Fabien Sevitzky Indianapolis Symphony, Vol. 2 = GLAZUNOV: From the Middle Ages, Suite Op. 79; DUBENSKY: Fugue for 18 Violins; Stephen Foster: Theme, Variations and Finale; CESANA: Negro Heaven; GERSHWIN (arr. Bennett): Porgy and Bess – A Symphonic Picture – Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra/ Fabien Sevitzky – Pristine Audio PASC 509, 69:09 [www.prisitneclassical.com] ****:

Fabien Sevitzky’s traversal of Russian and American scores has exemplary reproduction in this Pristine edition.

Restoration Engineer and Producer Mark Obert-Thorn turns again to the legacy of Fabien Sevitzky (1891-1967), here in the recordings for RCA 1941-1945 that feature music of late Russian romantic composers and Americans of originally Russian extraction.   The collection opens with Sevitzky’s version (8-9 February 1945) of the 1902 Suite in E Major, “From the Middle Ages,” by Alexander Glazunov. The Prelude that begins this evocation of ancient times proves particularly lush and sonically dazzling, luxurious as it possesses melodic ardor and fine instrumental colors. When RCA issued the Suite on its budget Bluebird label, the Scherzo movement was omitted, which we realize now to have been an error, given its juxtaposition of buzzing orchestral effects superimposed upon the Dies Irae of the Latin Mass.  The fervent Danse Macabre more than hints at the treatment these materials would undergo from Sergei Rachmaninov. Strings and harp supply the evocative texture for the Serenade of the Troubadour, whose exotic color might share kinship with lyrical aspects of Ippolitov-Ivanov’s Caucasian Sketches. The Crusaders finale invokes excited pomp and circumstance, the Indianapolis brass and battery in full tilt to depict pageantry and noble deeds, in bombastic defiance of the rather less glorious realities of the occasion. Some canonic string writing mid-way creates a religious atmosphere effectively, given Glazunov’s often under-rated power over the orchestra.

Arcady Dubensky (1890-1966) conceived his Fugue for 18 Violins in 1932 for the Philadelphia Orchestra.   In this energetic performance (29 January 1942), the effect more than invokes the spirit of J.S. Bach, although its digressions bear a homely affect in the form of a canonic pastoral.  The string writing proves sure and confident, much in the manner of Holst and Vaughan Williams. The pastiche Stephen Foster – Theme, Variations and Finale (1940) has a recording from Sevitzky from 28-29 January 1942, featuring Leon Zawisza, solo violin. Opening with a plaintive Old Folks at Home, the music has a Hollywood gloss, and the variants move in rather predictable fashion. The variations become energized enough to evoke Foster’s having lived in the years preceding and into the Civil War (he died in 1864).  Horns and flute announce “Oh, Susanna,” and here the violin adds a sentimental and virtuosic cadenza. Banjos and full (military) orchestra take up the call and move to a flamboyant “Beautiful Dreamer,” but without Terry Moore and Mighty Joe Young. Superimposing Susanna and “Swanee River,” Dubensky churns out a jingoistic finale worthy our stars and stripes.

Otto Cesana (1899-1980) wrote Negro Heaven as a study of the African-American man, “now gay, now sad, always however migrating toward carefreeness and abandon.” Originally a piano roll, the music had its orchestral recordings by Sevitzky on 8 January 1941. Whatever “political incorrectness” the title suffers today, the music has dash and spunk, jazzy and pungent, and a fine “sequel” to the Gershwin tradition in Black Music.

Some seven weeks before the CBS release of Fritz Reiner’s arrangement of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess with the Pittsburgh Symphony, RCA managed to issue Fabien Sevitzky’s performance (8 February 1945) of the Robert Russell Bennett-arranged Symphonic Picture. The order of the suite, dictated by Reiner, proves effective and colorful, although—as Obert-Thron points out—the use of the bassoon for Porgy rather than the customary banjo wakes us up with a touch of consternation.  Amazingly quiet restoration defines this disc, and more than broadcast-worthy.

—Gary Lemco