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CD/MP3: Historic Recordings

Sir Landon Ronald – Volume 2
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841–1904)
Symphony No.9 in E minor, From the New World, Op.95 (1893) [36:27]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No.4 in F minor Op.36 (1877) [39:01]
Royal Albert Hall Orchestra/Sir Landon Ronald
rec. January 1927 (Dvorák) and September 1925 (Tchaikovsky), London

Experience Classicsonline

I noted in my review of the first volume in this Landon Ronald series that there was another fine example of the conductor’s Tchaikovskian credentials in the next disc. It’s his 1925 early electric recording of the Fourth Symphony, again with the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra. For the time this was a fine recording, with good frequency response in all orchestral sections. Ronald was not as incendiary a conductor in this repertoire as his colleague Albert Coates, and he didn’t enjoy the reputation of Beecham or, from a later generation, Constant Lambert in the Russian muse. But he did nevertheless possess significant gifts of his own. The performance is taut, no-nonsense, and possesses some highly personal touches, though they’re hardly Mengelbergian in their extremes. There are some rather vitalising metrical moments, as well as decelerandos, and a corpus of luscious portamenti, though quite discreetly employed – they’re actually more pervasive in the New World Symphony which shares disc space with the Tchaikovsky. The strings have to count hard in the pizzicato passages but they emerge relatively unscathed. Some of the brass playing is a bit sticky. The conclusion is powerful. It demonstrates again Ronald’s buoyant strengths as a symphonic conductor. This is an important document for at least one reason. There were no acoustic recordings of the symphony. Isolated movements, yes – by Cuthbert Whitemore for Vocalion, Henry Wood for Columbia and Karl Muck for Victor – but no complete recording, so this Ronald inscription is the first ever set down. For many people this makes it a mere curiosity, but for the archivally minded it’s rather more than that. As well as the two Symphonies curated by Historic Recordings, Ronald recorded the Sixth in 1923 (acoustically), the Piano Concerto No.1 with Mark Hambourg (now on Pristine Audio PASC223), as well as other isolated movements and various smaller pieces.

Collectors of a serious bent – and I stress the seriousness of the obsession – will know that Ronald recorded Dvořák’s Ninth on two occasions. The first, with the RAHO once more, was recorded between 1919 and 1922. It was the first complete recording of the symphony to be issued, though as with the Tchaikovsky single movements of the Largo had appeared. In January 1927, taking advantage of the new advances made in recording techniques, Ronald set down his electric remake, again with the RAHO. In the meantime Hamilton Harty had set down his very brisk Columbia version. Ronald’s approach is stern, brusque in places, cultivating a stygian response from his quite Germanic bass-up string sound. These he contrasts powerfully with the yielding wind statements. The strings play with plenty of portamento – there’s one passage in the first movement, and another in the finale, where the sliding in a single phrase is fantastically co-ordinated – though occasionally they could be tidier. The brass playing is rugged and strong, the whole ethos dramatic. This is a far graver, more measured and sepulchral interpretation than Harty’s.

The Tchaikovsky transfer is excellent. There’s one evident side join (it’s at 4:03 in the finale) but otherwise it preserves the fine sound of the HMV electric, and though it’s hissy with one or two clicks it’s very listenable indeed. It demonstrates just how good electric recording could be, even at this early date. I was disappointed however with the Dvořák which has utilised a very different transfer technique. HMV shellac hiss has been computer-curtailed but a steely swish has replaced it. It’s a torrid sound.

There are no notes, as usual from this source. Acknowledging the caveat about the New World, this disc conjoins two historically important recordings, very well worthy of investigation.

Jonathan Woolf



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