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Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Violin Concerto (1939, rev. 1948) [24:41]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Symphony No. 4 (1946) ‘Delicić Basiliensis’ [25:53]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 7 in C, Op. 105 (1924) [21:13]
Ruth Posselt (violin)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Serge Koussevitzky
rec. Boston Symphony Hall, 7 January 1949 (Barber), 1 April 1949 (Honegger) and 17 December 1948 (Sibelius)

These live performances were recorded on the sly by the owner of a Boston recording studio. This was fortunate as the 1948-49 Boston Symphony concerts were not broadcast which makes the survival of such things as these all the more valuable. Using a microphone set up in a ventilating grill and linked to recording apparatus allowed that ingenious individual to make a series of direct line recordings. These recordings are quite well known and have been released before – some details regarding the Barber are below – but have now been subject to Pristine’s XR technique and assembled to form a convincing ‘concert’ with two symphonies and a concerto.

Roth Posselt gives the premiere of the revised version of Barber’s Violin Concerto on 7 January 1949 and you can find an earlier transfer of this same performance on West Hill Radio Archives’ all-Barber box (see review), a set that allows one to compare and contrast this with Albert Spalding’s world premičre (Philadelphia, Ormandy) of the original version. Don’t overlook Posselt’s stereo 1962 performance with her husband Richard Burgin, also on West Hill (see review). Slightly backward in the balance – possibly because the microphones were hidden on the right hand side of the stage and Posselt would have been standing to Koussevitzky’s left – this is nevertheless a splendid and convincing traversal. Posselt is certainly fierier than she was to become in 1962 where, though the stereo recording quality is obviously clearer, the performance is more restrained and classical, and the first two movements are already becoming less differentiated.

Honegger’s Symphony No.4 (1 April 1949) had been premiered under Charles Munch the previous year in New York. As perhaps might be predicted Koussevitzky takes the central Larghetto much faster than Munch, though this does vest the Boston performance with a kind of affectionate ardency in its taut exploration of Swiss traditional song, winds to the fore and inimitably characterful as ever. The pawky thematic character of the finale is played at a fine tempo and there is, throughout, a strong sense of warmth, even, in places, radiance in this live performance. As with all three performances applause is retained.

Koussevitzky’s 1933 recording of Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony, made with the BBC Symphony, is amongst the most admired of his corpus of the composer’s works and it’s been multiply transferred, most obviously by EMI and Naxos. This December 1948 reading is very similar in outline and has the advantage of an XR transfer that expands the somewhat constricted sonics of the concert. This is also available on St Laurent Studio (C1633) though differently coupled, so if you prefer to hear Henri Casadesus’ Concerto in D major for strings and Schumann’s Third Symphony, that’s the place to go. Pristine has done excellently with their work however and Koussevitzky’s familiar virtues in this work are largely undimmed.

Jonathan Woolf

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