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Stravinsky: Firebird Suite; Rachmaninov: Symphony No 2 / Ormandy

Rachmaninoff / Stravinsky / Phl / Ormandy
Release Date: 01/26/2010 
Label:  Euroarts   Catalog #: 2072258  
Composer:  Igor StravinskySergei Rachmaninov
Conductor:  Eugene Ormandy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philadelphia Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews


Igor Stravinsky: The Firebird Suite
Sergei Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27

Philadelphia Orchestra
Eugene Ormandy, conductor

Recorded live at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia, 1977 (Stravinsky) and 1979 (Rachmaninov)

- An Introduction to Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2 by Eugene Ormandy

Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Running time: 81 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)

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RACHMANINOFF Symphony No. 2 1. STRAVINSKY The Firebird: Suite (1919 version) 2 Eugene Ormandy, cond; Philadelphia EUROARTS 2072258 (DVD: 81:00) Live: Philadelphia 2 1977, 1 1979

For those of us too young or too distant to have enjoyed Eugene Ormandy in person, this DVD is a particular delight. I began appreciating Ormandy’s conducting when I was in high school. I am almost as appreciative 30 years later, even though it continues to be thought a sign of superior taste to denigrate his work. Some know better, though. Ormandy’s later recordings for RCA are readily available on Japanese CDs, and can be more easily acquired via custom ArkivMusic reprints. Releases such as those and the present DVD help keep the torch burning.

It is easy to underestimate the man and his orchestra. An unattentive look and listen to the Stravinsky might leave one thinking, “Yup, that’s The Firebird, all right. Nice predictable performance, but nothing special.” Listen again, though, and with all your ears and eyes, and you might find yourself impressed by the gorgeousness of the sounds Ormandy draws from the Philadelphians, and with the sensitivity of the phrasing. Ormandy does nothing unusual with Stravinsky’s score, but he gives it to us on a bed of velvet, and it is hard not to be seduced.

These performers had a special affinity for the music of Rachmaninoff, and so the prospect of not only hearing but watching them play the Russian composer’s Symphony No. 2 is enticing. One’s expectations are not disappointed by this performance, which has all the sweep, atmosphere, and ebullience of the studio recording from 1973. There’s a little catch, however. The booklet notes and a brief interview with the conductor before the performance both lead one to expect that Ormandy will perform the score without cuts on this occasion. In fact, he does open up most of the cuts that were usual in the 1960s and earlier, and that hardly would be countenanced today. Even so, he retains a large cut in the third movement, which has a playing time of 10:59—more than a minute less than in the aforementioned studio recording. Supposedly this is the one cut of which Rachmaninoff approved, or at least tolerated, but it is a shame to hear Ormandy still observing it in 1979. Apart from that, this is a gloriously played and passionate reading—right up there with Previn’s Telarc version in its application of the “swoon factor.”

Between the two works, there is a 10-minute featurette in which Ormandy shares vignettes about his collaborations with Rachmaninoff, and about the so-called “Philadelphia sound.” I’ve never read anything to suggest that Ormandy was anything less than a helluva nice guy, and these vignettes do nothing to change that impression. No storming and screaming in the manner of Toscanini and Reiner for him, but is he really not worthy of being mentioned in the same breath?

Judging from Ormandy’s appearance, the sound quality, and the video quality, I would have guessed that the Rachmaninoff predated the Stravinsky, but the opposite is true. In both works, the orchestra has been captured cleanly and we have been given a taste of the acoustics in Philly’s Academy of Music, but the sound in the Stravinsky is palpably clearer and better balanced. The cameras spend little time on Ormandy, preferring instead to dwell—sometimes rather closely—on the performers. I enjoyed seeing them at work, though. A full-screen 4:3 format has been used.

Younger listeners should give this a try and see what was so good about the “good old days.” Like Hamlet, we shall not look upon their like again.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky
Conductor:  Eugene Ormandy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philadelphia Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1919/1945;   
Date of Recording: 1977 
Venue:  Academy of Music, Philadelphia 
Symphony no 2 in E minor, Op. 27 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Conductor:  Eugene Ormandy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philadelphia Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1906-1907; Russia 
Date of Recording: 1979 
Venue:  Academy of Music, Philadelphia 

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