LABELS: Boston Symphony Orchestra
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Boston Symphony Orchestra
WORKS: find works
PERFORMER: Boston SO/Bernstein, Cantelli, Copland, Giulini, Haitink, Koussevitzky, Mitropoulos, Münch, Ozawa, etc
CATALOGUE NO: (distr. +1 617 266 1200; www.bso.org)
With this handsomely produced set the Boston Symphony Orchestra joins the ranks of other leading American orchestras that have recently released collections of performances from their archives of broadcast recordings. In this case, an important unifying feature is wonderful sound. The fabled acoustics of Symphony Hall, where all but one of these recordings were made, are an integral part of the identity and character of the BSO and help recordings from as early as the late Fifties to emerge with notable vividness.
Twenty-two conductors appear here, mostly in music they did not record commercially. Pierre Monteux, music director in 1919-24, is heard in performances from four decades later, among them a memorably earthy, lovingly characterised rendition of Strauss’s Don Quixote. His successor Serge Koussevitzky (1924-49) is portrayed as a champion of new music, leading broadcast or actual premiere performances of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Bernstein’s Age of Anxiety (with the composer as piano soloist). More historical documents than revelatory performances, these recordings preserve endings of the pieces that the composers later revised at Koussevitzky’s suggestion. The characteristically combustible spontaneity of Charles Münch (1949-62) is on display in French rarities (Prelude to Fauré’s Pénélope) and staples (La mer, La valse), and Erich Leinsdorf (1962-9) makes an eloquent impression in a suite from Janácek’s Cunning Little Vixen and in Shostakovich’s First Symphony (although Smetana’s Vltava seems overly brittle and driven). Bruckner’s Eighth possesses a memorable combination of intensity, grandeur, momentum and beauty under William Steinberg (1969-72). Seiji Ozawa (music director since 1973) generously shares his paler limelight with soloists from the orchestra (in Strauss and Martin) and with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (in Messiaen and Stravinsky); the highlight is Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle with Yvonne Minton as a gripping, confident Judith. Giulini in Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Colin Davis’s implacably incendiary Vaughan Williams Fourth, Guido Cantelli’s hot-blooded account of Respighi’s Pines of Rome and Igor Markevitch in Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet are among the remaining treasures in a set that does ample justice to one of the world’s great orchestras and concert halls.