RAVEL: Fanfare L'Eventail de Jeanne. FRANCK: Symphony in D minor. PROKOFIEV:
Alexander Nevsky, Op. 78.
SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39. Symphony No. 7
in C, Op. 105. Excerpts from Pelléas and Mélisande, Op.
46. Finlandia, Op. 26
DIMITRI MITROPOULIS BROADCAST PERFORMANCES 1941-1957
DIMITRI MITROPOULIS BROADCAST PERFORMANCES 1945-1955
The Franck and Prokofiev on the first of the Stokowski CDs listed above have long been available on other labels, particularly Music & Arts. If you don't have this stunning performance of Alexander Nevsky, this is a fine opportunity to get it. These are live performances recorded during a concert in De Doelen, Rotterdam, August 22, 1970 before a very enthusiastic audience. Stokowski was 88 at the time, but one would never suspect this judging by these dynamic, imaginative performances. This issue was produced in cooperation with the Leopold Stokowski Society. CD notes are limited, but the text for Nevsky is available on Medici Arts' website. The second CD is of considerable more interest - live performances of music of Sibelius recorded during the final concert of the annual Sibelius festival at Helsinki University's Festival Hall June 17, 1953. Brief announcements mention that the composer was listening to this broadcast (Sibelius died 4 years later). Music of this composer was often conducted by Stokowski; he made two commercial recordings of Symphony No. 1, and one each of symphonies 2, 4. Symphony No. 7, recorded by Columbia with the All American Youth Orchestra in 1940, was not released until 1990—in a limited edition to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of formation of that orchestra. (This recording is available on Music & Arts CD 841 coupled with Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 and Ravel's Bolero, with the same orchestra). This new Sibelius collection is essential for Stokowski collectors. It is remarkable how the "Stokowski sound" is produced by whatever orchestra he conducts. The Finnish orchestra is in top form, and here we find Stokowski's only recording of five excerpts from Pelléas and Mélisande. The mono radio sound is well-balanced and of sufficient quality to convey the vibrant performances.
We are indebted to Music & Arts for their twin 4-CD sets devoted to broadcast performances conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos. Many of these have been issued before, particularly on private labels, but here we have a cross-section of the Greek conductor's repertory and special interests, and many performances never before available. Mitropoulos (1896-1960) was a towering, if unappreciated, figure during his lifetime. He always conducted from memory, even the most complex scores. It is reported that when he was first introduced to members of the Minneapolis Symphony in 1937 after being appointed conductor, he then called each musician by name! The same 28-page booklet accompanies each set, written by William Trotter, author of Priest Of Music - The Life of Dimitri Mitropoulos, published in 1995. Trotter mentions many of the difficulties Mitropoulos endured during his career, particularly his betrayal by Leonard Bernstein, who made sure the Greek conductor was not appointed to the Boston Symphony (after huge successes as a guest)—Bernstein wanted the job himself—and he also did everything he could to have Mitropoulos dismissed by the New York Philharmonic so he (Bernstein) could become its conductor. This book is fascinating reading indeed, and details many episodes in Mitropoulos' life. He always championed new music and much of it can be heard on these broadcasts. Well over a decade before Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic performed the Mahler symphonies, Mitropoulos had conducted, in 1955, the American premiere of Symphony No. 6, a performance heard in this set. We can hear Mitropoulos's virtuosity in Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 which he conducts from the keyboard (a remarkable feat, indeed!), as well as Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. A rarity is Schoenberg's orchestration for strings of his String Quartet No. 2, which includes a soprano part, accurately sung by Astrid Varnay, who had just made her sensational Met debut four years earlier and would collaborate with Mitropoulos many times in opera. Of major interest is the magnificent performance of a suite from Stravinsky's Firebird (somewhere in the archives is there a performance of Mitropoulos conducting The Rite of Spring? I hope so!). Even though the NYP gave Mitropoulos a hard time and challenged him during rehearsals—once the harpist picked up his part, walked to the podium, threw the music at Mitropoulos, and stalked off the stage! These sets are major performances by an unjustly neglected conductor, and well worth a place in any historic collection. Each of the four CD sets sells for the price of three.
R.E.B. (September 2008)