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Jeremy Nicholas
Gramophone, March 2011

Eleanor Roosevelt declaims the text as if she were addressing the Daughters of the American Revolution, while Koussevitzky in this second recording (1950) with his Boston player is heard in the attractive intimacy of the chamber-like Tanglewood Concert Hall. The disc, with its coupling of Sibelius’s Symphony No 2, is likely to appeal more to Koussevitzky fans than children.

American Record Guide, December 2008

Here is the second of the two recordings Koussevitzky made of Peter and the Wolf; it is presented as a great rarity, which I can well believe since it ever eluded me on records. How can such a thing have gone so long without reissue? Good for Naxos.

In the end it is slightly disappointing: the orchestra is its wonderful self; but the narrator is, in Colin Anderson’s apt choice of adjective, schoolmarmish. There is a kind of camp charm in that perhaps, but the recording does remind me of forced and unfortunate encounters with classical music at a very early age. The charming piece deserves better.

The Sibelius symphony is one of the more familiar Koussevitzky recordings. I am not happy with the sound, which is shrill and lacking dynamic range. This is a very late recording (1950, like its discmates), and one expects better. Nor is the slap-dash interpretation up to the standard of Koussevitzky’s earlier recording. What a wasted opportunity.

‘The Last Spring’ I refuse to criticize. Made at the same session as the Sibelius Symphony, it was the master’s last recording and an inspired choice for such an occasion.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, October 2008

Do I need to mention that Eleanor was the wife of President Franklin D Roosevelt? Perhaps not, but I do mention it because her delivery, very straightforward, direct and simple, seems to me to have the homely quality which I have read about concerning her husband’s series of radio talks, known as fireside chats, where he presented his proposals directly to the American public on air. It’s a very “mumsy” performance, and when I got over my initial shock, Eleanor does sound a little like Margaret Dumont, I thoroughly enjoyed this performance. She presents the story as if it was a special treat just for me, and I quickly warmed to her delivery. The orchestral part is played with crispness and superb clarity—the recorded sound is brilliantly clear with a wide dynamic. This was Koussevitzky’s second recording of Peter and Wolf—his first (and possibly the world première recording) dates from 1939 and has the narration spoken by actor Richard Hale.

The other two pieces come from Koussevitzky’s last recording session, and what electrifying music making they are! The Sibelius Symphony is as fresh as it was on the day of its première. Koussevitzky hits exactly the right tempo for the first movement and the urgency of the ebb and flow of the music is fully realised with some big climaxes. The second movement is, surely, too fast, likewise the trio of the scherzo, but this was possibly the constraints of the the playing time of the 78 rpm side. That said, although the pizzicato opening of the slow movement seems rushed, the phrasing of the great bassoon tune is perfect, and the distant horn-calls are well placed within the soundscape. By the time we reach the faster section everything is in place and the drama and tension are unbearable. Koussevitzky keeps a tight hand on things and the first climax is explosive. The great second subject for strings is as luminous as you could wish for. The ensuing cliamxes are shattering in their power and the final pizzicati are clear and precise.

The scherzo races along, full of life, with the trio a trifle hurried, then the great finale with its grand tune, which is handled beautifully, full bows and much passion. The ghostly march, which Sibelius uses to build the coda, and thus the final peroration, is very fine indeed, a great and glorious sound bringing the work to a rousing and most satisfactory conclusion. There is a bit of retouching of the orchestration here and there but don’t let that bother you, this is one of the finest recordings and recorded performances I’ve ever heard of this Symphony in nearly 45 years of listening. I’ve always been an Anthony Collins and Barbirolli man in this work, now I can add Koussevitzky to my pantheon.

The Last Spring was Koussevitzky’s very last recording. It’s a touching tribute to a lifetime’s music making.

Throughout, the orchestral playing is very good and very exciting. The direction is thoughtful and intelligent. This disk is a major achievement in terms of sound, which is as clear as any re–issue I’ve ever heard from a 78 source—was the recording made on tape and then issued on 78 I wonder? Certainly the sound has been cleaned up magnificently and there are things in the performance of the Sibelius which I have never heard before.

This disk is not only for those interested in the history of performance—it’s essential listening for anyone who loves the Sibelius Symphony—for there is so much to enjoy in this performance—and just to hear the sincerity of the playing in, and the interpretation of, Peter and the Wolf is a wonder.

This should be on every record shelf.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2008

By the time this recording was made, Koussevitzky’s tenure as Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra had come to an end at the age of 76, just one year before his death. He had enjoyed a fruitful life in his Russian homeland as an exponent of the double bass and a growing reputation as a conductor and composer, while he was equally successful in setting up his own publishing house. He remained there after the Revolution before setting up home in Paris where he began championing composers of his time. An invitation to became conductor of the Boston orchestra in 1924 took him for the final period of his life to the United States, and it was American composers, including Copland, Piston and Harris, that were indebted to his support. Though today his name is revered, this Naxos series is one of the few that is mining his bounteous wealth of recordings. The Sibelius Second Symphony recording also dates from 1950 at a time when the composer was not fashionable. Tempos are often more urgent than we have today, but it allows a northern chill to blow through the music. The 1950’s engineering is generally clear until we come to fortissimo passages which congeal, and there is a degree of distortion. Recordings could not fully capture the orchestra’s famed double basses in the finale, but it still conveys the tremendous impact of the performance. The sumptuous reading of Grieg’s The Last Spring is a prophetic ‘encore’ as it was Koussevitsky’s last recording, and he did have just one more Spring in his life.

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