Eugene Ormandy’s 44-year tenure as music director of the world-renowned Philadelphia Orchestra remains the single longest affiliation between conductor and orchestra. Though Ormandy passed away in 1985 at 85 years of age, the enormous body of work he left behind continues to resonate. Though he also recorded for RCA Victor, EMI, Telarc, and Delos, his most long-lasting label association was with Columbia Records. Between 1944 and 1968, Ormandy surveyed a broad swath of the classical repertoire for Columbia, setting down many definitive renditions with the Philadelphia Orchestra. (Appropriately, his final recording – released in 1983 with Yo-Yo Ma on cello – was also for Columbia.) On Friday, April 9, Sony Classical will revisit the earliest period of the great conductor’s Columbia works with a massive 120-disc box set, The Columbia Legacy. This will be the second-largest box in Sony Classical history after the complete Arthur Rubinstein set of 142 CDs released in 2011.
The Columbia Legacy, fully authorized by the Philadelphia Orchestra, is dedicated to Ormandy’s mono recordings made for Columbia Records through 1957; his subsequent stereo albums beginning in 1958 number over 200. While Columbia parent Sony has released various boxes of Ormandy material over the years, this is the first large-scale effort to chronologically collect all of his Columbia recordings with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Philadelphia “Pops” Orchestra in order. (Some years back, Sony Japan surveyed a few dozen of his stereo LPs in remastered editions.) The set is in “original album” format, and Sony has also retained the material from the original albums even when Ormandy wasn’t conducting; hence, the inclusion here of a number of recordings conducted by Andre Kostelanetz, Bruno Walter, George Szell, and others. (Note that the 1954 album of Schumann’s Concerto in A Minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 129 featuring cellist Pablo Casals and the Prades Festival Orchestra is absent. Ormandy conducted the orchestra but was uncredited on the LP.)
These seminal works represent the flowering of Ormandy’s Philadelphia Sound, well-known for its lush strings. While the advent of stereo was a boon for classical orchestras, bringing an even more lifelike sound and splendor into living rooms everywhere, these earlier interpretations are favored by some Ormandy enthusiasts for their energy and power. (For two Ormandy classics in shimmering stereo, look no further than Second Disc Records and Real Gone Music’s 2019 release The Complete Columbia Christmas Albums.) Additionally, some of the compositions weren’t re-recorded by Ormandy in stereo.
All of the original album jackets, many of which feature the recognizable artwork of designer Alex Steinweiss, have been scanned and restored for this project. Similarly, the original label designs have been retained for the individual CDs. The hefty box contains a hardcover book of around 200 pages with an introduction, historical essay, credits/discography for all discs, composers/work index, photographs, and memorabilia; all told, the box weighs in at nearly 13 pounds.
In the image below, you’ll find the album listing for the box set. Much of this material hasn’t previously been released in the digital domain and has been newly mastered for this release by acclaimed, Grammy-winning engineer Andreas Meyer. For more information, we recommend visiting Tower Records Japan (here’s an English translation) as well as many of the classical groups around the Internet including The Classical Music Guide.
Eugene Ormandy and The Philadelphia Orchestra’s The Columbia Legacy arrives from Sony Classical around the world this Friday, April 9, and is available for pre-order now from Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada as well as classical outlets including the U.K.’s Presto Music.