Friday, May 22, 2015

First Recordings by the First Piano Quartet

I'm revisiting the reclaimed record pile this week, with the first three issued recordings by the First Piano Quartet (Vladimir Padwa, Frank Mittler, Adam Garner, Edward Edson). Initially all three were issued in Victor's "Double Feature" series, a semi-classical line priced 25 cents lower than the Red Seal series. The 1948 RCA Victor Catalog describes these as having teal labels; however, as can be clearly seen, my copy of one of them has an ordinary black label. My guess is that they replaced the teal labels with black ones as being cheaper to produce. In any event, all three issues were subsequently upgraded to Red Seal status a year later, the form in which I have the other two (in somewhat battered copies, I'm afraid):

Chopin: Polonaise in A-Flat, Op. 53
RCA Victor 46-0005, one 78-rpm record
Paganini: Variations in A minor (composed by the ensemble's members)
Chopin: Etudes, Op. 25, Nos. 6, 1 and 9
RCA Victor 12-0250, one 78-rpm record
Liszt: Second Hungarian Rhapsody
RCA Victor 12-0251, one 78-rpm record
The First Piano Quartet
Recorded c. early 1947
Link (FLAC files, 57.89 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.69 MB)

The Paganini Variations were the group's radio theme signature, according to the label, which also bears the cryptic composer credit "Paganini-Garner-Edson-Mittler-Padwa" - it is of course the same theme that also inspired Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Lutoslawski and so many others for variations.

Friday, May 15, 2015

MacDowell: "Indian" Suite (Howard Barlow)

Cover image restored by Peter Joelson
This week, an album by that indefatigable purveyor of unusual and little-known music on record, Howard Barlow (1892-1972), who, with his Columbia Broadcasting Symphony, was responsible for a number of recorded premières, including this one.  Actually, four-fifths of one, because another Howard - Hanson - beat Barlow to the punch by four days in recording the fourth of the five movements of this MacDowell Suite (the "Dirge") as part of his first Victor album of American music, which didn't actually hit the stores until after the present recording did:

MacDowell: Suite No. 2 in E minor, Op. 48 ("Indian")
Columbia Broadcasting Symphony conducted by Howard Barlow
Recorded May 15, 1939
Columbia Masterworks set M-373, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 78.16 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 62.05 MB)

The simple but appealing cover design shown above is original to the set, which is a nice early pressing.  I'm pretty sure it predates Alex Steinweiss' design work for Columbia, and there were a few other sets from the same time period (middle to late 1939) that featured a composer's silhouette, as this one does.  Later copies of this MacDowell set that I've seen use an ordinary generic cover.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Andor Földes)

Andor Földes, 1956
The Hungarian pianist Andor Földes (1913-1992) studied under the two towering musical figures of his time and place - Ernst von Dohnányi and Béla Bartók, and in fact became best known for his performances of the latter composer's works. He came to America around 1940, and would first have become known to American record-buyers through his role as accompanist to another compatriot, violinist Joseph Szigeti, in a series of prewar Columbia recordings, most notably sonatas by Schubert and Debussy. In 1947, Földes gave the New York première of Bartók's Second Concerto, and made the first recording of it two years later, in France:

Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2 (1931)
Andor Földes, piano
Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux conducted by Eugène Bigot
Recorded June 27 and 29, 1949
Polydor (France) A6.320 through A6.322, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 65.70 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 43.66 MB)

These French Polydor pressings, though looking lovely, turned out to be quite noisy. I did what I could with them with several different styli, but some sides still have an audible swish and in fact the right channel turned out to be unusable. Despite this, I still think it sounds better than the Vox LP which was the recording's only issue in the USA.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hindemith from the Recording Horn

Happy May Day! Some fifteen months ago, when I uploaded the Los Angeles Wind Quintet's recording of Hindemith's delightful Kleine Kammermusik, I expressed the hope that I might someday be able to hear the work's first recording, an acoustical version by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Quintet, anachronistic as that may seem. (It was one of Polydor's very last acoustical recordings.) Well, my wish has been granted, for a copy has recently come my way, and you, my loyal audience, get to hear it too:

Hindemith: Kleine Kammermusik, Op. 24, No. 2
The Leipzig Gewandhaus Wind Quintet
Recorded c. 1925
Polydor 66376 and 66377, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 43.10 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 26.09 MB)

The performance is very good, especially considering that the work was written (and published) a mere three years before this recording was made, and its idiom would have been equally new to the Leipzig players - who, Jolyon tells us (in connection with his very welcome upload of their recording of August Klughardt's Quintet), were Carl Bartuzat, flute; Walter Heinze, oboe; Willi Schreinicke, clarinet; Gunther Weigelt, bassoon; and Richard Schaller, horn. Only Bartuzat's year of birth is known for sure, and he was thirteen years older than the composer. This was the first recording of a work by Hindemith in which the composer himself didn't actually perform, and the playing, like Hindemith's own, is spirited and in certain spots a bit rough-and-ready. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 (Ormandy)

In 1937, the name of Leopold Stokowski must have seemed inextricably bound with that of the Philadelphia Orchestra, as far as record buyers were concerned, for it had appeared so for nearly 20 years on Victor Records. The set I present today heralded a new order, for it was the first-issued recording by the Orchestra under its new music director, Eugene Ormandy (he and Stokowski were actually co-conductors there during his first two years), just arrived from Minneapolis:

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74  ("Pathétique")
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded December 13, 1936, and January 9, 1937
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-337, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 98.34 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 68.09 MB)

This recording, as well as that of Schumann's Second Symphony, was made during Ormandy's first two sessions with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the first two of over 400 sessions he would undertake with them over the next 46 years. Information about these comes from a marvelous new volume by Richard A. Kaplan, "The Philadelphia Orchestra: An Annotated Discography" - published just this year by Rowman & Littlefield. Kaplan believes that the Philadelphia Orchestra's move to Columbia in 1943 was more than anything else a strategic move on Ormandy's part, and indeed the evidence shows that Victor was not particularly interested in promoting him. Stokowski continued to record with the Orchestra through 1940, even after Ormandy had become the sole music director, and then there was Toscanini's ill-fated series of sessions with the Orchestra in 1941-42. Small wonder that Ormandy jumped at the chance to move to Columbia, where he quickly became the star attraction.

The evocative cover design pictured above was not original to the set, but a wartime reissue. I have borrowed the image from Ken Halperin's marvelous site Collecting Record Covers, for my own copy of DM-337, a slightly worn pre-war edition, has a generic cover.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Stravinsky: Petrouchka (Coates)

Another Albert Coates birth anniversary is upon us (April 23 - Thursday, this year), so for this week I present his version of Stravinsky's Petrouchka. This is only the second recording ever made of that great ballet; Eugene Goossens' pioneering acoustical version with the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra, which Satyr has available, was the first. Coates' recording would have been intended to replace it, of course:

Stravinsky: Petrouchka (complete ballet)
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Albert Coates
Recorded October 19 and 24, 1927, January 5 and February 15, 1928
HMV Album 54 (D 1521 through D 1524), four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 100.66 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 60.12 MB)

It's worth noting that this is one of the few Coates recordings made by HMV that did not get issued in the USA by Victor - an honor that even most of his acoustical recordings enjoyed. I presume that is because Koussevitzky recorded the Suite from Petrouchka at about the same time, as his first recording with the Boston Symphony, and Victor considered the Coates set, complete though it was, superfluous. (Victor had issued the Goossens recording in 1925.)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Happy Birthday, Gregor Piatigorsky!

Unsigned cover design for Columbia MX-258
This Friday, April 17, marks the 112th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest cellists of the 20th century, Gregor Piatigorsky (1903-1976). For a musician of his stature, he left far too few solo recordings - a handful for German Odeon in the late 1920s, all of short pieces, and a somewhat more substantial batch for HMV in the 30s (including a Beethoven sonata with Schnabel, and a Brahms with Rubinstein). But it wasn't until the 40s, when he came to America, and signed on with Columbia, that more of an effort was made to commit his repertoire to disc. These two sonata recordings are among the fruits of that association:

Beethoven: Sonata No. 5 in D Major, Op. 102, No. 2
Gregor Piatigorsky, cello; Ralph Berkowitz, piano
Recorded June 6, 1945
Columbia Masterworks MX-258, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 39.14 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 30.53 MB)

Brahms: Sonata No. 2 in F Major, Op. 99
Gregor Piatigorsky, cello; Ralph Berkowitz, piano
Recorded May 28, 1947
Columbia Masterworks ML-2096, one 10-inch LP record
Link (FLAC files, 66.00 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 44.94 MB)

Almost twice as much music was recorded by Piatigorsky for Columbia as was actually released. There were unissued versions of the Grieg, Debussy and Barber sonatas - this last-named, Columbia actually went so far as to assign a set number for (MM-737), and both Piatigorsky and Barber were eager to have it released. My guess is that a suitable filler side could not be agreed upon. These sonata recordings finally saw the light of day in 2010, with the issue of a six-CD set by West Hill Radio Archives, a set that is indispensable for lovers of Piatigorsky's art, and which, when last I checked, was being sold at Berkshire Record Outlet at a reduced price.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Overture (Stokowski, 1942)

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
(portrait by Ilya Repin, 1893)
For Easter weekend, and in celebration of Leopold Stokowski's birth month (April 18, 1882), I present one of Stoki's more controversial interpretations, that of Rimsky-Korsakov's 1888 Russian Easter Overture. Controversial, because it features one of his many retouchings of orchestral scoring - and this in a work by a composer renowned for his mastery of orchestration! In this case, an anonymous male voice substitutes for a trombone in the recitative-like middle section, singing words of the Russian liturgy:

Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Overture, Op. 36
NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Recorded April 23, 1942
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-937, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 33.71 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 23.40 MB)

This brilliant piece must have been particularly dear to Stokowski, for he recorded it no less than four times - in 1929 with the Philadelphia Orchestra; the present version; in 1953 with "his symphony orchestra"; and in 1968 with the Chicago Symphony. The 1953 recording also uses the voice-for-trombone substitution; there, the singing is credited to bass Nicola Moscona. (Moscona can be heard on this recording of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony.)

A happy and blessed Easter to everyone!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mozart: Horn Concerto No. 4 (Dennis Brain)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
Today I present one of the earliest solo recordings by the tragically short-lived horn virtuoso Dennis Brain (1921-1957), which may not be particularly rare, perhaps (most of his recordings have been widely reissued over the years), but it is wonderful, and putting it on this blog is an excuse to put another delightful Steinweiss album cover into the public eye! This is, for all intents and purposes, the recording that introduced Dennis Brain to the American record-buying public (as a soloist, that is - the Léner Quartet's version of a Mozart divertimento, in which he and his father Aubrey had augmented the ensemble by two horns, had been issued here in 1940). It was the first to be made available as domestically-pressed discs obtainable through regular channels, some four years after it was released in England:

Mozart: Horn Concerto No. 4 in E-Flat, K. 495
Dennis Brain, with the Hallé Orchestra
conducted by Malcolm Sargent and Laurence Turner
Recorded June 21, 1943
Columbia Masterworks set MX-285, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 51.45 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 32.16 MB)

The double conductor attribution requires some explanation. The story is that Sargent was late for the recording session, so Turner, the orchestra's first violinist, took over and conducted the recording while waiting for him to arrive. English Columbia solved the problem of wording the record labels in a most frustrating manner for record collectors, by leaving off the conductor's name(s) entirely. At least they were honest, I suppose. Victor, when issuing Stokowski's 1939 recording of Saint-Saëns' "Carnival of the Animals" with the Philadelphia Orchestra, credited everything to Stoki, even though one of the sides was a retake conducted by Saul Caston.