opaquely recorded with regard to orchestral detail and as a result muffled but with his Mozartian generosity intact. Furtwängler’s Beethoven Eight is certainly marred by some orchestral imprecision but has plenty of his trademark ritardandi and luftpause in this work. The scherzo is witty – not ponderous – and the finale rather driven and impetuous. Not preferable though to Berlin ’53 or to Vienna ’54. A recording of the rehearsal for the Leonore Overture No.3 does exist and in this performance of the concert performance, from the same evening as the Symphony, 13 November 1948, Furtwängler explores the drama and contrasts with implacable drive. De Sabata completes the second disc with Stravinsky’s Chant du Rossignol – an intense Introduction, though a little messy orchestrally, with a good principal trombone and a languorous Chant itself. Coming to the third disc we meet Klemperer’s Brahms Four from 1958, measured and serious, with free rubati in the second movement, intense expressive string shading and a relaxed tempo. The almost hieratic luftpause in the third movement herald drama and power and the preparation for the finale is perfectly judged. Altogether this is an important adjunct to his commercial Brahms discography. Schmidt-Isserstedt’s Siegfried Idyll is clean limbed and Tor Mann turns in an unusually tautly conceived and driving Pohjola’s Daughter. The orchestral balance in Giulini’s William Tell overture is hardly the last word in subtlety, nor does the recording or the transfer of the Horenstein Schoenberg Chamber Symphony sound well but one should instead turn to the jewel of the fourth disc, Fricsay and his beloved Tchaikovsky Five. This is not the kinetic Five that some may know from his commercial recording but then Fricsay’s way with this work was certainly not absolute or static, as other recordings, more measured and far-seeing, amply show; this performance is splendidly balanced and cogently directed and it reveals Fricsay as potentially one of the great symphonic conductors of his generation, a hope so cruelly dashed by his premature death.

Krips brings spruce rhythm and lightness to Oberon, which opens disc five. It’s good to find Silvestri amongst this distinguished group of guest conductors but though his Brahms Haydn Variations is well played it rather hangs fire. I greatly enjoyed Monteux’s way with Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances – the first suite. Winds are evocative and there’s a delightful string veil. Rafael Kubelík might seem an unusual choice to lead Fauré’s Requiem. His choir is a big one and the Introit and Kyrie are full of portent and very slow. The baritone is committed in the Offertoire but somewhat hollow toned and not ideally steady; the soprano is better but not outstanding in the Pie Jesu but Kubelík just can’t get the Agnus Dei to flow properly and I think it’s best not to stress the absolutely disastrous performance of the brass players throughout. Much more impressive by far is the undersung figure of Paul Kletzki, increasingly sidelined by EMI at this period, in Prokofiev. His fifth Symphony is never over-stressed or unsubtle. Rather, rhythm is well sprung and dramatic in the Andante first movement and there’s considerable elegance and idiomatic understanding elsewhere. Herbert Blomstedt makes a welcome appearance with Alfvén’s delightful tone poem En skärgårdssägen in a fine sounding 1977 broadcast – really evocative and stormy seascape writing that taxes all departments of the orchestra (and at points the tape). This disc ends with Kertész’s Dvořák Slavonic Dances – three of the Op.46 set in a performance from 1970. Never the subtlest of Dvořákians, Kertesz makes a real meal of these three.

The last twofer brings forth august Sixten Ehrling in an attractively shaped Don Juan from 1964, though the recording tends to a degree of brittleness and there is a degree of sectionality in the conducting. Rudolf Kempe appears in Bruckner 7 and this is a truly fine performance. The climaxes are beautifully judged; the brass is on form, the tempo, not least in the first two movements, sounds unerringly right. The lyrical expansion of the Adagio is matched by the spring and rhythmic energy of the finale – not forgetting the expansive and moulded trio section of the Scherzo. One for the shelves, this. Auber’s Gustave III sees Gennady Rozhdestvensky on the rostrum and attractive it is as well. Antál Dorati conducts Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony and takes it at a considerably faster clip than, say, Ančerl, bringing an explicit Brahmsian cast to it, as other do to the Seventh. Apart from a passing horn disaster the Adagio is genial, attractive and not pressed too hard whilst the Scherzo is bold and vibrant and the finale well shaped and spirited. We end this disc and indeed the set with the most recent performance, Markevitch’s excellent Berwald Sinfonie singulière from 1978. The trio section of the Scherzo is splendidly realised and the triumphant blare of the Presto finale is brought out with great energy and drive by a conductor-composer who always knew the works from the inside.

There are some exceptionally valuable performances studded throughout this box set – Krasner, Jurinac, Klemperer amongst them – whilst others, such as the Furtwängler Beethoven have appeared from other sources. Given the occasional let-downs some readers may exercise caution but those interested in a wide range of material of real rarity will want to listen.

Jonathan Woolf

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