This 2016 release is important, for it restores Rudolf Serkin's excellent Mendelssohn concertos to the catalog under Eugene Ormandy. At time of writing, both Sony "Essential Classics" issues are out of print, both coupled with Isaac Stern's well-regarded account of the same composer's Violin Concerto. While finding a used copy used to be fairly easy, I've not seen one in any stores for quite some time. This budget Alto issue is thus very timely. Like everything that bears the Ormandy name, these performances have basically been forgotten, along with Serkin himself. The disregard for the Ormandy legacy is well-known at this point, but Sony's treatment of pianists like Casadesus and Serkin – both of whom get one box each so far in the German "Original Masters" series of boxes – should raise the ire of collectors just as much.
These bristling and intense performances are classics, and though recent issues on Decca might seriously challenge their claim to be "the best", they are still to be reckoned with. Alto credits both concertos to the Philadelphia Orchestra, while Sony lists the "Columbia Symphony Orchestra" for the Second Concerto. As both performances were made in Philadelphia, and Ormandy seldom recorded elsewhere, this seems a reasonable assumption in this context. Still, Mr. Dave Lampson – who runs and owns this site – has long cautioned about being accurate with names, and so let the record show that Sony notates these recordings differently. At any rate, this is not Bruno Walter's Columbia Symphony, with which he made many important recordings before his death.
Unfortunately, the rest of the disc is less interesting. The remaining works for piano and orchestra are pretty, if not especially compelling. They can be found in fine readings within Hyperion's imposing Romantic Piano Concertos series, and also come attached to the two concertos. Here, Rena Kyriakou's able and assured pianistic gifts pale behind Serkin's nervous and edgy forcefulness that bring the concertos to life. Nor does the Pro Musica Symphony, Vienna hold a candle to the "Fabulous Philadelphians". In particular, the rag-tag upper string playing proves unattractive. Still, the disc is worth it for Serkin, who really does make these pieces sound different from anyone else. The re-master is effective, though the original Columbia recordings issued in 1960 were never anything special. Older collectors and fans of early stereo will want this, and I'm very glad to welcome the concertos back to the active catalog.
Copyright © 2016, Brian Wigman