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Nikolai Sokoloff and the Cleveland Orchestra – Complete Recordings
rec. 1924-28
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC524 [3 CDs: 180:25]

You’ve got the hang of the format. Pristine has issued a twofer and single disc under the same catalogue number. Together they form the complete recordings of Nikolai Sokoloff and the Cleveland Orchestra and span very late acoustics, a problematic sequence of early electrics, and an orthodox set of electrics which includes Schubert’s Unfinished and, a major item this, the first recording of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. The notes are split between the two releases and full discographic material only presented on the label’s website which I don’t like but as it is doubtless more expensive to use the back of the track listing for this information there’s not much I can say about this practice. I would much prefer a 3CD box.

Sokoloff (1886-1965) was born in Kiev, moving to America just before the turn of the century. He graduated to a position in the violin section of the Boston Symphony, travelled to Paris to study with d’Indy and returned to America to embark on a series of conducting appointments which led to his taking on the foundation of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1918. By 1924 they were making a series of recordings for Brunswick. Despite necessary bass reinforcements to project via the acoustic system, and the corollary of abridgements to fit side lengths, these discs reflect the authoritative control Sokoloff had clearly exercised even at this early point in the orchestra’s history. True, the Strauss waltzes are cropped in half, pretty much, and the DvořŠk Slavonic Dance recording has oompah band elements, and there’s a bit of an unseemly scramble to fit in the Allegretto from Brahms’s Second Symphony. But there is also a sense of corporate identity about the sound, despite the limitations of the time – and even as they were recording the Allegretto, time itself was marching on, as in London, Landon Ronald had shortly before recorded the whole symphony.

Brunswick used early electric ‘Light Ray’ recordings, a short-lived and technologically disappointing system soon to be swapped in favour of the Western Electric system. Brunswick reprised the two late acoustic recordings of excerpts from Lohengrin but the results are torrid. Mark Obert-Thorn has done his very best, but inherent distortion is a real problem. It’s pleasing to hear Victor Herbert’s arrangement of Rimsky’s Song of India, but the majority of these sides – not least the Waltz from The Sleeping Beauty or the ear-assaulting Halvorsen Entry March of the Boyars – make for sonically uncomfortable listening. Lovers of minutiae may ponder whether the concertmaster in the Danse Macabre was the expatriate Arthur Beckwith – I think it was – and not Joseph Fuchs who took over soon after.

Fortunately, Brunswick had switched systems by the time they came to record Schubert’s Unfinished in 1928 – complete with first movement repeat, rather unusually for the time. This is a solid, well-balanced reading and the retention of thistling surface noise ensures the string choirs’ tonal qualities are preserved. The side joins are also excellent. As a sop to the lighter market, some charming ephemera was also recorded – Coppelia, Grainger’s Shepherd’s Hey and Piernť’s Entrance of the Little Fauns.

Disc three from the release contains the biggest, and historically most important recording, that of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. This has also been reissued by the Cleveland Orchestra to mark its 75th anniversary. It was the first recording on disc and is historically important in a number of ways, principally textually. A decade before, Sokoloff had persuaded Rachmaninoff to revise the work through cuts, changing of some harmonies and amendment of the tempo marking for the second movement. (Note though that Rachmaninoff apparently approved Josef Stransky’s New York cuts at around the same time.) The results can be heard in this 1928 recording, the only one to preserve these particular changes. The next recording to be issued was Ormandy’s Minneapolis set in 1934, which enshrined further cuts. Sokoloff’s performance therefore lasts 46 minutes. Orchestra and conductor had long association of this work, having premiered the revised version in 1920; Sokoloff gave a performance of it in nine out of fourteen seasons in Cleveland, so it’s no surprise to note the lack of any tentative phrasing or sectional indiscipline. In fact, this is a galvanising, dramatic reading that represents the apex of Sokoloff’s recordings and shows how subsequent music directors of the orchestra owe a great debt to its founding father.

This is a valuable release, and even those Light Rays tell us something about false starts in early electric recording.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review (CD3): Rob Barnett

Contents
CD 1 (60:58)
The Acoustic Recordings (1924)
1. TCHAIKOVSKY 1812 Overture, Op. 44 (8:49)
Recorded 23 January 1924 in New York City
First issued on Brunswick 50047
2. J. STRAUSS II On the Beautiful Blue Danube - Waltz, Op. 314 (4:09)
Recorded 2 October 1924 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 50052
3. J. STRAUSS II Tales from the Vienna Woods - Waltz, Op. 325 (4:25)
Recorded 3 October 1924 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 50052
4. SIBELIUS Valse Triste (from Kuolema, Op. 44) (2:45)
Recorded 5 October 1924 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 15092
5. SIBELIUS Finlandia - Symphonic Poem, Op 26 (4:20)
Recorded 2 October 1924 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 50053
6. SCHUMANN Tršumerei (Kinderszenen, Op. 15, No. 7) (3:33)
Recorded 5 October 1924 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 15091
7. DVOŘŃK Slavonic Dance in D major, Op. 46, No. 3 (3:15)
Recorded 4 October 1924 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 15091
8. BRAHMS Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G minor (2:35)
Recorded 5 October 1924 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 15092
9. BRAHMS Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op 73 - 3rd Mvt. - Allegretto (4:19)
Recorded 4 October 1924 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 50053
10. WAGNER Lohengrin - Prelude to Act 3 (3:07)
Recorded 5 October 1924 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 15090
11. WAGNER Lohengrin - Bridal Chorus (Act 3) (3:15)
Recorded 5 October 1924 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 15090

The “Light-Ray” Electrics (1926)
12. WAGNER Lohengrin - Prelude to Act 3 (3:11)
Recorded 1 May 1926 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 15121 (matrix E 19234)
13. WAGNER Lohengrin - Bridal Chorus (Act 3) (3:18)
Recorded 1 May 1926 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 15121 (matrix E 19237)
14. TCHAIKOVSKY 1812 Overture, Op. 44 (9:58)
Recorded 1 and 3 May 1926 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 50090 (matrices XE 19243 & 19131)

CD 2 (58:09)
The “Light-Ray” Electrics (1926) - continued
1. TCHAIKOVSKY The Sleeping Beauty, Op. 20, No. 6 - Waltz (4:09)
Recorded 3 May 1926 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 15120 (matrix E 19134)
2. RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (arr. Victor Herbert) Sadko - Song of India (3:13)
Recorded 1 May 1926 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 15120 (matrix E 19238)
3. RACHMANINOV Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2 (3:54)
Recorded 3 May 1926 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 15189 (matrix E 19147)
4. NICOLAI The Merry Wives of Windsor - Overture (4:25)
Recorded 3 May 1926 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 50089 (matrix XE 19138)
5. SAINT-SAňNS Danse Macabre, Op. 40 (4:44)
Recorded 3 May 1926 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 50089 (matrix XE 19135)
6. HALVORSEN Entry March of the Boyars (5:31)
Recorded 3 May 1926 in Cleveland
First issued on Brunswick 50149 (matrix XE 19145)

The Final Electrics (1928)
SCHUBERT Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759, ‘Unfinished’
7. 1st Mvt.: Allegro moderato (12:29)
8. 2nd Mvt.: Andante con moto (12:05)
Recorded on 8/9 May 1928 in New York City
First issued on Brunswick 50150/2 (matrices XE 27505/9 & 27520)
9. DELIBES Coppelia - Entr’acte and Valse (3:14)
Recorded on 7 May 1928 in New York City
First issued on Brunswick 15189 (matrix E 27482)
10. PIERN… Cydalise et le ChÍvre-Pied - Entrance of the Little Fauns (2:08)
Recorded 9 May 1928 in New York City
First issued on Brunswick 15181 (matrix E 27527)
11. GRAINGER Shepherd’s Hey (A Morris Dance) (2:15)
Recorded 9 May 1928 in New York City
First issued on Brunswick 15181 (matrix E 27522)

CD 3 (61:18)
The Final Electrics (1928) - continued
1. SIBELIUS Valse Triste (from Kuolema, Op. 44) (3:42)
Recorded 9 May 1928 in New York City
First issued on Brunswick 50149 (matrix XE 27521)
2. BORODIN Polovtsian Dances (from Prince Igor, Act 2) (11:19)
Recorded 9 May 1928 in New York City
First issued on Brunswick 15184/5 (matrices E 27523/6)
RACHMANINOV Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27
3. 1st Mvt. Largo (15:33)
4. 2nd Mvt. Allegro molto (8:11)
5. 3rd Mvt. Adagio (12:27)
6. 4th Mvt. Allegro vivace (10:05)
Recorded 7/8 May 1928 in New York City
First issued on Brunswick 50143/8 (matrices XE 27483/9, 27499 & 27500/3)




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