Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Scheherazade – Symphonic Suite after "The Thousand and One Nights", Op. 35 (1888) [40:24]
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Romeo and Juliet (1880) [18:03]
Marche Slave Op.31 (1876) [8:13]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Khovantchina — Prelude (1872-75) [4:13]
Cleveland Orchestra/Artur Rodzinski
rec. 1939, Severance Hall, Cleveland
ST-LAURENT STUDIO YSL 78-001 [70:59]

Of the small labels that have recently sprouted to present 78 restorations the most perplexingly inconsistent, in my experience, is this one. One minute things are slapdash, with side-joins that don’t join sides, or do what I do when I attempt to do it, which is to make a right old hash of it; the next minute we have full-bodied sound, rich and full with a ration of shellac crackle through which one can happily listen, ears adjusting (should they need to) to the superb standards of engineering achieved in the 1920s and 1930s and beyond. Side-joins in these cases are imperceptible. I therefore receive discs from this French Canadian company wondering whether I am going to listen to Dr Jekyll or to Mr Hyde.

This is a generally good release, except for one moment. It’s the first volume in a Rodzinski edition and presents all-Russian fare. I realise that yet another Scheherazade may not float your boat, but this 1939 inscription features a very characterful sounding Cleveland orchestra, long pre-Szell, with their concertmaster, the esteemed and long-lived Joseph Fuchs in prime form. Even at the time you were spoiled for choice and should you have been planning a purchase, the American consumer needed to look no further than Pierre Monteux and his San Francisco forces, or Stokowski in Philadelphia or this one with Rodzinski - a Frenchman, an Englishman and a Pole.

Rodzinski offers a more straightforward reading than either of his Stateside competitors; less imaginative, really, than Monteux, and less grandiloquent than Stokowski, but fine in its own way. Fuchs’s intense vibrato speed adds its own gloss, as does the trumpet principal whose bugle tone is a taste I think I have nearly acquired. There’s plenty of panache here, and perhaps more urgency, in the end, than sheer subtlety so if your LP marker was Kletzki or Beecham, say – and mine was always Kletzki – then you may find Rodzinski overly punchy. But exciting, yes - he certainly is exciting, and splendidly recorded too by Columbia. At the same sessions he recorded Romeo and Juliet. Again, this is a tautly argued affair, direct, no-nonsense but not without romance and lyricism when necessary. It must have stood up pretty well, even at a time when – or just after – you could find recordings by such as Beecham, Koussevitzky, Constant Lambert, Albert Coates and Stokowski. Something untoward happens at 10:40 though and I assume it’s a side-join gone a bit wrong. A shame. The fillers add twelve minutes of vigour and personality.

There are no notes, just a card inlay with nice colour reproductions of the record label and album cover and a few brief comments. All is not wholly well with this release, but that one moment apart, the reproduction is vivid and captures the strength of the performance very nicely.

Jonathan Woolf

One moment apart this disc is vivid and captures the strength of the performances very nicely.