Dvorak, Suk: Symphony No. 9,

COMPOSERS: Dvorak,Suk
LABELS: Biddulph
WORKS: Symphony No. 9,
PERFORMER: Czech PO/Vaclav Talich
CATALOGUE NO: WHL 048 ADD mono
There is so generous an outpouring of TOSCANINI Beethoven recordings these days that I am tempted to pass them over as self-recommending. But one clamours for attention, as it brings the legendary account of the Missa solemnis with the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1939, together with a Seventh Symphony (recorded two days earlier than the one EMI issued on vinyl in the late Eighties), plus a riveting Haffner Symphony, much less over-driven than his NBC account. The Missa solemnis is every bit as heaven-storming as its reputation leads you to believe.

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A warm welcome, too, for THE ART OF EUGENE ORMANDY, a two-CD set from Biddulph which collects records that I remember from BBC wartime broadcasts, such as Samuel Barber’s Essay No. 1 for Orchestra and Roy Harris’s overture When Johnny Comes Marching Home. Ormandy was not so much underrated as taken for granted during those years, but there is no doubt as to his mastery. I don’t think his account of the Miaskovsky Symphony No. 21 with the sumptuous Philadelphia strings has ever been surpassed. A novelty is the Strauss Symphonia domestica, which will be new to most collectors, and various lighter pieces recorded in the Twenties with him as violinist (and very good he was) and also with the Dorsey Brothers’ Concert Orchestra.

Similarly, some STRAVINSKY rarities that never appeared here at the time. His own 1947 recordings of the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto, with an impressive line-up of players, the Danses concertantes, the Divertimento The Fairy’s Kiss and two of the Études, Op. 7, played by his son Soulima. Of course, he re-recorded most of this repertoire for CBS/Sony, but there is a lot of personality here even if the sound is pretty thin and top-heavy.

Stravinsky is represented by The Rite of Spring in another set from the Forties celebrating the artistry of EDUARD VAN BEINUM, who guided the fortunes of the Concertgebouw Orchestra in the postwar years after Mengelberg’s long reign ended in bitterness. We have his glowing Bruckner Seventh, not sounding anywhere as sumptuous as in the Dutton transfer (see September 1999), Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, which has astonishing freshness, the Berlioz Symphonie fantastique, and the Reger Ballet Suite and Mozart Variations.

When I was growing up, VACLAV TALICH’s records of the Dvorák Seventh and Eighth symphonies dominated the catalogue, but not the Ninth (From the New World). He recorded it at the height of the Nazi occupation in 1941 and it comes now with an eloquent account of his friend Josef Suk’s Fairy Tale, Raduz a Mahulena, a glorious and haunting score. Strangely enough, though, ERICH KLEIBER’s account of the New World made with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra in 1929 is even more compelling and atmospheric, in spite of its generally frail sound. It has bags of personality and comes with the Cello Concerto played by the 27-year-old Emanuel Feuermann, whose rich, voluptuous tone and sensational virtuosity shine through vividly.

Nothing has changed more in the last half-century than BACH interpretation, as anyone who puts any recent set of the Brandenburg Concertos alongside, say, Boyd Neel, or the incomparable Busch Chamber Players would testify. You should try and hear the newly-transferred set made in the early Thirties by Alfred Cortot and the Orchestre de l’École Normale de Musique. There are many touches characteristic of the great pianist and some hilarious eccentricities and gear-changes; he takes what seems like a jump or a hiccup in the middle of the main theme of the first movement of No. 2, and signals the ending of the first phrase of No. 6 by a long slow-down.

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On the principle of saving the best to last, two NIELSEN symphonies make an overdue comeback, both pioneering sets which introduced Nielsen to British audiences. The Sinfonia expansiva was recorded as long ago as 1946 for Decca and was regarded as state-of-the-art at the time. Listening to this transfer, you realise just how advanced Decca’s engineering was. Amazingly, it has never enjoyed another incarnation since the Fifties. The performance is wonderful, vibrant and invigorating. The Fifth Symphony recorded in 1950 was reissued by EMI several times. I still treasure both sets of 78s, but the Dutton transfer reveals greater detail and presence than the originals could reproduce at the time.