Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra gave the American premiere of Shostakovich's valedictory symphony in 1972, followed by its first recording outside the Soviet Union. Collectors may remember its shrill, emasculated sonics, due in part to those notorious matzoh-like dynaflex LP pressings that made RCA infamous in the 1970s. Appearing now for the first time on CD in RCA's High Performance series, the Ormandy Shostakovich 15th blooms with vivacity and life, filling the room with the fabled Philadelphia sound… A major release. [2/10/2000]–Jed Distler, classicstoday.com
This release features a previously-unreleased recording of pianist Emil Gilels, captured live in an acclaimed 1964 Seattle recital. With the exception of a single work, this recital has never before been made available to the general public and is now being released for the first time. Released in time to celebrate the pianist’s 100th anniversary, the recital includes works by Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and more.
There are several reasons why the popularity of Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra has declined so steeply since their glory days in the '50s and '60s. For one thing, Ormandy hung on to his post in Philadelphia a tad too long, and recordings from the later '70s and '80s are for the most part marked by audible fatigue. For another, Columbia and RCA, now Song/BMG, have been reluctant to reissue Ormandy's classic recordings on CD and nearly as reluctant to keep them in print after the first few press runs.
Firma Melodiya presents a set of rare recordings by Emil Gilels.The world knows many talented pianists and a few great masters who tower above them all. Emil Gilels is one of them. The titans of piano like Gilels are borne once in a century. Those were the kind of reviews that accompanied Gilels throughout his pianistic career beginning with his victory at the all-union competition in 1933 in Moscow. However, this set will open new sides to Gilelss repertoire even to those who is well acquainted with his recordings. We will hear Emil Gilels as an ensemble musician.The titan of piano, who roused the audiences and orchestras, was able to turn into a fine chamber musician, a wonderful ensemble partner as though he dissolved his brightest individuality in a piece he performed. The more so because Gilelss partners were truly brilliant soloists such as Yakov Flier and Yakov Zak (piano), Elizaveta Gilels (violin), musicians from the Beethoven Quartet Dmitri Tsyganov (violin), Vadim Borisovsky (viola) and Sergei Shirinsky (cello). The set features compositions from various periods.
Every man's death diminishes us all, but the death of a man so close to completing his greatest achievement and the summation of his life's work diminishes us all greatly – very, very greatly. When Emil Gilels died in 1985, he had completed recordings of most but not all of Beethoven's piano sonatas, released here in a nine-disc set. What's here is unimaginably good: superlative recordings of 27 of the 32 canonical sonatas, including the "Pathétique," "Moonlight," "Waldstein," "Appassionata," "Les Adieux," and the majestic "Hammerklavier," plus the two early "Electoral" Sonatas and the mighty Eroica Variations. What's missing is unimaginably priceless: five of the canonical sonatas, including the first and – horror vacui – the last. But still, for what there is, we must be grateful. Beyond all argument one of the great pianists of the twentieth century, Gilels the Soviet super virtuoso had slowly mellowed and ripened over his long career, and when he began recording the sonatas in 1972, his interpretations had matured and deepened while his superlative technique remained gloriously intact straight through to the last recordings of his final year.
Longtime Philadelphia Orchestra conductor Eugene Ormandy developed what came to be known as the "Philadelphia Sound." (He groused that it should be called the "Ormandy Sound," even though its fundamentals had already been established during Leopold Stokowski's long tenure with the Philadelphia Orchestra.) Largely as an effort to overcome the dry acoustics of the orchestra's home, the Academy of Music, Ormandy emphasized lush string sonorities and, often, legato phrasing and rounded tone. He was lauded even by his own musicians for his ability to conduct everything from memory, even complex contemporary scores. Still, aside from the voluptuous tone, Ormandy's interpretations rarely bore an individual stamp. They were, however, highly polished, intelligently balanced, and well paced, always serving the scores honorably, and often with a dash of controlled excitement.
The main interest in Eugene Ormandy's Symphonie fantastique is the excellent playing of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which gives a good old-fashioned virtuoso performance highlighted by marvelous solo work from the principals… Ormandy displays his typical mastery of orchestral "fireworks" in these bracing renditions of The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Night on Bald Mountain, done with all the swagger and sparkle the music requires (you can almost see the marching broom in Sorcerer). –Victor Carr Jr, classicstoday.com
Not one person in a hundred knows how to be silent and listen, no, nor even to conceive what such a thing means. Yes, only then can you detect, beyond the fatuous clamour, the silence of which the universe is made.–Samuel Beckett, Molloy
At last, Sony offers a domestic reissue of the finest recording of Pictures at an Exhibition in the history of the universe. Well, okay, there are other terrific versions, including Reiner (RCA) and Abbado (DG), but this one has everything–great playing and a big, gutsy interpretation that not only characterizes each section beautifully but also welds the suite together into an extremely satisfying whole. The panoramic final pages, from the start of the tolling bell section, have no peer in terms of detail and sheer sonic splendor, and this is one of the best-sounding recordings that Ormandy and Philly ever got from Sony. So the bottom line is that if you don't own this and you love the work, you need it, and urgently. To be fair, I understand why reissuing it wasn't a priority: Sony has other, excellent versions of the piece, including Bernstein's and Szell's; but even among an embarrassment of riches this is the one to have.
- David Hurwitz