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Marco BOSSI (1861-1925)
Intermezzi goldoniani, Op.127 [7:15]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Two Elegiac Melodies, Op.34 (1881) [7:33]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sinfonia from Canatata No.156 (‘Arioso’) arr. Sam Franko [3:53]
Arcady DUBENSKY (1890-1966)
Gossips [2:34]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Serenade for Strings: Elegie, Op. 48 (1880) [6:25]
Londonderry Air [2:56]
Molly on the Shore [3:58]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Concerto Grosso No.1 (1925) [18:54] ¹
André-Ernst-Modest GRÉTRY (1741-1813)
Pantomime from Zémire er Azor (1771) [3:50]
Marche from La caravane du Caïre (1783) [1:44]
Tambourin fropm Denys le tyran (1794) [1:17]
Anton ARENSKY (1861-1906)
Variations on a theme of Tchaikovsky, Op.35a (1894) [16:52]
Philadelphia Chamber String Simfonietta/Fabien Sevitzky
Charles Linton (piano obbligato) ¹
rec.1927-40, Philadelphia
Mono recordings

A couple of things before we begin: no, you’re not seeing things - it really was a String Simfonietta with an ‘m’. If you are curious about the name, yes Fabien Sevitzky (1893-1967) was originally ‘Koussevitzky’, and he was a nephew of Serge. He was also later, in 1937, to become conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony, a position he held for nearly two decades.
The Simfonietta was drawn from the ranks of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and that included Sevitzky himself who was a bass player, and the ensemble gave its first concert in 1925. According to Mark Obert-Thorn’s note it was claimed to be the world’s first permanent string orchestra. The electric recordings followed in February 1927, and then another batch in 1929, after which there was a long gap until the final series in 1940.
Programming seems to have been arbitrary-to-light. Bozzi’s Intermezzi goldoniani is a genial affair graced by some sleek portamenti and expressive weight despite the hall’s dry acoustic. The Grieg Elegiac Melodies were recorded at the same time and reveal strong cantabile qualities and stylistic probity. They espouse Sam Franko’s famous Arioso, his arrangement of the Sinfonia from Bach’s Cantata No.156. Beloved of solo violinists, this sensuous performance stands up well for its corporate tonal qualities. Dubensky was a composer much performed in Philadelphia which was presumably where Sevitzky encountered him; certainly Stokowski was an avowed interpreter of Dubensky’s music and indeed recorded some of it. Gossips is a pizzicato study that evokes the chatter of those talkative people. Tchaikovsky’s Elegie from the Serenade for Strings offers a small-scaled approach: textually clear but necessarily underpowered. The two Grainger arrangements are largely non-calorific, but as in some of the other performances the texture can be slightly dominated by the first violin. The most important of the ensemble’s recordings was that of Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No.1, a recording made in May 1929. This was the work’s first ever recording and it wasn’t until Victor released a set by the Curtis Ensemble under Louis Bailly that it became supplanted. Charles Linton is the obbligato pianist in this crisp, warmly textured reading - buoyantly characterised, too.
The last sessions included a trio of Grétry pieces. The most famous is the one that Beecham loved to play as an encore, the Pantomime from Zémire et Azor. Fortunately Sevitzky likes to keep that pianissimo going as far as it can. Finally, at those same sessions in 1940, at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, they performed Arensky’s ingratiating Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky in thoroughly elegant fashion. The wartime shellac is not great, and thus a bit noisy, and the last side has some passing thuds, which are pressing faults, but the performance is well worth hearing.
Finally Pristine, very unusually in my experience, doesn’t provide any catalogue and matrix numbers on its inlay (see Footnote), but fortunately this information is available on its website. This is a most enjoyable release.
Jonathan Woolf
From Andrew Rose, Pristine Classical: We do always try and include catalogue and matrix numbers, as well as anything else we can find of historic importance, on our CD covers. Alas in one or two cases, especially where there are a large number of tracks to notate, it has proved impossible to squeeze everything in at a type size that's legible to the naked eye! This was one of those instances. As Jonathan rightly points out, the information is there on our website, on the page from where 99.9% of orders for this recording will be placed.