Dimitri Mitropoulos: The Complete RCA & Columbia Album Collection
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 consensus among the 20th century’s most brilliant conductors. Many of these legendary performances have never before been transferred from their analog masters and released on digital media.
Dimitri Mitropoulos's 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 the Minnesota Orchestra). He proceeded to bring that ensemble international fame through recordings that 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 an 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 favor of his protégé, supposedly to devote more time to opera. During his New York years, he was also a commanding presence at the Metropolitan Opera.
Mahler: Symphony no. 1 | Tchaikovsky: Symphonies nos. 2, 4, 5 & 6 + Piano Concerto no. 1 + Violin Concerto | Rachmaninoff: Isle of the Dead + Symphony no. 2 | Beethoven: Symphony no. 6 + Piano Concerti nos. 2 & 5 | Debussy: La Mer + Ibéria | Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette + Symphonie fantastique | Shostakovich: Symphonies nos. 5 & 10 + Violin Concerto no. 1 | Berg: Violin Concerto + Wozzeck | Prokofiev: "Classical" Symphony + Violin Concerti nos. 1 & 2 + Piano Concerto no. 3 + Lieutenant Kijé + Romeo and Juliet | Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov
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). Mitropoulos’s fellow Busoni pupil Egon Petri is piano soloist in an 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 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 “accompaniment 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).
How best to sum up this set? Dimitri Mitropoulos was a lone force among 20th-century conductors...kindly, yet with a will of steel, who would surely have found today’s unapologetic commercialism a cheapening misrepresentation of an art form he so dearly loved and valued. Whatever passing faults one encounters in the course of listening to these recordings (and there aren’t many), one thing remains constant: an unwillingness to compromise for the sake of sugaring the pill. That ‘pill’ is either sweet or it isn’t, and Mitropoulos’s only concern was that it should be taken to aid spiritual enhancement. In that he was unique, as is his legacy[.] The present set, which is produced by Robert Russ and enshrines top-notch re-masterings, is sturdily presented with a 187-page hardbacked book, an excellent essay by [New York Philharmonic archivist] Gabryel Smith, numerous photographs and exhaustive discographical information.
Mitropoulos championed new music and made many recordings, all presented in this important new issue, which also contains all of his recordings for RCA. He also championed lesser-known composers including Rabaud, Sessions, Krenck, William Schuman, Travis, Siegmeister, and Rieger. Some famous soloists recorded with him: Zino Francescatti (Saint-Saëns Concerto No. 3), concertos of Walton, Prokofiev (No. 1), Lalo (Symphonie espagnole), Isaac Stern (Prokofiev Concertos), Robert Casadesus (Falla:Nights in the Gardens of Spain), Leonard Rose (Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto), Oscar Levant (Rubinstein and Khachturian concertos). Egon Petri (Liszt Spanish Rhapsody), and David Oistrakh (Shostakovich Concerto No. 1).
Mitropoulos also conducted opera and his 1951 New York Philharmonic concert performance of Wozzeck with Eileen Farrell and Mack Harrell; Verdi's A Masked Ball in the famous live 1955 performance featuring Marian Anderson; and a 1956 Met performance of Boris Godounov with Giorgio Tozzi in the title role. All of these are included in this new set.
This is a handsome deluxe set with an impressive 190-page book that contains numerous photos and complete recording information. Also included are reproductions of original LP releases. This is a major addition to anyone's collection, a perfect tribute to this amazing conductor.
Release Date: April 29, 2022
Catalog Number: 19439888252
Number of Discs: 69
Conductor: Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble: New York Philharmonic Orchestra