C1727. SERGE KOUSSEVITZKY Cond. Boston S.O.: Symphony #2 in D (Sibelius) - Live Performance, 8 Dec., 1945, Milwaukee; Capriccio espagnol (Rimsky-Korsakov), Live Performance, 27 Oct., 1945, Symphony Hall. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL 78-844. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“This disc in the new St. Laurent Studio series devoted to Serge Koussevitzky features two exceptional rarities. Edward D. Young, ‘Serge Koussevitzky: A Complete Discography, Part I’, ARSC Journal, Vol. 21/1, Spring 1990, pp.45-129, lists six complete surviving performances of the Sibelius Second by Koussevitzky - the RCA studio recordings from 1935 and 1950, plus live broadcast performances by the Boston Symphony on 1/13/1945, 12/8/1945 (the one featured here), and 4/20/1948, and a broadcast with the Hollywood Bowl Symphony on 9/2/1949. So far as I can determine, however, none of the four live performances previously has been issued. The likewise previously unissued ‘Capriccio espagnol’ is Koussevitzky’s only surviving performance of that work.
The sonics in both of these performances have serious limitations - significant if intermittent crackle, some degree of dynamic compression, and a bit of distance in the Sibelius broadcast - that will limit their appeal to experienced collectors of historic broadcasts. Those mavens, however, will definitely get their money’s worth here. The Sibelius is in its broad outlines similar to the 1950 studio recording, and cannot compete with that sonically, even though the latter notoriously has its problems. In addition to the frisson of a live performance, however, there are some remarkable differences of inherent interest. The live version is slightly faster - and has a palpably greater sense of urgency. For example, the opening of the second movement - supposedly a depiction of the devil tracking the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi - already fleet in the studio version, is almost a breathless pursuit in Milwaukee. In the third movement, Koussevitzky opens the live account more briskly than in the studio, but takes an unusually extended pause for dramatic effect between the end of the first part and the famous oboe melody that opens the middle trio section.
The ‘Capriccio espagnol’ assumes mainstream tempos in all five sections, in contrast to the febrile 1953 Paul Paray recording with the Detroit Symphony for Mercury that has long been my personal benchmark in this score. But that does not imply any lack of energy; and despite the afore-noted sonic limitations one is treated to the brilliant sound of the Boston Symphony, with iridescent strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion on display like the aural counterpart of a peacock’s fanning tail. It both proves Koussevitzky’s reputation as an orchestral colorist, and makes one hope that one of his two broadcast performances of ‘Scheherezade’ (from 1946 and 1948) will be among future releases in this series. The novel Rimsky-Korsakov performance makes this release a ‘must-have’ acquisition for fans of Koussevitzky; but the Sibelius is of considerable value in documenting the conductor’s way in live performance of a composer and score with which he was particularly identified.”
- James A. Altena, FANFARE
“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