Eugene Ormandy's The Columbia Legacy, released last year, was the second-biggest box set in Sony Classical history. At a remarkable 120 discs, the box chronicled the early years of Ormandy's affiliation with The Philadelphia Orchestra - one that, all told, would span 44 years and become the longest-ever relationship between conductor and orchestra. Ormandy first led the Orchestra in 1931 at just 32 years of age, filling in for his inspiration, Arturo Toscanini. He joined full-time in 1936, spending two years as joint conductor with Leopold Stokowski before being appointed sole Music Director in 1938. He would remain in the post until 1980. Ormandy's Columbia tenure began in 1944 and lasted until 1968, defining "The Philadelphia Sound." But now, a new box set from Sony Classical is turning the clock back to the period between Ormandy's initial visit to Philadelphia and his ascension to the podium.
Eugene Ormandy's The Complete RCA Album Collection, due on July 22, features the Hungarian-born American conductor leading The Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. He came to the attention of the Minnesota group after subbing for Toscanini, and was enlisted to step in for Henri Verbrugghen. The stint led to his leading the Symphony between 1931 and 1936. Ironically, it was another trip to Philadelphia that clinched Ormandy's contract with RCA Victor which would bring him (and the Minneapolis Symphony) to national attention.
An RCA executive was in the Philadelphia audience when Ormandy was again subbing for Toscanini on a performance of excerpts from Weinberger's opera Schwanda the Bagpiper. The label wished to preserve Ormandy's interpretation but contractually, The Philadelphia Orchestra couldn't appear. The young conductor suggested RCA record him leading the Minneapolis Symphony where he and the musicians were paid an annual salary and the recording could be made with little additional expense. RCA took him up on the offer, and sessions were slated at the University of Minnesota's Northrop Auditorium on January 17-23, 1934 and then on January 5-16, 1935. Collectively, the sessions yielded a remarkable 174 sides issued at 78 RPM, all of which captured the immediacy of Ormandy's style during that creatively fertile period.
The Complete RCA Album Collection includes every one of these sides on 11 CDs, many of which weren't ever issued on LP, let alone on CD. Highlights include the 1935 recording of Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony and the U.S. recorded premiere of Rachmaninoff's Second and Sibelius's First. The Minneapolis Symphony's Bruckner Seventh was the first commercial American recording of any of that composer's symphonies. Other world premieres include Kodály's Háry János Suite, the string orchestra version of Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht, and Honegger's Concertino for piano and orchestra. Cementing the Ormandy legend were landmarks such as Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody No. 1, his recording of which brought the composition to an international audience, and the excerpts from Schwanda. The RCA discography also includes his only recording of Schumann's Fourth Symphony and his first recording of Beethoven's Fourth.
It's all packaged in a compact clamshell case, with each disc housed in a paper sleeve. Minnesota author Richard Evidon has provided a new essay within the accompanying booklet, and all of the music has been remastered to Sony Classical's usual high standard. The box is due on July 22 from Sony Classical and can be pre-ordered at Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada.