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Artur Rodziński (conductor)
Early Recordings
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36 (​1878) [39:37]
Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture (1880) [18:16]
Ouverture Solonnelle '1812' Op.49 (1880) [14:23]
CÚsar FRANCK (1822-1890)
Symphony in D minor (1888) [40:18]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 5 in E Flat Major Op. 82 (1914) [28:10]
NBC Symphony Orchestra (Tchaikovsky 4, Franck)
Cleveland Symphony Orchestra
rec. January 1939, Carnegie Hall, New York City, 1940-41 Severance Hall, Cleveland
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC619 [79:44 + 60:49]

Pristine Audio is doing some nifty discographic footwork at the moment, dovetailing recorded legacies with the majors. Sony’s Joseph Szigeti box, which mined his American discs, for instance, saw Pristine release his pre-war European recordings. Similarly, the recent vast Sony Ormandy box has as its shadow, the conductor’s earlier Philadelphia legacy. Now something similar is happening with Rodziński. Sony’s box devoted to Rodziński’s New York legacy can be profitably studied in relation to the Polish conductor’s recordings in Cleveland and with the NBC Symphony here. This is intelligent joining-up work and amplifies and deepens appreciation of these musicians’ career trajectories.

The first disc of this twofer is devoted to recordings the conductor made for World’s Greatest Music, a series sponsored by the New York Post to present standard classical repertoire at cheap prices. Recorded by RCA Victor on somewhat sub-optimal shellac, certainly noisier than their own Red Seal discs, all the ensembles and conductors were anonymous which, for a number of years, led to much speculation. In recent times almost all the ensembles and directors have been identified. Alexander Smallens, for example, conducted the ‘Publishers Service Symphony Orchestra’ and Ormandy directed the ‘New York Post Symphony’ ie the Philadelphia. Fritz Reiner conducted Debussy with an unnamed orchestra that may have been the New York Philharmonic.

Rodziński conducted the Tchaikovsky and Franck symphonies for WGM with the NBC Symphony in Carnegie Hall in 1939. His direction is straightforwardly excellent. The accounts of his eccentricities – the gun toting terror of the rostrum (in fact his wife Halina said the gun was a good luck charm) – never equated to extremes of personalisation when performing. There are no elements of his music-making that could be construed as Stokowskian or Mengelbergian and it’s perfectly logical that he should have acted as Toscanini’s trainer of the NBC. The Tchaikovsky Fourth, which he re-recorded on LP, therefore, is level-headed, finely balanced and avoids histrionic gestures. It may lack the florid intensity of Koussevitzky or Mitropoulos or indeed Mengelberg’s famous traversal but with the strikingly prominent winds and sectional discipline – never any sloppiness when Rodziński was at the helm - it faithfully reflects his sane but not dispassionate approach to the romantic repertoire.

Much the same is true of the Franck Symphony. It’s a shame that the circumstances of the recording ruled it out of competition when it came to contemporary record guides, as it’s a direct and highly effective account. Whilst it might lack the allure Monteux brought in San Francisco or the elegance of Beecham and the LPO, as well as the two Philadelphian accounts by Ormandy and Stokowski, it is by no means eclipsed. Note that Toscanini’s own 1940 NBC live broadcast, a reading of real strength, can be found on Pristine Audio PASC635.

The second disc traces Rodziński in Cleveland and incidentally shows that Szell alone was not responsible for the excellence of the city’s orchestra: the ground had been securely laid by this formidable orchestral trainer. Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony dominates the disc, a performance that is the fieriest and most truly convincing of all the three symphonic statements in this twofer. Something about Rodziński and Sibelius just clicked; his New York recording of the Fourth, which is housed in Sony’s 16-CD box soon to be reviewed, is equally praiseworthy. Allied to the conductor’s structural integrity is his raised level of emotive engagement here; there are times when for all his undoubted excellence he seemed to prize accuracy and discipline over passion, something could never be said of his Sibelius. Also on this disc one can find the ‘1812’ overture and a really fine Romeo and Juliet, recorded in Severance Hall in December 1940.

Splendidly transferred, with all dynamics registering, and exemplary side joins, Rodziński’s discography expands still further here.

Jonathan Woolf

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