Serge Koussevitsky – Boston Symphony – December 30, 1944 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Serge Koussevitsky leads the Boston Symphony in an abbreviated concert, first broadcast by the NBC Blue Network (soon to become ABC) on December 30, 1944. This was part of a series produced by the Boston Symphony Transcription Trust in the late 1970s/early 1980s called The Art Of Serge Koussevitsky. It offered the original program, minus the original announcements, commercials and intermission features. The sound on the series varied greatly, but the music and the performances are the calling card here. This concert, begins with Mussorgsky’s Night On Bald Mountain and then gives what I believe to be the broadcast premier of Bela Bartok’s Concerto For Orchestra. Missing is the final work, which was Brahms’ First Symphony, which wasn’t broadcast originally, but performed in the concert hall.
Since this broadcast was originally aired on December 30, 1944 and the world premier of the Concerto For Orchestra took place on December 1st, it only makes sense that this performance is the broadcast premier. Although it’s not mentioned in this episode, which is odd. Still, it’s significant and it gives further evidence that Serge Koussevitsky was a vigorous supporter of contemporary composers and offered commissions for what has become a prestigious catalog of firsts that wound up becoming staples in the Concert Hall for decades to come.
The work was written in response to a commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation following Bartók’s move to the United States from his native Hungary, which he had fled because of World War II. It has been speculated that Bartók’s previous work, the String Quartet No. 6 (1939), could well have been his last were it not for this commission, which sparked a small number of other compositions, including his Sonata for Solo Violin and Piano Concerto No. 3.
Bartók revised the piece in February 1945, the biggest change coming in the last movement, where he wrote a longer ending. Both versions of the ending were published, and both versions are performed today.
Save for a few muddy bits (transferred from what I believe are Armed Forces transcription discs), the Concerto For Orchestra is a splendid accomplishment by a top-notch orchestra and truly a historic performance.