Audite 95.589, 68:00 [Distrib. by Albany] ****:
Two historical performances from the RIAS archives, both of which feature conductor Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985) in rare form, eliciting more pathos than his wont in the Tchaikovsky Fourth, which he had recorded commercially for CBS. In this performance from 6 September 1954, he leads Ferenc Fricsay’s hand-honed ensemble, noted for its fierce discipline and intensely vivid colors. Less lush than the Philadelphia Orchestra’s sound, the streamlined relationship between oboe, tympani, and strings proves “fateful” in this encounter, in which Ormandy can bask in Tchaikovsky’s sonorities in an almost self-indulgent manner; viz., the slowing down of the secondary melody at measure 240. At the recapitulation, Ormandy hurls the tempo forward, a spasm of hysterical energy he seldom requires from any of his readings. The soft, tympanic beats under the strings as the woodwinds measure out the semi-martial melos assumes a mystical quality not so far from Furtwaengler’s account with the Vienna Philharmonic. Ormandy pulls back for a graduated approach to the coda, another wild ride that pays emotional homage to Fricsay and the mad Russians, like Koussevitzky.
The Andantino in the Mode of a Canzona exacts wonderful sonorities from oboe and the RIAS cello section, a fine balance of resolute and expressive energies, followed by a deftly light, virtuosic Scherzo: Pizzicato ostinato that does not dally as the sparks proceed. Folkish in its swirling motifs, the music smiles in the midst of tears, the sense of doom residing just under the surface gaiety. The last three pages screw themselves into a veritable whirlwind of barely controlled, frenetic power. Given Ormandy’s obsessive penchant for achieving a “sameness” to his interpretations of the classics, it comes as an exuberant relief to hear an alternative ensemble force him to rethink his often saccharine habits. The Finale explodes upon the scene, then it announces the Russian folk song that asserts itself as the strings whirl by. Though the music wants to find solace in F Major, the storms and stresses in the winds remain shades sent from Dante’s Inferno. The music inexorably turns on itself, reasserting the “fate” motif, the chromatic harmonies straight out of Liszt. The coda, with its tympanic undercurrent rises, trumpet and triangle not the least of the colossal Witches’ brew of colors that send the last notes into the stratosphere.
Robert Casadesus (1899-1972) left us three commercial inscriptions of the C Minor Concerto of Saint-Saens; two involve Rodzinski and Bernstein, both from New York. An earlier collaboration on disc with Monteux–like the Rodzinski–has not come back via the CD medium. This Berlin realization (24 September 1952) enjoys the usual aplomb that Casadesus bestows in his classical fashion: lithe, fast, and eminently smooth. The seamless transitions from arpeggios to trills to quasi-parlando style occurs so blithely we forget what consummate keyboard mastery we are hearing. Wicked punctuations from the RIAS strings and woodwinds as Casadesus punches out the block chords of the marcato theme just prior to his diaphanous runs in the high registers over fluttering strings. Like Liszt, Saint-Saens condensed his classical structures into subdivided binary forms, so the Allegro vivace, scherzo movement, blisters and gallops ahead over horn sforzati and pizzicato strings so quickly that we awaken in the throes of the C Major hymn tune before we can catch our collective breath. The elastic, graduated line that Casadesus extends never ceases to harmonize any number of diverse nuances and colors, every virtuoso chord resonant and redolent with character. The 1952 sound transcends the time-period, and the RIAS strings could well be mistaken for their Philadelphia brethren.