C1723. ARTUR RODZINSKI Cond. NBC S.O.: Glinka, Starokadomsky, Tschaikowsky (the latter's Symphony #5 in e) & Stravinsky (the latter's Firebird Suite - Excerpts). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL 78-597, Live Performance, 10 Dec., 1938. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Artur Rodzinski was engaged in 1937 by NBC to organize the NBC Symphony Orchestra for Toscanini, and he served as a kind of co-conductor but eventually left, at least in part because he chafed at playing second fiddle to the superstar Italian. During his time at NBC, though, Rodzinski was given his own broadcast concerts, very few of which have surfaced for collectors. This remarkable document from St. Laurent Studio is a very valuable find. It does suffer from the stifling acoustic of Studio 8H, but the transfer is excellent, perfectly pitched and remarkably clean for a 1938 radio broadcast.
Rodzinski was not a conductor one would turn to for performances of elegance or lyrical grace. In FANFARE 26:2 Peter J. Rabinowitz reviewed a reissue of Rodzinski’s old Westminster LP of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, and his words apply to this Fifth as well. He referred to Rodzinski’s ‘muscular and tough-minded interpretations, delivered without a shred of vulgarity’ and pointed out that one shouldn’t look here for ‘lush lyricism or airy lilt’. But Rabinowitz also called the performances ‘exceptional’, and this live Tchaikovsky Fifth is even more so. Rhythms snap with whip-like incisiveness, the musicians play with a jaw-dropping intensity, and Rodzinski takes great care with balances so that one hears all the inner voices in the right proportion.
This concert taken as a whole is an exciting, even thrilling affair. But it is not flawless. One flaw is the 18-minute academic-sounding Concerto for Orchestra of the Russian composer Mikhail Starokadomsky (1901–1958). As of this writing, in July, 2019, Starokadomsky had yet to make an appearance in FANFARE’s online archive, and I do not find myself surprised at that. The piece sounds like the work of a well-trained conservatory professor who knew the rules of composition but couldn’t find actual inspiration. Also, since St. Laurent Studio provides no notes, there is no explanation as to why Rodzinski made cuts in Stravinsky’s 1919 FIREBIRD Suite. What is here leaps out of the speakers with passion and brilliance, however, and the same can be said for Glinka’s popular curtain raiser, which gets a reading almost (though not quite) as intense as the famed Mravinsky recordings of it.
Despite its shortcomings, this is an extremely important document of a conductor who made significant contributions to America’s musical life, and whose work deserves to be valued more highly than it has been. And it is also serves to document the noble experiment of a commercial broadcasting company willing to form its own symphony orchestra. Heard here in its first year of existence, the NBC Symphony Orchestra was clearly a historic achievement.
But one doesn’t purchase a recording simply because of its historical importance; one purchases a recording for musical pleasure and satisfaction. In this intense, even electrifying broadcast from the past, you will find a great deal of that, shortcomings notwithstanding.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE