Festival Sonatas for Organ and Orchestra
TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G, Op. 44. Piano Concerto No. 3
in E Flat, Op. 75.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 7 in E Flat
ORFF: Carmina Burana
The LITV Tchaikovsky piano concerto reissue is of major interest. I first thought Ormandy made only one recording of the Piano Concerto No. 1, a mono recording with Oscar Levant as soloist (Columbia ML4096—which is included in the 10CD Maestro History set 205235). It might have seemed logical for him to record it with Van Cliburn in 1958 when the Texan pianist had just triumphed at the Tchaikovsky Competition. However, Cliburn was with RCA, Ormandy/Philadelphia were strictly Columbia, and it was very natural for Cliburn to record the concerto with Kiril Kondrashin, who had worked with him in Russia (that superb performance/recording has just been issued on a top-quality Japanese CD). Checking the discography in Herbert Kupferberg's 1969 Those Fabulous Philadelphians, it seemed there were no others—a reader pointed out there was another, with Eugene Istomin for Columbia—and a check of the comprehensive discography in Ardoin's The Philadephia Orchestra (which I should have done in the first place!) shows Ormandy's Levant recording was made in 1947, the Istomin in 1959 (both for Columbia), and there also was a 1974 RCA version with Ted Joselson.
Thanks to LITV we now have Tchaikovsky's two other piano concertos in magnificent performances featuring Gary Graffman recorded in February 1965. The Concerto No. 2 is given with the shortened version of the second movement; if this isn't done Andante non troppo becomes a concerto for piano, violin and cello and more than doubles in length. That's the way the composer wrote it, and there are several fine recordings performed this way (Glemser, Leonskaja, Postnikova), but most abbreviate it including historic recordings by Cherkassky and Moiseiwitsch. Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 3 and Symphony No. 7 are very much related. The composer attempted to write a Seventh Symphony but gave up the project and turned the first movement into a "piano concerto," a fifteen-minute work that includes a big-scale 5-minute cadenza for the soloist. The Symphony No. 7 was "reconstructed" by Semyon Bogatryryev who used Scherzo fantasie, one of Tchaikovsky's Op. 72 piano pieces for the scherzo of the symphony, also utilizing suggestions by Taneyev as well as bits and pieces of the composer's existing sketches. It's all very pleasant indeed particularly when played as well as it is in Ormandy's March 1962 Columbia recording remastered here from an open-reel tape. This same recording already has been issued on another "private" label (see REVIEW). I find quality of transfer to be equally fine on both.
Considering how fond Mozart was of the organ, it is odd he composed so little for it. He did write 17 "church sonatas" (here called "Festival Sonatas for Organ & Orchestra") These short works (the longest is 4:56, the shortest, 1:55) became a permanent part of the liturgy and played an important role in Salzburg's church music of the time. Biggs is a master of this repertory, with fine support from the smallish "Columbia Symphony." The original stereo LP (Columbia MG 31207) has long been unavailable; this transfer is from the stereo tape release (MQ 799).
Václav Smetácek's 1962 recording of Carmina Burana has been a favorite of mine ever since its initial Parliament LP release—in spite of the overcutting and distortion that marred the budget-priced disk. The performance in many ways is outstanding with a virile chorus particularly strong in low voices, and of course the Czech Philharmonic is superb. The bass and soprano soloists have typical Slavic wobbles that take a while to get used to, and the soprano makes a valiant stab at the final F in "Dulcissime" (track 26). In Part III, "Dies, nox et omnia," the baritone plaintively sings of his unhappiness at being alone. In this he must sing falsetto several times and on this recording it sounds as if the tenor might be singing this for him. Leopold Stokowski's 1958 Houston recording featured this—and why not? The tenor has but one song in the entire work! As Smetácek favors fast tempi and eliminates repeats in several of the songs (basically each is heard three times) his recording is the fastest ever recorded—51:07. It's a pleasure to be able to hear it again in fine sound taken from a Parliament open-reel tape.
Basic packaging for all of these, but essential information is there. At cost of $6 each, these are terrific bargains. To order and for more information, visit the LITV website: http://home.comcast.net/