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Eugene Ormandy (conductor)
The Philadelphia Orchestra: The Early Years – Volume 1
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Les préludes, Symphonic Poem No. 3, S.97, (1848/54) [15:51]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Symphony No. 2, Op.61 (1846) [35:11]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Daphnis et Chloé; Suite No. 2 (1909-12) [15:27]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Ein Heldenleben, Op.40 (1898) [42:47]
Gian Carlo MENOTTI (1911-2007)
Amelia Goes to the Ball; Overture (1937) [4:15]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Essay for Orchestra No.1, op.12 (1937) [7:27]
Roy HARRIS (1898-1979)
Three Pieces for Orchestra (1941) [9:04]
John Philip SOUSA (1854-1932)
Washington Post March (1889) [2:24]
The Stars and Stripes Forever (1896) [3:24]
Alexander Hilsberg (solo violin)
rec. 1936-42
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC578 [66:34 + 69:26]

Focusing on his orchestral recordings, rather than the better-known concerto accompaniments he provided, this is the first volume in a new series devoted to Eugene Ormandy’s early years with the Philadelphia Orchestra. In temporal terms this twofer covers the years from 1936 to 1942 in 78s made for Victor. Of some interest to admirers of the conductor is the fact that he never re-recorded the pieces by Schumann (rather surprisingly), Menotti, Barber and Harris.

It starts with a somewhat staid Liszt Les préludes. It’s not exactly sub-par but if you played Erich Kleiber’s 1936 Telefunken, transferred by Tahra or – most especially – Mengelberg’s supercharged reading with the Concertgebouw you would hear what’s missing. Fortunately, Schumann’s Symphony No.2 is much better (recorded during 1936-37). Ormandy had already recorded the Fourth Symphony in Minneapolis but though he continued to record into the 1980s he never returned to Schumann’s symphonies, which makes this survivor all the more valuable. It has the intensity and verve that the Liszt lacks, with the famous strings at their most succulent in the slow movement. By the time he recorded Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé (the suite No.2) the classic Straram/Gaubert set was being sonically superseded by the Boston/Koussevitzky and by Ormandy’s reading – to say nothing of Munch’s Paris Conservatoire recording. This really was a work to which he was to return, including a brace of stereo LPs, one for Columbia, the other for RCA. But as Mark Obert-Thorn notes, this first effort has not been available since the days of 78s. It offers a vibrantly colourful and breezy approach.

Ormandy recorded Ein Heldenleben in 1939 with the orchestra’s concertmaster Alexander Hilsberg very much to the fore. One again this was very much Mengelberg’s territory and his imperishable New York recording burns powerfully, even more so than the Concertgebouw one – but so too does the composer’s with the Berlin State. The Ormandy recording is resilient and fast paced, comfortably his quickest recording of a piece that he set down three more times on LP. Menotti’s overture to Amelia Goes to the Ball is a piece of fizzing giocoso fun premièred by Fritz Reiner but Ormandy’s was its first studio recording and indeed the first piece by the composer ever to be recorded. Barber’s First Essay for Orchestra is also heard in its première recording. For some reason Roy Harris’s Three Pieces for Orchestra – two movements were culled from his Folksong Symphony – was not issued in the 78 era. The sassy first panel, the balm and beauty of the second and the brassy ebullience of the third makes that reluctance to release it at the time look a decidedly strange decision. The two Sousa Marches are, in fact, making their very first appearance in this twofer. Recorded in a fit of patriotism very shortly after America entered WW2, they have lain in the vault ever since.

Full discographical details can be found on Pristine’s website as there isn’t room to present them in the disc documentation. So, in short; a rousing start to this series.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Richard Masters

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