Some of Ormandy's finest Sibelius finally available digitally
His classic 50s Sibelius, newly remastered, sounds amazing!
"...Finlandia receiving one the most fiercely dramatic recordings it's ever had ... The Fifth ... an exciting performance ... the work's closing moments beautifully balanced by both Ormandy and his American Columbia engineers... Andrew Rose's Pristine Classics transfer is first-rate" - Rob Cowan, Gramophone, Nov. 2009
"The Ormandy disc receives an enthusiastic recommendation" - Richard A. Kaplan, Fanfare March/April 2010
"...As wonderful as it was to meet Sibelius for the first time, it was even more wonderful to have been able to introduce him, some years later, to the members of The Philadelphia Orchestra. That occurred in June 1955, and there is a rather touching story connected with the meeting. For some months previous I had been in correspondence with Dr. Ringbom, the director of the Helsinki Philharmonic, in order to arrange for the orchestra to meet the master while we were in Finland on tour. Sibelius was very ill at the time, very old and fragile and tormented by ear trouble. The day we were to go to his secluded villa at Järvenpää arrived, and though it was cold and raw and raining, the men were as excited and eager as children. And I was as excited as any of them. Imagine my disappointment when Dr. Ringbom called to confess that when he had written to me in Philadelphia to say that everything was arranged he had not mentioned that Sibelius himself knew nothing about the projected visit. He had only spoken to Mrs. Sibelius, who had agreed at the time but now flatly said no, her husband was too ill to receive us.
There we were, in Helsinki, thousands of miles from home and within twenty-seven miles of Sibelius. "Dr. Ringbom," I said, "you must not disappoint us. Please call up Mrs. Sibelius and explain to her that this orchestra, from the very earliest days with Stokowski, has done as much to spread Sibelius' fame as any orchestra in the world. All they ask in return is to see him." It worked.
My wife and I were havingh tea with him, and the orchestra came in two buses. Even then he hadn't been told that they were coming. He was so sensitive -- perhaps the most sensitive, shy man I ever met in my life -- that the knowledge that he was to meet 110 musicians would probably have incapacitated him if he were given too much time to think about it. And those poor colleagues of mine were standing out in the cold rain with thin raincoats on, waiting! Finally I took the bull by the horns and said, "Mr. Sibelius, do you know that the entire Philadelphia Orchestra, the orchestra that played your music when nobody else did, is waiting outside, hoping to meet you? Would you just go out on the balcony and say hello to them?"
"But I cannot speak English well enough," he protested. "They will not understand me."
"Speak German, they'll understand you. Just look at them, don't say anything."
And so he got his heavy winter coat and hat -- there are pictures of that visit -- and came out with me. "Gentlemen," I said, "Mr. Sibelius needs no introduction." They applauded him and bravoed him until I had to tell them, "Gentlemen, Mr. Sibelius is not well, but he wanted to come out and say a few words to you." And then he told them, with the beautiful simplicity of his few English words, how grateful he was to them for playing his music so nobly. At last his oldest daughter pulled him back, saying, "Daddy you're going to catch cold." Fortunately, he didn't catch cold, but we were worried that he might, for it was bitter that day..."
Review of this release: Audiophile Audition
Notes on the recordings:
These wonderful recordings have all restored well from transfers sent to me by The Stotowski Society's lynchpin, Edward Johnson, to whom I'm once again grateful. Of the four recordings, only that of the Fifth Symphony proved troublesome, and I suspect for a variety of reasons. Damage to the master tapes used for LP pressing was evident during the finale, characterised by a consistent amplitude 'flutter' in the high treble, particularly noticeable during louder string sections in the climaxes of the movement. Fixing this involved a careful selection of the frequencies involved and undoing the fluttering by a mixture of boosting each semi-dropout and reducing levels where which peaked too high - all within a specfic high frequency range. This is the kind of digital fix which has only become possible within the very recent past.
Rather odder was a bizarre de-tuning effect which occurred when my first XR re-equalisation was applied. This exceptionally precise boosting and reduction of frequencies seemed to have the effect of exposing what may well be inherent tuning discrepancies within the orchestra that day and exacerbating them - even without this equalisation one senses at times that the strings and woodwind are not entirely in tune with each other, but with it the sound occasionally was more that of a high school band than the Philadelphia Orchestra!
Having done a fair amount of work to try to get around this problem, I produced a master and set everything up for the release, only to decide on the morning of issue whilst listening in the car that it was no good, and I'd have to go back to the start and re-do the entire 5th Symphony all over again! I hit upon an alternative approach to the equalisation which would preserve the generally excellent results of the earlier master, whilst, I hoped, avoiding the out-of-tune effect. I'm pleased, and somewhat relieved, to report success here, together with my full satisfaction with the entire release. This really is a gem that deserves to be heard once again, and in this release I think you'll agree it's sounding particularly wonderful!
notes from Wikipedia
Eugene Ormandy (November 18, 1899–March 12, 1985) was a Hungarian-born Jewish conductor and violinist.
Born Jenő Blau in Budapest, Hungary, Ormandy began studying violin at the National Hungarian Royal Academy of Music (now the Franz Liszt Academy of Music) at the age of five. He gave his first concerts as a violinist at age seven and graduated at 14 with a master's degree. In 1920, he obtained a university degree in philosophy. In 1921 he moved to the United States of America. Around this time Blau changed his name to "Eugene Ormandy," "Eugene" being the equivalent of the Hungarian "Jenö." Accounts differ on the origin of "Ormandy"; it may have either been Blau's own middle name at birth, or his mother's. He worked first as a violinist in the Major Bowes Capitol Theater Orchestra in New York City. He became the concertmaster within five days of joining and became the conductor of this group which accompanied silent movies. Ormandy also made 16 recordings as a violinist between 1923 and 1929, half of them using the acoustic process.
Arthur Judson, the most powerful manager of American classical music during the 1930s, greatly assisted Ormandy's career. When Arturo Toscanini was too ill to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1931, Judson asked Ormandy to stand in. This led to Ormandy's first major appointment as a conductor, in Minneapolis.
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra
Ormandy served until 1936 as conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, now the Minnesota Orchestra. During the height of the Great Depression, RCA Victor contracted Ormandy and the Minneapolis Symphony for many recordings. A unique clause in the musicians' contract required them to earn their salaries by performing a certain number of hours each week (whether it be rehearsals, concerts, broadcasts, or recording). Since Victor did not need to pay the musicians, it could afford to send its best technicians and equipment to record in Minneapolis. Recordings were made between January 16, 1934, and January 16, 1935. There were several premiere recordings made in Minneapolis: John Alden Carpenter's Adventures in a Perambulator; Zoltán Kodály's Háry János Suite; Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and, specially commissioned for recording Roy Harris' American Overture based on "When Johnny Comes Marching Home". Ormandy's recordings also included readings of Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 and Mahler's Symphony No. 2 which became extremely well known. The high technical and interpretive quality of these records contributed to Ormandy's musical reputation.
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Ormandy's 44-year tenure with the Philadelphia Orchestra began in 1936 and became the source of much of his lasting reputation and fame. Two years after his appointment as associate conductor under Leopold Stokowski, he became its music director. (Stokowski continued to conduct some concerts in Philadelphia until 1941; he returned as a guest conductor in 1960.) As music director, Ormandy conducted from 100 to 180 concerts each year in Philadelphia. Upon his retirement in 1980, he was made conductor laureate.
Ormandy was a quick learner of scores, often conducting from memory and without a baton. He demonstrated exceptional musical and personal integrity, exceptional leadership skills, and a formal and reserved podium manner in the style of his idol and friend, Arturo Toscanini. One orchestra musician complimented him by saying: "He doesn't try to conduct every note as some conductors do." Under Ormandy's direction the Philadelphia Orchestra continued the lush, legato style originated by Stokowski and for which the orchestra was well known. Ormandy's conducting style was praised for its opulent sound, but also was criticized for supposedly lacking any real individual touch.
Ormandy's orchestral seating plan was a standard one. The violins were not divided and therefore antiphonal effects were not enhanced. The first and second violins and harps were on the left. Woodwinds were in the center, with the horns behind them. The basses, cellos, and violas were on the right, along with the rest of the brass instruments. Percussion was in the center of the back.
Ormandy was particularly noted for conducting late Romantic and early 20th century music. He particularly favored Bruckner, Debussy, Dvořák, Ravel, Richard Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and transcriptions of Bach. His performances of Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, and Mozart were considered less successful by some critics, especially when he applied the lush, so-called "Philadelphia Sound" to them. He was particularly noted as a champion of Sergei Rachmaninoff's music, conducting the premiere of his Symphonic Dances and leading the orchestra in the composer's own recordings of three of his piano concertos in 1939-40. He also directed the American premiere of several symphonies by Dmitri Shostakovich. He made the first recording of Deryck Cooke's first performing edition of the complete Mahler Tenth Symphony, which many critics praised. He also performed a great deal of American music and gave many premières of works by Samuel Barber, Paul Creston, David Diamond, Howard Hanson, Walter Piston, Ned Rorem, William Schuman, Roger Sessions, Virgil Thompson, and Richard Yardumian.
The Philadelphia Orchestra under Ormandy's direction frequently performed outside of Philadelphia, in New York and other American cities, and undertook a number of foreign tours. During a 1955 tour of Finland, Ormandy and many of the Orchestra's members visited the elderly composer Jean Sibelius at his country estate; Ormandy was photographed with Sibelius and the picture later appeared on the cover of his 1962 stereo recording of the composer's first symphony. During a 1973 tour of the People's Republic of China, the Orchestra performed to enthusiastic audiences that had been isolated from Western classical music for many decades.
After Ormandy officially retired as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1980, he served as a guest conductor of other orchestras and made a few recordings.
Ormandy died in Philadelphia on March 12, 1985. His papers, including his marked scores and complete arrangements, fill 501 boxes in the archives of the University of Pennsylvania Library.
He also appeared as a guest conductor with many other orchestras. In November 1966 he recorded a highly memorable and idiomatic rendition of Antonín Dvořák's New World Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra. This and a recording in July 1952 which he conducted anonymously with the Prades Festival Orchestra with Pablo Casals in the Robert Schumann Cello Concerto represented his only commercial recordings made outside the U.S. In December 1950 he directed New York's Metropolitan Opera in a fondly-remembered production of Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus in English, which also was recorded. In 1978, he conducted the New York Philharmonic in a performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, with Vladimir Horowitz as soloist for a live recording.
Awards and honors
Eugene Ormandy's many recordings spanned the acoustic to the electrical to the digital age. From 1936 until his death, Ormandy made literally hundreds of recordings with the Philadelphia Orchestra, spanning almost every classical-music genre. Writing in Audoin (1999), Richard Freed wrote: "Ormandy came about as close as any conductor anywhere to recording the "Complete Works of Everybody," with more than a few works recorded three and four times to keep up with advances in technology and/or to accommodate a new soloist or to commemorate a move to a new label."
Thomas Frost, the producer of many of Ormandy's Columbia recordings, called Ormandy "...the easiest conductor I've ever worked with--he has less of an ego problem than any of them... Everything was controlled, professional, organized. We recorded more music per hour than any other orchestra ever has." In one day, March 11, 1962, Ormandy and the Philadelphia recorded Sibelius' Symphony No. 1; the Semyon Bogatirev arrangement of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 7 (for which Ormandy had given the Western hemisphere premiere performance); and Delius' On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring.
Curiously, the orchestra's performing venue at the Academy of Music (Philadelphia) was seldom employed for recording, because record producers believed that its dry acoustics were less than ideal. Moreover, Ormandy felt that the remodeling of the Academy of Music in the mid-1950s had ruined its acoustics. The Philadelphia Orchestra instead recorded in the ballroom of Philadelphia's Broadwood Hotel/Philadelphia Hotel, the Philadelphia Athletic Club at Broad and Race Streets, and in Town Hall/Scottish Rite Cathedral on North Broad Street near the Franklin Parkway. The latter venue featured a 1692 seat auditorium with bright resonant acoustics that made for impressive-sounding "high fidelity" recordings. A fourth venue was the Old Met (Metropolitan Opera House) used for later RCA recording sessions.
Recordings were produced for the following record labels: RCA Victor Red Seal (1936 to 1942), Columbia Masterworks Records (1944 to 1968), RCA Victor Red Seal (1968 to 1980) and EMI/Angel Records (1977-on). Three very late albums were also recorded for Telarc (1980) and Delos (1981) His first digital recording was an April 16, 1979 performance of Bela Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra for RCA.
He recorded for RCA in Minneapolis (in 1934 and 1935), too, and continued with the label until 1942, when an American Federation of Musicians ban on recordings caused the Philadelphia Orchestra to switch to Columbia, which had reached an agreement with the union in 1944, before RCA did so. Among his first recordings for Columbia was a spirited performance of Borodin's Polovetsian Dances. Ormandy conducted his first stereophonic recordings in 1957; these were not the orchestra's first stereo recordings because Leopold Stokowski had conducted experimental sessions in the early 1930s and multi-track recordings for the soundtrack of Walt Disney's 1940 feature film Fantasia. In 1968, Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra returned to RCA; among their first projects was a new performance of Tchaikovsky's Sixth symphony, the Pathetique.
His recordings of Camille Saint-Saëns' Symphony No. 3 'Organ' are considered among the best ever produced. Fanfare Magazine made this remark of the recording with renowned organist Virgil Fox: "This beautifully played performance outclasses all versions of this symphony." The Telarc recording of the symphony with Michael Murray (organist) is also highly praised.
Ormandy was also famous for being an unfailingly sensitive concerto collaborator. His recorded legacy includes numerous first-rate collaborations with Arthur Rubinstein, Claudio Arrau, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Vladimir Horowitz, Rudolf Serkin, David Oistrakh, Isaac Stern, Leonard Rose, Itzhak Perlman, Emil Gilels, Van Cliburn, Emanuel Feuermann, Robert Casadesus, Yo-Yo Ma, Sergei Rachmaninoff and others.
World premiere recordings made by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Ormandy's baton included:
Ormandy also conducted the premiere American recordings of Paul Hindemith's Mathis der Maler symphony, Carl Orff's Catulli Carmina (which won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Choral Performance in 1968), Shostakovich's Symphonies 4, 13, 14, and 15, Carl Nielsen's Symphonies 1 & 6, Anton Webern's Im Sommerwind, Krzysztof Penderecki's Utrenja, and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 10.
Ormandy also commissioned a version of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition which he and the Philadelphia Orchestra could call their own, since the Ravel arrangement was at that time still very much the property of Serge Koussevitzky, who had commissioned it, made its first recording with the Boston Symphony, and published the score. So Ormandy asked Lucien Cailliet (1891-1984), the Philadelphia Orchestra's 'house arranger' and a member of its woodwind section, to provide a new orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition and he conducted its premiere on 5 February 1937, recording it for RCA later that same year. (It has been reissued on CD by Biddulph.) However, Ormandy eventually returned to the Ravel arrangement and recorded it three times (1953, 1966 and 1973).
Other distinguished recordings
Among the Ormandy/Philadelphia recordings which are widely-regarded as "cream of the crop" include (year of recording included):
Notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Ormandy
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