Sony Great Performances 82876-86844-2, 57:22 ****:
This release from Sony makes a fitting tribute to the Shostakovich centennial, since it represents the composer’s first attendance at an American series of rehearsals of one of his major works, the E-flat Cello Concerto of 1959. While Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985) is not among my revered conductors, he always elicited a slick sonic patina from his Philadelphia Orchestra, and the individual players often achieved stellar effects on their respective instruments. The F Minor Symphony resounds pungently, its mostly acerbic ironies played for their occasionally balletic gestures, intimations of Sibelius’ Valse Triste. While the scoring is large, the various orchestral choirs often appear in chamber music ensemble, except for the splashy tuttis that march ponderously, parodies of martial pomp. The Scherzo virtually tumbles out of the orchestra, a Fellini circus with hints of Borodin. Is it Bernard Garfield’s bassoon that makes such a fine impression; Marcel Tabuteau’s oboe? Great cello, bass, and trumpet work in the gloomy Lento. The final Allegro molto allows Ormandy’s Philadelphia players to shine in the mad dash where bullets and ballots trip over each other. Strong, fervent playing from the strings precedes the return to tympani accompaniment for the extended cello lament and somber epilogue to a colorful, agitated performance of striking conviction.
The world premier recording of the E-flat Cello Concerto features a young Mstislav Rostropovich who was all but unknown except to collectors familiar with his Dvorak Concerto with Vaclav Talich. The obsessive Allegretto first movement establishes the cellist’s breezy facility in this dark, ironic work, rife with Schumann-like anagrams on the composer’s own name. Mason Jones provides exemplary French horn support, even as the singing cello line suddenly plunges into an abrupt abyss. Jones opens the plangent Moderato, which soon expands to include clarinet, strings, low strings and Rostropovich’s especial, beseeching tone. The strong link between cello and French horn reminds one how close Britten’s music is to this sound. The sonic beauty of the Cadenza section deserves special mention, the troubadour in Rostropovich set free. The orchestra rejoins the solo for a demented, aggressive ride on the obsessive four-beat motif, a witches’ sabbath of phenomenal vitality. A classic this the disc, the LP transmogrified.
— Gary Lemco