Eugene Ormandy & The Philadelphia Orchestra (DVD)

0 of 5 stars

Ruslan and Ludmila – Overture
Scheherazade – Symphonic Suite, Op.35
Concerto in D, HWV335a
Il segreto di Susanna – Overture
Der Rosenkavalier – Suite

Philadelphia Orchestra
Eugene Ormandy

Recorded 1977 and 1978 in Academy of Music, Philadelphia

Reviewed by: Mike Langhorne

Reviewed: July 2008
CD No: MEDICI ARTS 2072278
Duration: 91 minutes



These recordings are taken from concerts. All are in colour and in good, if rather solid, stereo sound. The choice of repertoire is a little odd but, of course, you can make selections. The editing is splendidly democratic with plenty of shots of the full orchestra, orchestral sections and individual players as well as the maestro himself. It is in refreshing contrast to Karajan’s nauseating exercises in self-adoration which (edited by himself) practically ignore anyone else involved.

I have long been a keen admirer of the work of Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985). He combined unforced authority with respect for the score, which yielded honest and in many cases sensitive as well as exciting performances. (His audio recording of Elgar’s Enigma Variations is unsurpassed.) But he was in his late-70s and reaching the end of his 44-year tenure in Philadelphia when these performances were filmed and an element of routine appears to have crept in. Very high class routine undoubtedly – but nevertheless it had led to ‘a one style fits all’ impression which precludes any real sense of fantasy – which would have helped no end in the Rimsky-Korsakov and the Wolf-Ferrari. The latter is far from Italianate.

Arturo Toscanini discusses a score with Philadelphia Orchestra music director Eugene Ormandy during recording sessions at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, 1941What we get are robustly sensible views of the music, magnificently played by a superb orchestra in sonorous sound with a real foundation in the bass (but with a lack of really quiet playing), yet there is a paucity of imaginative touches.

It is perhaps unnecessary to examine each piece in detail. Suffice it to say that the Glinka is not rushed off its feet in an attempt to beat the latest world-speed-record for the piece. Scheherazade (with Norman Carol as the solo violinist) is sumptuously upholstered – rather too much so in ‘The Young Prince and the Young Princess’, which is given the full Hollywood treatment (listen to Beecham for the perfect understanding of the movement). The Handel will appal the ‘authentic’ brigade – big-band Handel that is musically familiar from also being used in Music for the Royal Fireworks. It is all rather splendid. In his booket-note, Wolfgang Stähr seems to think that some sort of apology is necessary for Ormandy’s anachronistic approach. I don’t! If Susanna and her Secret (smoking!) would have amused more with a touch of whimsy and a rather more light-hearted approach, then the Suite from “Der Rosenkavalier” suits Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra perfectly – an exhilarating performance brilliantly played.

The credits and titles, of which there are many, before and after each piece, are in German, seemingly endless and liable to irritate. I recommend you go the menu and click on each piece to avoid this pointless verbiage.

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