SEVITZKY and the Indianapolis Symphony, Complete: Volumes 1-6 (1941-53) - PABX040

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SEVITZKY and the Indianapolis Symphony, Complete: Volumes 1-6 (1941-53) - PABX040

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GLAZUNOV From the Middle Ages
DUBENSKY Stephen Foster – Theme, Variations and Finale
DUBENSKY Fugue for 18 Violins
CESANA Negro Heaven
GERSHWIN-BENNETT Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture

KHATCHATURIAN Gayaneh – Ballet Suite ENESCU 2 Romanian Rhapsodies
DVOŘÁK 4 Slavonic Dances
BRAHMS 3 Hungarian Dances

TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 1, 'Winter Dreams'
KALINNIKOV Symphony No. 1

HAYDN L’Isola Disabitata – Overture
HAYDN Symphony No. 73, “La Chasse”
GRIEG Sigurd Jorsalfar – Suite
GRIEG Peer Gynt – Suite No. 2
GRIEG Symphonic Dances

DELIBES Coppélia - Suite
DELIBES Sylvia - Suite
KHACHATURIAN Masquerade - Suite
music by Kreisler, Sgambati, Weber, J. Strauss II

Studio recordings, 1941-53

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Fabien Sevitzky


This set contains the following albums:

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SEVITZKY and the Indianapolis Symphony, Volume 1 (1941-46) - PASC479

Fabien Sevitzky conducts the Indianapolis Symphony

"An excellent conductor, eminently deserving of renewed attention" - Fanfare

Fabien Sevitzky was born in Vishny Volochyok, Russia on 29 September 1891 (not 1893, as other sources list).  A nephew of Serge Koussevitzky’s, his original last name was the same, but later shortened at his uncle’s request to avoid confusion.  Like him, Sevitzky took up the double bass in order to win a conservatory scholarship.  After playing in orchestras in Russia and Poland, Sevitzky joined Stokowski’s Philadelphia Orchestra in 1923.  Two years later, he organized members of the ensemble’s string section into the Philadelphia Chamber String Simfonietta.  (Their complete recordings have been reissued on Pristine PASC 375.)  He left the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1930, although he continued to conduct the chamber ensemble until 1941.

Sevitzky was appointed conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in 1937, a post he held until 1955.  He retired to Florida, where he became a faculty member at the University of Miami, leading the school’s orchestra and continuing to guest conduct internationally.  It was during one such appearance in Athens that Sevitzky died on 3 February 1967.

Between 1941 and 1946, Sevitzky and the Indianapolis Symphony made a series of 78 rpm recordings for RCA Victor.  His final recordings were made for Capitol LPs in 1953.  The present program is the first in a series which aims to reissue them all, some for the first time since their initial release.  None of them have ever received an “official” CD reissue. 

The first two selections come from Sevitzky’s earliest Indianapolis sessions.  The Russlan Overture comes on like gangbusters, showing off the exuberance and virtuosity of the ensemble and conductor in sound that was state-of-the-art for its time; and its discmate, Rimsky’s setting of the revolutionary folksong “Dubinushka”, builds to a tremendous climax.  It is worth noting that Sevitzky studied under both Rimsky and Liadov at the St. Petersburg Conservatory; and in the latter’s Baba Yaga, he paints a vivid tonal characterization of the same mythical witch who inspired “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs” section of Mussorgky’s Pictures.

Sevitzky’s recording of the Tchaikovsky Manfred Symphony was the first complete version made of the work (Albert Coates had previously recorded the second movement alone), and would remain the only one until Toscanini’s 1949 recording, with a cut of some 100 bars in the finale, appeared on LP.  It is dramatically paced, with much excitement in the faster sections.  However, some parts are played much more slowly than we are used to.  The third movement’s “Andante con moto” is here more of an “Adagio molto”; and the second movement’s trio is not “l’istesso tempo” as marked by Tchaikovsky, but something considerably slower.

Even more curious is Sevitzky’s substitution of a snare drum (side drum) for the tambourine in the bacchanal which opens the fourth movement.  The conductor could have interpreted the “tamb.” marked in the score as referring to a “tamburo piccolo” or snare drum.  However, the first page of the score spells out “tambourine”, so there should have been no confusion.  Its presence here remains a mysterious precedent that no other known conductor has followed.  (I am indebted to writer Edward Johnson for pointing this out.)

The sources for the transfers were American Victor 78 rpm shellacs:  late pre-war “Gold” label pressings for the Glinka and Rimsky items; postwar copies for the Liadov and Onegin Waltz; and “Silver” label wartime pressings for the Manfred.  Multiple copies of the records were sourced, with the best sides from each used.  Some portions of the Manfred were problematic, owing to suboptimal wartime shellac and processing.

Mark Obert-Thorn

SEVITZKY and the Indianapolis Symphony, Volume 2 (1941-45) - PASC509

This second volume of Pristine’s survey of Fabien Sevitzky’s complete Indianapolis Symphony recordings couples a late Romantic Russian work with the works of several American composers of (mainly) Russian extraction. Sevitzky studied under Glazunov at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and his set of the suite From the Middle Ages was the first and only complete recording of the work during the 78 rpm era. Oddly, when RCA reissued the album on LP on their Bluebird label in the 1950s, the Scherzo was omitted, even though the entire work could have easily fit on one side. It receives its first reissue here.

Sevitzky’s commitment to the music of his adopted land was second to none among prominent conductors in the USA at the time, and he tried to include a composition by an American composer in each of his concerts. His Victor discography lists works by Roy Harris, Harl McDonald, Leo Sowerby, David Van Vactor and Robert L. Sanders which remain unreleased. All of his issued recordings of works by American composers are included in the present program.

Arcady Dubensky (1890 – 1966) was a Russian-born American composer, arranger and violinist, who played in the New York Symphony and New York Philharmonic from 1922 to 1953. During that time, he was a prolific composer whose works were recorded by Leopold Stokowski as well as Sevitzky. His Fugue for 18 Violins was played in Philadelphia during Sevitzky’s tenure as leader of that city’s Chamber String Simfonietta, and his Stephen Foster was premièred by Sevitzky in 1941. The theme is taken from “Old Folks at Home (Swanee River)”, which in the finale is joined by “Oh, Susanna” and “Beautiful Dreamer”. Like Dohnanyi’s Variations on a Nursery Tune, some of the variations are done in the style of other composers (Richard Strauss, Tchaikovsky, et al.)

Otto Cesana (1899 – 1980) was a composer, conductor, jazz musician and arranger who emigrated from Italy to the United States as a child, and was later to lead a series of “easy listening” LPs in the 1950s. The unfortunate title of his tone poem has guaranteed that it will never be revived, which is a pity, given that the work itself is tuneful and exuberant. Cesana wrote that his intent in the work was to illustrate the changing moods of the African-American man, “now gay, now sad, always however migrating toward carefreeness and abandon.”

George Gershwin had arranged his own suite from his opera, Porgy and Bess, but it was little-performed when conductor Fritz Reiner commissioned American arranger Robert Russell Bennett to produce the “symphonic picture” heard here. Reiner chose the excerpts, suggested their order and even some of the key transpositions. Although Alfred Wallenstein recorded a cut version in 1944, Sevitzky became the first conductor to record it complete, beating Reiner’s Pittsburgh set by seven weeks.

Like Sevitzky’s substitution of the snare drum for the tambourine in the last movement of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony (on Pristine PASC 479), there is another odd-sounding replacement here, as a bassoon “sings” Porgy’s part in “I got plenty o’ nuttin”, rather than the customary banjo. (Where was the banjoist from the Dubensky Stephen Foster finale?) Nonetheless, Sevitzky gives a highly idiomatic performance, as he did with the other American music presented here.

Mark Obert-Thorn

SEVITZKY and the Indianapolis Symphony, Volume 3 (1942/53) - PASC520

The present release brings together several works inspired by folk dances of various European and Asian peoples, in some of the earliest and latest recordings made by the Indianapolis Symphony under Fabien Sevitzky. The Brahms disc has not been reissued since its original 78 rpm release, while the remaining recordings, first released on LP, have not been available for over half a century.

The Brahms Hungarian Dances date from 1942, a year after Sevitzky began recording in Indianapolis for the Victor label. No orchestrator credits were given on the original disc, but comparisons reveal them to be Brahms’ own transcriptions for Nos. 1 and 3 and Martin Schmeling’s transposed arrangement for No. 7, with some emendations, most likely by the conductor himself (e.g. the solo celesta ending for No. 3). The performances have a tremendous verve and swagger which seems to leap off the grooves.

Sevitzky made his final recordings for Victor in 1946, although some were not first released until 1949. In 1953, the fledgling Capitol label signed Sevitzky and the orchestra to record the Dvořák, Enescu and Khatchaturian works on our program, along with the latter’s Masquerade Suite (which will be included on a future volume in this series). Capitol’s engineering philosophy was markedly different from that which Sevitzky had been given by Victor, with the new label favoring a brilliant sound emphasizing the wider frequency range now allowed by tape-based recording, but with less depth to the bass and what sounds like the addition of artificial reverberation.

The Dvořák dances are in the same fiery vein as the Brahms from a decade earlier; while in the First Romanian Rhapsody, Sevitzky holds back the faster tempos until later than some other conductors in order to maximize their impact toward the end. For the Khatchaturian, whose score includes Armenian folk melodies and Kurdish, Georgian and Ukrainian dances, Sevitzky rearranged the order of the eight movements of the first ballet suite, which at the time had placed the ubiquitous “Sabre Dance” at the beginning.

The Capitol recordings were to be the last Sevitzky made, as he left the orchestra in 1955. He continued to teach and guest conduct until his death in 1967.

Mark Obert-Thorn

SEVITZKY and the Indianapolis Symphony, Volume 4 (1941/46) - PASC560

With this fourth volume in our series of the complete recordings of Fabien Sevitzky and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, we return to the Romantic Russian repertoire for which he was particularly esteemed. Our focus here is on two First Symphonies, both in G minor, separated in composition by nearly three decades. For one composer, it was the start of a brilliant career as a symphonist; while for the other, it was a success not to be duplicated during the remainder of his short life.

Tchaikovsky began work on his first symphony in March of 1866, shortly before his twenty-sixth birthday. It quickly became a trial for him due to his desire to earn the approval of two of his teachers, Anton Rubinstein and Nikolai Zaremba, musical conservatives whose ideals were centered on Classical and early Romantic-era German models. They insisted on changes before they would agree to a performance. The composer obliged, and the two middle movements were presented in St. Petersburg in February of the following year to little acclaim.

Tchaikovsky then went back, for the most part, to his original version, which his friend Nikolai Rubinstein (Anton’s brother) was eager to perform. The Scherzo alone was played at a Moscow concert in December of 1867, again without much success. It was not until a complete performance the following February that audiences finally warmed to the work. Tchaikovsky would go on to revise the score in 1874, and would ultimately look back on this early composition with great pride. (In this recording, Sevitzky performs the last two movements without a pause.)

Vasily Kalinnikov was born in 1866, the same year that Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony was written. He had worked as a choral conductor and an instrumentalist in theater orchestras when Tchaikovsky himself recommended him for two opera house conducting posts in 1892. Kalinnikov’s worsening tuberculosis caused him to resign after a short while in order to move to the more hospitable climate of Yalta on the Baltic Sea. He spent the rest of his life there composing before his death in 1901, shortly before his thirty-fifth birthday. His First Symphony, which dates from this period, was premièred in Kiev in 1897 and quickly traveled to the musical capitals of the world. It remains the work by which he is best known.

Like his recording of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony (reissued on Volume 1 of this series, Pristine PASC 479), the present works were phonographic premières, and Sevitzky presents both colorful scores with great enthusiasm and obvious affection. The sources for the transfers were first edition American Victor pressings – postwar discs for the Tchaikovsky, and wartime “silver” label copies for the Kalinnikov.

Mark Obert-Thorn

SEVITZKY and the Indianapolis Symphony, Volume 5 - Haydn & Grieg (1941-45) - PASC650

For this fifth and penultimate volume in our series of Fabien Sevitzky’s complete recordings with the Indianapolis Symphony, we present all the repertoire by Haydn and Grieg the conductor set down on disc with this ensemble.

Haydn’s opera, L’isola disabitata (The Uninhabited Island) was long known only by its overture, as the complete opera did not see print until 1976. Sevitzky’s performance emphasizes the extremes of uneasy repose and violent agitation in the music, in an intense performance that calls to mind the final movement of “Winter” in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Haydn had previously used the final movement of his Symphony No. 73 as the overture to his opera, La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded). This in turn utilized a hunting theme that had figured in earlier works by other composers, and thus the symphony gained the appellation “La chasse” (the hunt). Sevitzky brings an energy and momentum to his reading that belies the big orchestra approach of the time.

Like the better-known Peer Gynt, Grieg’s Sigurd Jorsalfar was written as incidental music to accompany a play, this one by Bjørnson concerning King Sigurd I of Norway. Of the nine numbers he wrote, Grieg chose three to organize into a concert suite. Sevitzky’s recording on a single disc pairs only the first two excerpts, with the last (the “Homage March”) left unrecorded.

The second suite of music Grieg had written to accompany Ibsen’s Peer Gynt is the lesser-performed of the two the composer arranged, even though it contains the lovely and popular “Solvejg’s Song”. When this was recorded in the 1940s, the Victor label sometimes divided works which would seem to go together naturally between two orchestras and conductors. For example, Ormandy and the Philadelphia got to record Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 while Hans Kindler and the National Symphony did the honors for No. 2. Similarly, Eugene Goossens and the Cincinnati Symphony set down on disc the first Peer Gynt suite, with Sevitzky allotted the second. Sevitzky makes the most of the varied moods of the four movements, aided by what was superb engineering for its day, with the “Arabian Dance” a particular standout.

Recording activities largely halted during the Petrillo Ban (a musician’s union action) from 1942 through 1944. When sessions resumed, Victor began recording with a noticeable amount of compression, giving the sense (to paraphrase critic Rob Cowan’s description) of a sound so massive the grooves could scarcely contain it. While this approach gives a great deal of presence to Grieg’s four Symphonic Dances, it also makes the sound a bit unrealistic, as well as relentlessly aggressive.