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CD Review

Pristine 205

Karajan In New York

  • Jean Sibelius:
  • En Saga, Op. 9
  • Pohjola's Daughter, Op. 49
  • The Oceanides, Op. 73
  • Tapiola, Op. 112
  • Hugo Emil Alfvén: Swedish Rhapsody #1 "Midsommarvaka', Op. 19
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
Pristine Audio PASC205

When the confusing domestic mess that is Sony/RCA/BMG released their Ormandy box devoted to Sibelius (RCA Masters 88875108582), it was cause for both rejoicing and frustration. Every work Ormandy set down in stereo was present at least once – generally twice and in one case, three times – but none of the monophonic versions were included. On the one hand, this made perfect sense. Ormandy's reputation and standing on disc has never been lower, at least here in the States. And yet, on the other hand, it was yet another frustrating slight to longtime collectors of both conductor and orchestra. Thank goodness for Pristine Classical, based in France, and to Mark Obert-Thorn's excellent remastering.

The RCA versions of these Sibelius tone poems rank among the better efforts of Ormandy's later years, both musically and sonically. But Ormandy's younger self is largely a superior beast, with all the attention to beauty and Romantic ardor we expect and unusual amounts of excitement. The Philadelphia strings are gorgeous, but the brass playing is robust and all the first-chair soloists are distinguished throughout. The harp and other details are well captured given the 1953 and 1955 recordings, and the mastery of the idiom is never in doubt. The Alfvén, another Ormandy specialty, must bow to the lovely stereo version (also on Columbia), but this is very fine.

Pristine deserves credit for spotlighting one of the best-selling artists of the 20th Century, in music where he truly set the standard. The notes, from Wikipedia, are…well, from Wikipedia, and the transfer notes are unusually skimpy given the source. But whether you choose to download this program, or have it on disc like I do, no collector of Sibelius should pass this up. Perhaps Pristine can explore the mono legacy of George Szell someday, but for now, I'm thankful for what we have.

Copyright © 2017, Brian Wigman