American Orchestras in Historical Recordings

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American Orchestras in Historical Recordings
 

George Szell
The Cleveland Orchestra - Holiday Recordings!

Recorded 1968

40 years ago, rival tire companies would entice buyers into their stores with offers of Christmas LP's. (Tires, apparently, did not make great gifts, December was a slow month, and these discount LP's generated store traffic.) In 1968, GoodYear issued an LP showcasing 12 of Columbia Records' artists, including Tony Bennett, Steve Lawrence, Jerry Vale, John Davidson, Barbra Streisand, and George Szell and The Cleveland Orchestra.

Columbia had earlier scored a big hit with an Ormandy / Philadelphia Christmas record, and to a lesser extent, with Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. Szell, the label's third house band, recorded only two carols, both orchestrated by Hershey Kay. Not enough for a full LP, these two found their way onto this promotional disc.

"Patapan" is a 17th century French carol (according to the notes.) The "Deck the Hall" arrangement features a fugal "Fa, La, La, La, La" (at 0:25.) And is that a wry allusion to the finale of Maher 5 (at 1:04?)

The cover of the disc features all twelve Columbia artists, each of their smiling heads placed on a star in a circular clock arrangement. Szell is at the 6:00 position, beaming almost as brightly as Mr. Robert Goulet, three clicks earlier. Yes, nothing brings home the warmth of the holidays like a sincere smile from "Uncle George" Szell.

These files may be downloaded. This site will be regularly updated with other historical recordings.

Patapan - Szell-Cleveland.mp3
Deck the Halls - Szell-Cleveland.mp3

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Arthur Fiedler
The Boston Pops

It's curious that more than a quarter-century since his death, Arthur Fiedler's work has yet to be fairly evaluated. Listen to any of the recently re-issued "Living Stereo" SACD's and it is clear that full appreciation of his talent is long overdue. His "Cuban Overture" is more than the best recording of the piece - it's one of the great recordings of anything, ever.

Preceding Bernstein, Arthur Fiedler was our first great American conductor. His musical readings are light, but never slight. A rhythmic incision as accurate as Toscanini's or Szell's, transparent balancing, note-perfect execution and, at times, hair-raising tempos. More than Beecham, there has been no finer conductor of light music.

There are three selections below. The "Farandole" from Bizet's "L'Arlesienne" is a live performance with a breathless final accelerando. The Dvorak "Carnival Overture" comes from Fiedler's only recording with the Boston Symphony and showcases all of the conductor's unique qualities. And from the early 1950's, here's an abridgement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (no oboe solo!) that illustrates how Fiedler could tastefully lighten any music. (The final two come from troubled "dynaflex" LP's.)

These files may be downloaded. This site will be regularly updated with other historical recordings.

BIZET - Farandole - Fiedler - Boston Pops.mp3
DVORAK - Carnival Overture - Fiedler - Boston Symphony.mp3
BEETHOVEN - Sym No 5 - I abridged - Fiedler - Boston Pops.mp3

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United States Marine Band
Mascagni – via Ruggles!

Recorded 2000

If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it. Imagine the craggy, contentious Carl Ruggles – composer of the strenuous Sun-treader and Men and Mountains – arranging the grand chorus from Mascagni’s "Cavalleria rusticana".

Yet, he did. When his son was a student at the University of Miami, Ruggles would frequently visit and struck up a friendship with the school’s band director. He arranged two scenes from Calvalleria, as well as his own Angels, premiered in 1939.

This comes to the site courtesy of Frank Byrne, Executive Director of the Kansas City Symphony. (CRStager marketing serves as marketing counsel to the Orchestra.) Frank was formerly a member of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, and was the project director for their astonishing retrospective of recordings commemorating the band’s bicentennial.

This file - approximately three and a half minutes - may be downloaded. This site will be regularly updated with other historical recordings.
Bear Down, Chicago Bears

MASCAGNI - arr. RUGGLES - Regina Coeli from Cavalleria rusticana - US Marine Band (mp3)

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John Barbirolli
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York


Recorded 1940

Arturo Toscanini left the helm of the New York Philharmonic already a legend. The successor, John Barbirolli, never stood a chance with the press or public. His very presence suggested diminishment.

We will likely never gain honest perspective on John Barbirolli's brief tenure with the Philharmonic. The handful of New York recordings are not among his best. However, this reading of Ravel's "La Valse" is evidence of an orchestra arguably more relaxed than it had been under Toscanini.

"La Valse" and Ravel are not easy associations to make with Barbirolli. The "Sir John" of the sentimental Elgar and voracious Sibelius recordings from his last decade is not the fiery, elastic conductor heard here. The recording is dubbed from its original 78 issue.

This file - approximately 12 minutes - may be downloaded. This site will be regularly updated with other historical recordings.

RAVEL - La Valse - Barbirolli - NY Philharmonic (mp3)

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Sir Georg Solti
Chicago Symphony & Chorus


Recorded 1986

At the height of mid-1980's Chicago Bears mania, London / Decca recorded an EP with the Chicago Symphony, Chorus and Sir Georg Solti performing the team’s official fight song "Bear Down, Chicago Bears". It was not released much outside Chicago, and I don't believe that it has ever been transferred to CD.

Though I prefer his complete recording of Wagner's "Ring", no Solti collection should be without it.

This file - approximately one and a half minutes - may be downloaded. This site will be regularly updated with other historical recordings.

Bear Down, Chicago Bears (mp3)

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Arturo Toscanini
NBC Symphony


Recorded 1947

Those familiar with Arturo Toscanini's RCA recording of Berlioz's dramatic symphony "Romeo and Juliet" will note that the performance derives from two consecutive NBC Symphony broadcast weeks in 1947. To round out the final broadcast, Toscanini also included the lyrical scene from Berlioz' "The Damnation of Faust”, beginning with the Air of Mephistopheles and concluding with the "Ballet des Sylphes". This has yet to be issued commercially.

The relaxed phrasing in the opening measures is meltingly beautiful, particularly at 0:58. Nicola Moscona gently floats his vocal line (this from the same concert with his forceful declaration of Friar Laurence of "Romeo"). The "Ballet des Sylphes" shows the NBC playing with lightness and transparency too rarely heard.

This performance belies the presumptions of a general "Toscanini style". It is slower than almost other any performance of this music, tender and free in its phrasing. Listen closely for Toscanini's humming, a clear sign of his delight with the performance he is molding.

This file - approximately 13 minutes - may be downloaded. This site will be regularly updated with other historical recordings.

Toscanini / NBC Symphony - Berlioz' "Faust" - Scene 6 (mp3)

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Willem Mengelberg
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York

Recorded 1928

Willem Mengelberg (1871-1951) served as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic (while simultaneously music director of the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, a post he held from 1895-1945). 

Though his New York recordings are few, this lyrical, gentle, unhurried version of Wagner's Forest Murmurs from "Siegfried" stands among the finest recordings of the excerpt.  It also displays the solo and ensemble virtuosity of the New York Philharmonic in the late 1920's.  Also worth seeking is Mengelberg's magnificent "Eroica" Symphony with the Philharmonic recorded in 1930. 

This file - approximately 8 minutes - may be downloaded.  This site will be regularly updated with other historical recordings. 

Willem Mengelberg/New York Philharmonic - Wagner's Forest Murmurs (mp3)

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