- CD 1 Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 6 (Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Hermann Scherchen)
- CD 2 Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 2,4 & 8 (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Hermann Scherchen)
- CD 3 Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (Söderström, Resnick, Vickers, Ward, London Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Monteux)
- CD 4 Haydn: Military Symphony, Farewell Symphony (Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Hermann Scherchen)
- CD 5 Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 39, 40,41 (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf)
- CD 6 Holst: The Planets (Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult)
- CD 7 & 8 Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Artur Rodzinski)
- CD 9 & 10 Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 (Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Hans Knappertsbusch)
- CD 11 & 12 Mahler: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2 (Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Hermann Scherchen)
- CD 13: Glière: Symphony No. 3 (Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Hermann Scherchen)
- CD 14 Beethoven: Christ on the Mount of Olives (Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Hermann Scherchen)
- CD 32 & 33 Bach: Mass in B minor (Alarie, Merriman, Simoneau, Neidlinger, Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Hermann Scherchen)
- CD 34 Mozart: Requiem (Jurinac, West, Loeffler, Guthrie, Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Hermann Scherchen)
- CD 35-37 Handel: Rodelinda (Stich-Randall, Forrester, Vienna Radio Orchestra, Brian Priestman)
- CD 38-39 Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette (London Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Monteux)
As early as October 1950, the label acquired its most buccaneering conductor, in the shape of the studious-looking German maestro Hermann Scherchen. The usual snap verdict on Scherchen is that he was a maverick, but it might be truer to say that he was difficult to pigeonhole. His readings of Baroque music were fast and light but still featured lavish rallentandi at the ends of movements. He spent more time recording Haydn symphonies for Westminster than any other repertoire; and his interpretations were an intriguing amalgam of old and new, with very fast tempi in faster movements and very slow tempi in slower ones. Scherchen had cut his teeth as a quartet leader at a time when such ensembles as the Busch and Klingler Quartets played Haydn’s slow movements extremely broadly (vide the Klingler record of the Largo of op. 76 no. 5). “Scherchen was very eccentric at times, yet a lot of that eccentricity revealed the music as never before,” says the Haydn scholar Antony Hodgson. The two Haydn symphonies here are memorably performed, the “Farewell” with players bidding each other “Wiedersehen” as they quit the stage two by two in the Adagio appendage to the Presto finale, the “Military” with extreme dynamic contrasts and a fizzing finale. Note the correct slow timpani roll at the end of the introduction to the “Military”, a work Scherchen was recording for the third time, and the often-humorous attention given to Haydn’s rests in both performances.
In Beethoven, Scherchen caused considerable comment: his tempi often came up to the controversial metronome markings. Many listeners loved his version of Wellington’s Victory. Desmond Shawe-Taylor found the Second and Eighth Symphonies “intensely lively” (The Observer), and Edward Greenfield thought the Second “generally the best version” (Manchester Guardian). The Third and Fourth have had many admirers but the Sixth still splits opinion: the storm is elemental but is the first movement too fast? The sentimental slowing at the end of the second movement shows how Scherchen’s heart sometimes ruled his head. For a stereo Ninth Symphony, Westminster turned not to Scherchen – who had directed a mono version in 1953 – but to veteran French conductor Pierre Monteux. Made in conjunction with a London concert performance, it was his sole recorded Ninth and featured an international solo quartet: Swedish soprano, American mezzo, Canadian tenor and Scottish bass. In rehearsal excerpts issued with the LPs, Monteux was heard objecting to one of Felix Weingartner’s retouchings to the Scherzo: “That is not Beethoven. That is Weingartner, and I don’t like it at all.”
Monteux’s Ninth was made at Walthamstow Assembly Hall with his British band, the LSO; and the same sessions produced a renowned account of Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette with a different Canadian tenor, André Turp. But most of Westminster’s London orchestral recordings, such as Scherchen’s account of Mahler’s First Symphony, used Sir Thomas Beecham’s Royal Philharmonic, appearing on sleeves and labels as the “Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra”. Two American-based maestros were brought over specially to work with it. The Austrian conductor Erich Leinsdorf was the choice for a useful set of the complete Mozart symphonies – so complete that it even included “No. 37”, now known to be by Michael Haydn, apart from its slow introduction. The final great trio of symphonies is reissued here. The RPO also worked extensively with Polish maestro Artur Rodzin´ski, notorious for keeping a pistol in a pocket of his dress clothes – it was never fired, although many of his American orchestral players were. He is here represented mostly by Tchaikovsky, a famous complete Nutcracker, the Fourth Symphony and the Violin Concerto with that most bewitching of Viennese fiddlers, Erica Morini – her stereo sessions with him also produced the Brahms Concerto.
Some of the heavier orchestral repertoire was taped in Vienna. Sir Adrian Boult, who had played British music with the Philharmonic before the war, was just the man to take the VSOO through Holst’s suite The Planets – which he had premièred – and two of Vaughan Williams’s works in which the Viennese strings could shine. Scherchen did several Mahler symphonies – we hear the “Resurrection” with the great South African soprano Mimi Coertse, the American mezzo Lucretia West and the Vienna Academy Chorus – but his most exotic contributions to the catalogue were Reinhold Glière’s Third Symphony (“Ilya Muromets”) and ballet suite from The Red Poppy. René Leibowitz, like Scherchen a guru of modern music, turned his hand to Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. For Bruckner’s mighty Eighth Symphony the technical team travelled to Munich, where the giant German conductor Hans Knappertsbusch had been based since 1922 (apart from a long break caused by ructions with the Nazi hierarchy). With the Bavarian city’s main concert orchestra, “Kna” delivered a typically spacious, if slightly shaggy, rendering, also recording music by another of his kindred souls, Wagner.