Erich Leinsdorf conducts Brahms and Franck – Robin Hood Dell Orchestra – Pristine Audio

by | Jan 17, 2024 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68; FRANCK: Symphony in D Minor – Robin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia/ Erich Leinsdorf – Pristine Audio PASC 706 (77:38) [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

Recording Engineer and Record Producer Mark Obert-Thorn turns once more to the neglected RCA catalogue, the secondary label, Bluebird, for source materials featuring conductor Erich Leinsdorf (1912-1993) in symphonic repertory. Both the Brahms C Minor Symphony (LBC 1004) and the Franck D Minor Symphony (LBC 1001) date from the same session of 18 July 1952, with the summer ensemble of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Robin Hood Dell, so named for the absence of first desk players away on alternative assignment. 

At the time of these performances, Leinsdorf seemed an acolyte of Arturo Toscanini’s brand of literalism, the most direct attention and fidelity to the printed scores at hand. Even beyond Toscanini, as in the last movement of the C Minor Brahms symphony, Leinsdorf avoids that conductor’s adjustments to the tympani at the repeat of the chorale theme. The first movement opens, Un poco sostenuto, with a fervent resolve heavily marked by David Grupp’s tympani in concert with an elastic string line. At the Allegro, the string attacks retain a fierce pungency. The horn section, with principal Mason Jones, exerts a fulsome sonority. The “fate” motif traceable to the heavy Beethoven influence makes itself felt with the full benefit of Pristine’s XR remastering process. 

The ensuing Andante sostenuto enjoys rather a warm patina, given my original impression of the vinyl incarnation’s cool detachment. The woodwind section, with principals Anthony M. Gigliotti, clarinet; flutes Burnett F. Atkinson, Robert Cole, and Kenton F. Terry; and John de Lancie, oboe, create a chamber music intimacy within the evolution of motifs, capped by the late violin solo of concertmaster David Madison. Leinsdorf’s natural penchant for classical architecture works effectively in the third movement, Un poco allegretto e grazioso, its five-bar phrases flowing in easy symmetries. For those who favor a subjective, passionate strife in this music, they will not find it. The objectivity of the rendition almost defies the color the Philadelphia players bring to the score. 

The last movement, either blessed or cursed with its main theme’s close kinship to Beethoven’s Ninth, moves in a rather German kapellmeister s style, a balance between the music’s militant, contrapuntal poetry and a prosaic delivery. For assertive energy, however, the performance does not lack, though the speed renders some of the phraseology glib. Leinsdorf seems content to stand out of the way of the music up through its glorified apotheosis, a clear demonstration of his later, pronounced credo: “Essentially the task in conducting is to direct, advise, coach, exhort and inspire an ensemble, and always to let those who lead lead and make those who accompany accompany. It sounds terribly simple, but it is terribly difficult.”

Here, in Leinsdorf’s only recorded account of the Franck Symphony, we find a more subjective, romantically inclined persuasion. Leinsdorf milks the essential opening phrase, which economically provides the source for virtually all following permutations. The Philadelphia sound seems closer to the Stokowski model, especially in the treatment of the low strings, the brass, and Franck’s own penchant for organ diapason scoring. The slow evolution to the grand melody in F Major proceeds with visceral, virtually Wagnerian, tension. The wind coloring, from bassoons Sol Schoenbach, A.L. Angelucci, and William Gruner, provides a deep, almost dismal resonance, a hint of the tragic in this score’s first movement finale. In the transparent and often enigmatic second movement Allegretto, the Cor anglais of John Minsker proves the main attraction.  

Harp chords from Marilyn Costello and Jill Bailiff, along with the Cor anglais and pizzicato strings, create an impressive aura for the Allegretto, which achieves a richly textured “cathedral” sound, findings its foil in the wispy second subject from muted strings.  The ensuing polyphony remains tensely lyrical, rife with impulses from movement one, as the cyclical strategy works itself forward. Strings and the harps have the last word, then the rush to judgment as the finale, Allegro ma non troppo thunders in. This movement forever demonstrates Franck’s lyrical gifts in counterpoint, blending his various, prior themes in a colossal edifice of sound, albeit hamstrung by the four-square approach to rhythmic pulse. Leinsdorf, however, instills a fine, linear directive to this now-familiar score, allowing his master craftsmen at their instruments full and vibrant throttle. 

The Pristine XR restoration process, as manipulated by Obert-Thorn, may claim proper credit for this document’s renewed vitality. I would be delighted to witness the entire RCA Bluebird catalogue once more fully available to our musical collections.

—Gary Lemco 

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