Boston Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Serge Koussevitzky Recorded 1949
Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
Special thanks to Don Tait for providing source material
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Serge Koussevitzky
Additional Ambient Stereo processing by Andrew Rose
For FLAC playback and conversion support see our Help pages
Play Symphony 4, 3rd mvt:
Koussevitzky magnificent in late-career Tchaikovsky
Boston Symphony's first taped recordings - new transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36[notes / score] Recorded 26th April, 1949 in Symphony Hall, Boston
Matrix nos.: D9-RC-1708-2A, 1709-2, 1710-2, 1711-1, 1712-1, 1713-1, 1714-1, 1715-1B, 1716-1
First issued on RCA Victor 12-0972 through 12-0976 in album DM-1318 (LP: LM-1008; 45 rpm: WDM-1318)
TCHAIKOVSKY: Serenade for Strings in C - 2nd mvt. - Waltz: Moderato[notes / score] Recorded 27th April, 1949 in Symphony Hall, Boston
Matrix no.: D9-RC-1717-1B
First issued on RCA Victor 12-0972 in album DM-1318 (45 rpm: 49-0510 in album WDM-1318)
TCHAIKOVSKY: Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48[notes / score] Recorded 16th August, 1949 in the Theatre-Concert Hall, Tanglewood
Matrix nos.: D9-RC-1870-2, 1871-1, 1872-2D, 1873-1A, 1874-2, 1889-1 and 1890-1
First issued on RCA Victor 12-1070 through 12-1073 in album DM-1346 (LP: LM-1056; 45 rpm: WDM-1346)
Boston Symphony Orchestra Serge Koussevitzky, conductor
Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn Special thanks to Don Tait for providing source material
Koussevitzky’s 1949 recording of the Tchaikovsky Fourth was the first made by the Boston Symphony using the new medium of magnetic tape. It was initially released on 78 and 45 rpm discs, the two formats favored by RCA Victor during the “speed wars”. After succumbing to the long playing format developed by Columbia, the performance was reissued on 33 1/3 rpm discs. However, as was the label’s custom at the time, its original “filler” side, the Serenade for Strings Waltz, was dropped from the LP release and not subsequently reissued.
Four months later, Koussevitzky and the BSO reassembled at Tanglewood to record the entire Serenade. Unlike the Symphony and the Waltz, which had previously been recorded by the conductor and ensemble in 1936, the Serenade was Koussevitzky’s first and only complete recording of the work. It is interesting to compare the drier, more detailed, but somewhat harsher sound RCA achieved here in comparison to the earlier Waltz recorded in Symphony Hall.
The sources for the transfer of the Symphony were the best portions of two late 1950s red “shaded dog” label pressings. The Waltz filler came from the 45 rpm set, and the Serenade was sourced from an early ‘50s plum “plain dog” LP. Longtime collectors may be familiar with several flaws in the original LP appearance of the Symphony, including a very noticeable join between the original Sides 1 and 2 in the first movement (RCA was still recording in four- to five-minute segments at this time), as well as sudden volume fluctuations in the first two movements. While I have been able to ameliorate these problems using digital editing techniques not available to the original engineers, I have been unable to undo the inherent compression that afflicts the louder passages of the performance.
Despite a HiFi/Stereo Review survey at the end of the 1950s that placed this recording of the Fourth Symphony at the top of an already-crowded field, RCA deleted the disc sometime around 1960, and has never reissued it in the subsequent half century. I am very pleased to be able to present it now for new generations to discover.
Mark Obert-Thorn, reissue producer
An unpublished alternate take of the Waltz from this session was issued by BMG in 2001 on a compilation CD set.
Koussevitzky was born into a poor Jewish family in Vyshny Volochyok, Tver Oblast, about 250 km northwest of Moscow, Russia. His parents were professional musicians who taught him violin, cello, and piano. He also learned trumpet. He was baptized at the age of fourteen, since Jews were not allowed to live in Moscow and he had received a scholarship to the Musico-Dramatic Institute of the Moscow Philharmonic Society, where he studied double bass with Rambusek and music theory. He excelled at the bass, joining the Bolshoi Theatre orchestra at the age of twenty, in 1894, and succeeded his teacher, Rambusek, as the principal bassist in 1901. That same year he made his début (25 March) as a soloist in Moscow, and later won critical acclaim with his first recital in Berlin in 1903. In 1902 he married the dancer Nadezhda Galat. The same year, with Reinhold Glière's help, he wrote a popular concerto for the double bass, which he premiered in Moscow in 1905. In 1905, Koussevitzky divorced Galat and married Natalie Ushkov, the daughter of an extremely wealthy tea merchant. He soon resigned from the Bolshoi, and the couple moved to Berlin, where Sergei studied conducting under Arthur Nikisch, using his new-found wealth to pay off his teacher's gambling debts.
Conductor and publisher
In Berlin he continued to give double bass recitals and, after two years practicing conducting in his own home with a student orchestra, he hired the Berlin Philharmonic and made his professional début as a conductor in 1908. The concert included Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, with the composer at the piano. The next year he and his wife returned to Russia, where he founded his own orchestra in Moscow and branched out into the publishing business, forming his own firm, Éditions Russes de Musique, and buying the catalogues of many of the greatest composers of the age. Among the composers published by Koussevitzky were Rachmaninoff, Alexander Scriabin, Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, and Nikolai Medtner. During the period 1909 to 1920 he continued to perform as soloist in Europe, and in Russia he and his orchestra toured towns along the Volga River by riverboat in 1910, 1912, and 1914. The programs included many new works. After the 1917 Russian Revolution, he accepted a position as conductor of the newly named State Philharmonic Orchestra of Petrograd (1917-1920). In 1920, he left the Soviet Union for Berlin and Paris. In Paris he organized the Concerts Koussevitzky (1921-1929), presenting new works by Prokofiev, Stravinsky, and Maurice Ravel. In 1924 he took a post in the United States, replacing Pierre Monteux as conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. However, he continued to return to Paris in the summers to conduct his Concerts Koussevitzky until 1929. In 1941 he and his wife became United States citizens.
Koussevitzky's appointment as conductor of the Boston Symphony was the beginning a golden era for the ensemble that would continue until 1949. Over that 25-year period, he built the ensemble's reputation into that of a leading American orchestra, and developed its summer concert and educational programs at Tanglewood. In the early 1940s, he discovered a young tenor named Alfred Cocozza (who would later be known as Mario Lanza), and provided him with a scholarship to attend Tanglewood. With the Boston Symphony he made numerous recordings, most of which were well-regarded by critics. His students and protégés included Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Adler, and Sarah Caldwell. Bernstein once received a pair of cufflinks from Koussevitzky as a gift, and thereafter wore them at every concert he conducted.
Champion of contemporary music
In 1922, Koussevitzky commissioned what has come to be known as one of the greatest and most popular examples of orchestration in the repertoire, Maurice Ravel's arrangement of Modest Mussorgsky's 1874 suite for piano, Pictures at an Exhibition. It was premiered in Paris in 1923, and quickly became the most famous and celebrated orchestration of the work. Conductor Arturo Toscanini, who apparently had no great fondness for 19th century Russian music, considered the Mussorgsky-Ravel version of Pictures the greatest example of orchestration that had yet been produced, and performed and recorded the work for RCA Victor in 1953. Koussevitzky held the rights to this version for many years, and after his death, practically every celebrated conductor in existence recorded it.
Sergei Koussevitzky recorded with the Boston Symphony exclusively for RCA Victor, except for a live recording made with Columbia (Roy Harris, "Symphony 1933") in Carnegie Hall, New York, during a concert, using portable equipment. One quite notable early RCA session in Boston's Symphony Hall in 1929 was devoted to an early recording of Ravel's Boléro, and his very first sessions with the Boston orchestra of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony and a suite from Stravinsky's Petrushka were recorded in Symphony Hall in 1927. His younger brother Fabian "Sevitzky" conducted the Indianapolis Symphony during this same period, making several recordings of his own for RCA Victor.
Some of Koussevitzky's later recordings, including performances of the second suite from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet (1945, Symphony Hall, Boston), first symphony (1947, Carnegie Hall, New York, a session that included Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony), and fifth symphony (1945, Symphony Hall, Boston), were reportedly mastered on Victor's revolutionary sound film optical recording process, first employed in this way with the San Francisco Symphony in March 1942.
His very last recordings, made in November 1950, on magnetic tape using RCA's proprietary RT-2 1/4-inch machines at 30 inches per second, were acclaimed performances of Sibelius's Second Symphony and Grieg's "The Last Spring". Both have been rereleased by RCA/BMG on CD in Taiwan. Some of Koussevitzky's performances at Tanglewood, including a very spirited Beethoven "Egmont Overture", were also filmed during the 1940s.
According to Music & Arts Programs of America, a number of the Boston Symphony's 78 rpm recordings with Koussevitzky were issued on the bargain RCA Camden label, originally released at US$1.98 for a 12-inch LP album when similar top-of-the-line Red Seals were selling for US$5.98, in the early 1950s as the "Centennial Symphony Orchestra". One of the later albums featured Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf and Richard Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks; while the orchestra was again listed as the Centennial Symphony—and the conductor not identified, the narrator, actor Richard Hale, was. Koussevitzky ultimately rerecorded the piece in Tanglewood with Eleanor Roosevelt during the summer of 1950 on magnetic tape; issued on three 45s and a 10-inch LP, it has never been rereleased officially by RCA/BMG in spite of the popularity of the Camden disc with Hale. Hale was also the narrator for Arthur Fiedler's 1953 RCA recording of the same music with the Boston Pops. RCA often reissued historic recordings from the RCA Victor catalog on its Camden label with fictitious orchestral names to avoid having them in direct competition with newer recordings by the same artists on RCA Victor's upscale Red Seal label.