Monday, July 25, 2016

Larry Adler - Harmonica Virtuoso

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
Some more light listening for the summer months - a set that would have been the first exposure of many Americans to the genius of harmonica king Larry Adler (1914-2001), of whom Sting, with whom Adler collaborated towards the end of his life, said "he was one of the youngest old men I've ever met." This album, released in 1940, is a reissue of some of Adler's most successful sides for English Columbia:

Larry Adler - Harmonica Virtuoso
1. Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue*
2. Kreisler: Caprice Viennois
3. Falla: Ritual Fire Dance
4. Ravel: Bolero
5. Porter: I've Got You Under My Skin
6. Kern: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
7. Conrad: The Continental
*With Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans
Recorded 1934-37
Columbia set C-18, four 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 78.03 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 45.19 MB)

Reportedly, when Gershwin first heard Adler play his "Rhapsody in Blue" he exclaimed, "it sounds as if the goddamned thing was written for you!" And Ravel, upon hearing Adler's record of his "Bolero" - but let's let Adler himself tell the story (as extracted from his entertaining memoir, "It Ain't Necessarily So", published in 1984)":

"I had a call from Jacques Lyon, who ran a record shop, the Sinfonia, on the Champs-Elysées. He said he'd had a call from Maurice Ravel who had heard that I played his Bolero and wanted to hear me. I couldn't stand before the maître playing without accompaniment so I brought my record with me. We drove to Montfort-d'Amaury, outside Paris and had a hard time finding Ravel's house - no one seemed to have heard of him. When we did find it, Ravel opened the door, took the record and before Jacques could even introduce me, put it on. Until then I'd thought it was a good record, it was a big seller and I was proud of it. Standing there while its composer listened to it I was aware of imperfections, of mistakes that I had never noticed. It sounded awful and, though it was on one side of a 78-rpm record, it seemed interminable. When it finished, Ravel spoke to Jacques.
"'The master he say, you play it very fast. Why?'
"Hell, I didn't know why. I hadn't ever known that I did play it fast. Ravel spoke again.
"'The master he says you have made cuts, you do not play the whole thing. Why?'
"I explained that, in music-hall, my act ran fifteen minutes, which was the length of Bolero. I loved the number, I meant no criticism but, to include it, I had to make cuts.
"Jacques said, 'The master he ask, do you know Arturo Toscanini?'
"Yes, I had met him.
"Jacques said, 'The master, he say that Toscanini plays the whole thing.'
"Well, he had me there. What could I say? The conversation languished. I held out the record to Ravel to sign. (I had never asked for an autograph before, have never asked for one since. It was pure embarrassment.) Ravel looked surprised.
"Jacques said: 'The master say, he thought the record was for him.' Now I was surprised. Ravel had given every sign of loathing the record and me. Then Ravel held up his hands, they were shaking. He said that he had palsy, had written nothing in the past five years. I apologized and we left. A few days later Jacques phoned me and told me to get to his record shop at once; the master was there. Ravel was bundled in a heavy coat and a scarf though it was a warm day. He said that, by sitting in a dark room and concentrating, he had been able to steady his hand, long enough to write his signature and he had brought it to me. I was touched and honoured by Ravel's gesture but felt guilty as I hadn't really wanted the autograph.
"In 1940 I was soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra's Robin Hood Dell concerts. Saul Caston, the conductor, suggested an encore; when I chose Bolero the librarian objected. Performance fees for one performance were very high, not worth it for an encore. Elkan, Vogel, Ravel's publishers, were in Philadelphia; I went to their office and announced myself. Mr. Elkan came out and told me he knew about me. Ravel had left instructions that I was to have free rights to play the Bolero in whatever medium I pleased. That right is unique to me."

Monday, July 18, 2016

Two Swedish Symphonies

Kurt Atterberg                              Gösta Nystroem
This week I present two symphonies from Sweden, one of which is probably the most famous to come from that land, while the other is not as well known, perhaps, but should be. The former, of course, is Kurt Atterberg's notorious "Dollar" Symphony, so called because it was the prize-winning entry in Columbia's Schubert Centennial contest of 1928 (with some of the $10,000 that he won, the 41-year-old composer bought his first automobile, a Model A Ford). Much nonsense was written about this work at the time, for it was believed that Atterberg (1887-1974) had plagiarized much of the symphony's material. What remains at this 88-year distance is a fresh, enjoyable, fun three-movement symphony that seems to fully justify its prize. One of the conditions of this prize was that Columbia recorded the piece (with Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic), which is natural enough, given that they sponsored the contest. Almost unheard of, for a new work at that time, was for it to receive a second recording from a different company, under the direction of the composer:

Atterberg: Symphony No. 6 in C Major, Op. 31
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kurt Atterberg
Recorded October, 1928
Deutsche Grammophon 95193 through 95195, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 70.00 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 44.73 MB)

The other Swedish symphony here is the second of six composed by Gösta Nystroem (1890-1966), who spent much time in Paris during the 1920s. His music inhabits a much more modern-sounding world than Atterberg's (which is firmly rooted in the 19th century); it is tonal but dissonant (I'm strongly reminded of Frank Martin). The very fine Sinfonia Espressiva, composed in 1935, is in four movements: a long elegiac opening movement scored for strings and timpani is followed by a scherzo, passacaglia (on a Swedish folk song) and fugue, each subsequent movement adding more instruments to the scoring. Tor Mann, the conductor on this recording, gave the work's first performance in 1937:

Gösta Nystroem: Sinfonia Espressiva (1935)
Tor Mann conducting the Stockholm Concerts Association Orchestra
Recorded June 29, 30 and July 1, 1950
HMV DBS 11030 and DB 11031 through DB 11033, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 72.75 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 45.72 MB)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Couperin by Maurice Hewitt

Maurice Hewitt
In time for Bastille Day this year, another artifact from Occupied France, from a member of the Resistance, the violinist and conductor Maurice Hewitt (1884-1971). Hewitt, in earlier years a member of the Quatour Capet and of the Société des Instruments Anciennes, was also the founder of the acclaimed label "Les Discophiles Françaises" which specialized at first in early music. Hewitt himself directed many of its early recordings, including this one, an album containing two disc premières of important chamber works by François Couperin:

Couperin: L'Impériale (No. 3 of "Les Nations") and L'Apothéose de Lulli
Orchestre de Chambre Maurice Hewitt
Recorded December 1-3, 1941
Les Discophiles Françaises 11 through 16, six 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 141.75 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 88.96 MB)

Couperin did not specify instrumentation for either of these works, merely two treble instruments and continuo; they are normally heard as trio sonatas. Hewitt uses his own arrangement for string orchestra with harpsichord, pardessus de viole, viola d'amore and viola da gamba. This is Couperin with a big, rich string sound, quite unlike what we are accustomed to hearing today.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Haydn: "Farewell" Symphony (Leinsdorf, 1946)

Haydn and Leinsdorf notwithstanding, a large part of the reason for this post is to pay tribute to Deems Taylor, who died fifty years ago this Sunday (July 3, 1966). Composer, author, journalist, and broadcaster, he had the gift of explaining classical music in layman's terms, similar to that of Leonard Bernstein a generation later. As intermission commentator for the New York Philharmonic broadcasts during the 1930s and early 1940s, heard throughout the USA, he exercised this gift, drawing countless listeners into what must have seemed to many of them a rarefied world. In 1946, the Pilot Radio Corporation hit on the idea of marketing symphonic albums with recorded introductory commentary, and it must have seemed natural for them to approach Deems Taylor for the job. In the event, however, only two sets appeared - Grieg's "Holberg Suite" (conducted by Rudolph Ganz) and this one:

Haydn: Symphony No. 45 in F-Sharp Minor ("Farewell")
Erich Leinsdorf conducting the "Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra"
(with introductory commentary by Deems Taylor)
Recorded c. 1946
Pilotone set DA-302, four 10" vinylite 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 67.08 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.70 MB)

This recording must have been made between Leinsdorf's appointments with the Cleveland Orchestra (which ended in 1946) and the Rochester Philharmonic (which began in 1947). It, and the Grieg set, were in the shops in time for Christmas 1946. That there were no further sets in the rather grandiosely named "Pilotone Academy of Music" series is perhaps explained by a lawsuit brought by the Metropolitan Opera Association against Pilot for their use of the word "Metropolitan" in the name of their pseudonymous orchestra.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Morton Gould's First Decca and Columbia Sets

Summertime, and the listenin' is easy....or it should be, I suppose. Anyway, it seems a good time to share my latest Morton Gould acquisitions, One of these is his first-ever album, a group of piano solos recorded for Decca in 1940. His association with Decca did not last long; it produced exactly one other set (with a string orchestra) before he switched to Columbia, a relationship that proved much more fruitful. His first album with Columbia (as a conductor) included one of the same pieces as the first Decca set. This was the delightful "Pavanne" - his most popular piece - which he deliberately spelled incorrectly, with two n's, in the hope that ignorant radio announcers would pronounce it correctly!

Morton Gould At The Piano in a Group of His Own Compositions:
1. Pavanne (from "American Symphonette No. 2")
2. The Prima Donna (from "Caricatones")
3. American Caprice
4. The Child Prodigy (from "Caricatones")
5. Tropical
6. The Ballerina (from "Caricatones")
7. Deserted Ballroom
8. Gavotte (from "American Symphonette No. 3")
Recorded October 9, 1940
Decca set DA-195, four 10" 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 66.01 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.12 MB)

A Morton Gould Concert
1. Gould: Pavanne (from "American Symphonette No. 2")
2. Friml: Donkey Serenade (from "The Firefly")
3. Freire: Ay, Ay, Ay
4. Trad.: España Cañi
5. Trad.: Dark Eyes
6. Rodgers-Hart: Where or When (from "Babes in Arms")
Morton Gould and His Orchestra
Recorded c. April-May 1942
Columbia set C-96, three 12" 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 62.98 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.70 MB)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss (?)
The "Pavanne" was originally written for orchestra, but the other selections in the Columbia set feature Gould as arranger. Somehow he works in a reference to Enesco's Roumanian Rhapsody No. 1 in his arrangement of the Russian folk song "Dark Eyes". Of the piano compositions, attention is called to the group for which he coined the word "Caricatones" - for me, the most amusing of these is "The Child Prodigy", in which he works in not only the expected Hanon and Kreutzer exercises but also references to Haydn's D Major piano sonata and Chopin's "Minute Waltz"!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Reger: String Trio in A Minor (Amar-Hindemith Trio)

This is one of those recordings that I am particularly excited to possess and to share; however, about 98% of the excitement derives from the identities of the performers rather than of the composer, for Max Reger (1873-1916) is, for me, a problematical figure in music history. I respect Reger as a craftsman and as a carrier of the Austro-German chamber music tradition, but as much as I've tried, I can't really like his music. (I do retain some fondness for his orchestral Serenade, Op. 95, and its neighboring opus, the Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue for two pianos, Op. 96 - with its comically interminable fugue subject culminating in a trill that sounds almost as an afterthought!) Part of the problem, I suspect, is that the weight of this tradition bogged him down - and those works without such weight, such as the serenades and string trios, seem to be more successful as a result. Certainly committed performances help. I remember reading somewhere (alas, I can't remember where) that Reger was a strong influence on Paul Hindemith as a budding composer, so it's not at all surprising that he and his cohorts should turn out a performance of this string trio that makes it sound as one of Reger's more enjoyable works:

Reger: String Trio No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 77b
The Amar Trio (Walter Caspar, Paul Hindemith, Rudolf Hindemith)
Recorded c. 1927
Polydor 66575 through 66577, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 56.18 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 37.25 MB)

For those unaware (as I was, until about six weeks ago), the super-rare acoustical version of the Amar Quartet's performance of Hindemith's Quartet, Op. 22, has been reissued in download format by a German outfit called Archiphon Records, and in quite a good transfer, too. It's well worth buying (which one can do here), but for those not wanting to download, the various tracks have been "autogenerated" as YouTube videos (a search on "amar hindemith archiphon" should bring them up).

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Miaskovsky: Symphonies Nos. 16 and 21 (Ivanov)

Nikolai Miaskovsky
In recent years, the music of Nikolai Yakovlevich Miaskovsky (1881-1950) - or, to give the currently preferred transliteration of his surname, Myaskovsky (I still prefer the old one, merely because it doesn't relegate him to the back of the alphabet within the group of composers whose names start with "M") - seems to have made something of a comeback after many years of Cold War-era neglect. During his lifetime, his symphonies were regularly performed in the West, particularly by the Chicago Symphony under Frederick Stock, who not only programmed his epic Sixth on a yearly basis, but also commissioned the single-movement Twenty-First, destined to become his best-known work (recorded by Ormandy and Morton Gould, among others). After his death, however, his essentially conservative style became passé, and he became known merely as the composer who wrote more symphonies (27) than anyone else in the first half of the 20th century. A reassessment of his work became more feasible after Yevgeny Svetlanov undertook, in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse, to record all of Miaskovsky's orchestral output, and while it's undeniably valuable to have this largess available, some of Svetlanov's performances don't quite measure up to earlier ones in those cases where comparisons are possible. There is evidence of haste in preparation and lack of rehearsal, and some of the tempi are glacially slow. A case in point: the earlier recording of his fine Sixteenth Symphony, conducted by Svetlanov's predecessor as director of the USSR State Symphony Orchestra, Konstantin Ivanov (1907-1984), takes 35½ minutes as opposed to Svetlanov's 46½:

Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 16 in F Major, Op. 39 and
Symphony No. 21 in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 51
Konstantin Ivanov conducting the USSR State Symphony Orchestra
Recorded in the early 1950s
Melodiya 33D 09415-16, one mono LP record
Link (FLAC files, 117.96 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 80.58 MB)

I can never think of Miaskovsky without also thinking of Richard Taruskin, who gave me my first copy of this LP when I was a teenager, one of several gifts from this brilliant man to encourage my budding interest in Russian music, one of his specialties as a musicologist. Dr. Taruskin was, earlier in his career, a fine viola da gamba player (as proven by a number of recordings he made as part of the Aulos Ensemble, for the Musical Heritage Society), and that was my personal connection with him, for the fraternity of gamba players is and always has been a close-knit one, and my mother, also a member of said fraternity, has been friends with Dr. Taruskin for over 40 years. He, in fact, encouraged her to write and publish a viola da gamba method, which she did in 1979. The last time we saw him was about seven years ago, when he came to Atlanta to give a lecture at Emory, and almost his first words to me were about the Svetlanov Miaskovsky series. He seemed somewhat rueful about the notoriety he has gained as a music critic, something well in the future at the time I first knew him. I, like countless others before and since, have known Richard Taruskin as a mentor and teacher, and a great one.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Loeffler: Partita for Violin and Piano

Charles Martin Loeffler, 1917
(pencil sketch by John Singer Sargent)
81 years and one week ago today, May 19, 1935, the Alsatian-born American composer Charles Martin Loeffler died in Medford, Massachusetts, at the age of 74. Two and a half weeks later, Odessa-born violinist Jacques Gordon (1899-1948) began recording one of Loeffler's last works, his four-movement Partita of 1930, an unaccountably neglected work of which I can trace no subsequent recording. Gordon's partner in this undertaking was Lee Pattison (1890-1966), better known as one-half of the Maier and Pattison piano duo that was popular during the 1920s. The set was issued by Columbia late in 1936 or early in 1937, and is quite rare, because it was deleted from the catalogue upon CBS's takeover of Columbia in 1939:

Loeffler: Partita for Violin and Piano (1930) and
Loeffler (arr. Gordon) Peacocks, Op. 10, No. 4
Jacques Gordon, violin; Lee Pattison, piano
Recorded June 5, 12, and July 30, 1935
Columbia Masterworks Set No. 275, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 92.60 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 54.43 MB)

The movements of Loeffler's Partita, dedicated to Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, are an Intrada, loosely in the form of a Baroque ouverture à la française, a Sarabande (by Mathieson) with 5 variations, a Divertissement with echoes of tango and ragtime (!), and a Finale des tendres Adieux whose opening reminds me strongly of the last movement of Brahms' first violin sonata, though the musical language is nothing like Brahms.

This recording appears to be Jacques Gordon's only one of a large-scale work for violin and piano. He was much more active in the recording studios as a quartet leader. The Gordon String Quartet made some dozen recordings for Columbia, Schirmer, and Concert Hall; for the last-named label they recorded William Schuman's Third Quartet.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Schubert: Rosamunde (Harty)

The great Sir Hamilton Harty (1879-1941) contributed to Columbia's centennial celebrations of both Beethoven and Schubert in 1927-28 with major recordings of works then new to Columbia's catalogue. Of Beethoven he recorded the Fourth Symphony, and of Schubert the "Great C Major." Both of these have been professionally restored by Mark Obert-Thorn, working for Pristine Classical, but I am unaware of any reissue of Harty's other Schubert Centennial recording, this set of excerpts from "Rosamunde":

Schubert: Incidental Music to "Rosamunde" (Op. 26)
(with Overture to "Die Zauberharfe")
Hallé Orchestra conducted by Sir Hamilton Harty
Recorded May 2, 1927 (Overture) and April 27, 1928 (Incidental Music)
Columbia Masterworks set MM-343, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 84.86 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 53.98 MB)

This set has a curious issue history. It didn't appear in the USA until 1938, and then with a different overture than the one in the 1928 British issue. There are two overtures associated with "Rosamunde" (Schubert not having written one specifically for the Helmina von Chézy play), the other one being that for "Alfonso and Estrella" - and Harty recorded both, the latter one on the same day as the incidental music. Both overtures were, in fact, issued as single records by American Columbia before this set appeared.