An exceptional assemblage of Ormandy’s oeuvre…
Ormandy: Complete Minneapolis Symphony Vol. 1 = Works by Mozart, Grainger, Sowerby, Griffes, Carpenter, Enescu, Kodaly, Weinberger, Rachmaninoff, (detailed listing below) – Pristine Audio PASC 642 (2 CDs, 2 hr 34:02) [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
The harvest of recordings made by Eugene Ormandy and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra in January 1934 now has excellent revival by way of Producer and Restoration Engineer Mark Obert-Thorn, here in the first of a series for Pristine Audio. Hungarian conductor Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985) continues to generate an ambivalence concerning his musicianship: recall that Toscanini once called Ormandy “the ideal conductor for Johann Strauss.” Obviously, the talent the former violinist Ormandy displayed on the podium in 1931, substituting for an ailing Arturo Toscanini to lead the Philadelphia Orchestra, impressed the guest management from Minneapolis enough to engage him as music director. Yet, for all of his tireless work in both Minneapolis and later Philadelphia, it was Ormandy’s role as an accompanying conductor to superb soloists that maintained my respect. Ormandy’s aesthetic as a leader of individual orchestral works, that once he imbibed a score he could reproduce the same performance indefinitely, always struck me as static and unmusical, even anti-intellectual. Too often, the effect he produced was competently thorough, but lacking depth. Ormandy sought the pretty and the pleasing, unruffled and facile, a kind of American parallel to what Karajan wrought later in Berlin.
Ormandy’s program opens with a rather brisk account of Mozart’s famous Serenade in G Major, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” hurried in order to subscribe to RCA’s request that each of the four movements should occupy just one side of a shellac record. The music of Australian piano virtuoso and composer Percy Grainger (1882-1961) has four of his folk-dance arrangements, light to the touch and fanciful. Ormandy did not return to this music in his Philadelphia period, so these spirited minutes are welcome. Ormandy does linger sentimentally over Londonderry Air, as I suppose it warrants, especially for St. Patrick’s Day. The slowness of the tempo begs the eternal question of the time signature, ¾, made to sound in 4/4. The group ends with a Irish reel, “Molly on the Shore,” a piece that would have been well suited to the John Ford film The Quiet Man. Leo Sowerby’s “The Washerwoman,” another singular recording, lies in exactly the same vein as a spirited, Irish country dance
More substantial are the three remaining works on Disc One, by respectively, Griffes, Carpenter and Enescu. The 1916 symphonic poem The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan by Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920) receives exotic scoring from the composer in response to the suggestive 1797 poem by Coleridge, rife with the power of the fertile, human Imagination. From soft, percussive effects, with strings, piano and harp, the winds and horns soon enter, building the tapestry to embrace those most disturbing words about “woman’s wailing for her demon lover.” Early, Ormandy introduces slides and portamento that testify to an elder tradition in music-making. The pentatonic, rising scales may refer to those incense-bearing trees in the poem. Has any other musical commentator noted that the poem’s references to “fire and ice” no less correspond to Dante’s conception of Inferno? Better to appreciate Griffes’ frenzy late in piece as a realization of a truth of Omar Khayyam: “You, yourself are Heaven and Hell.”
The 1914 suite Adventures in a Perambulator by John Alden Carpenter (1876-1951) likely remains his best known piece. A depiction of a day in the life of baby (Carpenter’s daughter, Ginny), the work was meant for Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. En voiture (All aboard!) depicts the baby’s setting forth with her nurse, while a celesta in syncopation suggests a problem with one of the baby carriage wheels. An Irish Policeman then tries to engage Nurse in a bit of flirtation. Next, the baby becomes enchanted with a hurdy-gurdy that plays the Miserere from Verdi’s Il Trovatore, Di Capua’s “Oh, Marie,” and Berlin’s “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” “The Lake” raises images from Carpenter’s trip to Lake Geneva. Then, an encounter with some scrappy “Dogs” raises up strains from Winner’s “Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?” and the German “Ach, du lieber Augustin.” The extended last movement proves most suggestive in an impressionist style: “Dreams,” with its haunting reminiscences of the day and concluding with a French lullaby.
Disc One concludes with Georges Enesco’s rousing Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 in A Major (1901). Totally infectious with its exploitation of gypsy tunes, the work opens with a quote of the Romanian travelers’ song, “I have a coin, and I want a drink.” Soon, Enesco employs a ciocirlia, an imitation of bird calls and their stratified chirps, typical of Romanian folk music. The music suddenly breaks off, only resume with a delirious abandon that tests the Minneapolis string players’ accuracy and coordination as well as that of the brass choir. Ormandy’s later performance in Philadelphia has even more savage power, but this reading certainly powers forth to a fervent conclusion.
Disc Two begins with Zoltan Kodaly’s six-movement suite from his 1926 opera Hary Janos, a tale of an outrageous dreamer whose imagination concocts deeds of glory, courage, and national grandeur. Metaphorically, Hary’s fantasies glorify the strivings of his native Hungary, which for so many years had suffered subjugation from foreign powers. Kodaly, like his compatriot Bartok, delved deeply into his nation’s folk tradition to adapt native melodies for classical treatment. The opening Prelude’s flourish, the equivalent of a sneeze, sets the tone for this hyperbolic boast of love and glory, such as The Battle and Defeat of Napoleon. The Minneapolis players achieve a richly sonorous, vivid texture, in which the strings, winds, and brass dominate. The Viennese Musical Clock, the most popular of the episodes, enjoys the chimes and transparent horns and snare to suggest the procession of wooden soldiers. Hary’s great love Orzse and he, homesick, express their melancholy Song in the viola solo, while the cimbalom echoes their native land, along with a vibrant clarinet, oboe, and flute. No less effective in its national pathos, the Intermezzo provides a whirling, syncopated csárdás. With the final scene, Entrance of the Emperor and His Court, Ormandy concludes Kodaly’s virtuoso etude for orchestral color, especially in the high winds and brass, quite effective in this vivid restoration.
Jaromir Weinberger’s 1927 opera Schwanda the Bagpiper, unless performed on stage, survives by virtue of the two excerpts Ormandy leads here, the Polka from Act II, Scene 2 and the Fugue from the closing scene. Conductor Erich Kleiber introduced the music to American audiences in 1928. Ormandy elicits a combination of pomp and bluster for the Polka and a transparent fabric that accumulates thicker texture for the Fugue, played in Hell in the opera, to give the Devil’s minions a taste of bagpipe mastery, whose organ sound adds the requisite apotheosis.
Eugene Ormandy enjoyed a hearty and productive relationship with composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, and the composer later became enamored of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Ormandy’s 1934 Minneapolis recording of Symphony No. 2 in E Minor comes six years after the first such document, recorded in 1928 with the Cleveland Orchestra under Nikolai Sokoloff. Despite the large, authorized cuts to the score in all the movements, Ormandy manages a vigorous sense of sweep and broad nostalgia, acceding to the composer’s frequent demands for marcato playing. Curiously, Stokowski played an uncut version of the Symphony at the Hollywood Bowl in 1946. The second movement Scherzo, with its sumptuous, molto cantabile melody, makes a striking contrast to the self indulgent pathos of the first movement, even in spite of Ormandy’s portamento. The fugato section, too, is played as a string, wind, and brass etude. Ormandy bathes the Adagio in sugar and molasses; and in spite of the excisions, the music has a decidedly seductive character. The finale, Allegro vivace, maintains its festive energy, switching to martial motives and then lyrical, old-fashioned effulgence. The cuts severely curtail Rachmaninoff’s often elaborate workings-out, but the strings and supporting brass do their best to invest a nobility of line to the composer’s openly sentimental ethos.
Ormandy — Complete Minneapolis Symphony Recordings Vol. 1:
MOZART: Serenade in G Major, K. 525 “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”;
GRAINGER: Country Gardens; Shepherd’s Hey; Londonderry Air; Molly on the Shore;
SOWERBY: Irish Washerwoman;
GRIFFES: The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan;
KODALY: Hary Janos – Suite;
WEINBERGER: Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper;
RACHMANIMOV: Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27