Friday, April 29, 2016

Lord Berners: The Triumph of Neptune (Beecham)

Lord Berners, 1935
Today, April 29, is the birthday of no less than three famous conductors - Beecham, Sargent, and Zubin Mehta (who turns 80 this year).  I honor the first of these here, with one of his rarer items, the most famous work by Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson (1883-1950), usually referred to by the much shorter name "Lord Berners" after becoming the 14th Baron Berners in 1918.  This is a suite from the 1926 ballet he wrote for Diaghilev's "Ballet Russes" to a story by Sacheverell Sitwell, "The Triumph of Neptune":

Lord Berners: The Triumph of Neptune - Ballet Suite
London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham
Recorded December 20, 1937
Columbia Masterworks set X-92, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 35.56 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 24.30 MB)

This recording stayed in the American Columbia catalogue for only five years - unlike most of Beecham's London Philharmonic output, which remained available until all classical 78s were deleted, by which time Columbia was amassing a sizable LP catalogue of Beecham's Royal Philharmonic recordings to replace them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Happy 125th, Sergei Prokofiev!

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
Saturday, April 23, marks a significant composer anniversary - the 125th birthday of Prokofiev (1891-1953). I present the recording that was my introduction to his "neoclassical" style - or, to put it more accurately, the first work of his in an academic form that I came to know, since the first copy of this set which I owned (purchased from Clark Music in Decatur, Ga.) was a gift to me for my 11th birthday, and at that age, the name Prokofiev meant to me only "Peter and the Wolf", of course, as well as the March from "The Love for Three Oranges." This first recording of the D Major Sonata, originally for flute but recast for violin at David Oistrakh's suggestion, has never been surpassed:

Prokofiev: Sonata in D Major, Op. 94a (1943)
Joseph Szigeti, violin; Leonid Hambro, piano
Recorded December 8 and 10, 1944
Columbia Masterworks MM-620, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 59.42 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 42.86 MB)

Incredibly, the liner notes (written by Szigeti himself) make no mention of the work's origin as a flute sonata, and for years I had no idea that it had been anything other than a violin piece. Then in high school, a flute-playing friend asked me if I had this recording. He was dissatisfied with James Galway's version, and his flute teacher, Warren Little (first-chair flutist of the Atlanta Symphony back then) had insisted that this Szigeti 78 set was the one to hear, because he played it like a "big Russian bear" - never mind, I suppose, that Szigeti was Hungarian! But he certainly had an affinity for Prokofiev....

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Stokowski's All-American Youth Orchestra

Leopold Stokowski rehearsing with the
All-American Youth Orchestra, 1940
Leopold Stokowski's birthday is upon us again (he was born 134 years ago this Monday), and this year I've chosen some samples of his work with the All-American Youth Orchestra, essentially his own creation for the purposes of touring and recording. I will not go into the details, but instead direct you to this article at Larry Huffman's incredible site about the conductor, an article that contains a discography, orchestra roster, and several pictures (such as the one above). The orchestra existed for two years, in 1940 and 1941, and both years are represented here:

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 and
Bach-Stokowski: "Little" Fugue in G Minor, BWV 578
The All-American Youth Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Recorded November 14, 1940
Columbia Masterworks set MM-451, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 83.82 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 58.94 MB)

Liszt-Stokowski: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
The All-American Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Recorded July 8, 1941
Columbia Masterworks 11646-D, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 22.03 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 13.03 MB)

Mendelssohn: Scherzo (from "A Midsummer Night's Dream")
Bach-Stokowski: Preludio (from Partita in E Major, BWV 1006)
The All-American Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Recorded July 11 and 20, 1941
Columbia Masterworks 11983-D, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 21.38 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 13.07 MB)

The Beethoven set is a relatively recent acquisition for me; but for the two single discs I have revisited the reclaimed record pile. I'm particularly pleased to have reclaimed the Bach-Mendelssohn disc, for it was a gift from my first piano teacher, George A. Neely (1903-1990), with whom I began lessons at the age of 11. Mr. Neely was a kind man who traveled to our neighborhood once a week to give lessons to kids in their homes. When he learned of my interest in collecting classical 78s, he decided to give me his entire collection - accumulated 25-35 years previously and containing some 40 or 50 sets, among them all the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies! The Stokowski record I'm sharing here is all I have left of this largess. I took lessons from Mr. Neely until I was fourteen, at which point I wanted to learn to play Shostakovich and he declared he had nothing left to teach me, so another teacher was found. But I remember Mr. Neely with the greatest fondness, am grateful for his many gifts, and hope I give as much to my own students as he gave me.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ortenberg, Foss and the Budapest Quartet

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
For a dozen years, beginning in 1932, one half of the famed Budapest String Quartet consisted of the Schneider brothers - Alexander as second violinist and Mischa as cellist.  Then in 1944, Alexander decided to strike out on his own with other projects (for example, a fruitful partnership with harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick), and he was replaced in the Quartet by the Odessa-born Edgar Ortenberg (1900-1996).  One of the first recording projects with Ortenberg, and in fact the first Budapest Quartet recording with him to be released, was this Mozart quintet with another frequent Budapest collaborator, Milton Katims (1909-2006):

Mozart: String Quintet in C Major, K. 515
Budapest String Quartet (Roisman-Ortenberg-Kroyt-Schneider)
with Milton Katims, second viola
Recorded February 6 and April 23, 1945
Columbia Masterworks MM-586, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 80.06 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 54.29 MB)

At about the same time, Ortenberg made his only American recording as a violin soloist, this first recording of a Hindemith violin sonata:

Hindemith: Sonata in E (1935) and
Foss: Dedication (1944)
Edgar Ortenberg, violin; Lukas Foss, piano
Recorded c. 1944-45
Hargail set MW-300, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 43.73 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 27.12 MB)

This would also appear to be Lukas Foss' first appearance on record as either pianist or composer.  He was in his early 20s at the time.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bliss: Music for Strings (Boult)

Arthur Bliss
I can't claim a great deal of familiarity with the music of Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975), but of the dozen or so works I have heard, by far my favorite is the Music for Strings, a three-movement symphony in all but name.  I find much of Bliss' work to be rather dry, but that cannot be said of this piece, which has a richness and sweep very reminiscent of Elgar, albeit combined with more astringent harmonies than old Sir Edward would ever have employed.  It was introduced at the Salzburg Festival of 1935 by Adrian Boult, who made its first recording two years later:

Bliss: Music for Strings (1935)
BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult
Recorded March 24 and June 5, 1937
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-464, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 56.35 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 37.46 MB)

Friday, March 11, 2016

The New Art Wind Quintet

The New Art Wind Quintet (Murray Panitz, Melvin Kaplan,
Aldo Simonelli, Tina di Dario, Merrill Wilson)
Last month, when I posted the First String Quartet by Nicolai Berezowsky, Nick of Grumpy's Classics Cave commented that we can now hear all commercial 78s of his work, given that Symposium Records made available the other candidate, a New Music Quarterly issue of two movements of Berezowsky's 1928 Suite for Woodwinds. That exchange led me to seek out the third and last commercial recording of Berezowsky's music made during his too-short lifetime. This was an early LP containing the same Suite for Woodwinds, this time complete:

Milhaud: Two Sketches for woodwind quintet, Op. 227b
Berezowsky: Suite for Woodwinds, Op. 11
Irving Fine: Partita for Woodwind Quintet (1948)
The New Art Woodwind Quintet
Issued July, 1951
Link (FLAC files, 77.61 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 60.21 MB)

The Milhaud (derived from piano pieces) and Berezowsky works are enjoyable enough, but the real masterpiece here is the Stravinsky-influenced Partita by the even shorter-lived Irving Fine (1914-1962), who died of heart disease at age 47.

Murray Panitz, the flutist on this recording, went on to become the principal flutist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, succeeding William Kincaid in 1961 and serving until his death in 1989 at age 63.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 3 (Efrem Zimbalist)

Efrem Zimbalist
For someone of his eminence during the golden age of violin playing, Efrem Zimbalist (1890-1985) did not have a recording career that really did him justice. Yes, there was the series of acoustic sides for Victor beginning in 1911, but he had Elman and Kreisler (and, later, Heifetz) to compete with in that sphere, and his usefulness to the company seems to have been principally to play obbligati to his wife, soprano (and Red Seal luminary) Alma Gluck. (His best-remembered recording is the famous Bach Double Concerto with Kreisler.) In 1928 he switched to Columbia, an association that produced some 34 issued sides, but only one recording of an extended work, this Brahms sonata:

Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108
Efrem Zimbalist, violin; Harry Kaufman, piano
Recorded May 19, 1930
Columbia Masterworks Set No. 140, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 62.75 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.74 MB)

This recording would have been intended to replace the one by Arthur Catterall and William Murdoch in Columbia's catalogue, and would itself be replaced eight years later with the version by Joseph Szigeti and Egon Petri. New York-born Harry Kaufman (1894-1961) may not be in quite the same league as Murdoch or Petri, but as someone who was head of the Department of Accompanying at the Curtis Institute at the time this recording was made, he acquits himself admirably. Zimbalist himself was later Curtis' director (from 1941 to 1968).

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Carpenter: Adventures in a Perambulator (Ormandy)

John Alden Carpenter
Barely remembered today, John Alden Carpenter (1876-1951), born 140 years ago next Sunday (Feb. 28) in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, Illinois, was among the most celebrated of living American composers in the period before such younger men as Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber became prominent. Like his almost exact contemporary, Charles Ives, he was a successful businessman who composed in his spare time, and also like Ives, his works are imbued with an American spirit; but while Ives' works are an evocation of 19th-century America through sometimes aggressively modern-sounding means, Carpenter's take the opposite route, often evoking the 20th century (e.g., his ballets Krazy Kat and Skyscrapers) in a more conservative style. One of his best-remembered works is this charming baby's-eye view of life on the streets one hundred years ago, written in 1914 for Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra:

Carpenter: Adventures in a Perambulator, suite for orchestra
Recorded January 17, 1934
and
Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro - Overture
Recorded January 23, 1934
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-238, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 86.50 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 55.47 MB)

These were some of the fruits from Ormandy's first recording sessions as conductor of a major symphony orchestra. The series of sessions actually ran from Tuesday, January 16, through Wednesday the 24th - every day except Sunday. The session of the 17th which produced this Carpenter suite also produced the recording of Kodály's "Háry János" Suite that can be heard here.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Two "Firsts" from the Coolidge Quartet

Nicolai Berezowsky
With these two sets, I am now about two-thirds of the way through completing what Nick, of Grumpy's Classics Cave, has quaintly called my "heroic quest" - my effort to possess a complete run of the Coolidge Quartet's recordings of 1938-40. (Every time I hear the word "quest" I, perhaps inevitably, think of Don Quixote - thanks to that little ditty by Mitch Leigh, "The Impossible Dream.") Today's installment contains something I am quite thrilled to be able to offer, a work by the Coolidges' own second violinist, Nicolai Berezowsky (1900-1953):

Berezowsky: Quartet No. 1, Op. 16
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded May 31, 1938
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-624, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 46.71 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 33.06 MB)

This piece, published in 1931, is hardly profound but is highly enjoyable, its four movements squarely in the neo-classical tradition with strong echoes of Stravinsky and Hindemith. Berezowsky enjoyed a certain amount of success as a composer during his lifetime, with four symphonies and several concertos to his credit. (His Fourth Symphony can be heard here on YouTube.) Sadly, he committed suicide at the age of 53, and his work has since fallen into oblivion.

The other item today is the first installment of the Coolidges' ill-fated Beethoven cycle:

Beethoven: Quartet No. 1 in F Major, Op. 18, No. 1
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded March 17, 1939
Victor Musical Masterpiece set AM-550, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 60.00 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 43.33 MB)

Both downloads contain PDF files of the original program booklets, that of the Berezowsky offering his own analysis of his quartet.