Do I need to mention that Eleanor was the wife of President Franklin
D Roosevelt? Perhaps not, but I do mention it because her delivery,
very straightforward, direct and simple, seems to me to have the
homely quality which I have read about concerning her husband’s
series of radio talks, known as fireside chats, where he
presented his proposals directly to the American public on air.
It’s a very “mumsy” performance, and when I got over my initial
shock, Eleanor does sound a little like Margaret Dumont, I thoroughly
enjoyed this performance. She presents the story as if it was
a special treat just for me, and I quickly warmed to her
delivery. The orchestral part is played with crispness and superb
clarity – the recorded sound is brilliantly clear with a wide
dynamic. This was Koussevitzky’s second recording of Peter and
Wolf – his first (and possibly the world première recording) dates from 1939 and has the narration spoken by actor Richard
The other two pieces come from Koussevitzky’s last recording session,
and what electrifying music making they are! The Sibelius Symphony
is as fresh as it was on the day of its première. Koussevitzky hits exactly the right tempo for the first movement and
the urgency of the ebb and flow of the music is fully realised
with some big climaxes. The second movement is, surely, too
fast, likewise the trio of the scherzo, but this was possibly
the constraints of the the playing time of the 78 rpm side.
That said, although the pizzicato opening of the slow
movement seems rushed, the phrasing of the great bassoon tune
is perfect, and the distant horn-calls are well placed within
the soundscape. By the time we reach the faster section everything
is in place and the drama and tension are unbearable. Koussevitzky
keeps a tight hand on things and the first climax is explosive.
The great second subject for strings is as luminous as you could
wish for. The ensuing cliamxes are shattering in their power
and the final pizzicati are clear and precise.
The scherzo races along, full of life, with the trio a trifle hurried,
then the great finale with its grand tune, which is handled
beautifully, full bows and much passion. The ghostly march,
which Sibelius uses to build the coda, and thus the final peroration,
is very fine indeed, a great and glorious sound bringing the
work to a rousing and most satisfactory conclusion. There is
a bit of retouching of the orchestration here and there but
don’t let that bother you, this is one of the finest recordings
and recorded performances I’ve ever heard of this Symphony in
nearly 45 years of listening. I’ve always been an Anthony Collins
and Barbirolli man in this work, now I can add Koussevitzky
to my pantheon.
Last Spring was Koussevitzky’s very
last recording. It’s a touching tribute to a lifetime’s music
the orchestral playing is very good and very exciting. The direction
is thoughtful and intelligent. This disk is a major achievement
in terms of sound, which is as clear as any re–issue I’ve ever
heard from a 78 source – was the recording made on tape and
then issued on 78 I wonder? Certainly the sound has been cleaned
up magnificently and there are things in the performance of
the Sibelius which I have never heard before.
disk is not only for those interested in the history of performance
– it’s essential listening for anyone who loves the Sibelius
Symphony – for there is so much to enjoy in this performance
– and just to hear the sincerity of the playing in, and the
interpretation of, Peter and the Wolf is a wonder.
should be on every record shelf.
see also Review
by Rob Maynard