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As its contribution to the current Sibelius festival, Columbia has brought out a new recording of the Second Symphony played by Barbirolli and the New York Philharmonic. Whatever one may think of this symphony--which has elicited for Olin Downes the tribute of "a symbol of the ancient faiths and indomitable spirit of man"--and from other critics something less than blind enthusiasm--whatever, I say, one thinks of it, one cannot deny its dramatic power and effectiveness. This dramatic power is what John Barbirolli fails to recreate. He is in general a pedestrian conductor, lacking the ability to envision a whole symphony in one flash, and so give his performances a clear stamp. The recording of the Sibelius Second suffers from this indeterminateness. It is rushed and nervous in places, stodgy in others, and prevailingly slovenly. One may quarrel with details of tempi when Koussevitzky plays the work, but without exception he gives a performance of superb vigor and effect. However, the release is technically good, except for a lack of body to the orchestra, and in general is an adequate job.
Christmas recordings there are aplenty, to suit every taste and humour. Recorded by Victor on the Baroque organ at the Germanic Museum is Volume 111 of J. S. Bach's Little Organ Book, to my mind the least interesting of the month's releases. The precludes in the volume, written for Christmas and the New year, are dry and colorless, the kind of hack work every composer turns out at some time or other, which had much better be forgotten. Nor does Biggs's jumbled, unclear performance add anything to the music. A different story are the Bach Chorales sung in German by the Trapp Family Choir, also on Victor Records. The Trapps' unaffected singing of this delightful music is a treat for jaded ears. The singing has that perfect fusion and sympathy of all voices one finds among the members of a fine string-quartet, and you will not tire of the chamber flavor as you might the brilliance of a larger chorus. Also in the line of vocal music are the ancient French carols sung on a single Columbia Record by the Strasbourg Cathedral Choir, music more of the folk quality than the Bach chorales, but of a similar fresh spirit, in its own way just as delightful. The much larger choir of the cathedral gives a-clear, pleasantly echoey rendition, not one, however, to compare with that of the Trapps.
Although Dukas's Sorcerer's Apprentice was not written as Christmas music, its buoyancy makes it a fitting holiday release. It is the sort of stuff Leopold Stokowski is good at, and his performance is full of Stokowskian gorgeousness, brilliance, and color, which at the same time sacrifices a good deal of Dukas's subtlety. Refreshing are the excerpts from Hansel and Gretel, that most magic of all operas. Barlow and the Columbia Broadcasting Orchestra play with feeling most of your favorites, including the dream music, on Columbia Records, and if I were to get any synthesis of any opera, this would be it. But the prize orchestral recording of the Christmas season is that of Gaetano Schiassi's beautiful. Christmas Symphony, superbly done on a Victor Record by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops orchestra. Schiassi's style may remind you of Corelli, which it should, containing as it does the same simplicity of material, restrained handling, and melodic beauty.
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