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The Complete Rca & Columbia

The Complete Rca & Columbia

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Sony Classical is proud to announce one of its most significant historic releases of recent years: a 69-CD box set containing the recorded legacy of Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896–1960), who ranks by general consensus among the 20th century’s most brilliant conductors. Many of these legendary performances have never before been transferred from their analogue masters and released on digital medium. A lifelong ascetic and mystic, Mitropoulos was attracted in his youth to the monastic life but decided against following his older brothers into the Greek Orthodox Church when he learned that music was censured as a forbidden indulgence. After studying piano, composition, theory and conducting, first in his native Athens, then in Rome, Brussels and with Busoni in Berlin – where he served as Erich Kleiber’s assistant at the Staatsoper from 1921–24 – his career took flight in Athens. It was there that he developed his trademark style of conducting without baton or score and brought to his music-making all his religious fervour and passion along with his prodigious memory. As the critic Peter Quantrill astutely noted in an overview of his recordings in Gramophone: “Mitropoulos’s facility of memory could draw out [recurring melodic and motivic strands] at faster-than-usual tempi while maintaining an intuitive proportion between their sections. You seem to hear more of the music in a shorter space of time.” His international fame began with a 1930 Berlin Philharmonic performance of the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto, in which Mitropoulos appeared as both soloist and conductor. (He would repeat that tour de force a decade and a half later in Philadelphia, a performance included in this new set.) His American career was launched by sensational concerts with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1936, which promptly resulted in his appointment to succeed Eugene Ormandy as principal conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony (now Minnesota) Orchestra. He proceeded to bring that ensemble international fame through recordings which captured the force of his magnetic personality and electrifying musicianship. In Minneapolis, he enjoyed enormous success with critics and audiences, performing half of Mahler’s then still largely unfamiliar output (earning him American Mahler Society Medal of Honor in 1940) and commissioning numerous works by leading American and European composers to make the orchestra a bastion of modern music in the US. Mitropoulos’s association with the New York Philharmonic, which he first conducted in 1940, was hardly less successful artistically, though it was ultimately tarnished by critical hostility having more to do with his sexual orientation than his musical interpretations. From 1949, he served as the orchestra’s co-conductor with Leopold Stokowski, then from 1951 as music director until, after a period of joint leadership with Leonard Bernstein in 1958, he “abdicated with joy” in favour of his protégé, supposedly to devote more time to opera. During his New York years, he was also a commanding presence at the Metropolitan. As Sony Classical’s massive new box set definitively demonstrates, Mitropoulos faithfully documented his eclectically wide-ranging repertoire on disc in Minneapolis and New York, even recording some favourite works in both cities. To cite a few highlights from the MINNEAPOLIS SYMPHONY years: there is the first-ever recording of Mahler’s First Symphony (1940), which “can still be counted among the finest the work has received” (Gramophone); Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies Nos. 4 (1940) and 2 (1946) as well as his First Piano Concerto with Arthur Rubinstein (1946) – “The soloist is in rare form, and this is an example of the grand manner in operation” (High Fidelity). Other symphonies for which Mitropoulos showed his special affinity in Minneapolis include the Borodin Second (1941; MusicWeb International: “The best performance of the Borodin symphony I’ve ever heard”), Schumann’s Second (1940) and “Rhenish” (1947), the Prokofiev “Classical” (1940) and Franck D minor (1940) – “Mitropoulos infuses his reading with unbearable intensity” (Classical Notes). Also reissued here are Mitropoulos’s celebrated, incandescent Minneapolis readings of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony (1947) – “An excellent interpretation … beautifully recorded, with a resonant, spacious quality … played with smooth, virtuosic effect” (Gramophone) – and The Isle of the Dead (1945); as well as Brahms’s “St. Antoni” Variations (1942), Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia (1945), Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin (1941) and Milhaud’s Le Boeuf sur le toit (1945). We have Mitropoulos’s fellow Busoni pupil Egon Petri as piano soloist in their teacher’s arrangement of Liszt’s Spanish Rhapsody (1940) and pianist Oscar Levant in concertos by Khachaturian (1950) and Anton Rubinstein (1952). With the NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC, Mitropoulos conducts the epoch-making first recording of Berg’s Wozzeck (1951) with Mack Harrell and Eileen Farrell – “It is difficult to conceive any other conductor having an equivalent grasp of the score; and Mitropoulos infused his knowledge and vitality into his soloists” (Gramophone); Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, Erwartung with soprano Dorothy Dow (1951) and the first recording of his Violin Concerto, with Louis Krasner, Mitropoulos’s erstwhile Minneapolis concertmaster (1952); Krenek’s Symphonic Elegy (1951); and memorable Berlioz including an “almost hallucinatory” (Classical Net) Symphonie fantastique (1957) and excerpts from Roméo et Juliette (1952). Included from New York are also Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” and “Reformation” Symphonies (1953); Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony (1954), Pathétique (1957) – “Mitropoulos achieves some remarkable flexibility of phrase for his expressive purposes … The first chord in the Adagio lamentoso movement of this recording sounds as if the conductor had reached the hearts of every individual string player” (New York Times) – and First Suite (1954); Scriabin’s Poème de l’extase and Promethée (1953); Shostakovich’s Symphonies Nos. 5 (1952) and 10 (1954) – “Mitropoulos had a particular affinity for this symphony. He gave its Western Hemisphere premiere in 1954 … This recording conveys an exciting spontaneity” (High Fidelity), “Mitropoulos’s pioneering account probes more deeply into the heart of this score than any of the recent newcomers” (Gramophone); Debussy’s La Mer (1950) and Stravinsky’s Petrushka (1951); excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (1957) as well as that composer’s Lieutenant Kijé and Kodály’s Háry János suites (1956); Vaughan Williams’s Fourth Symphony (1956) – “splendidly alert and unfailingly eloquent (nowhere more so than in the slow movement) … Mitropoulos’s deeply felt interpretation won the enthusiastic approbation of the composer” (Gramophone) – and his Tallis Fantasia in the conductor’s 1958 glorious stereo remake (BBC Music Magazine: “A marvel of fine string playing”). Other New York recordings with a soloist include David Oistrakh’s “unmissable … spellbinding … not least because of the conducting” (Gramophone) first recording of the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 (1956); pianist Robert Casadesus in the Beethoven “Emperor” (1955), with “accompaniments as dynamic and exciting as the soloist’s playing” (Classics Today), and Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain (1956–57) – “Remarkable … Listen to the mystery and menace that he and Mitropoulos find in the first movement’s second half, or to the huge passion they bring to its climax” (Classics Today); the Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky (1954) and Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto (1952) with Zino Francescatti and the Prokofiev First Concerto with Isaac Stern (1956). Major American works from New York include the recording premiere of Roger Sessions’s Second Symphony (1950) – “one of the most important symphonic works ever produced in the United States” (Gramophone) – as well as Peter Mennin’s Third Symphony (1954), Gunther Schuller’s Symphony for Brass and Percussion (1956), Morton Gould’s Fall River Legend ballet suite (1952) and Leon Kirchner featured as soloist in his Piano Concerto No. 1 (1956). Finally, the box also contains Mitropoulos’s complete METROPOLITAN OPERA sets: the world premiere of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa with Eleanor Steber, Nicolai Gedda, Regina Resnik and Rosalind Elias (1958) – “This recording stands the test of time as well as does the opera itself” (Penguin Guide); Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera with Zinka Milanov, Jan Peerce, Leonard Warren and the Met debut of Marian Anderson (1955); and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov (in English; abridged) with Giorgio Tozzi (1956).

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 69
    • Release Date:
    • Label: Sony Masterworks
    • UPC/Barcode: 194398882529
    • Item Number: 19439888252