Koussevitzky Conducts Barber, Honegger, Brahms – Boston Symphony Orchestra – Pristine Audio

by | Apr 23, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BARBER: Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 14; HONEGGER: Symphony No. 4 “Deliciaie Basiliensis”; SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 105 – Ruth Posselt, violin/ Boston Symphony Orchestra/ Serge Koussevitzky – Pristine Audio PASC561, 71:37 [www.pristineclassical.com] *****:

The Barber Violin Concerto bears an involved history, having been written for Iso Briselli, the adopted son of the work’s commissioner, Samuel Fels; but Briselli rejected the score on the basis of its difficult solo part, and the 1941 premiere occurred in Philadelphia with virtuoso Albert Spalding.  Barber, however, felt unhappy about certain aspects of the orchestration and the climax of the otherwise melodious second movement, and he revised the music in 1948.  Ruth Posselt (1914-2007) took up the revised version of the score and enjoyed considerable success as the work’s acolyte.  Her performance (7 January 1949) with Koussevitzky derives from what producer Andrew Rose calls “bootleg” recordings of the 1948-1949 BSO season, unauthorized efforts by a recording engineer who set up microphone placement in a ventilation grill on the right of the Symphony Hall stage.  The sound quality remains startlingly clear and rich in color detail, especially as the clarinet in the opening Allegro and the oboe in the Andante feature prominently.  In the raucous, athletic finale, Presto in moto perpetuo, the high winds, snare drum, piano, and strings support the audacious solo part in the juicy revel.  Posselt earned much critical acclaim for her performances, that in New York gleaning from Olin Downes the comment that the composer had to be well pleased with her rendition.  The BSO audience certainly responds with unbridled enthusiasm.

The Honegger Fourth Symphony (1947) had its American premiere (1948) in New York under Charles Munch.  Composed for Paul Sacher and his Basel Chamber Orchestra in 1946, the music quotes from Swiss folk songs for what – at least in the first two movements – strikes us as a bucolic reminiscence of a country idyll.  Undercurrents, however, intrude that remind us that 1946 marked the end of a world catastrophe, and the tragic reverberations of WW II still linger.  Honegger expressed the idea that Basel represented “a kind of escape from the realities of Europe.”  In the course of the first movement, Lento e misterioso – Allegro, the music reveals aspects of reverie, even of pentatonic scales. The luster of Koussevitzky’s strings (1 April 1949) could rarely be so evocative, and the flute part (Georges Laurent) has its own enticements.  The Larghetto begins in a heavily-trod march from the basses, supported by muffled commentary in the winds.  The folk song that generates the melodic tissue does not emerge uof lntil near the end of the movement, in the horn.  The movement evolves by wending its way through the woodwinds and strings, a serenade to the open air a la Whitman, offering a pantheistic mystique well suited to the BSO ethos.  The Allegro finale extends the joyful mood, playful at first in martial wind syncopations, then more evocative in colors that have a faint, delicately percussive relation to Prokofiev.   An eerie mysticism arises in the strings, and one might envision the cemeteries of France that contain many American heroes.  A springy vitality endures, and the brass intone something like a chorale in the midst of assorted, militant energies.  The music fades away with its sense of gauzy ardor that once more makes a final, playful gesture.

Koussevitzky enjoys a powerful reputation in the music of Jean Sibelius, and this restored version (17 December 1947) of his Seventh Symphony (1924) well captures the sense of improvised, organic growth of the opening motifs into a plastic, one-movement structure of lithe imagination, what the composer called “a Hellenic rondo.”  By musical alchemy, Sibelius fashion the eleven-sectioned work into a flowing canvas that may be divided into four “traditional” movements.  Koussevitzky establishes a firm basis in the opening Adagio section, with the heaving, amorphous harmonies – and a potent trombone – already suggestive of the later stream of melody that will enlighten the music’s Northern climes.  Vivacissimo – Adagio the music moves in quirky, tentative gestures that invite the low strings and tympani to suggest an imminent force that wishes to erupt emphatically. The upward melody that announced the work gathers impetus, Allegro molto moderato, featuring the Koussevitzky mix of brilliant strings and winds. Allegro moderato, we have the heroic theme, an arioso that chants in strings and antiphonal winds. The pulse increases, singing all the while, Vivace and Presto. The tympani becomes increasingly marked while a tremolo accompanies the main melodic current, now a risen titan. The Adagio – Largamente molto reverberates with the athletic contours from the Fifth Symphony but raised in C Major apotheosis. The high strings deliver a vision we have once more in Tapiola, the top of the world that transcends even the Northern Lights. The conclusion leaves us in a state of suspension, mostly between music’s past and future.  Another essential addition to the Koussevtizky recorded legacy

—Gary Lemco


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