Columbia LP ML 4467 rec. 10/30/1950; Columbia LP MS 6248 rec.
12/14/1960 (on Sony CD SBK-46329, issued 1990); RCA LP ARL 1-2674
Dukas: Ormandy/Philadelphia Columbia
LP ML 2156 4/22/1947; Columbia LP 2/10/63 (on Sony CD SBK-46329);
RCA LP rec. 9/28/71
Mussorgsky: Ormandy/Philadelphia Columbia
LP rec. 4/19/59 (on Sony CD SBK-46329); RCA LP rec. 4/21/71
Sony is gradually
deleting titles in its long-lived “Essential Classics” line,
and re-releasing the more popular discs in a new “Legacy” series
at a lower price; $6.99 retail in the USA, although you may
find them cheaper elsewhere. The packaging here is a bit deceiving.
Looking at the booklet cover, one sees just the Dukas and Mussorgsky
works listed. Not much of a selection, until you turn the package
over. In fact, the work taking up the majority of playing time
is the Berlioz Symphonie fantastique; it is listed on
the back of the case along with the others. Sony is obviously
aiming for the first-time buyer. A sticker proclaims “Why Wonder?
Start Here! Definitive recordings of the world’s most beautiful
music – Insightful Notes – Pristine Sound”. The back tray card
has teaser notes referring to the content of the CD, describing
“the poet’s longing for his beloved to the Inferno of a witches’
Sabbath” in reference to the Berlioz. Then there is the ubiquitous
tie-in to Disney’s Fantasia for the Dukas and Mussorgsky.
I suppose Sony is following in time-honored copy writing tradition,
appealing to the neophyte while selling a product that has some
mileage on it. Fortunately, all the blurb regarding the merits
of this issue hold true. This collection of familiar works is
a true bargain, with world-class performances, preserved in
quite acceptable - albeit 40-some-year-old - sound.
each of the reviewed works with the Philadelphia Orchestra three
times during his career (see list above). I was not able to
hear was the first Mussorgsky recording, presumably made at
the dawn of the LP era; if anyone has a copy, I would appreciate
knowing about it. Ormandy’s approach to these time-honored works
is non-interventionist; as one may say of all his conducting.
There is no fussing with balances within the orchestral choirs,
a function of both the talents of conductor and producer Thomas
Frost and his recording team, especially in the stereo versions.
The tempi Ormandy chooses seem natural and unforced. The 1960
recording of the Symphonie has been my personal benchmark
since 1966 - the beginning of my record collecting passion!
- and this latest incarnation still sounds lush and very detailed,
with barely a dusting of tape hiss. I miss the original vinyl
sound with its warm tube sonics; I wore my LP copy out long
ago. However the CD retains a truthful reproduction of the Philadelphia
Orchestra’s unique signature. The “Reveries-Passions” movement,
with the potentially spiky idée fixe is handled with
loving care, the agogic accents of the melody progressing naturally
without aggressive highlighting. The “Ball” sequence is ravishing,
the strings’ tone colored with tasteful portamenti throughout.
The various wind soloists are radiant in their playing
during the “Scene in the Country”, especially oboist John de
Lancie and English hornist Louis Rosenblatt with their plaintive
duet at the beginning and end of the scene, as well as clarinetist
Anthony Gigliotti midway through the movement. The “March to
the Scaffold” allows the magnificent Philadelphia brass section
to glow. The final “Witches’ Sabbath” has four index tracks;
the Larghetto-Allegro introduction, the Dies irae - which features
bells that sound an octave lower than traditionally played in
other recordings – truly ominous and effective! - and the Sabbath
Round; itself split into two tracks. The peroration is captured
quite clearly, with no distortion evident.
The Dukas is paced
very naturally with no histrionics, and is brought off brilliantly.
The Mussorgsky is an earlier recording, as evidenced by the
higher level of tape hiss, and is more distantly recorded. However,
it remains a fine example of this orchestral showpiece.
This CD provides
excellent value, with an attractive price and sonics to match.
This would be the perfect choice for an introduction to three
orchestral masterworks, or as a replacement for aging LPs for
the longtime collector who may have missed the first Sony CD
issue. Quibbles about packaging aside, I highly recommend this