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Georges Sebastian (1903-1989)


Georges Sebastian around 1950. Image taken from the 1952 release of Urania 7061.

Georges Sebastian around 1950.
Picture taken from the cover of Urania URLP 7061 released in the fall of 1952.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Georges Sebastian's Urania recording of Liszt's Faust Symphonie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Symphony Fantastique on the German Diamant label licensed by Remington Records

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In an old encyclopedia it was stated that Sebastian's actual name was György Sebestyén but he westernized it to Sebastian. As he lived in Paris from 1947 on, his Christian name is written Georges with an 's', the French way, although he often is listed as George as well. And his Family name is often written as Sebastien.

Georges Sebastian was born in Budapest on Aug. 17, 1903 and died (according to Larousse Encyclopedia) on April 12th, 1989 in Hauteville (Yvelines), located southwest of Paris.

The liner notes of Remington R-199-176 mention:


'(...) he studied with Leo Weiner and Zoltán Kodály. He conducted with Bruno Walter in Munich and then came to the US as assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera House. His career took him back to Europe where he was engaged as conductor of the Opera Houses of Hamburg, Leipzig, Berlin and Barcelona. He returned to America to perform with the Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro Operas, the San Francisco Opera and the CBS nationwide network. Since 1947 he has been first conductor of the Paris Grand Opera and a regular conductor of the Concerts Colonne Paris.'


To most music lovers Sebastian is known as the conductor of the live-performance of the second act of La Tosca (Puccini) with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi with the Orchestra and Chorus of the 'Théatre National de l'Opéra de Paris' on December 19, 1958 (Maria Callas: Débuts à Paris, 1958), his collaboration with Kirsten Flagstad in recordings of 1948 and 1951, and the Paris debut of Leontyne Price in Aida.

Georges Sebastian - at the pinnacle of his career - recorded many works for the Urania label:

Albeniz (Ibéria), Dukas (Symphony in C, La Péri; C-7097), Fauré (Pelléas et Mélisande; C-7097), Franck (Les Djinns; 7099), Schubert: (Symphonies No. 3 and 6 with l'orchestre des Concerts Colonne; 7137), Granados (Spanish Dances; 7144), d'Indy (Istar Variations; C-7115), Lalo (Rhapsodie Norvégienne, Symphony No. 2; C-7156), Liszt (Dante Symphony; C-7103), Liszt (Faust Symphony; C-606), Prokofiev (Symphony No. 4; A-7139), The Prodigal Son (Prokofiev; A-7139), Respighi (Brazilian Impressions; A-7144), Saint-Saëns (Carnival of Animals; C-7099), Schubert (Symphonies Nos. 3 and 6; A-7137).
For Urania he also conducted the complete recording of 'Thais' (Massenet; B-227) and of 'Werther' (Massenet; with Juyol, Leger, Richard, Rouquetty, Bourdin, 233 (3Lp) and for English Decca 'Lakme' (Delibes; London 5134).

Remington Recording Director Laszlo Halasz knew of course his fellow countryman and asked Sebastian to record for Remington Records with the RIAS Symphony Orchestra and with the Orchestra of the Teatro La Fenice.

The Remington Musirama cover of Symphony Fantastique (R-199-176)

With the RIAS Symphony Orchestra he recorded for Remington:

R-199-174 - Wagnerian Favorites: Tannhäuser (Prelude to Act III, Arrival of the Guests at the Wartburg), Lohengrin (Prelude to Act III), Meistersinger (Prelude, Dance of the Apprentices and March).

R-199-176 - Symphonie Fantastique (Berlioz). According to the French web site Patachon this same recording was available on Musidisc RC 830 and the conductor's name was Thomas Greene conducting the London Festival Orchestra and as year of recording 1966 is mentioned.

R-199-177 - Wagner Overtures: Lohengrin (Prelude to Act 1), Meistersinger (Prelude to Act 1), Tannhäuser (Overture to Act 1; Bacchanale)

Georges Sebastian - RIAS Symphony Orchestra - Wagnerian Favorites. Rmington Musirama.
Georges Sebastian - Wagnerian Overtures - RIAS Symphony Orchestra Remington Musirama.
Wagnerian Favorites on Remington R-199-174 - Cover by Kaebitz
Wagnerian Overtures on Remington R-199-177- Cover by Kaebitz

R-199-208 - Suite from Coppélia (Delibes) - coupled with the Suite from Sylvia conducted by Anatole Fistoulari. In 1967 these performances were reissued on Everest 6116 (mono) and 3116 (stereo). The availability of this recording in stereo proves that Don Gabor and Laszlo Halasz made these recordings in stereo, though not on 35 mm film; the 35 mm could only have been used by Everest for the initial transfer of the original tapes; but it is unlikely that they worked that way. The Everest release not only shows that the sound technique of these recordings was excellent, given the year they were recorded in, but also the performances are noteworthy.

And with the Teatro La Fenice:

R-199-175/2 - 'Cavalleria Rusticana' (Mascagni) - a 2 record set.
This complete recording with the 'Teatro la Fenice' conducted by George Sebastian, had singers Teresa Apolei, Pina Geri, Antonio Spruzzola Zola, Piero Campolonghi and Letizia Del Col. This set replaced the earlier recording with conductor Erasmo Ghiglia conducting the Fiorentino Chorus and Orchestra, and singers Vassilka Petrova, Edward Ruhl, Ivan Petroff and Benucci.
Sawallisch Tchaikovsky Sebastian Rimsky-Korsakoff

More recordings were made with Georges Sebastian conducting but they were not released by Remington, yet appeared on Tefi Schallbänder in Germany:
* Ponchielli: Danse of the Hours
* Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter (coupled with Capricio Italien conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch released on Bertelsmann HIFI 13 134)
* Saint-Saëns: Danse macabre
* Saint-Saëns: Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah

Georges Sebastian around 1955.
Georges Sebastian (1903-1989) around 1955.
Photograph taken from an advertisement of Remington Records in a Dutch publication.

In March 1955 Dutch music critic Jan de Kruijff reviewed Sebastian's performance of Symphony Fantastique for the monthly record magazine 'Luister...' and compared the release to the already existing recordings of Willem van Otterloo (Philips), Eduard van Beinum (Decca), Pierre Monteux (RCA), and Igor Markevitch (Deutsche Grammophon). Though the performance of the latter conductor was "the winner" of the lot, George Sebastian's Remington disc received praise. De Kruijff wrote:


The Remington-recording according to the Musirama-system is a revelation of richness of sound. The performers, the RIAS Symphony Orchestra conducted by George Sebastian, give a glowing performance. At several instances the effects seem a bit would be. The groups of instruments have been treated too much in an individual manner in contrast to the (English) Decca-recording, which lacks this. While listening, the impression is that we are not seated in the hall but it looks as if we are walking through the orchestra and at one moment are placed amidst the first violins and at another instance we land in the vicinity of the percussion-section, which does not result in the correct impression of the work. In this way the work gets a transparent character. The display of space is good; regrettably the brass-section sounds rather dry. The fourth movement in particular sounds very suggestive. - Jan de Kruijff


There are a few recordings of Sebastian on other labels than Remington and Urania:

* Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 with Reine Gianoli and the Baden-Baden Radio Symphony Orchestra - CLUB FRANCAIS DU DISQUE 368
* Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier, Act 3, the San Francisco performance recorded in 1945 with Lotte Lehmann, Alvary, Rise Stevens, Glaz, - GOLDEN AGE OF OPERA EJS 462
* Excerpts from Bizet's Carmen with Rise Stevens \Connor\Jobin - OA 5X 5 x COLUMBIA 78D. 152
* Massenet: Thais with Boue, Monmart, Riquier, Leroy - PRESIDENT UPR 10005
* Excerpts from Siegfried with Kristen Flagstad (coupled with excerpts from Die Walküre, conducted by Karl Böhm EMI FALP 30311
* Strauss: Tod und Verklärung, Rosenkavalier Suite with the Orchestra of the Südwestfunk - CLUB FRANCAIS DU DISQUE 328
* Thomas: Mignon, with Mizzen, Michael and lade La - 3 x LONDON ALA 15
* Two fine performances were recorded in 1963 by DEB Deutsche Schallplatten in the than German Democratic Republic in cooperation with EMI: Schönberg's 'Verklärte Nacht' and Mahler's 'Adagio' from Symphony No. 10. EMI produced a very fine release of these recordings with the Gewandhaus Orchester Leipzig. These recordings can be found on the Eterna label as well.

Rudolf A. Bruil. Page first published January 16, 2003.

 

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