KODÁLY: Concerto for Orchestra. Háry János Suite. BARTÓK: Divertimento for String Orchestra.
Philadelphia Orch/Eugene Ormandy, cond.
ROCD 0058 (ADD) TT: 68:28

POULENC: Organ Concerto. BARBER: Toccata Festiva, Op. 36. CASELLA: Paganiniana, Op. 65. GINASTERA: Concerto for Strings, Op. 33.
Philadelphia Orch/Eugene Ormandy, cond.
ROCD 0057 (ADD) TT: 73:35

BERG: Lulu Suite. SCHOENBERG: Theme and Variations, Op. 43b. WEBERN: In Sommerwind. Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. Posth.
Philadelphia Orch/Eugene Ormandy, cond.
ROCD 0059 (ADD) TT: 61:35

These are private quality reissues of major stereophonic recordings by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy, available at modest price . A 'labor of love' on the part of producer, Russell E. Oppenheim, these are of particular importance in that except for one short work (Webern's In Sommerwind, recorded in 1963, is included in EMI's Great Conductors of the 20th Century issue devoted to Ormandy), none of these recordings are available elsewhere.

Ormandy first conducted the orchestra in 1936 when Stokowski was still around, becoming "music director" formally in 1938. He held this position until a concert in January 1981 in Carnegie Hall when he suffered a stroke at intermission. This totally disabled him and he died four years later. During Ormandy's near half-century tenure the Philadelphia Orchestra developed into one of the world's finest and we are fortunate they recorded profusely. The Philadelphia Orchestra recorded exclusively for the Victor Talking Machine Company beginning in 1917 when Leopold Stokowski made his first record, and remained with the company (later RCA Victor) until 1943 when they switched to Columbia (CBS/Sony) where they remained for 25 years. With the advent of stereo in 1958, the unique sound of the orchestra could better be captured, and many works were re-recorded for the then-new medium. RCA wooed the orchestra back into their fold in 1968, initially making a series of recordings that sonically were appallingly bad. RCA's engineers had decided to return to the Academy of Music for their recordings adding artificial reverberation to make the sound more palatable. This didn't work and soon RCA used Town Hall in Philadelphia for most of their recordings, the same site usually used by Columbia, although many feel Columbia's recordings were more faithful to the sound of the orchestra.

There are many treasures on these CDs. Ormandy of course specialized in Hungarian music, and particularly welcome are the two Kodály works making their first appearance on CD all masterfully taken from original Columbia LPs. The Kodály Concerto is a very bold recording, almost to the point of overloading, but what sound there is!.A Century of Music, published by the Philadelphia Orchestra, lists three recordings of Háry János conducted by Ormandy, two for Columbia, the first (mono) in 1946, the second (stereo, on this CD) in 1961. The third recording was for RCA in 1975. Bartok's Divertimento for String Orchestra is a brilliant showcase for the fabled Philadelphia strings, and I heartily welcome inclusion of Ginastera's dazzling Concerto for Strings, originally coupled on LP with Bartók's Divertimento, a disk I treasured for many years. Casella's Paganiniana is another orchestral showpiece brilliantly tossed off. The only two performances/recordings I'm not enthused about are the Poulenc and Barber organ/orchestral works. Performances are splendid. The Barber was commissioned for the first performance of the new organ in the Academy of Music. Unfortunately these recordings were made in the acoustically-dry Academy. There's no resonance, no low bass, and the lack of warmth and reflected sound is decidedly unattractive. Both of these scores should sound spectacular—just listen to the recent Gillian Weir surround sound recording of both (REVIEW). The third CD presents Ormandy in repertory usually not associated with him in sleek, sensitive, beautifully played performances very well recorded.

All three CDs are of major interest to collectors. For information on how to secure them, write to: roppenheim@satx.rr.com

R.E.B. (May 2004)