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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36 [42:29]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Rêverie [5:28]
Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No. 1 in D major, Classical, Op. 25 [13:27]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Thomas Schippers (Tchaikovsky), Sir Eugene Goossens (Scriabin)
Pro Arte Orchestra/Sir Eugene Goossens (Prokofiev)
rec. 27-28 May 1957, Kingsway Hall, London (Tchaikovsky - stereo); 15 February 1956, Kingsway Hall, London (Scriabin - mono); 25 April 1958, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London (Prokofiev - stereo)
FIRST HAND RECORDS FHR16 [64:24]

Blinkered or not, I have always associated Thomas Schippers with opera and his occasional forays into orchestral Barber and Prokofiev. That was until I heard his Tchaikovsky 4 in mono on Forgotten Records. There - in a version captured from a vintage LP - it is coupled differently from here. As I said then, the recording and performance are virile and the all-important dynamic steps up and down are tellingly done. The ear is tickled and caressed and the brass snarl, caw and punch in tragic glory. The treble is very civilised indeed. For the more suave aspects do listen to the third movement with its pizzicato crescendo. In this and other respects Schippers falls not far short of Mravinsky's 1960s deflagration, just with the manic meter turned down a notch. Even so, it's virtuoso playing that has the pulse responding to the alternating poetry and adrenaline hit. The silences between those crashes in the finale are well and securely done with the cliff-edge contrast played to the hilt. This is grandstanded playing which no Tchaikovskian should be excused the opportunity of hearing.

What we hear in the case of the Tchaikovsky is the work of two names I have not previously heard of: producer, Walter Jellinek and stereo balance engineer, Robert Gooch. First Hand's access to never-before issued stereo session tapes of the Tchaikovsky makes a difference. Analogue hiss is present but it is well down the audibility scale. Practically speaking, it's only noticeable when the main signal is turned up to more than three-quarters of the amplifier's volume range.

If the other two items are not Tchaikovsky they are Russian and a delight in the hands of Eugene Goossens. The Prokofiev was first issued as a Pye 45rpm mono EP. Like the Tchaikovsky, it receives its first stereo release. The luxurious little Scriabin Rêverie is the first recording of a Scriabin work made by a British orchestra. It came from an HMV Stereosonic reel but is in fact in mono.

The excellent supporting documentation is by Richard Whitehouse and Peter Bromley. All these tapes have been mastered/re-mastered and edited at Abbey Road Studios by Ian Jones in 2011 and 2012. Never mind the technicalities: the heard results will more than hold the attention. It is a small miracle that work done in 1956-1958 can still please so strongly - and at mid-price too.

Rob Barnett




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