REINER Rarities, Volume 1 (1950-53) - PASC235

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REINER Rarities, Volume 1 (1950-53) - PASC235

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MENDELSSOHN A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Incidental Music
GLUCK Orfeo ed Euridice – Dance of the Blessed Spirits
LISZT Totentanz
Recorded 1950-1953
Total duration: 78:37

Robin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia
RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Fritz Reiner

This set contains the following albums:

Real 1950s rarities from Fritz Reiner

In superb new transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn

This collection features rarities in more than one sense. First, these are Fritz Reiner’s only commercial recordings of the works, save Totentanz and the “Waltz of the Flowers.” In addition, none of them have received an “official” reissue from RCA, on LP or CD, in over half a century.

The Mendelssohn comes from a week in June, 1951 in which Reiner conducted a series of concerts at the Robin Hood Dell in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. RCA made three recordings with him at this time: the Brahms Double Concerto with Milstein and Piatigorsky; Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Rhapsody with Kapell; and the present work. The orchestra was composed primarily of members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, but its name was not a contractual nom du disque. The ensemble performed under this name in their summer home well into the 1960s, and recorded under it for both RCA and Columbia.

The remaining items were made with RCA’s pickup orchestra, composed mainly of members of the New York Philharmonic and the NBC Symphony with the addition of some freelance players. (Essentially, it was the same ensemble heard in the recordings of “Leopold Stokowski and His Symphony Orchestra.”) The Gluck has an interesting history. Originally, it was released on a 45 rpm disc, coupled with the Air from Bach’s Suite No. 3, from Reiner’s complete set of Bach Suites. It was later reissued on a compilation album called “Enter the Ballet” (LM-2141), which was the source of the present transfer. The soloist, not identified on the LP, is most likely Julius Baker, who was also featured on Reiner’s recording of the Bach Second Suite that same year.

The Liszt features the Russian-American pianist, Alexander Brailowsky, who was a frequent visitor to the RCA studios during the 1940s and 1950s. The work would later be re-recorded by Reiner in Chicago with Byron Janis. The Tchaikovsky waltzes were begun the day after Reiner recorded the Fledermaus highlights album (Pristine Audio PACO 037), which was his first session for RCA after leaving Columbia. These have been transferred from 45 rpm originals (set WDM-1539), while the remaining items have come from LPs: the Mendelssohn from its 12-inch reissue on LM-1724 (with some patches from the 45 rpm set to fix problems in RCA’s LP master tape), and the Liszt and Gluck from their only LP appearances.

Mark Obert-Thorn

MENDELSSOHN: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Incidental Music
Robin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia
Recorded 30th June, 1951 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia
First issued on RCA Victor LM-141

GLUCK: Orfeo ed Euridice – Dance of the Blessed Spirits
Julius Baker, solo flute
RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 16th June, 1953 in Manhattan Center, New York City
First issued on RCA Victor ERA-215

LISZT: Totentanz
Alexander Brailowsky, piano
RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 6th March, 1951 in Manhattan Center, New York City
First issued on RCA Victor LM-1195

Valse: Allegro moderato (from Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64)
Waltz from Eugene Onegin
Waltz from Swan Lake*
Waltz from Sleeping Beauty*
Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker*

RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 21st and *22 September, 1950 in Manhattan Center, New York City
First issued on RCA Victor LM-103

conductor Fritz Reiner

Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer:  Mark Obert-Thorn
Special thanks to Don Tait for providing source material

Cover artwork based on a photograph of Fritz Reiner
Additional Ambient Stereo processing by Andrew Rose

Total duration: 78:37
©2010 Pristine Audio

Fanfare Review

The RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra plays brilliantly, hardly a surprise with someone like Reiner at the controls

During the 1930s, Fritz Reiner taught conducting at the Curtis Institute. He had, long ago, proved himself as a professional and must have been annoyed when the conducting plum of music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra was handed to the relatively inexperienced Eugene Ormandy in 1936. In the meantime, at the other end of Pennsylvania, Otto Klemperer, then the conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was reorganizing the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, which had temporarily gone out of business a few years earlier. Klemperer was so pleased by what he had wrought that he was tempted to accept the Pittsburgh job when it was offered to him, but the combination of Pittsburgh’s pollution (it was known as “the Smokey City”) and Los Angeles’s climate won out and he decided to stay put (ironically, 50 years later, Pittsburgh had some of the cleanest air in the country while L.A. was drowning in smog). At that point, the Pittsburgh job was offered to Reiner, who accepted it and eventually, years later, wound up with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I mention this because in May 1958, Reiner and Ormandy traded podiums for a week and seem to have enjoyed the experience. While Ormandy was suitably effusive in his praise of Reiner’s orchestra (I heard two of his concerts), Reiner’s succinct comment on the Philadelphians was “They can do anything.”

Reiner had previously had the pleasure of conducting them at a June 1951 Mendelssohn recording session in the Academy of Music but, for contractual reasons, they had to billed under their summertime name, the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra (they gave a series of outdoor concerts at a spot called Robin Hood Dell). This is not a performance to inspire adjectives like “gossamer” or “quicksilvery,” for the orchestra’s sound is too warm, but the playing is as good as what one might expect, minus the Ormandy layer of lushness. Reiner’s overture seems more relaxed than that of many conductors, and that tempo and his ear for balance end up creating the same sense of animation that faster tempos give the music. Detail is, in fact, excellent throughout, even at the more conventional tempos he adopts for the Scherzo, Intermezzo, Nocturne, and Wedding March. An alternate view of the music, perhaps, but a valid and beautiful one.

The rest of the recordings are with the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra, which was largely made up of members of the NBC Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. The uncredited flute soloist in Dance of the Blessed Spirits is probably Julius Baker. Reiner takes the A section at a stately, slower-than-usual tempo while moving the music along at a more conventional pace in the contrasting B section. It’s an extremely refined performance. I cannot recall the Brailowsky/Reiner Totentanz sounding this vivid, almost turning it into a sonic showpiece as well as a musical one. I never thought that old RCA Victor LP had this much juice in it—the producer, Mark Obert-Thorn, has outdone even himself here. Despite the virtuosity on display, neither Brailowsky nor Reiner can prevent my eyeballs from rolling upwards as Liszt puts the Dies irae through its flashy paces. The pianist was no more persuasive when he did a stereo remake with Ormandy nor, despite his brilliance, could Byron Janis make the music seem any shorter in Reiner’s second go at the piece.

The Tchaikovsky waltzes in question are from Eugene Onegin, Swan Lake (No. 2, from act I), Sleeping Beauty (you know which one), The Nutcracker (the Waltz of the Flowers), and the Fifth Symphony. Several of the waltzes are shorn of repeats, presumably so they would fit on a 45 rpm side, but the waltz from the Fifth Symphony is not and is done with such a relaxed lilt (it took up two sides) that it made me curious about what a Reiner Fifth Symphony would have been like. The other waltzes are made to move along smartly, even with the cuts. As usual, the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra plays brilliantly, hardly a surprise with someone like Reiner at the controls and enough to prompt this speculation: Suppose Reiner had been hired by the Philadelphia Orchestra back in 1936 and Ormandy had been offered the Pittsburgh position? It is possible that both conductors would have benefited. James Miller

This article originally appeared in Issue 34:4 (Mar/Apr 2011) of Fanfare Magazine.