Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Romeo and Juliet – ballet suite No.2 Op.64b (1935-36) [17:18]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No.102 in B flat major (1795) [21:43]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No.8 in B minor Unfinished D759 (1822) [20:18]
Rosamunde overture D797 (1824) [4:04]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Serge Koussevitzky
rec. 1936, and 1945 (Prokofiev)
ST-LAURENT STUDIO YSL 78-012 [63:28]

We do really need an expansive and well transferred Koussevitzky edition. I appreciate that the Japanese market may well be working on something, as it usually has an acute eye for box sets, and is often ahead of the West when it comes to niche purchases such as this. But Koussevitzky has been oddly served over the years, and reissues have not been as comprehensive or as well thought through as they might be. Things have proceeded in a rather patchy way. Very strange, really, for so eminent a conductor.

There’s a big ten CD set called ‘Maestro Risoluto’ [205259] which contains both symphonies in this St-Laurent disc, but the transfers are muffled and deficient. Despite the raft of superb things in that box, I would caution you against acquiring it, in the hope that someone will do right by the conductor and present state of the art transfers of his studio recordings. In the meantime we have here yet another piecemeal contribution to Koussevitzky Studies.

Schubert’s Unfinished was perfect for the 78 age. It lasts about twenty minutes so it would fit five sides, and on the sixth you could have a filler – here the Rosamunde overture. It was recorded in 1936 and by the end of the decade or so you had a superb choice of competing versions. If you were German you could choose one of your home team choices; Erich Kleiber or Alois Melichar in Berlin, or van Kempen in Dresden. If Austrian, your capital’s Philharmonic and Bruno Walter or Karl Böhm would do the trick. If you were British you might want Beecham and the LPO, Wood and the LSO, Eugene Goossens and the Covent Garden orchestra or Fistoulari and the National Symphony. Italians could choose the EIAR and Armando La Rosa Parodi (reissue anyone?). The French could plump for the Paris Philharmonic under Selmar Meyrowitz. Americans could choose the Philadelphia versions (Walter again, or Stokowski, who also, later, directed the All-American) or this Boston-Koussevitzy.

Even amidst the raft of competing versions this Boston account still sounds well. Some may prefer the later version that Koussevitzky recorded – as it happens I do too – but this 1936 account is strong, dramatic, occasionally eruptive, burnished of tone and forceful. His Haydn faced much less competition at the time, and is highly persuasive. From the introductory Largo we are in safe hands with few idiosyncrasies and a just sense of proportion and sentiment balancing the Menuetto and Presto finale. The Prokofiev was recorded in 1945 and is a known high point in his discography, of repertoire that was congenially dramatic and full blooded.

There are no notes, as is usual from this source. The transfers are commendably forward, but preserve quite a lot of shellac crackle. Side joins are very much better than in a recent Cortot release from this company.

Jonathan Woolf

Even amidst the raft of competing versions this Boston account still sounds well.