C1776. SERGE KOUSSEVITZKY Cond. Boston S.O.: American Festival Overture (William Schuman); Symphony #3 (Piston), Live Performance, 31 Dec., 1948; Rehearsals for Symphony #7 in C (Sibelius) [the latter featuring Koussevitzky's singing along with the Sibelius 7th, his extensive address to and cajoling the orchestra, with broadcast commentary by Olin Downes], 13 Dec., 1948. [Piston was awarded the 1947 Pulitzer Prize in Music Composition for the Third Symphony] (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL 78-869, all Symphony Hall. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“St. Laurent Studio is, most thankfully, continuing to add to the legacy of live Koussevitzky recordings. William Schuman’s ‘American Festival Overture’ from 1939 is a brash, high-velocity piece of pure Americana. Walter Simmons succinctly described it in 35:3 as ‘an exhilarating if somewhat self-consciously American curtain-raiser based on a New York street-call’. This is the first time I’ve heard it; I can’t say that it really caught my fancy, but it’s more than just a pot-boiler and may grow on me over time.
Walter Piston remains, to my mind, unjustly neglected both on disc and in the concert hall; for me, it’s a choice between him and Samuel Barber for the finest composer the USA has produced to date. Like every truly great composer, he has an immediately recognizable and memorable voice - in Piston’s case, punchy, vigorous angular themes in fast movements and grave, almost hieratic, long-breathed lines in slow ones, sculpted in precise Neoclassical forms with clear textures and distinctive harmonies. (Piston’s penmanship was so precise that G. Schirmer simply published facsimiles of his scores instead of typesetting them.) If, like me, you respond strongly to the music of Paul Hindemith’s middle period (1930–1950), finding in it great emotional expressivity behind a seeming outward reserve, then you should embrace Piston as well….The Third Symphony was one of Koussevitzky’s many commissions of new works. It was premiered on April 9, 1948; Koussevitzky frequently gave multiple performances of such commissioned pieces over succeeding seasons, and this broadcast was the BSO’s seventh performance of the score. Cast in four movements, alternating slow-fast-slow-fast, it displays all of the composer’s fingerprints and virtues, the high point being the third movement, a solemn Adagio that comprises about two-fifths of the total work.
The real reason to get this disc, then, is the rehearsal of the Sibelius Seventh. The accompanying performance from December 17 was reviewed by Henry Fogel back in 42:3, who found the sound quality deficient in comparison to the 1933 HMV studio recording….This is a mostly straightforward run-through, with Koussevitzky stopping the orchestra only two or three times and occasionally talking over it in other passages. There is very little rehearsal material with this conductor in circulation, and this was a score with which he was particularly identified, so the documentary value here is considerable.”
- 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, allmusic.com