Issay Dobrowen conducts Tchaikovsky (Philharmonia Orchestra, 1946/7)

Today, I offer for your enjoyment, freshly transfered 78 rpm recordings with the (at that time) newly formed Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Russian born Itschok Zorachovitsj Barabejtsjik, better known as Issay Dobrowen (1891-1953) . Although his concerto recordings with such artists as Artur Schnabel, Nicolai Medtner and Ginette Neveu and his complete recording of Mussogsky’s Boris Godunov (with Boris Christoff) continue to be available, these particular recordings have yet to appear either on LP or CD. I have several earlier Parlophone/Odeon recordings to share at a later date, but his sole US post, with the San Francisco Symphony (1931-34) seems not to have yielded any recordings. Apparently at this time he was well enough known for his Tchaikovsky interpretations that a Time Magazine critic had this to say about his programming a work of Ernest Bacon in 1934:

His Symphony was never played until Conductor Issai Dobrowen forgot Tchaikovsky long enough to give it place of honor on the week’s San Francisco Symphony program.

The (unnamed) Time critic also has this amusing (and fairly idiotic!) description of Dobrowen in 1932. He certainly seem to have it in for poor Tchaikovsky:

Soon, for seven weeks, the Philadelphia Orchestra will have a young Russian guest conductor utterly unlike Eugene Ormandy. Crinkly-haired Issay Dobrowen. the San Francisco Symphony’s conductor, now spelling Arturo Toscanini with the New York Philharmonic, stayed in California long enough this autumn to open the symphony season in San Francisco’s new War Memorial Opera House, to win $25 from the beating California gave Stanford at football. Then he hurried to Manhattan where he scored the quick success that San Franciscans had prophesied for him. Dobrowen (pronounced Do-bro-vane) gets dynamic effects by constantly fluttering his left hand, tossing his black head, whipping the air nervously with his baton. Considerable excitement was aroused at his Manhattan debut fortnight ago when he played Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, of which San Francisco is tired but which Manhattan seldom hears now since Toscanini is not attracted to the pessimistic Russian’s music. The tireless drilling that Toscanini gives his orchestra made Dobrowen’s dramatic Tchaikovsky perform-ance possible. Rehearsals bore Dobrowen. Audiences excite him. He likes to wait for the inspiration of the moment, which rarely counts when an orchestra is ragged.

In any case, the recorded evidence certainly shows Dobrowen’s affinity for Russian repertory (also worth tracking down are the two early Philharmonia LPs of works by Rimsky-Korsakov), and also despite the above account of his lack of interest in rehearsals, he and the very young Philharmonia Orchestra seem quite attuned to each other, and these wonderfully flexible and dynamically charged performances are well worth a listen. Considering that this newly formed group was hardly used to playing together at this point, Dobrowen must be considered one of the key early contributors to the orchestra’s style and success. The last movement of the Symphony crackles along, but has a very satisfying swagger to it. One interesting detail: in the slow introduction to the Serenade’s first movement, listen to how the first violins play high up on the G string in bars 10-15, in the middle of the treble clef stave. There’s a bit of overloading in the Symphony, and the Serenade is a bit noisy (as well as sometimes displaying that Dobrowen forgot his tempo from the previous side upon resuming the recording!), but overall these are sonically quite decent.

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36
HMV C 3809/13 (matr. 2EA 11088/97)

Recorded June 24 – 25, 1946, May 6, 1947 & February 3, 1948

Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48
HMV C 3751/54
(matr. 2EA 11908/10, 11918/9, 11968, 12029)

Recorded May 6 – 7 & 26, 1947

Liadov: Berceuse (No. 6 from Eight Russian Folk Songs, Op. 58)

Recorded May 6, 1947 (matr. 2EA 12030)

Issay Dobrowen, Conductor
The Philharmonia Orchestra

(all recorded in London, EMI Studio No. 1, Abbey Road)

Thanks to Mike Gartz for his source material and playback equipment, and for suggesting these recordings to me.

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