Serge Koussevitzky, Vol. XIII - Sibelius  (St Laurent Studio YSL 78-844)
Item# C1727
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Serge Koussevitzky, Vol. XIII - Sibelius  (St Laurent Studio YSL 78-844)
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

“Sergey Aleksandrovich Kusevitskii (known in the West by the French spelling of his name, Serge Koussevitzky) one of the great conductors of the twentieth century American orchestral scene and a champion of newer music, closely studied the great conductors he encountered as an orchestra player and at concerts, particularly Arthur Nikisch.

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,

“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