Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra: The Early Years, Vol 2 – Pristine Classical

by | Aug 21, 2020 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra: The Early Years, Vol. 2, 1937-1941 = Works by TELEMANN; MOZART; SIBELIUS; BEETHOVEN; ENESCU – Pristine Audio PASC 605 (2 CDS) 63:19; 68:48 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

[Complete list of works appended below]

Recording engineer and producer Mark Obert-Thorn extends his major restoration of Eugene Ormandy’s orchestral repertory in the early days of his tenure with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Telemann and Mozart works that appear in this collection never received Ormandy’s efforts once the recording process developed further along into the long-play and digital formats. Let’s state, early on, that Obert-Thorn’s sound restorations belie the age of the documents, whose side joins from the shellacs have virtually disappeared.

Ormandy’s foray into the Baroque era gives us Telemann’s Suite in A Minor (rec. 15 March 1941), featuring the gifted William Kincaid. Originally conceived for recorder and strings, the music embodies what scholars call Telemann’s “mixed style” of national composition, that embraced more than French influences but extended into Moravian, Italian, and Polish as well as German traits, some of which he admired for their “barbaric beauty.” Ormandy amended his edition so the Suite would more resemble Bach’s B Minor Suite for flute and strings. Still, the resulting sound and interplay of dances prove sumptuous, and Kincaid’s fluency – listen to his seamless Air a L’Italienne – soars. Ormandy’s having moved the Rejouissance movement to the end completes the Bach analogy perfectly.  

Among Mozart’s many “outdoor” creations – he referred to them as ‘cassations’ – we have the 1776 Divertimento in F Major (rec. 17 April 1938), written for Countess Antonia Lodron, especially for her name-day festivities. Mozart’s divertimentos abound in rich solo first violin parts, and they vary their textures with part writing that reveals a lyric fluency that might have benefitted even more had Mozart urged himself further as a violinist. Of especial note is the lovely Andante grazioso in C Major, which resonates in character like the corresponding movement of the later Eine kleine Nachtmusik. The Menuetto plays with dynamic contrasts, to which the horns either extend or interrupt. The witty Trio section is set in the minor mode. The final movement opens with a brief, chromatic Andante that moves into the Allegro assai. A robust rondo in F with a scalar arpeggio, its episodes have an exciting series of modulations into C, D Minor, and B-flat Major. The natural F horns have their respective moments. The coda has a nice touch, proffering a soft, lulling accompaniment in imitation between first violin and the horns.

Ormandy recorded the Beethoven Symphony No. 1 on 9 January 1937, a document RCA meant to replace Mengelberg’s version in the catalogue. Ormandy takes the first movement repeat, which gives the reading an added girth. The various Mannheim rocket figures play exceedingly well, and the Philadelphia low bass line quite throbs in power. The elegant Andante grazioso proceeds nobly, its imitative effects light and airy. Beethoven flouts convention slightly by having his trumpet and tympani effects prominent. We hear Kincaid’s magic flute in answer to various, often canonic, textures as they emerge. Ormandy’s Menuetto has the lusty, thrusting energy that well adumbrates the later scherzos in Beethoven’s output. The Trio has a veiled string sound that adds to the color excitement of the performance. The Adagio opening of the last movement exploits those scalar tidbits that will accumulate to a full-scale romp, Allegro molto e vivace, in which strings, brass and tympani have their spirited wit that manages, barely, to remain within the confines of the symphonic form Haydn and Mozart had established but at which the young upstart Beethoven had begun to nibble.

The Sibelius group benefits from Ormandy’s long advocacy, beginning with a staid, resolute reading of the ubiquitous Finlandia (20 October 1940, on the occasion of Sibelius’ 75th birthday), which accelerates in tempo while maintaining the full measure of the Philadelphia’s brass and wind sonorities. Given the political tenor of the times, the reading becomes so much more wrenching. The Swan of Tuonela (20 October 1940) exploits the often ethereal Philadelphia string sound, along with John Minsker’s plaintive English horn solo. The music’s vague kinship with Wagner’s Tristan retains their common theme of love and death. Lemminkainen’s Return (20 October 1940) constitutes the last of the four sections of the tone-poem cycle of 1895, vaguely following events in the Kalevala legends. The intense, rhythmic vigor of the piece makes me wish Kajanus had recorded it. Lemminkainen returns not from the land of the dead, Tuonela, but from a frustrated military incursion against the people of Pohjola who had burnt his native village. The music captures the clash of the militant forces in resounding Lisztian fashion.  

The major Sibelius entry, the 1899 Symphony No. 1 in E Minor (rec. 25 October 1941) has from Ormandy his second recorded effort, the first having been done in Minneapolis. Given a world on the verge of WW II, the nationalist spirit of the work resonates with particular vibrancy. The germinal motif on the clarinet over a timpani roll suddenly surges forth, Allegro energico, with tempestuous blasts from the brass and swirling motifs from passing winds and harp. The full theme in the Philadelphia strings has that “Hollywood” glow that Stokowski had cultivated. The spirit of Tchaikovsky – in point the Pathetique Symphony – colors the Andante movement, where the dialogue of two bassoons and strings provides what Sibelius explicitly labeled “a Finnish sound.” Ormandy’s rendition provides a wealth of attentive color detail. 

The music of Anton Bruckner likewise held a fascination for Sibelius, and his thunderous Scherzo: Allegro abounds in the Brucknerian propensity for cross-rhythm and intricate woodwind fugato. A sudden halt in the momentum announces the Trio section, a kind of pastoral interlude tinged with romantic reminiscence. The Finale: Quasi una fantasia recalls the opening movement, in the manner of the Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony. The music features a clearly inspired secondary theme, sung in strings and harp, that will carry the movement to its heroic conclusion, the coda marked by two pizzicato chords in strummed harmony.     

By coincidence, the first recording I ever owned of Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 (and Two) featured Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia, made in the early 1960s. This reading (1 August 1941) has all the sonic virtues we could wish, perhaps mostly through the courtesies and efforts of Leopold Stokowski’s personnel choices. The harp and viola parts stand out, as does the sheer, ravishing sheen of the violins. Nothing about this virtuoso rendition of this spectacular orchestral showpiece drags: Ormandy runs briskly and affectionately through the lassu to get to the unbuttoned rustle of the friss. Once more, William Kincaid’s talented flute leads a chorus of inspired woodwinds over a throbbing bass line that soon explodes with gypsy life. Obert-Thorn in his note calls the reading one of “incredible speed and excitement,” and who am I to disagree?

—Gary Lemco

Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra – The Early Years, Vol 2:
TELEMANN: Suite for Flute and Strings in A Minor;
MOZART: Divertimento No. 10 in F Major for Szrings and 2 Horns, K. 247;
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21;
SIBELIUS: Finlandia, Op. 26; Lemminkainen’s Return, Op. 22, No. 4; Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39; The Swan of Tuonela, Op. 22, No. 2;
ENESCU: Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 in A Major, Op. 11 –

William Kincaid, flute/ The Philadelphia Orchestra/ Eugene Ormandy

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