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Historic Broadcasts 1923-87


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Amazon.com: 2 reviews
87 of 105 people found the following review helpful
The New York "Phil": overrated as usual Oct. 19 2000
By madamemusico - Published on Amazon.com
I have often thought that symphony orchestras with a long history, i.e. Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cincinnati etc., should put out albums of historic broadcasts, but so far only the N.Y. Philharmonic has done so. The quality of the transfers, booklet, musician quotes and packaging are first-rate. The performances are something else again.
As anyone who has worked with, for or around the NY Phil can tell you, this is and has always been one arrogant orchestra. By this I mean, the musicians think they know everything, they act in a high-handed manner with outsiders, and they have always given conductors a hard time. If NY musicians don't like you or your approach to music, they will "sabotage" your performances--in fact, they did so to John Barbirolli, Artur Rodzinski and Dmitri Mitropoulos--and even if they like you (as in the case of Leonard Bernstein) they won't produce a really fine tone or ensemble blend, but rather a kind of rag-rag sound with rough-sounding strings and blowsy brass. If you don't believe me, just listen to the performances herein by Barbirolli, Rodzinski and Igor Stravinsky, whom one NY Phil musician describes as "a funny little man" but not a good conductor. (Gee, that's odd, I heard the transcript of Stravinsky conducting the world premiere of "The Rake's Progress" and it was a very adequate performance.)
Only seven conductors on this set draw a really fine sound from the orchestra: Mengelberg, Toscanini, Walter, Cantelli, Monteux, Reiner and Kubelik, and they were among the greatest conductors who ever lived. Everyone else gets so-so sound or worse, clumsily-phrased performances, and sometimes mismatched styles (worst of them being the Mozart Concerto No. 7 for 2 Pianos, where the prissy conducting of Barbirolli is overpowered by Josef and Rosina Lhevinne poundin' away on the ivories like they were having a break-your-eardrums contest).
Artistically, there is about four and a half hours' worth of great music AND great performances out of the 12 1/2 hours presented. Best of the lot are Beethoven's "Coriolanus" overture (somewhat abridged) by Willem van Hoogstraten (a fine testament to a completely forgotten conductor), all of the Toscanini material (including the best Brahms Violin Concerto I've ever heard and an arrangement of Bach's Toccata and Fugue by Sir Henry Wood that actually simulates the timbral sounds of an organ), the Chopin Concerto No. 1 by Rubinstein and Walter, the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 by Oistrakh and Mitropoulos (the orchestra didn't have much to do, and behaved itself out of respect for Oistrakh), the Faure Requiem conducted by Nadia Boulanger (with a sublime-sounding Donald Gramm), the Three Orchestral Pieces of Berg conducted by Bernstein, and Bartok's opera "Duke Bluebeard's Castle" with Tatiana Troyanos, Siegmund Nimsgern and Kubelik.
In retrospect, and out of respect to the work they did, I feel that more Bernstein performances should have been included and something by Michael Tilson Thomas should have made it in. Granted, Lennie often flew by the seat of his pants in live performance, but certainly they could have found SOMETHING in their vaults better than, say, the atrocious Schoenberg "Ode to Napoleon," Poulenc's thoroughly dry and uninteresting "Concert champetre," the afore-mentioned Mozart Concerto for 2 Pianos, Roberta Peters in poor voice caterwauling her way through the "Fledermaus" arias, or John Corigliano's derivative and poorly-constructed Clarinet Concerto? Alas, we'll never know.
One final note: $220 strikes me as prohibitively expensive for a 10-CD set. Since when are CDs worth $22 apiece? Trust me, they are NOT made of gold. In any case, your decision to purchase should weigh the relative merits and importance of the good performances, and decide whether or not they are worth that much to you. Certainly, this is the best "Bluebeard's Castle" I have ever heard, Bruno Walter's muscular reading of the Chopin Concerto must be heard to be believed, and the Toscanini performances have the advantage of giving us his sound in "real space" rather than a cramped studio. These are also advantages to consider. The choice is yours. I have simply given it my own personal rating.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A Radio Broadcast History of the New York Philharmonic Jan. 13 2014
By David A. Wend - Published on Amazon.com
Having read the only review of this set I thought that a more detailed analysis of what is included is required for anyone interested in spending the money to acquire it. Although the New York Philharmonic has had a reputation of being difficult with its music directors over the years, my approach is just to listen to what is on the CDs. The set contains radio broadcasts of New York Philharmonic performances obtained from different sources.

The first disc in the set contains fragmentary recordings of Beethoven's Coriolanus, conducted by Wilem van Hoogstraten, and Richard Strauss' Tod und Verklarung, conducted by Wilem Mengelberg, along with a fine performance of Bruckner's Symphony No 9 conducted by Otto Klemperer. The Coriolanus Overture is from 1923 and Strauss from 1924 should be acoustical recordings but thanks to a Bell Labs experiment where a single microphone was used to make the first NYP broadcast possible. The sound is better than one would expect but no so for the Bruckner which is much distorted. The timing of the Bruckner is 10 minutes shorter than Klemperer's later recordings. The symphony does not sound rushed and the quick tempi add to the intensity of the first movement. The second disc has a variety of records by Arturo Toscanini with an excellent reading of the Brahms Violin Concerto (with Jascha Heifetz) and Sibelius' En Saga. Also included is an orchestration of the Back Toccata and Fugue by Sir Henry Wood that is nicely performed but will make early music aficionados cringe at the bombast. The Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome is spectacular in the conveying the seduction of the music.

Disc three contains performances conducted by Igor Stravinsky of Russlan and Ludmilla, his own Fireworks and Tchaikovsky's Little Russian. I have heard more energetic performances of Russlan and the Little Russian but these are very good readings. The performance of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto conducted by George Szell with Arthur Schnabel is an excellent performance, and quite rare as Szell and Schnabel made only one studio recording. The sound for these recording from the 1940's is very good, particularly with the Beethoven. Disc four begins with an excellent recording of the Mozart Two Piano Concerto with Sir John Barbirolli conducting and Joself and Rosine Lhevinne as soloists. While the performance is beautiful the sound quality is poor (with a gap in the recording in the second movement and occasional swishing) and takes some time for the ear to get accustomed. Leopold Stokowski delivers a lyrical and colorful performance of Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony with very good sound. The NYP responds warmly to Stokowski making this a memorable occasion. I would have preferred something different represent Artur Rodzinski as Schoenberg's Ode to Napoleon is not that interesting for me. The performance is nevertheless good with decent sound.

Disc 5 is devoted to Bruno Walter, and begins with an outstanding performance of Chopin's First Piano Concerto, with Arthur Rubinstein. Rubinstein performs with great command of the music for the composer for whom he had the greatest affection. The performance is one of the boldest I can recall with a singing tone and brisk tempi. The Symphonia domestica of Richard Strauss completes the disc receiving a fantastic performance with spirited playing by the NYP. Disc 6 holds a powerful performance of Wagner's Immolation scene with Kirsten Flagstad and the NYP turning in a dramatic and beautifully played performance under Bruno Walter. Flagstad's performance is everything one would want in singer in the role of Brunnhilde. The sound is clear and well balanced. I love the music of Francis Poulenc so the chance to hear him play his Concert champetre using a piano was something I wanted to hear. The performance by the NYP is wonderful and perfectly captures Poulenc's wit. The playing by the composer clearly shows what a magnificent pianist he was. The sound is a good mono. The recording of the Shostakovich First Violin Concerto is sublime and historic. David Oistrakh has never been surpassed in his performances of this concerto; the recording is clear and well-balanced.

Disc seven begins with a marvelous performance of the Faure Requiem conducted by Nadia Boulanger with Donald Gramm and Reri Grist as soloists. Ms. Boulanger had studied with Faure and brings a deeply personal approach to the music. Le Tombeau de Couperin follows in a beautiful performance conducted by Pierre Monteux from 1959 and the disc concludes with Debussy's La Mer conducted by Guido Cantelli in 1954. La Mer is beautifully performed with wonderful orchestra color from the NYP. I did not find as breathtaking as the Chicago Symphony recording with Fritz Reiner but it remains a passionate reading that is well-recorded. Disc 8 begins with Anton Webern's Symphony and is followed by Alban Berg's Three Orchestral Pieces, both conducted by Leonard Bernstein during the 1960's. Both performances are intense with the Mahlerian influence very evident in the Berg. The performance of the Brahms Second Symphony with Fritz Reiner is all one would want; beautifully lyrical and energetic with expressive playing by the NYP. What an explosive conclusion to the symphony! This is the only recording Reiner conducted of the symphony. The recording of the arias from Die Fledermaus has occasional distortion but Roberta Peters sings expressively and beautifully and is nicely accompanied by the NYP.

Disc nine kicks off with a good but not remarkable performance of Mozart's Symphony No 29 conducted by Erich Leinsdorf. It is followed by the World Premiere of John Corigliano's Clarinet Concerto conducted by Leonard Bernstein with soloist Stanley Drucker. Corigliano's father was concertmaster of the NYP and even studied clarinet with Mr. Drucker. It is a piece that is a real test for the soloist, and listening to the concerto a couple of times I came to get a better feel for the music and enjoy the performance. The concerto is followed by Copland's Old American Songs with Marilyn Horne as soloist. The last track is an energetic Walton's Capriccio burlesco conducted by its dedicatee Andre Kostelanetz. The final disc has a good performance of Debussy's Afternoon of the Faun with Charles Munch and, a highlight of the collection, an excellent account of Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle with Tatiana Troyanos and Siegmund Nimsgern conducted by Rafael Kubelik. Ms. Troyanos is fabulous and the playing by the NYP is beautifully phrased.

There is much to like in this set, which is why I have given it five stars. I would have swapped some of the selections for something different but the appeal of this set is there is something for everyone. There is applause following most of the selections but audience noise is surprisingly infrequent, with the occasional cough or sneeze.


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