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Rodzinski nbc v2 PASC655

Artur Rodziński (conductor)
At the NBC – Volume Two
Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Romeo and Juliet - Fantasy Overture
Igor Stravinsky (1881-1972)
Petrushka Suite
Dmitry Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op 10
NBC Symphony Orchestra
rec. live broadcast, 11 December 1937

Artur Rodziński (1892-1958) was born in Split, where his father, a Polish army officer, was then stationed. His studies in Vienna were interrupted by the Great War. Following the conflict, Rodziński returned to study conducting with Franz Schalk, piano with Sauer, and composition with Schreker. One of his early posts after graduation was at the Warsaw Opera where Leopold Stokowski met him and invited him to be his assistant in Philadelphia. He worked there from 1925-1929, while directing orchestral and opera teaching at the Curtis Institute.

It was not long before Rodziński gained major appointments in the US; from1929 to 1933, he was permanent conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, followed by the music directorship of the Cleveland Orchestra 1933-1945. In 1937, he was guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, and at Toscanini’s request, Rodziński prepared the newly-formed NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1937-1938.

Among his later posts, he served as music director of the New York Philharmonic between 1943 and 1947 and, for just one year, in 1947, at the Chicago Symphony. He was admired for his reliable conducting, emotional intensity and brilliance, as well as his discipline in orchestral ensemble training. This reputation caused Virgil Thomas to write that Rodziński had done more for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra than any other conductor of the century, making it for the first time in his memory at least the equal of the Boston and Philadelphia orchestras – and probably their superior.

One of the key aspects of Rodziński’s repertoire was Russian music of the late Romantic and modernist composers and this disc represents three composers who were ever-present in his programming: Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Shostakovich. Rodziński’s method on the podium was masterly yet stoical; he always used a score and believed in reaching as wide a public as possible, whether it be through radio, film, TV or through recordings. Throughout his career in America, Rodziński was one of the most important conductors, regardless of the controversy he caused by maintaining an autocratic presence with his musicians. His strongest repertoire was in the Romantic composers and his handling of the Russians was especially valued, as he found the key in concerts not just to Tchaikovsky but also the modernists Prokofiev and Stravinsky. His readings of Shostakovich were among the first to be recorded in America.

This CD opens with the NBC radio announcer introducing the live concert relay and mentioning that this was the second of three concerts to be given by the conductor, the first having the theme of Russian music. A year later, he returned to give another all-Russian programme. The performance here of the Romeo and Juliet overture is quite exquisite in conveying the flowing warmth and Romanticism of one of Tchaikovsky’s most richly orchestrated pieces while maintaining fidelity to the score; in Rodziński’s hands all the tragic, desperate love of the two lovers emerges in bright, multi-coloured shades of harmonies.

In Stravinsky’s ballet suite, Petrushka, one is amazed not only by the sound values but also the excellence of the NBC Orchestra; the combination of the flute playing in the opening bars, the dynamic pulse generated by Rodziński’s conducting, outstanding percussion contributions, a fine pianist (I would like to know what his, or her, name was), superb xylophone playing, and a superb trumpeter is remarkable, evoking all the merriment of Stravinsky’s score. All the colourful characters in the ballet are wonderfully portrayed; somehow Rodziński was able to grasp the essence of the composer’s style and content to give the most truthful performance. I would have loved to have been present at his rehearsals to see how he prepared for this concert.  It is clear that his strings play like one instrument, they are so disciplined; this is not regimentation but stunning playing. The conductor generates a quick pace throughout, making the reading breath-taking - in all. this is a quite tremendous performance, admirably restored by Andrew Rose. That this quality of sound was set down during a live concert 85 years ago is quite remarkable.

Shostakovich was another composer who attracted Rodziński and indeed it was he who premiered the scandalous Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District at the Metropolitan Opera and undertook the first performance of new works as they arrived hot off the press from Moscow, including the massive wartime Eighth Symphony. This reading of the miraculous First Symphony is among the most exciting and striking that I have heard; somehow, the conductor manages to find all the glorious modern inventiveness of the music; at times, the score shocks and alarms with its brilliance and at other moments it overwhelms with the anguish expressed in the slow movement. Rodziński finds a way of linking these three Russian works from the Tchaikovsky fantasy overture through to the modernism - yet rooted in folk lore - of Stravinsky’s ballet score, to their influence on the young nineteen-year-old Shostakovich. There are so many wonderful moments of music from Rodziński’s musicians: outstanding solos by the flute, timpani, first violin, horn, first cello and many virtuoso passages in this symphony. Listening to this CD makes one look out for other archive recordings and indeed anticipate forthcoming releases in this series devoted to this magnificent Polish conductor.

Gregor Tassie

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