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Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra – Live Recordings 1943-48. Volume 1
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Don Juan Op 20 (1888) [18:03]
Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Concerto for Orchestra [with original ending] (1944) [35:29]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Ode – Elegiac Chant (1943) [11:26]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Oberon- Overture (1826) [9:14]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Serge Koussevitzky
rec. Boston 30 December 1944 (Bartók): 8 October 1943 (Stravinsky): 4 March 1947 (Weber)

This is a valuable disc of live Koussevitzky-Boston material with which collectors may already be familiar. The Concerto for Orchestra has been issued by the Boston Symphony in its Centennial Celebration edition and it’s also been on Naxos. The world premiere took place with these forces on 1 December 1944 and this preserved performance was given just under a month later. It remains one of Koussevitzky’s most outstanding commissions and the performance enshrines at least something of the frisson that must have been generated at that premiere.

The performance is, it’s true, subject to aural limitations. The sound is constricted and in this of all scores that’s a decided problem. Nevertheless textually it’s valuable for allowing us to hear a performance that contains Bartók’s original, very abrupt ending. As a performance it has sweep and power – especially in the finale – but also, and this is rather surprising, there are paragraphs that seem to fall somewhat flat, as if they had not yet been properly assimilated.

Don Juan isn’t, judged by the stopwatch, that much quicker than many other performances. But it’s the internal rhythms and attacks that distinguish this galvanizing and energetic performance. And it certainly starts as it means to go on, with memorable dynamism and power. The silken solo violin – it has to be Richard Burgin, surely – is another adornment as are the wind principals. One of the great virtues of a performance such as this – it sounds banal but it remains true – is that wind principals have the freedom and flexibility to phrase within a brisk basic pulse without any sense of disjunction or a feeling of impeded direction. It all sounds wonderfully natural.

The Stravinsky Ode is a world premiere performance given on 8 October 1943. It was dedicated to Natalie Koussevitzky who had died the previous year and in whose memory the conductor established a Foundation. Orthodox Church depth and gravity is balanced by the affirmative optimism of the central Eclogue. Audience applause is rightly retained. We end with an overture. Not the usual piece of programming but when the Weber is played as excitingly as this convention tends to be of little significance. There’s a touch of "rumble" here on this 1947 tape but it’s otherwise very listenable.

Both notes and programming are first class; transfers too, inherent defects being as noted. This is the first volume in what promises to be a very collectable series from Guild.

Jonathan Woolf



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