C1739. ARTUR RODZINSKI Cond. NBC S.O.: Symphony #8 in G (Dvorak); Mathis der Maler (Hindemith); Till Eulenspiegel (Strauss). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL 78-600, Live Performance, 17 Dec., 1938. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Artur Rodzinski has not been treated in music history as kindly as his talents merit. At a time when there were many truly great conductors, Rodzinski might be perceived today as merely quite good. His early death (at 66, preceded by a few years of lessening activity) didn’t help build his reputation either. Listening in retrospect to his work on disc shows a conductor with a distinct musical personality and undoubted gifts. His career was limited to some degree by his reputation for being difficult even in an era that allowed Fritz Reiner and George Szell to achieve stardom. He was good enough that Arturo Toscanini asked NBC to engage Rodzinski to choose musicians for the new orchestra they were forming for the Italian maestro, and to train that ensemble. Rodzinski was rewarded with a number of broadcast concerts, one of which we have here.
It is not surprising that Toscanini admired the Polish conductor, as their musical aesthetics seem similar. Rodzinski’s conducting is notable for lean, clear orchestral textures, generally quick tempi, a firm rhythmic pulse and crisp attacks. It is fair to observe that the music rarely smiles under his baton. While this minimizes the element of charm in the Dvorak Symphony #8, the performance has a wonderful rhythmic buoyancy that compensates. There is also a surprisingly lyrical touch, including some subtle portamento in the string playing. The clear textures, aided by the dry sound of Studio 8H, and Rodzinski’s careful attention to balances, clarifies Dvorak’s orchestration in a way not always apparent. While the tempi are quick, there is a flexibility in the phrasing that keeps the pace from sounding frenetic.
The same description applies to the Hindemith and Strauss. In TILL EULENSPIEGEL one can imagine a performance of more wit, but the rhythmic drive and momentum of this reading have their own benefits. As for the MATHIS DER MALER symphony, it is performed with a tautness that gives the music a firmer shape than it often receives. Rodzinski’s sensitivity to Hindemith’s harmonic progressions uses tension and release (via dynamics and rubato) in conjunction with harmonic motion to keep the music moving forward.
These would clearly not be anyone’s first or only choices in this repertoire. The bone-dry acoustic of Studio 8H robs the orchestra of much of its color. Nevertheless, this is an important document of the beginnings of the NBC Symphony Orchestra and of a major conductor early in his career. Rodzinski can claim music directorships of four of the most important American orchestras (Los Angeles, Cleveland, New York, and Chicago), though the latter two ended badly because of disagreements with the management and/or boards. He had a special talent, and his qualities come through here despite the acoustic impediments.
St. Laurent Studio has transferred the material as well as it can be. As usual they provide no notes but good documentation.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE