Fabien Sevitzky = ARENSKY: Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky, Op. 35a; BOSSI: Prelude and Minuetto; Burlesca, Op. 127; GRIEG: Two Elegiac Melodies, Op. 34; BACH: Sinfonia from Cantata No. 156; DUBENSKY: Gossips; TCHAIKOVSKY: Elegie from Serenade for Strings, Op. 48; GRAINGER: Londonderry Air; Molly on the Shore; BLOCH: Concerto Grosso No. 1; GRETRY: Pantomime from Zemire et Azor; Marche from La caravane du Caire; Tambourin from Denys le tyrant – Philadelphia Ch. String Simfonietta – Pristine Audio PASC 375, 77:17 [several diff. options at www.prisitneclassical.com] ****:
Conductor Fabien Sevitzky (1893-1967), nephew of the eminent Serge Koussevitzky, took on a truncated version of the family name to avoid conflict. Like his famous uncle a fine double-bass player, Sevitzky served with the Philadelphia Orchestra (under Stokowski) from 1923-1930, having organized the Philadelphia Chamber String Simfonietta in 1925. (Notice the spelling.) Record producer and master engineer Mark Obert-Thorn has assembled the complete issued 78 rpm RCA recordings (excepting a Corelli Suite from 1940), 1927-1940, the last sessions occurring just as Sevitzky’s association with the Indianapolis Symphony led him to disband his top-notch string ensemble, “arguably the finest orchestral string section in the world.”
Bossi’s Intermezzi goldoniani (rec. 12 February 1927) consists of two light-hearted pieces, Preludio and Minuetto and Burlesca. Set as a kind of neo-antique pair of dances, the music evokes a Renaissance and courtly atmosphere. Also recorded 12 February 1927, the two Grieg Elegiac Melodies clearly rival the inscription by Willem Mengelberg from the around the same period. Unfortunately, Koussevitzky recorded only The Last Spring, the second of the two. Sevitzky permits glissandi and portamento into his renderings, a concession to the Romantic ethos quickly passing away via the advent of Weingartner and Toscanini.
The session of 25 April 1927 produced the music inscribed by Bach, Dubensky, Tchaikovsky, and Grainger. The little Arioso from Cantata 156 (or the F Minor Klavier Concerto) Sevitzky takes with slow grace, allowing his low strings to savor the legato in tandem with his first violins. Again, the slides and luftpausen attest to an obsolete but fascinating style of musicianship. Dubensky pizzicato etude Gossips must be his answer to Pizzicato Polka by Strauss, the kind of transparent sound Britten requires in his own Simple Symphony. The Tchaikovsky Elegie certainly conveys both girth and seriousness of purpose. Add this one excerpt to the two that Furtwaengler recorded, and you have three-fourths of a well-wrought Serenade. The Philadelphia string trill warrants the price of admission. The two Grainger song transcriptions want to wring a tear, especially the Londonderry Air of “Danny Boy.” The folkish swagger of Molly on the Shore, especially in the violas and cellos, captures perfectly the musical spirit whose video equivalent would be John Ford’s film The Quiet Man.
Sevitzky made the first commercial recording of Ernest Bloch’s 1925 Concerto Grosso No. 1 on 9 May 1929. Bloch conceived the work to justify the power of tonality to embrace music “of the next century.” Though conductors William Steinberg and Rafael Kubelik would go on to record the Concerto under superior sonic conditions, this Sevitzky version packs power and suave rhythmic flexibility, the piano obbligato delivered by Charles Linton. Sweetly neo-Classical, the work elicits warm response from the Philadelphia strings, especially in the Dirge movement, basically a melancholy string sextet with piano. A bit of rural native Switzerland imbues the spirit of the Pastorale and Rustic Dances, movement three. With the Fugue, Bloch pours new wine into the olden procedure, the individual instruments granted the counter-subject, which then blooms, refreshed, into a cyclic appearance of the Prelude theme.
If we know the music of Belgian composer Andre Gretry (1741-1813), likely the source has been selected recordings from the Sir Thomas Beecham legacy. Sevitzky and his Philadelphians (19 October 1940) present us three stately pieces that helped evolve the French opera-comique. The Pantomime repeats a lovely theme until it dies away. The little March could pass as having been written by Lully, graceful and nobly demure in a style not far from Mozart’s. The Tambourin projects a gently exotic air, slow then fast, the perfect “lollipop” for Beecham or musical curio for Stokowski.
Anton Arensky arranged his own slow movement from the String Quartet No. 2, Op. 35 for string orchestra, the original’s having been composed as a memorial for the deceased Tchaikovsky in 1894. His seven variations and coda derive their melody from Tchaikovsky’s “Legend,” a song from the cycle Sixteen Children’s Songs, Op. 54, of which it serves as No. 5. The course of Arensky’s variants remains lyrical, with the Andantino tranquillo Variation III and the Andante Variation No. 5 of particular persuasion. To name a performance that competes with Sevitzky’s silken classic, we would have to go forward to that of Sir John Barbirolli some twenty-five years later.