The Philharmonia has been at the top of its league as a concert-giving and recording orchestra since its inception. 27 October 1945 was the date of the Philharmonia’s first appearance, the culmination of Walter Legge’s vision to form an orchestral ensemble of the highest possible standard, and the beginning of a London and international presence of considerable distinction.
Sir Thomas Beecham conducted the Philharmonia’s opening concert but disagreements between him and Legge regarding power-sharing led Beecham to go his own way, and he formed the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra a few years later. For Legge it was an opportunity to secure Herbert von Karajan (1908-89). He, for numerous years, was de facto principal conductor, notching up many Philharmonia concerts, tours and recordings, before such engagements became fewer, then nothing at all, when he was called to the Berlin Philharmonic in 1955, which would become a lifetime’s relationship for the Austrian.
The London-born impresario Legge (1906-1979, who in 1953 married the singer Elisabeth Schwarzkopf) was a recording producer for EMI and Columbia and his connection with Beecham had been cemented pre-war at Covent Garden. In terms of chronology in London’s orchestral life, the Philharmonia followed the London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony and London Philharmonic, and was formed when the Royal Festival Hall was still a twinkle in its planners’ eyes.
Given Legge’s proclivities, not surprisingly the Philharmonia was a regular visitor to studios, invariably the famed Abbey Road. First-class recordings were the result, warmly welcomed by reviewers on their first appearances, on 78s and then LPs of course. Today those precious documents, celebrating associations with such maestros as Furtwängler, Karajan, Klemperer, Sawallisch, Giulini and Kletzki, and latterly with Dohnányi, Maazel, Muti and Sinopoli, remain just as significant, whether through CDs or streaming (sometimes on re-mastered LPs, the vinyl market still thriving for enthusiasts).
(Taken from the Philharmonia’s History by Colin Anderson as part of their 70th Anniversary Celebrations)