Ormandy conducts GRIEG and SIBELIUS = The Philadelphia Orch./Eugene Ormandy – Pristine

by | Aug 14, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Ormandy conducts GRIEG and SIBELIUS = GRIEG: Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46; SIBELIUS: Lemminkainen Suite (The Four Legends), Op. 22 – The Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy – Pristine Audio PASC 299, 56:52 [Avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Listening to the 22 November 1947 inscription of the Peer Gynt Suite as edited and transferred by Mark Obert-Thorn, we must find it hard to believe the recording was first issued on Columbia 78 rpm shellacs as part of set X-291 and later transferred to LP (ML 5181). Though Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985) rarely moves me intellectually, his Philadelphia Orchestra sound–inherited from and refined beyond the work of Leopold Stokowski–never fails to astonish in its vivid definition of string and woodwind choirs.  Scandinavian music generally brought out urgent sympathies from Ormandy, and his readings of the music by Alfven, Sibelius, Grieg, and Nielsen remain strong examples of the degree of response he could elicit from his top-flight musicians.
Having first recorded The Swan of Tuonela (2 April 1950), Ormandy decided to fill out the entire 1895 Op. 22 Kalevala Legends cycle the next year (16 December 1951), and CBS released the amalgam as ML 4672. The opening of the four symphonic poems in a bold E-flat Major depicts a rather picaresque hero in Lemminkainen, here invested in the art of seduction of maidens—100 widows and 1000 virgins—on an island (Pohjoland), and his conquests inflame the local male populace to wrath. The slow evolutionary character of the main theme adumbrates the kind of writing we will hear much later in Sibelius, as in his Seventh Symphony. A swan in the Aeolian mode, played on the English horn of John Minsker, intones the lovely Swan of Tuonela, the Finnish land of death and black water, surrounded by a rapid current. Ormandy maintains a tense but lyrically engaged line whose tonal purity and breathed pace insure its immortality; and we know that Sibelius several times lauded Ormandy’s efforts on behalf of his music.
In the third legend, Louhi, the trickster-mistress of Pohjola, convinces the Achilles-like Lemminkainen to kill the swan of Tuonela in order to be worthy of a daughter’s hand. Amidst these dark currents of intention, a blind cowherd anticipates Lemminkainen’s mission and fashions a poison serpent from a river reed that kills the hero. Having tossed the dead Lemminkainen into the frantic currents of the river, the cowherd invokes a river deity to revenge himself on Lemminkainen, and so he hacks the body into forty pieces. Lemminkainen’s mother Lempi, the goddess of erotic love, retrieves the pieces and reassembles them–much as Isis restored Osiris–so that Lemminkainen may return in triumphant E-flat Major in the fourth symphonic poem, Lemminkainen’s Homecoming. The vivid chromaticism of the third legend emerges in thrilling colors under Ormandy, with each of the Philadelphia’s choirs—especially the strings and brass—in high relief, the brass chords’ adumbrating the heroic riffs in the D Major Symphony. The feeling of sunrise or awakening dominates the Homecoming sequence for Lemminkainen, a galloping energy—with friend and comrade Tiera—that invigorates a score rife with color elements in winds, brass, strings, and battery. If “jubilant abandon” describes this incarnation of the music, then Ormandy has well realized Sibelius’ mythic intentions.  Much in the spirit of Wagner’s national operas, the Four Legends exhibits a wealthy grandiosity of vision that transcends its parochial or local roots.
— Gary Lemco

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