C1633. SERGE KOUSSEVITZKY Cond. Boston S.O.: Concerto in D for Strings (Henri Casadesus); 'Rhenish' Symphony #3 in E-flat (Schumann); Symphony #7 in C (Sibelius). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL 78-643, Live Performances, 1944-48. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“The treasure here is the Schumann. It is great to have a Boston Symphony / Serge Koussevitzky performance of the Sibelius Seventh Symphony, but the truth is that the sound quality of the BBC performance from 1933, as heard on Naxos and EMI transfers, is fuller and more impactful than this Boston broadcast. Koussevitzky gave this work its American premiere, and was admired by the composer for his performance (it was also Koussevitzky, a passionate Sibelian, who was teased by the prospect of premiering the Eighth Symphony, which never appeared). Sibelius and Koussevitzky collectors may well wish to add this performance from eleven years later and with his extraordinary Boston musicians, but the recessed sonic picture makes it difficult to recommend to general collectors…..Although the broadcast is four years earlier than the Sibelius (1944 vs. 1948), the sound is light years better. In fact this sounds like a state-of-the-art 1948 studio recording, with the rich colors produced by the Boston musicians vividly conveyed. Tempi are on the quick side, but the playing is supple and warm, so the result doesn’t sound rushed at all. One notes Koussevitzky’s famed ear for color and balance, particularly in the Intermezzo. The strings produce a warm, dark and rich sonority while never covering the woodwinds. The tempo adjustments that the conductor employs never seem arbitrary - everything seems to flow naturally. The ritard at the end of the Intermezzo is fairly severe but very smoothly executed. Throughout, this is a performance offering high drama and a richly romantic view of the music. There is nothing small scaled about this ‘Rhenish’. It is a reading of opulence and grandeur, trmonding one of a bygone era.
I am not aware of any prior release of this performance, or any other Schumann Third by Koussevitzky, which makes this release by St. Laurent Studio a disc of extraordinary importance in documenting the work of one of the 20th century’s most important conductors. That they have transferred it in such superb monaural sound makes it all that much better.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“The Yves St-Laurent label happily extends the Serge Koussevitzky sound document legacy with performances from the 1940s including the Schumann 'Rhenish' Symphony (19 February 1944), a work Koussevitzky never recorded commercially. The opening selection (17 December 1948) by violist-composer Henri Casadesus’ Concerto in D for Strings and Winds, has its origin in a Concerto in D for Viola and Orchestra (1911) once ascribed to K.P.E. Bach, and arranged for small orchestra by Maximilian Steinberg. Besides its contrapuntal energy, the piece offers in its slow movement, Andante lento molto, the kind of homogeneous intimacy Koussevitzky could elicit from the BSO strings, a sound he claimed had taken twenty-five years to hone to perfection.
Koussevitzky made a noted, even mesmerizing, recording of the Sibelius Symphony #7 with the BBC Symphony 15 May 1933, a remarkable performance of sizzling tension and wrought iron and crystal, alternately….Koussevitzky (17 December 1948) builds the kernels of melody with meticulous care….Koussevitzky and his faithful BSO bring a lithe finesse to the latter portion of the symphony, capitalizing on the competing textures to secure the dynamism of effect. Simon Rattle once called the final peroration ‘a scream of pain’. For those who have always revered Koussevitzky’s affinity for the music of Sibelius, this collaboration justifies the price of admission.
Koussevitzky recorded scarce Schumann, leaving us only a 1930s performance of the Spring Symphony….Koussevitzky keeps a tight rein on the brass, string, and tympanic motion of this vaulted, searing, intense score, which rises relentlessly, perpetually, into more than a mere fanfare, but a testament of Schumann’s faith as expressed in music. The chorale sentiment will re-emerge in the last movement, though the tempo there will not relax in the same, processional manner. A performance of colossal inspiration and vitality, the rendition makes us wonder why neither Koussevitzky nor RCA decided to commit such noble reading to recorded posterity.”
- Gary Lemco, AUDIOPHILE AUDITION, 18 Aug., 2018
“Sergey Aleksandrovich Kusevitskii (known in the West by the French spelling of his name, Serge Koussevitzky) was one of the great conductors of the twentieth century American orchestral scene and a champion of newer music. Born into a rural Russian-Jewish family of amateur musicians, young Sergei made a little money playing trumpet at weddings and fairs in a small wind ensemble. He moved to Moscow at the age of 14, accepting Christian baptism because Jews were otherwise barred from having careers. Choosing to study double bass, he won a scholarship to the Moscow Philharmonic Society's school and became one of history's great virtuoso double-bassists. He joined the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra in 1894 and began touring as a double bass soloist in 1896. He wrote some compositions to enlarge the small repertoire of solo pieces for the instrument, even enlisting the assistance of Reinhold Gličre to write a concerto for him. Meanwhile, he closely studied the great conductors he encountered as an orchestra player and at concerts, particularly Arthur Nikisch.
On 8 September, 1905, Koussevitsky married Natalya Ushkova, daughter of a wealthy tea merchant. Soon thereafter, he gave up the regular grind of theatrical orchestral playing and toured full time. In 1907, he had his first experience in conducting with a student orchestra. He was satisfied enough with his skill that he hired the Berlin Philharmonic to let him conduct at a public concert on 23 January, 1908. The appearance was so successful it led to his engagement as guest conductor.
In 1909, Koussevitzky went into music publishing, establishing the firm known in the West as Editions Russe de Musique, and organized his own symphony orchestra. In 1910, he took the orchestra up and down the Volga River on a chartered steamboat, bringing symphonic music to places where it had scarcely been heard of before, repeating the tours in 1912 and 1914. As a publisher and conductor, he championed the works of Scriabin, Stravinsky, Medtner, Rachmaninov, and Prokofiev.
During the difficult years after the 1917 Bolshevik coup and the subsequent civil war, he continued to conduct in Moscow through 1920, when he permanently left for the West. He presented a series of concerts called Concerts Koussevitzky in Paris, again featuring new music: Ravel, Honegger, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev. These concerts included the world premiere of the Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky's PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION; it soon became a concert staple in both Europe and America.
In 1924, Koussevitsky was chosen as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. With the BSO, he continued his tradition of championing the new music he found around him, thus giving vital exposure to great American composers, such as Copland, Barber, Bernstein, Carter, Hanson, Harris, and a host of others over the years. During the 1931 season, he commissioned a series of commemorative works for the orchestra's fiftieth anniversary, yielding a treasury that included Stravinsky's SYMPHONY OF PSALMS and Ravel's Piano Concerto in G. Beginning in 1935, he annually brought the orchestra to the summer Berkshire Festival, organized by Henry Hadley in 1934, becoming its music director and making it part of the BSO's operation. Koussevitzky established the Berkshire Music Center (now Tanglewood Music Center) in conjunction with the festival in 1940, making it into one of the premier American educational institutions where young musicians could polish their craft and network. After his wife died in 1941, Koussevitsky set up a foundation to commission works in her memory. Britten's opera PETER GRIMES was one of the first works that resulted.
Until his death in 1951, he continued to direct both the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Berkshire Festival, recording frequently.
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com
“Each of these disks, from Canadian engineer Yves St Laurent… [feature] St Laurent's natural transfer – made without filtering, like all his dubbings – it is easy to listen to, despite the surface noise.”
- Tully Potter, CLASSICAL RECORD QUARTERLY, Summer, 2011