These fine recordings came to me from the collection of Edward Johnson, who seems to have not only a superb collection but also an unerring touch when it comes to selecting fine recordings in need of XR remastering and full reissue. Although the Mendelssohn symphonies have resurfaced elsewhere in the digital era, it is unlikely that other transfers will have dealt with the harsh, boxy, unpleasant sound of the originals.
This is one of those occasions when XR remastering has made a huge difference, so much so that I've prepared a before-and-after sample which takes a 45-second section from the first movement first in its raw, straight-from-the-LP version, and then in its final, XR-remastered Ambient Stereo form - the difference in indeed dramatic! It's replayed from a 320kbps MP3 file, which can also be downloaded here.
The release was unusual in its day - Mitropoulos's brisk reading of the Symphonies (his first movement is a full four minutes shorter than a more recent release conducted by Sir Colin Davis, for example, despite there being no cuts) allowed Capitol to squeeze both recordings onto a single LP whereas other contemporary issues required two sides per work. For some this may be too brisk, or the gaps between movements too short (I've not lengthened them), but others may find them to be, in the words of Edward Johnson, "great, panache-laden" performances.
The additional work here - three contrasting waltzes in one short piece - is a real treat and genuine rarity. It was commissioned in the late 1940s for the New York Philharmonic from American composer Morton Gould and premièred that year with Mitropoulos conducting. A review by Steve Schwartz at Classical Net of a Gould recording gives more background to this rarely-heard but delightful 9-minute work:
"The New York Philharmonic commissioned Gould's Philharmonic Waltzes in 1947* as an accompaniment to a fashion show, believe it or not - a fund-raising benefit for the orchestra. This is a quintessentially American idea, I think: pleasure + pleasure = more pleasure. Great music plus good-looking women in pretty clothes gives you more than merely great music. Gould came up with music that transcends its silly occasion. It celebrates movement and would make a terrific ballet. You can practically see a Balanchine corps de ballet as the music plays. I also find it an interesting example of what I call the "Broadway waltz," of the kind written by Richard Rogers and Leonard Bernstein..."
[*Though dated 1948, the year it received its première, the commission itself would most likely have been received in 1947.]
A later limited edition Columbia LP for the NY Phil including this piece adds:
"Morton Gould wrote his Philharmonic Waltzes especially for Mitropoulos and the Orchestra's 1948 Annual Ball and Pension Fund Concert. The work is in three short, contrasting sections: The first is what Gould calls "a commentary on an old fashioned Gay-90's-type waltz" (with echoes of a player-piano and street tunes); the second section is reflective and nostalgically romantic; and the third is a fast and highly stylised Continental-type waltz..."
We intend to return to the music of Morton Gould in greater length in a forthcoming release - in the meantime this short taster of his work offers something which manages to both contrast and complement the Mendelssohn which precedes it. Again I have been able to make great inroads in terms of sound quality here, though this 1950 recording was significantly better than its 1953 cousin to begin with!
biographical notes from Wikipedia
Dimitri Mitropoulos (Greek: Δημήτρης Μητρόπουλος) (1 March [O.S. 18 February] 1896 – 2 November 1960), was a Greek conductor, pianist, and composer. Also known as Dimitris Mitropoulos.
Life and career
Mitropoulos was born in Athens, the son of Yannis and Angeliki Mitropoulos. His father owned a leather goods shop at No. 15, St Marks Street. He was musically precocious, demonstrating his abilities at an early age. From the ages of eleven to fourteen, when Mitropoulos was in secondary school, he would host and preside over informal musical gatherings at his house every Saturday afternoon. His earliest acknowledged composition - a sonata for violin and piano, now lost - dates from this period.
He studied music at the Athens Conservatoire as well as in Brussels and Berlin, with Ferruccio Busoni among his teachers. From 1921 to 1925 he assisted Erich Kleiber at the Berlin State Opera and then took a number of posts in Greece. At a 1930 concert with the Berlin Philharmonic, he played the solo part of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 and conducted the orchestra from the keyboard, becoming one of the first modern musicians to do so.
Mitropoulos made his U.S. debut in 1936 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and he later settled in the country, becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1946. From 1937 to 1949, he served as the principal conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now known as the Minnesota Orchestra).
In 1949 Mitropoulos began his association with the New York Philharmonic, the peak of his orchestral career. He was initially co-conductor with Leopold Stokowski, and became the sole music director in 1951. Mitropoulos recorded extensively with the Philharmonic for Columbia Records and sought to reach new audiences through appearances on television and conducting a week of performances at the Roxy Theatre, a popular movie theatre in New York. Mitropoulos expanded the Philharmonic's repertoire, commissioning works by new composers and championing the symphonies of Gustav Mahler. In 1957 he was succeeded as the Philharmonic's conductor by a protégé, Leonard Bernstein.
In addition to his orchestral career, Mitropoulos was an equally important force in the operatic repertoire. He conducted opera extensively in Italy and from 1954 until his death in 1960 was the principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, although the Met did not officially use that title at the time. His musically incisive and dramatically vivid performances of Puccini, Verdi, Richard Strauss and others remain models of the opera conductor's art. The Met's extensive archive of recorded broadcasts preserves many of these fine performances.
Mitropoulos's series of recordings for Columbia Records with the New York Philharmonic included a rare complete performance of Alban Berg's Wozzeck. Many of these have been reissued by Sony Classics on CD, including most recently his stereo recordings of excerpts from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. For RCA he recorded with the Minneapolis Symphony during the 78-rpm era. He was also represented on the Cetra label, most notably with an early recording of Richard Strauss's Elektra.
He was noted for having a photographic memory (which enabled him to conduct without a score, even during rehearsals) and for his monk-like life style due to his deeply religious, Greek Orthodox beliefs.
Mitropoulos never married. He was "quietly known to be homosexual" and "felt no need for a cosmetic marriage". Among his relationships reportedly was one with Leonard Bernstein.
He died in Milan, Italy at the age of 64, while rehearsing Gustav Mahler's 3rd Symphony. One of his very last recorded performances was Verdi's La forza del destino with Giuseppe Di Stefano, Antonietta Stella and Ettore Bastianini at Vienna on 23 September 1960. A recording exists of the performance of Mahler's 3rd Symphony given by Mitropoulos with the Cologne Radio Symphony on 31 October 1960, just two days before his death.
Impact on the music profession
Mitropoulos was noted as a champion of modern music, such as that by the members of the Second Viennese School. He wrote a number of pieces for orchestra and solo works for piano, and also arranged some of Johann Sebastian Bach's organ works for orchestra. In addition he was very influential in encouraging Leonard Bernstein's interest in conducting performances of Mahler's symphonic works. He also premiered and recorded a piano concerto of Ernst Krenek as soloist (available on CD), and works by composers in the U.S. such as Roger Sessions and Peter Mennin. In 1952 he commissioned American composer Philip Bezanson to write a piano concerto, which he premiered the following year.
His compositions include a piano sonata and other works.