Antal Dorati (1906-88) was music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra from 1977 to 1981, following such as Paul Paray and Sixten Ehrling and preceding Neeme Järvi and Leonard Slatkin. During those few years Dorati added to his already sizeable discography (most notably, like Paray, for Mercury) with seventeen Decca releases (one being an opera), many captured in digital sound. For this complete Dorati/Detroit collection the original artwork is retained and such as Petrushka and The Rite of Spring remain as first issued, alone, thus preserving their respective covers.

Let’s start with the earliest recordings, the analogues, and a favourite LP, of Bartók’s attractive and early Suite No.1, music that sings and dances, and the more characteristic Two Pictures. Good to hear these seasoned performances again, enjoyably frisky and tuneful, with a greater quotient of Impressionism in the Pictures, Dorati at-one with the music. To Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture next, not as spectacular as his Mercury version if enjoyable (cannons decorously added albeit too many and dominating bells at the close!) together with fine accounts of Capriccio italien and Marche slave, a little staid perhaps if oh-so musical. A confection entitled Rhapsody! proves to be zesty and pleasurable – Liszt (Hungarian #2, orch. Müller-Berghaus), Ravel (Spanish), Enescu (Romanian #1) and Dvořák (Slavonic #3) – with the latter composer given a (digital) disc to himself, including the delightful Czech Suite, Prague Waltzes, and Polonaise, brought off with dedication, affection and fieriness – light(ish) music taken seriously; the Waltzes really swing, genuine dance-floor music.

The remaining analogue recording is the opera, an ambitious undertaking, Richard Strauss’s Die Ägyptische Helena (1928, Opus 75, to a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal). The cast includes Gwyneth Jones (title role), Barbara Hendricks, Matti Kastu (the tenor dealing heroically with Strauss’s formidable vocal demands) and Willard White. It gets off to an arresting Elektra-like start and compels throughout (Dorati must have had a burning desire to record this rarity, which is suggested in the preparation and intensity of the performance). If I recall correctly, Helena occupied three LPs; it is now on two CDs and sounds fabulous, one of the three credited engineers being Kenneth Wilkinson.

Strauss is also represented on three further discs – featuring Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel, Tod und Verklärung, Also sprach Zarathustra, Macbeth, Der Rosenkavalier (Suite) and Die Frau ohne Schatten (Symphonic Fantasy). All good and recommendable from a conductor steeped in the music, the opera-based concert pieces being especially impressive, Rosenkavalier exuberant and heart-touching, Frau strangely alluring.

Stravinsky is well catered for, too, whether his Opus One E-flat Symphony (written in the spirit of Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin yet displaying individual promise), Scherzo fantastique, Firebird (complete), Petrushka (1947 score) and Rite of Spring. Again, all contenders as library recommendations, especially The Rite, which really lifts off the page and hits the spot: well-timed, vivid and gripping. Firebird, if not quite the equal of Dorati’s quicksilver and theatrical 1960s’ LSO version, is nevertheless of fairy-tale enchantment and sparkling detail, with mounting excitement as the ‘Infernal Dance’ gets nearer (if a little subdued when it arrives) and adding a few extra minutes overall.

Stravinsky’s Apollon musagète (1947 version) is also included – Dorati bringing out all the music’s elegance and eloquence, beautifully played by the DSO strings (the concertmaster deserves a credit) – coupled with the equally wonderful Appalachian Spring (Suite), a little short on sentiment here while remaining affecting – and Copland also has a ‘solo’ disc, including a certain Fanfare, El salón México, the ‘Four Dance Episodes’ from Rodeo (playfully folksy and attractively indulged; maybe Dorati’s advancing years found him more yielding without sacrificing trademark control and discipline), and the brilliantly inventive, rhythmically complex and dazzlingly orchestrated Dance Symphony, given a five-star outing.

Further Americana includes Robert Russell Bennett’s Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture, Gershwin’s tunes transformed and condensed into a pleasing (preferable) potpourri, superbly scored by Bennett, a master orchestrator, the melodious goods delivered in luxuriant and sympathetic style by the Detroiters and Dorati, similarly in (another orchestral wizard) Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite, Technicolor and widescreen, Dorati very much ‘on the trail’ of the descriptive five movements.

Equally colourful are Szymanowski’s Second and Third (‘Song of the Night’) Symphonies, the latter requiring a tenor (Ryszard Karczykowski) and chorus (The Kenneth Jewell Chorale). The Second – one of those works that rarely gets out despite its distinction (at times, Max Reger meets the Schoenberg of Pelleas und Melisande) – extends through a range of feelings and disciplines, ending with an extensive and ingenious Theme, Variations and Fugue, leading to a grandiose and incisive payoff. The exotically impressionistic Third also receives a compassionate and committed reading, intoxicating.

Finally, a full-circle return to Bartók, The Miraculous Mandarin (complete, including the briefly used ad lib voices) and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta – totally characteristic masterpieces – the former from Dorati a little too careful at times, although the organ in the opening measures is mighty (Hammer Horror-worthy of a deranged Vincent Price or Christopher Lee playing whichever suitable character) if developing theatrical tension, the conductor playing the long game, although the ‘chase’ section (that ends the Suite) if musically lucid is scenario-light, but what follows reveals that post-Suite the score is at its most original and eerie. MSPC is wholly excellent, a rendition to match the composer’s exacting notation of the dark first (a slow fugue) and third movements and the energetically vital second and fourth.

Three Footnotes: 1) Something cosmetic, the acute accent on the ‘a’ of Dorati is rarely used today – Decca does now but did not when presenting these recordings first-time. In terms of his being Hungarian, Doráti is correct; however, maybe its use became less and less because Dorati was granted American citizenship in 1943. 2) During my late-teens I wrote to the maestro (the reason now of no importance). He replied very courteously in his own hand, inviting me backstage following any London concert that he was conducting. An open offer yet I never did meet him – too shy I guess – but, all these years later, I wish I had. 3) I was present at what turned out to be Dorati’s final London appearance, a Brahms evening, including the Double Concerto (Suk & Starker) and Symphony Four, Royal Philharmonic.

Today Dorati’s legacy resides in his recorded output (he also composed), including that captured in Detroit, much of it highly desirable. Decca 485 3114 (18 CDs).*/CD/Dor-ti-in-Detroit-Complete-Decca-Recordings/7ODF1YD8000