The Ormandy/Philadelphia Magic Once More
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 04/11/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Eugene Ormandy succeeded Stokowski at the helm of the Philadelphia Orchestra and was his opposite as regards charisma. Stokowski induced swoons in susceptible females; I doubt Ormandy ever did. But it soon became apparent that he was a magnificent conductor and he remained in charge in Philadelphia from 1938 until 1980. During that time he not only maintained the 'Philadelphia sound', he actually improved on it (with, it must be said, the aid of some of the greatest orchestral musicians in the world). He recorded voluminously, so much in fact that Ormandy/Philadelphia recordings were somewhat disdained by some. Yet I never heard a bad Ormandy/Philadelphia recording, and some of the ones they made stand as among the very best ever made. Think of his recordings of various Rachmaninoff works, for instance. And his recording of Ravel's Rapsodie Espagnole is the best I ever heard. Indeed, Ormandy was probably best in the non-German repertoire and certainly the Philadelphia Orchestra had the appropriate tonal colors for such things as Debussy, Ravel and, on this DVD, Holst.
This DVD was made at subscription concerts of the orchestra over a period of three days in June, 1977, in the old Academy of Music, never an easy place in which to record. The director was the doyen of American classical music television of that time, Kirk Browning, whose style was never to interfere with the music, but rather to illustrate the music with exceedingly apt close-ups of Ormandy and of individual musicians interspersed with lengthy long shots. There are no 'mood shots' nor is there any exploration of the baroque architecture of the Academy of Music.
Holst's 'The Planets' may not be great music when all is said and done, but it is his most played work for good reason. It not only illustrates the characters of the astrological signs associated with the planets, it is also brilliant in its uses of orchestral color. The Philadelphia, as strong in all its departments in 1977 as in any period of its history, is simply magnificent here. From the rumblings of the low brass in Mars to the silken strings in Venus and sparkling winds in Mercury and Jupiter, this is a stunning performance. Ormandy, who is completely undemonstrative in his podium manner, draws breathtaking performances from his players. This one is definitely a keeper. I raved about a DVD of 'The Planets' featuring David Atherton and the BBC Wales Orchestra several years ago Holst - The Planets / David Atherton, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, but this performance here rises above it. Also, the Atherton DVD features pretty pictures and one rarely sees the orchestra; here the orchestra and its conductor are the whole show.
Ormandy excelled in French music and this performance of 'La Mer' is exceptional, again partly because of the superb musicianship of the orchestra's musicians, but also because Ormandy has a knack for shaping phrases and molding dynamics that conveys the impressionism of the music without softening its spine. In spite of what one might assume, Debussy is not all effect and no form, and Ormandy knows this. He lets us know that this is indeed a symphony in all but name. Bravo.
Of course, this recording was made in the late 1970s and thus the visuals and sound are not up to date. But they are more than adequate and the originals obviously have been maintained immaculately. One quickly forgets that this performance is thirty years old and simply revels in the music of Ormandy and his wonderful orchestra.
Picture format: NTSC, 4:3; Sound: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1; Region code: 0 (worldwide); Disc format: DVD9; Total time: 81 mins (no extras). There is a very brief spoken introduction by Ormandy (in German) for the original release of this concert in Germany on videotape.
Holst The Planets - Superb performance - finally on DVD
Michael Gannon | Westchester County, NY | 05/04/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ormandy's Philadelphia Philharmonic's performance of the Planets is as good as any I've seen so far. The Debussy pieces are equally wonderful.
Take every opportunity to get this DVD and you will replay it over and over again. Holst left us a wonderful masterpiece and this performance does is proper justice."