Sunday, July 27, 2014

Larry Adler and His Harmonica

Cover by Al Hirschfeld
The greatest harmonica player of them all, Larry Adler, would have been 100 years old last February had he lived.  (He died in August, 2001, aged 87.)  Around the time that anniversary would have been celebrated, I was lucky enough to find this Decca set in a used record shop.  Adler recorded copiously, but the vast majority of his recordings were British, for it was in Britain that he achieved his greatest fame.  There were sixteen issued American Decca sides made during the 1940s, the last two of them on the very day before the 1948 Petrillo recording ban took effect.  After that ban was over, he had been blacklisted for alleged Communist sympathies, and he moved to England permanently.  Here are one-half of those sixteen sides:

Larry Adler and His Harmonica, Vol. 2:
Katscher: When Day is Done
Olshanetzky: My Little Town Belz
Londonderry Air
Adler: Beguine
Debussy: Clair de Lune
Dinicu-Heifetz: Hora Staccato
Enesco: Roumanian Rhapsody No. 1
Recorded 1945-47
Decca set DA-653, 4 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 81.97 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 46.53 MB)

Strictly speaking, the Debussy/Dinicu record doesn't belong to DA-653; the previous owner had substituted it, but I was glad to get it anyway.  The Hora Staccato is a tour de force, as is the Enesco Roumanian Rhapsody.  The latter was featured in the 1948 MGM musical "Three Daring Daughters" starring Jeannette MacDonald, José Iturbi and Jane Powell.  In his entertaining 1984 memoirs, "It Ain't Necessarily So," Adler recounts how Iturbi almost cheated him out of the chance to work on the film:

"[In the film] I was to play Enesco's Roumanian Rhapsody in a Carnegie Hall setting, with Iturbi conducting a symphony orchestra. Before shooting I flew to Chicago for an engagement at the Chicago Theatre. When I returned I had a call from Abe Lastfogel [Adler's agent]. He told me that due to a set-designer's strike, they couldn't get the Carnegie Hall set built. Would I let [the film's producer Joe] Pasternak out of our deal? He'd put me in another film some other time. I could have insisted that I be paid - I had held the time free and signed a contract - but it didn't seem important enough to make it an issue, creating bad feeling and certainly ensuring that I'd never work at MGM again. So I agreed, the deal was off.
"That night Johnny Green rang me. Johnny, an old friend, was most famous as the composer of Body and Soul. He was in charge of music at MGM.
"'Larry', he said, it means my job if word of this gets out.' I promised secrecy.
"He told me that the set-designer story was phony. The set was up, they were shooting the number but without me. Instead of conducting the orchestra while I played, Iturbi would conduct from the piano while he played. And what would he be playing? Enesco's Roumanian Rhapsody. What a coincidence!
"'And Larry', said Johnny, 'he's using your arrangement!'
"Even for Hollywood this seemed to be carrying chutzpah to extremes. I phoned Lastfogel and, keeping Johnny's name out of it, told him what I'd learned. I said find out if the set is up; if it is, then is Iturbi doing a number and, if so, what number?
"Lastfogel called back.
"'You're back on the picture', he said. 'You don't know anything, you keep schtumm.'
"Next day Pasternak phoned. He was delighted, he said, that all the difficulties were ironed out, that I would be in the film after all.
"'Larry', he said, 'I've got a script problem and I need your advice. Could you come out to the studio today?
"I'm in the picture as a mouth-organist and suddenly I'm advising the producer on script problems. I drove out the the MGM studio.
"'Larry', said Pasternak, 'I've got to establish that José and Jeannette MacDonald are in love; there's only one logical place to establish it and that's during your number. Jeannette will be sitting in the audience and I want to show, with one look between them, that they're in love.'
"I had an idea what was coming.
"'Now, Larry', said Pasternak, and this time I could have written the script, 'if José is conducting the orchestra, his back is to the audience, right? And if his back is to the audience, he can't look at Jeannette. Ya with me?'
"Joe, I was way ahead of you.
"'And if he can't look at her, she can't look at him, right?'
"Right.
"'So, the way I worked it out, if José is at the piano, see, like he's playing a duet with you and conducting the orchestra at the same time, this way I can establish the look, the audience knows they love each other, you got it?'
"I got it. I also know I'm screwed.
"That's what we did, except that José had one more trick; he worked his sister, for God's sake, into the act. José Iturbi, Amparo Iturbi, and Friend. I was the friend. The number was lousy."

I've never seen the movie, so I can't agree or disagree with Adler's opinion, but the record certainly isn't lousy.  Of course the Iturbis were Victor artists so they aren't on it - fortunately!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Beethoven and Hindemith by the Amar Quartet

The Amar Quartet:
(L to R) Licco Amar, Walter Caspar, Paul Hindemith, Rudolf Hindemith
What do you do if you're a young composer hoping to make a splash with a new string quartet you've submitted to a music festival, only to find that the group assigned to perform it refuses to do so? Why, start your own quartet, of course. The composer was Paul Hindemith, the quartet his Op. 16, the festival the one for new music at Donaueschingen, in its inaugural year of 1921, and the recalcitrant musicians the Havemann Quartet. So the viola-playing Hindemith and his cello-playing brother Rudolf set about finding two violinists to give the performance with, and the Amar Quartet (often known informally as the Amar-Hindemith Quartet) was born. The group had such a success with Hindemith's quartet that they decided to become a permanent ensemble, and began giving regular concerts in 1922. And Hindemith wrote another new quartet specifically for the group, which turned out to be his finest work in the genre:

Hindemith: String Quartet, Op. 22
The Amar Quartet (Amar-Caspar-P. Hindemith-R. Hindemith)
Recorded c. 1926
Polydor 66422 through 66424, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 60.58 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 37.03 MB)

This is actually the second recording of the work they made; the first was acoustical, and is so rare that I don't expect to actually hear it in this lifetime. Their electrical recordings are rare enough, though more numerous, and include two Mozart quartets, the Verdi E minor, the first recording anywhere of music by Bartók (the Second Quartet - available from Satyr), and this one by Beethoven:

Beethoven: Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95
The Amar Quartet (Amar-Caspar-P. Hindemith-R. Hindemith)
Recorded c. 1927
Polydor 66571 through 66573, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 56.97 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 33.49 MB)

This occupies five sides of the three records; the set is completed by three more sides devoted to part of another Hindemith opus, to produce an oddly mismatched four-record set:

Hindemith: String Trio No. 1, Op. 34 - First and second movements
The Amar Trio (Caspar-P. Hindemith-R. Hindemith)
Recorded c. 1927
Polydor 66573 and 66574, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 31.61 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 19.73 MB)

It isn't known whether more of the work (there are two additional movements) was recorded, but my hunch is that it was, and not passed for issue due to technical deficiencies, as pitch instability is evident on the last side actually issued.

Enjoy - and before anyone asks, these are all the Amar-Hindemith 78s I possess, for which I consider myself very fortunate indeed!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Honegger: Symphony No. 2 (Munch, 1942-44)

In time for Bastille Day this year, I present an artifact from one of the darkest periods in French history - the Nazi occupation of 1940-44.  This is Arthur Honegger's war-haunted Symphonie pour orchestre à cordes of 1941, in the first of three studio recordings made by his friend and champion Charles Munch (1891-1968).  This appears, in fact, to be the 51-year-old conductor's first recording of any symphony; his great recording career as music director of the Boston Symphony was still years in the future.  This recording, made only a year after the work's composition, with retakes of the middle two sides made a year and a half later, sizzles with intensity:

Honegger: Symphony No. 2 for string orchestra
Paris Conservatory Orchestra conducted by Charles Munch
Recorded October 15-16, 1942, and March 1, 1944
French HMV W 1600 through W 1602, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 63.29 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 36.83 MB)

UPDATE (July 11): My beloved old HP 7410, which I had thought finished a month ago, managed to scan some record labels for me this afternoon, among them more legible scans of W 1600 through W 1602 than I had been able to obtain with its cheap Canon replacement.  (Mind you, those French HMV red labels are hard to read under the best of circumstances!)  Anyone interested can download them in a zip file here.  (I've also replaced the original download files with new ones incorporating the new scans.)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Columbia LP Covers, 1957-62

This is part 3 of a series devoted to branding changes at Columbia Records in the first fifteen years or so after their successful launch of the long-playing record in 1948.  See also part 1 and part 2.

At the end of Part 2 I showed that the cover branding arrived at by Columbia, around the spring of 1957, looked like this:


This very attractive branding was usually placed at the top right corner of the album cover. By the time stereophonic LPs were introduced by Columbia in September 1958, the arrangement had been modified slightly, with the "LP" component moved up and to the right of the Eye:


...a modification which enabled the trademarks to be displayed flush with the "stereo" indicator at the top of the cover:


(For monaural releases with a stereo counterpart, the trademarks were displayed at the bottom of the cover.)

This basic setup remained unchanged until about the summer of 1960, at which point, the trademarks lost their top-of-the-cover status on stereo issues, and they were reduced markedly in size:


The next major change to the trademarks occurred in the summer of 1961 - the "Lp" portion, presumably by then considered redundant, was dropped, and the Eye transformed into its final form with three concentric rings:


This branding lasted only a few months. By the end of 1961, new albums were featuring this greatly simplified configuration in the upper left part of the cover:


This basic design remained in use, with minor changes in typography and placement, through the late 1970s on Masterworks releases (the entire classical division of Columbia was rebranded "CBS Masterworks" around 1980), and continues in use to this day for Sony's Columbia popular releases. (Incidentally, ML 5746, a recital of French piano music by André Previn, was one of the last releases to be issued with the old "6-eyes" label - in the summer of 1962.)

So why did Columbia, having found a seemingly satisfactory formula for displaying its trademarks on album covers from 1957-60, feel the need for another change? A possible answer is hinted at in an article in the August 29, 1960, issue of Billboard Magazine headlined "Columbia, Philips in New Long-Term Pact Talks." It seems that Columbia had become dissatisfied with having Philips issue its product in Europe, and wanted its own label presence there, as RCA and Capitol already had. Since the Columbia name could not be used there, as EMI owned it, the proposed new label was to be known as "CBS Records." (Philips, for its part, did not relish the idea of giving up popular American product on its label, which is why Philips purchased Mercury Records in 1962.) My guess is that Columbia wanted to update its Eye trademark to fit a new international image. Certainly by the time CBS Records was launched in Europe in 1962, the Eye logo had assumed its new look and was being used to identify the new label.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Stenhammar: Serenade (Kubelik)

Wilhelm Stenhammar
My exploration of Scandinavian music continues with a charming Serenade for orchestra by Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927), the Swedish composer, conductor and pianist who cultivated friendships with his contemporaries Sibelius and Carl Nielsen. (The latter, in fact, found something of a haven at Gothenburg, where Stenhammar was artistic director of the orchestra, at a time when the Danish master was having certain troubles in his native country, and Stenhammar invited him over to conduct concerts.) Stenhammar, who wrote two symphonies, two piano concerti, and six string quartets, composed in a style more conservative than his more famous contemporaries, but nevertheless he was influenced strongly by them. This five-movement Serenade of 1913 breathes much of the same atmosphere as Sibelius, especially in its Valse triste-like second movement:

Stenhammar: Serenade in F Major for orchestra, Op. 31
Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Rafael Kubelik
Recorded Sept. 22-24, 1964
Heliodor HS-25086, one stereo LP record
Link (FLAC files, 178.77 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 61.02 MB)

Heliodor Records was the budget arm of Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft, and had a much stronger presence in Europe than in the USA, where they were on sale, manufactured by MGM Records, for only two years, from 1967 until 1969. Many of their releases were culled from old MGM classical issues of the 1950s (and were, unfortunately, given the fake stereo treatment), but some, like this one, were from Deutsche Grammophon recordings not in the then-current classical series, which MGM had been distributing as direct imports since 1962 (having taken over from American Decca). This all stopped in 1969 when Polydor established an office in the USA to handle imports.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Leonardo Vinci: Sonata in D

René LeRoy
Today I offer some of the most delectable flute playing you shall ever hear, by the great French flutist René LeRoy (1898-1985), a student of Adolphe Hennebains at the Paris Conservatoire (he subsequently studied with Philippe Gaubert).  Here he plays a charming Baroque sonata by Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730), a Neapolitan composer of operas apparently unrelated to the great painter and inventor with whom he shared a name:

Leonardo Vinci: Sonata in D Major
René LeRoy, flute; Yella Pessl, harpsichord
Recorded February 22, 1939
Victor 18086, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 30.58 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 18.91 MB)

I apologize in advance for the noisiness of this record - its previous owner must have shared my opinion of LeRoy's playing, for it is obviously a much-played copy.

UPDATE (July 26): Christopher Steward, a flutist and collector who maintains a wonderful page of early flute recordings, has very kindly sent me his own transfer from a much superior copy of Victor 18086, with permission to disseminate it, so I have substituted his transfer for mine in the links above.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Columbia LP Covers, 1954-57: A Study in Branding Changes

Earliest Columbia LP cover design, 1948
(image borrowed from Collecting Record Covers)
This is the second part of a series devoted to branding changes for Columbia Records in the wake of the introduction of the LP; the first part is "Birth and Evolution of a Trademark" about the introduction of the "walking eye" in 1954.

From the earliest days of the long-playing record as introduced by Columbia in 1948, three elements were present on all cover designs of the new records: the brand name "Columbia" (with "Masterworks" added for classical releases), the company's Magic Notes logo (introduced in 1908, and modified with the addition of a CBS microphone in 1939), and the new "Lp"-in-a-circle logo to identify the new records.  The placement of these elements may have varied from year to year but the presence of them was constant over the next six years.  Here is a cross-section of a typical example from 1954, with the Notes appearing to the left of the catalog number:


But by then, the Eye had been introduced in Columbia's advertising; in fact, it appears at the bottom of the back cover of this album:


By the beginning of 1955, the Notes have disappeared from the cover, as on this cross-section of an LP reviewed in the Feb. 5, 1955, issue of Billboard:


Beginning with issues reviewed in the March 12, 1955, issue of Billboard, a curious symbol appears underneath the "Lp" logo, resembling nothing so much as a tape reel:


This seems to be designed to assure the buyer that this is a "high fidelity" recording, a catchphrase that was all the rage in the 1950s.  Columbia must have decided that this assurance could be granted much less wordily by the summer of 1955, for by then the tape reel and its associated verbiage had been deleted, and the "Lp" logo reconfigured like this (snipped from the upper right corner of ML 5035):


(Incidentally, this branding coincides with the introduction of the "6-eyes" label. I've seen copies of issues having "tape reel" covers with the old Magic Notes blue labels, but I've never seen the above branding with old labels, at least on American pressings.  Canadian pressings are another story.)

This simple, elegant branding lasted for almost a year.  With the releases of May, 1956, or thereabouts, the Eye finally appears on Columbia front covers, albeit in this curious configuration with the "Lp" logo forming its "pupil" and used in tandem with a similar eye-like device advertising "360 Sound" (a phrase first used in 1952 in connection with Columbia's phonograph line):


By the fall of 1956, the "360 Sound" part of this logo had morphed into this circles-within-squares arrangement:


...which is a bit confusing to behold, but at least has the virtue of contrast with the Eye portion of the logo.

The third version of this vertical logo, which first appeared around the beginning of 1957, is the simplest, for it dispenses with the "360 Sound" component and restores the "Lp" to its rightful place as a separate entity (I've included the fine-print portion underneath because it shows that the Eye has finally reached the status of Marcas Reg., i. e., a registered trademark):


This didn't last long either.  By the spring of 1957, the information contained in this last vertical version - the label name, the Eye, the "Lp" and Guaranteed High Fidelity - had been reworked into this easier-to-manage, (mostly) horizontal arrangement:


This was the definitive version, and would remain in place for the next four to five years, with minor variations.

To be continued...

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Violinist Who Vanished

Patricia Travers
There have always been creative artists who reach a point in their careers and say, "Enough."  One thinks of Sibelius, who effectively quit composing 25 years before his long life ended, or of Glenn Gould, who at age 31 gave up public performances to concentrate on recording.  But the case of Patricia Travers (1927-2010) is perhaps the strangest of all.  (The catchy, alliterative title I have given this post didn't originate with me; it was borrowed from the New York Times obituary of Ms. Travers.)  Raised as a child prodigy, she concertized actively until the age of 23, when she decided to give it all up, shortly after making this recording:

Ives: Violin Sonata No. 2* and
Sessions: Duo for Violin and Piano**
Patricia Travers, violin; Otto Herz, piano
Recorded *April 17 and **September 19, 1950
Columbia Masterworks ML-2169, one ten-inch LP record
Link (FLAC files, 82.37 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 47.15 MB)

That her retirement from public life was an incalculable loss to music is obvious from this recording, for both works receive passionate, committed performances - and it's ironic that one of the composers represented should be Ives, who, though still alive at the time, had not himself composed anything new for over twenty years.

Patricia Travers did make one more recording, in 1952, when she teamed with Norman Dello Joio, accompanying her at the piano for his "Variations and Capriccio" on one side of another Columbia LP (the other side featured works by Paul Bowles).  I am sorry to say I don't have that one.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Nelson Eddy the Operatic Whale

Walt Disney's 8th animated feature film was (by the company's own count) the 1946 collection "Make Mine Music." This hodgepodge of ten short musical films is sometimes referred to as "the poor man's 'Fantasia'" because it featured mostly popular music, rather than the Stokowski-led classical selections in the earlier feature, and did so most entertainingly with the likes of Dinah Shore, the Andrews Sisters, and (in two of the film's best sequences) Benny Goodman.  There were two exceptions to this: an abridged version of Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" in which story elements were rearranged - a segment that would have nothing going for it if it weren't for the delightful narration of Sterling Holloway, better known as the voice of Winnie-the-Pooh, and this touching finale of the film, a vehicle for the multi-tracked talents of Nelson Eddy:

"The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met"
Nelson Eddy, with orchestra conducted by Robert Armbruster
Recorded c. 1946
Columbia Masterworks set MM-640, three 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 47.77 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 31.30 MB)

This recording is taken directly from the soundtrack of the picture, with the exception of about two minutes' worth of introductory material in which Eddy demonstrates the "Willie-the-Whale Method" of multi-voiced singing by performing "Three Blind Mice" as a round.  The package is an object lesson in how material from films were marketed for home use in those days long before videocassettes or DVDs.  The inside front and back covers (included as JPG files with this download) are illustrated with line drawings of the story, so that the listener who hadn't seen the movie could get some idea of what was occurring.  I won't give the story away here, but will say that there is plenty of good music in the telling of it, from "Shortening Bread" to excerpts from Rossini, Donizetti and Wagner, with Eddy providing the narration and all the voices - even the soprano in a fragment of a duet from "Tristan und Isolde"!

There is a DVD available of "Make Mine Music" which is well worth owning (and quite reasonably priced, too), but it unfortunately omits the first segment of the film, "The Martins and the Coys," because it contains "graphic gunplay not suitable for children."