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CD Review

The Art of Serge Koussevitzky

  • Music by Vivaldi-Siloti, Corelli-Pinelli, Paganini, "C.P.E. Bach"-H. Casadesus, Handel, Mozart, Schubert, Liszt, Grieg and "Traditional"
Dorothy Maynor, soprano
Harvard Glee Club and Radcliffe Choral Society
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Serge Koussevitzky
Pearl GEMMCD9179 ADD monaural 76:07
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It's not possible to get more than a taste of "the art of Serge Koussevitzky" on a single CD, particularly one that excludes the music of Prokofieff, Sibelius, and many other composers whose names came to be linked with the conductor's in the first half of this century. This disc is an excellent appetizer, however, and it includes recordings that every Koussevitzky fan, established or nascent, will need.

Primary among these is the Corelli. Never released until now, it was taped in 1944 at a recording session that must have been about five times longer than what musicians' unions would allow today. Ettore Pinelli compiled this eight-minute, three-movement suite from Corelli's Op. 5 violin sonatas. The movements are familiar, even if the suite itself is not. Koussevitzky leads the Giga at a slightly faster than usual pace, observes its bar lines and natural accents, and makes the damn thing sing and dance like a Blessed Spirit on ambrosia. The Badinerie which follows it – Paganini's "Moto perpetuo" à la Baroque – is a showpiece for the Boston Symphony Orchestra's violins, and a challenge that they rise to with no loss of freshness or poise.

Other highlights include two selections sung by soprano Dorothy Maynor. The divine-toned Maynor has been ungallantly neglected in the CD era, and maybe this disc will stimulate new interest in her. Here, she sings "O Sleep, why dost thou leave me?" from Handel's Semele and "Ach, ich fuhls" from The Magic Flute. Also present are another of Henri Casadesus's delightful forgeries (a Concerto in D for Strings by "C.P.E. Bach"), and Liszt's Mephisto Waltz. In the latter work, Koussevitzky emphasizes the grunting, puffing brass to sinister effect, and the performance is diabolically suave overall. "Fair Harvard" is nothing other than the traditional "Believe me, if all those endearing young charms" with jingoistic words. This arrangement, the conductor's own, is a six-minute monstrosity: each bell and whistle has its own bell and whistle. Then again, I never was much for school spirit.

The recordings were made between the years 1936 and 1944, and were pretty good for their time. Mark Obert-Thorn did the transfers and wrote the program notes for this reissue, again reinforcing his national treasure status, at least as far as we collectors of old recordings are concerned.

Copyright © 1996, Raymond Tuttle