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Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2008

The Ormandy Sound

Classical Review

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   "Any conductor reflects clearly the instrument he played. My sound is what it is because I was a violinist." So explained Budapest-born American conductor Eugene Ormandy (1899-1985). He was one of the last great giants of conducting whose name became inseparable from the ensemble he led-the Philadelphia Orchestra. His association with Philadelphia began in 1936 and ended in 1980. During this lengthy tenure he fashioned what became known as the "Ormandy Sound"-silken strings, precision in details and overall voluptuousness.

  Ormandy recorded for Columbia Records from 1944 to 1968, and it's from this period-the peak of his career-that Sony Music collects recordings for its new 10-CD Original Jacket Collection release focusing on Ormandy and his Philadelphia Orchestra. The works show Ormandy's broad range, from Baroque (the two-CD "Bach Album") to Romantic (Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Grieg) to his then contemporaries (Rachmaninoff, Bartok, Barber, Shostakovich). The jewel in the set is "The Romantic Philadelphia Strings," the original LP from 1966 containing 12 gorgeous string-laden works.

  Each CD comes in a miniature of its old LP jacket, though not always quite the "original," thus making the series a bit of a misnomer (whenever changes have been made to the original LP's contents, the front of the jacket was altered to include mention of the addition work(s)). This is basically unobtrusive but also unnecessary, since the box set comes with a booklet detailing each CD's contents. Still, these 1950s-'60s recordings are given great digital polish and are a nostalgia buff's dream, with all those old LP references to Columbia's "Stereo 360 Sound," and quaint reminders that these recordings are "playable on today's new mono record players!"

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