Eugene Ormandy – Minneapolis Symphony, Vol. 2 – Pristine Audio

by | Sep 11, 2022 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Eugene Ormandy: Minneapolis Symphony, Vol. 2 = Works by  MOZART; SCHUMANN; SMETANA; DVORAK; TCHAIKOVSKY; DRIGO; DELIBES; STRAUSS; KREISLER; SCHOENBERG; RAVEL – Pristine Audio PASC 667 (2 CDS: 2:32:37) [www.pristineclassical.com] *****: 

Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer Mark Obert-Thorn continues his revival of the complete recorded documents from Hungarian conductor Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985) and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, these RCA recordings from 1934 The major work for many collectors resides in the January 24, 1934, performance of the string orchestra version of Arnold Schoenberg’s string sextet Verklaerte Nacht, here in its debut on record. The January 22, 1934, Schumann D Minor Symphony proves an equal rarity, given that Ormandy did not revisit the score in Philadelphia.  

The Mozart selections, the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro and a set of German dances, all move with fleet, Italian lightness, the dances – so often realized in their charming spirit by Bruno Walter – quite familiar, like “The Canary” in G, K. 600/5 and “The Sleigh-ride” in C, K. 605/3.  With the 22 January performance of the Schumann Fourth Symphony, we get to the question why, in his expansive career and long-familiarity with the Romantic repertory, Ormandy recorded only two of the Schumann symphonies, this and the C Major in Philadelphia in 1937. The music’s moody, through-composed ground-theme emerges with dark clarity, supported by firm basses and tympani. With the Lebhaft indication, the music progresses with willful energy, perhaps a mite stingy on the poetry. Having settled on bravura over melodic languor, Ormandy does allot his strings and winds some lyricism, but only to yield to the swelling urgency of the momentum. For my money, Guido Cantelli fares better in this kind of approach, having balanced the equation of rhythmic virility and romantic ardor.

Attacca, to the second movement Romanze, where I would venture violin Harold Ayres makes his presence known, as he does in the Kreisler selections. The portamento may strike us as anachronistic but not excessive. The Scherzo follows hard upon, robust but seasoned by its recollection of the preceding Romanze. With the da capo, we have the gradual crescendo to the explosive last movement, a moment Ormandy lets breathe richly, savoring his horn section. The Lebhaft receives the virtuoso treatment, lively and well nuanced. The fugato section displays the Minneapolis choirs in an array that well suits Ormandy’s penchant for Bach transcription. The last pages move with controlled vulcanism, even thrilling in their driven execution.

January 19, 1934 proves an active day in the Ormandy recorded archives: he leads music by Schumann, Smetana, Kreisler, and Delibes. The Schumann arrangement from Kinderszenen is slow kitsch, maybe good in a scene from Hepburn’s Little Women. The three familiar dances from Smetana, in versions by H. Reisenfeld, enjoy a sprightly enthusiasm, the kind of music for a Sunday afternoon at a pavilion. The abridged Furiant tumbles forth, swoons temporarily, and then manically defies gravity for the coda. For sheer string ensemble discipline, the Dance of the Comedians rivals Frederick Stock’s Chicago players in all respects. This same bravura gloss marks the 23 January performance of the Ravel Alborada del gracioso that closes out the full program. A more sugary patina marks the January 22 Dvorak Scherzo capriccioso, even though its speed rivals the performance that successor Dimitri Mitropoulos gave at a benefit concert with the same orchestra in the 1940s. The harp work in Dvorak suggests that some excerpts from Swan Lake were warranted. And, speaking of Tchaikovsky, the Andante cantabile (rec. January 20) revels in the lush sweetness we might ascribe to Ormandy’s predecessor in Philadelphia, Leopold Stokowski. The companion piece for the session, by Riccardo Drigo (1846-1930), enjoys a suave ease of style somewhat reminiscent of the salon waltzes by compatriot Glazunov.

The music of Leo Delibes evinces a pomp and exuberant energy that anticipates, at least in Sylvia, moments in Verdi’s Aida. The Minneapolis battery has a field day of it, the brass and percussion in royal garb. Ormandy’s own penchant for the violin informs the clever Pizzicato excerpt, as it will for the brief piece by the Strauss brothers. The 1866 ballet Le Source, composed in collaboration with Ludwig Minkus, remains a rarity in the Ormandy catalogue, and the eight minutes allotted to us via these shellacs attest to the winning charm the music gained via its more familiar title, Naïla, die Quellenfee (Naïla, the Waternymph). The concluding Scherzo-Polka casts a glib pageantry for an oriental scene easily digested. 

The Fritz Kreisler group comprises five of the most popular of his violin vignettes, here set to full orchestral discourse. The Caprice viennois, swims in sentimental molasses, sighing as only Kreisler and Richard Tauber can when on an erotic venture. The Tambourine chinois resonates with a color vibrancy akin to “locale” music by Ketelby. The remaining three pieces – Liebesfreud, Liebesleid, and Schoen Rosmarin – invite us to raise a stein of good lager and toast to a Europe of more innocent days. Of these works, only Liebesfreud in a new arrangement found representation later in Philadelphia.

Given their respective, musical significance, I would have programmed the Ravel Aborada del gracioso next-to-last rather than as a follow up to the more ambitious Transfigured Night of Schoenberg. Ravel’s brilliant evocation of Spain does indeed receive virtuoso treatment from Ormandy’s strings, trumpet and battery, indicating clearly for all participants what Obert-Thorn calls “a highly successful career.”  Arnold Schoenberg’s 1899 Verklaerte Nacht (after Dehmel’s poem) follows Schubert and Liszt in their structural allegiance to a one-movement work that subdivides into the four movements of a typical sonata. Ormandy’s is the first, official recording of the string orchestra version, and it throbs with romantic passion. For pure intensity, it will need Dimitri Mitropoulos in New York, March 1958, to excel this realization. Ormandy’s treatment captures the cautious and then inflamed ardor – D Minor and then D Major – of the music in response to the confessional nature of the poem and its reaching for spiritual absolution in love. In this “pristine” restoration by Mark Obert-Thorn, we have an ideal revival of this music’s devotion to Schoenberg’s idols, Wagner and Zemlinsky.

—Gary Lemco

Eugene Ormandy: Minneapolis Symphony, Vol. 2 =

MOZART: Overture to Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492; 8 German Dances, K. 600, K. 602. K. 605;
SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120; Träumerei (arr. Godard), Op. 15, No. 7;
SMETANA: 3 Dances from The Bartered Bride;
DVORAK: Scherzo Capriccioso, Op. 66;
TCHAIKOVSKY: Andante cantabile, Op. 11; DRIGO (arr. Auer): valse bluette;
DELIBES: Sylvia: Cortège de Bacchus; Pizzicato; La Source: 4 Excerpts;
J. STRAUSS II and JOSEF STRAUSS: Pizzicato Polka;
KREISLER (arr. Ormandy): Kreisleriana – Suite;
SCHOENBERG: Verklaerte Nacht, Op. 4;
RAVEL: Alborado del gracioso

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