Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dimitri-in-the-Dell

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
(restored by Peter Joelson)
The spotlight this week is on the great Greek conductor and pianist, Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960), who, at the time of these recordings, was the principal conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony.  Here, however, he is leading the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia (essentially the Philadelphia Orchestra) in a couple of their earliest recordings under that name.  To simultaneously play and conduct Prokofiev's extremely demanding Third Piano Concerto was a Mitropoulos specialty (he first carried out the feat in Berlin in 1930), and, in fact, I'm unaware of anyone who has done the dual role with this piece since.  (Since writing the above, I've learned that Van Cliburn actually did so, at a 1961 concert in New York that was a memorial for Mitropoulos! Stokowski was supposed to conduct, but was laid up from an accident, so Cliburn, who had taken conducting lessons from Bruno Walter, assumed conducting duties as well.)  And even if there are quite a few wrong notes in this performance, one can't help admiring Mitropoulos' gumption not merely in pulling it off, but in posing the challenge to its only competition in the record catalogues at the time - the composer's own recording of 1932:

Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26
Dimitri Mitropoulos with the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia
Recorded July 26, 1946
Columbia Masterworks set MM-667, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 71.05 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 38.43 MB)

In the next recording presented here, Mitropoulos reverts to his more accustomed role as conductor only, since for even so prestigious a talent as his, it would have been impossible to play both piano parts as well as conduct in the Mozart two-piano concerto:

Mozart: Concerto for two pianos in E-Flat major, K. 365
Vitya Vronsky and Victor Babin, duo-pianists
Robin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos
Recorded September 21, 1945
Columbia Masterworks set MM-628, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 61.87 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 36.2 MB)

5 comments:

  1. Good stuff! Always appreciate what you offer to us.

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  2. I know of one CD issue of the Prokofiev, which is (if I recall correctly) a Greek retrospective series from Columbia authentic sources; but the recording should be much wider known, so your distro from the 78s is most appreciated! Mitropoulos also did this, didn't he, with the NBC Symphony? A remarkable feat, as you say, Bryan!

    I had not even been aware of the Mozart concerto's existence, so you continue to uncover marvelous "new" discoveries that have been overlooked by many of the major CD restoration projects on Pearl, Biddulph, Naxos, etc.!

    Mitropoulos got bad press toward the end of his American career, but the recordings and live broadcasts tell us something else altogether. This man was a true giant, and it is not surprising (though extremely sad) that he was under-appreciated in the USA on the snotty east coast. Can you imagine what they would have said about Furtwaengler, if he'd dared to take the Chicago post?

    S. - retired recording engineer

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  3. The Prokofiev has been on more than one CD - besides the Greek Sony reissue, I have one on Piano Library. And there was a precedent for this type of performance: in 1927 Prokofiev himself played the Concerto in the USSR with the Soviet conductorless orchestra Persimfans (Pervyj Simfonicheskij Ansambl')! I don't know if that counts as 'conducting'... The Mozart was also on a Columbia LP but was then buried, I guess, by Mitropoulos' 1960 recording with the Casadesus partnership. Yes, a great conductor - and not the first to succumb to prejudice, factionalism etc. etc. If you're going to hang your civic slate on a big expensive symphony orchestra, that kind of shenanigans will happen! All the best and thank you as ever, Nick

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  4. On a totally different topic, I thought this might interest you- http://todaysinspiration.blogspot.com/2012/06/album-covers-by-famous-illustrators.html

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