Thursday, June 22, 2017

Von Einem: Concerto for Orchestra

Gottfried von Einem, 1944
Born into a wealthy Austrian family (his mother was a baroness), Gottfried von Einem (1918-1996) spent his formative years in Germany. The young man did not have an easy time of it under the National Socialist regime. His interest in the Entartete Musik of Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Hindemith (with whom he wanted to study, but whose exile from Germany prevented that ambition) antagonized the Nazis, as did his love of jazz. Despite his problems with the authorities, von Einem managed to achieve some success as a composer in these years. Herbert von Karajan commissioned him to write a Concerto for Orchestra, which was premièred in April, 1944. With its syncopations and sly allusions to "Jeepers Creepers" in the fast outer movements, it quickly landed its composer in more hot water. Propaganda Minister Goebbels himself ordered that this recording be made for "study purposes":

Gottfried von Einem: Concerto for Orchestra, Op. 4
Saxon State Orchestra, Dresden, conducted by Karl Elmendorff
Recorded July 25, 1944
Deutsche Grammophon set DGS-10, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 50.59 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 33.30 MB)

It seems unlikely that this recording was intended for public consumption, but it did achieve limited circulation after the war, notably in the USA in London Gramophone Corporation's short-lived series of Deutsche Grammophon album sets. The Gramophone Shop Supplement of October, 1949, lists the set at $8.93 (a tidy sum in those days), and offers this in review: "It bears signs of nearly every well known composer of the 20th century, from Mahler, Strauss and Hindemith to Bartók, Stravinsky and even Morton Gould. The texture is essentially light, and occasionally sardonic, while the orchestration is extremely deft. Perhaps the best thing about this music is its very eclectic qualities, and he who has a sense of humor may find some quite enjoyable moments." Irving Kolodin, writing in the Saturday Review of August 27, 1949, was much less charitable, saying, "no tunes seem to occur to him. It is a hash of rather meaningless counterpoints and orchestral effects, without even the seasoning that sometimes makes hash a filling, if not palatable dish." Good old Irving - he never pulled punches!

The Concerto for Orchestra does not appear to have been commercially recorded since, though a live performance by Jeffrey Tate and the London Symphony is now available on YouTube, and makes for an interesting comparison with the present recording - for one thing, the last minute or so of the piece was apparently changed when published (in 1951).

Monday, June 12, 2017

Khatchaturian: Piano Concerto (Levant)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
There was a request for this recording at Buster's blog recently, after he posted some of Oscar Levant's incomparable Gershwin playing. I dug around and found this nice early LP copy, complete with one of Steinweiss' more zany cover designs. This is one of three early recordings listed of Khatchaturian's wild and wacky piano concerto - the others are by Moura Lympany with Fistoulari on English Decca (the first to be issued), and William Kapell with Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony (Victor). Of these, I find Levant's the most convincing, for he cuts loose more than the others do, playing it with all the zest and panache that he brought to everything he touched:

Khatchaturian: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1935)
Oscar Levant with the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos
Recorded January 3, 1950
Columbia ML-4288, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 88.45 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 58.03 MB)

This recording was also issued as a 78 set (Columbia MM-905), and I am sorry to say I don't have that, nor have I ever seen it anywhere. It contains, as a filler, Levant's rarest recording, apparently unissued in any other form - Rachmaninoff's Prelude in D Minor, Op. 23, No. 3. It is so rare that it is on the wants list of the International Piano Archives at the University of Maryland - although it would be easy to miss this, since they do not identify it as the filler for this Khatchaturian Concerto. If you have it, they would like to hear from you!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

More from the Erling Bloch Quartet

In time for Carl Nielsen's birthday this year (June 9), I present the first recording ever made of a string quartet by him, done during the early months of the Nazi occupation of Denmark by the Erling Bloch Quartet. This recording does not appear to have been reissued on CD; Danacord passed over it in favor of the Koppel Quartet's 1954 account (though their 1984 LP set of early Nielsen chamber recordings did contain a rather inept transfer). I also offer two single discs by the Erling Bloch ensemble to ride, as it were, the coattails of the Nielsen. The details:

Nielsen: Quartet No. 4 in F Major, Op. 44
The Erling Bloch Quartet (Bloch-Pedersen-Kassow-Svendsen)
Recorded October 26, 1940
HMV DB 1-3, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 71.21 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.42 MB)

Hakon Børresen: Scherzo (from Quartet No. 2 in C Minor, 1939)
Schubert: Quartettsatz in C Minor, D. 703
The Erling Bloch Quartet (Bloch-Friisholm-Kassow-Svendsen)
Recorded November 19, 1942
HMV DB 5282, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 23.70 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 14.98 MB)

Stravinsky: Concertino for String Quartet (1920)
The Erling Bloch Quartet (Bloch-Friisholm-Kassow-Christiansen)
Recorded August 26, 1952
HMV DA 5275, one 10-inch 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 13.81 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 9.16 MB)

The delightful scherzo by Hakon Børresen (1876-1954), a Dane of Norwegian heritage who studied with Johan Svendsen, reminds me of the Scherzo of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, with its pizzicato main section and arco middle section. Yes, the Schubert is complete on one side, thanks to a brisk tempo and the omission of the repeat. The Stravinsky is, I believe, the ensemble's last recording to be issued as a 78,

The issue series in which the Nielsen set found itself was HMV's first automatic set series in Denmark, most of whose numbers were recorded during the Second World War (except for one reissue). I am aware of the existence of the following issues in it:

DB 1-3  Nielsen: Quartet No. 4 (Erling Bloch Quartet)
DB 4-6  Schubert: Fantasia in C, Op. 159  (Erling Bloch, Lund Chistiansen)
DB 7-9  Schubert: "Unfinished" Symphony  (Stokowski, from 1927 Victors)
DB 10-13  Beethoven: "Kreutzer" Sonata  (Bloch, Christiansen)
DB 14-16  Beethoven: "Spring" Sonata  (Bloch, Christiansen)
DB 17-20  Nielsen: Symphony No. 2  (Jensen, earlier recording from 1944)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Mozart: Wind Divertimenti (Danish Radio members)

Resuming my uploads of records from Denmark (actually, the one pictured above is from the reclaimed record pile), I present two Mozart divertimenti for wind sextet. These were recorded five years apart, yet share three of the players between them, including the leader of the ensemble, oboist Waldemar Wolsing (1910-1993). Here are the details:

Mozart: Divertimento No. 12 in E-Flat Major, K. 252
Members of the Danish State Radio Orchestra:
Waldemar Wolsing and Erik Hovaldt, oboes
Ingbert Mikkelsen and Knud E. Olsen, horns
Carl Bloch and Leif Carlsen, bassoons
Recorded October 16, 1952
English Columbia DX 1872, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 19.57 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 12.48 MB)

Mozart: Divertimento No. 14 in B-Flat Major, K. 270
Waldemar Wolsing and Hans Woldbye, oboes
Ingbert Mikkelsen and Wang Breidahl, horns
Kjell Roikjer and Carl Bloch, bassoons
Recorded October 19, 1947
HMV DA 5260 and DA 5261, two 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 26.36 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 16.01 MB)

The HMV records do not identify the players as members of the Danish State Radio Orchestra, but I imagine they were. Two days prior to recording K. 270, Wolsing, Mikkelsen and Roikjer, as members of the Wind Quintet of 1932, participated in this recording of Vagn Holmboe's Notturno.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Henri Sauguet: Piano Concerto No. 1

Henri Sauguet
Henri-Pierre Poupard, better known as Henri Sauguet (he took his mother's maiden name for his professional career), was born in Bordeaux 116 years ago tomorrow (May 18, 1901). He is one of those composers on the periphery of 20th-century European music who, like Vittorio Rieti, first came to my attention through Sylvia Marlowe's championing his work - in Sauguet's case, a Suite Royale for solo harpsichord, a skillful modern evocation of Couperin and Rameau which Marlowe recorded for American Decca in the early 1960s (tacked on at the end of an LP whose main attraction was Falla's Harpsichord Concerto). Sauguet's essentially conservative style made him one of the few Western composers acceptable to the Soviet musical establishment; he wrote a cello concerto for Rostropovich, and Vasso Devetzi had a success there with this piano concerto, the first of three, of which this is the first recording:

Henri Sauguet: Piano Concerto No. 1 in A Minor (1934)
Arnaud de Gontaut-Biron (Gaveau piano) with the
Paris Conservatory Orchestra conducted by Roger Désormière
Recorded June 29, 1943
French Columbia LFX 911 and 912, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 40.57 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 28.29 MB)

The pianist on this recording, Arnaud de Gontaut-Biron (1897-1985), was a French nobleman, a member of a family that in earlier generations had produced several famous soldiers; one of these served in the American Revolutionary War. This appears to be Arnaud's only recording.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The London String Quartet in America

From the 1924 American Columbia catalogue
The London String Quartet, founded in 1908, first came to the USA twelve years later, and, in the words of Tully Potter, "the Americas were the LSQ's Nirvana." They found great success here, so much so that its members eventually settled here. In Britain the ensemble had begun a series of recordings for Columbia in 1914, which included a number of first recordings of "complete" quartets by Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann (complete in the sense that entire works were recorded, but with some movements abridged to fit one side). None of these sets had been issued in the USA at the time of their first tours here, so the American record buyer's introduction to the ensemble was through this disc:

Bridge: Two Old English Songs (1916)
(Sally in Our Alley; Cherry Ripe)
The London String Quartet (Levey-Petre-Warner-Evans)
Recorded March 13, 1922
Columbia A-3677, one 10-inch 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 18.03 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 9.85 MB)

During the spring of 1922 and the fall of 1923, the London String Quartet made a series of recordings in New York's Columbia studios, quite separate from their British series (which had, in any case, by this time been taking place for Vocalion). This produced twelve issued sides, mostly of isolated movements from the string quartet repertory. (No complete quartets for the Americans - yet! That would have to wait for the Masterworks series two years later.) Of these, this Bridge coupling is one of the most valuable, for the arrangements were actually given their concert première by the LSQ in 1916, with Bridge himself taking the viola part.

My thanks to Nick Morgan, not only for spotting this record, but for sending it to me.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Happy Birthday, Claudio Monteverdi!

Claudio Monteverdi. c. 1630
We have a very important composer anniversary this month - the 450th anniversary of the birth of Claudio Monteverdi (May 9. 1567), and so I present the first complete recording of his first opera, "L'Orfeo" (1607). This may not be the first opera ever written - that honor goes to "Dafne" by Jacopo Peri (now lost) - but it is the first acknowledged masterpiece in the new genre.  It is also the earliest opera to be in the standard repertoire, although that was probably not the case in 1939, the year this recording was made:

Monteverdi: L'Orfeo - Favola in Musica
Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra under the direction of Ferruccio Calusio
Recorded December, 1939
Musiche Italiane Antiche 014 through 025, twelve 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 282.17 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 174.67 MB)

And how does this recording stack up today, in the wake of over three-quarters of a century of a performance tradition of this music? Quite well, in my opinion. The producers of this set took pains to ensure that the sound of Monteverdi's orchestra was reproduced faithfully, within the confines of what was possible at the time. True, most of the instruments are modern, and the singers are all of the Verdi-Puccini operatic tradition. But the singing - led by Enrico de Franceschi in the title role - is never less than beautiful, and, in the case of Albino Marone (singing the dual parts of Caronte and Plutone), full of character. The string playing is a little lackluster, perhaps, but the continuo work is all excellent, particularly that of Corradina Mora on her Pleyel harpsichord. The whole performance was obviously a labor of love for all involved. One can imagine them glorying in the positive aspects of their Italian heritage at a time when the world was falling apart around them.

Incidentally, at the Library of Congress' "National Jukebox", it is possible to sample what are probably the earliest recordings ever made of Monteverdi's music - two excerpts from "L'Orfeo" as sung by Reinald Werrenrath and accompanied by the usual Victor studio orchestra, recorded in 1914 for the company's educational series.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Danish Quartet

Gilbert Jespersen                  Erling Bloch                 Lund Christiansen
More Danish gems this time, played by an ensemble founded in 1935 by the three gentlemen pictured above plus one other - cellist Torben Svendsen, whose picture, regrettably, I cannot find. I present three recordings from the late 1930s, one by the full ensemble (flute, violin, cello, piano), and the others featuring two of the possible trio combinations within it:

Bach: Trio Sonata in C Minor (from "The Musical Offering", BWV 1079)
The Danish Quartet (Jespersen-Bloch-Svendsen-Christiansen)
Recorded November 22, 1937
HMV DB 5215 and DB 5216, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 44.85 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 24.88 MB)

Kuhlau: Trio in G Major, Op. 119 - Allegro moderato (first movement)
Members of the Danish Quartet (Jespersen-Bloch-Christiansen)
Recorded November 21, 1938
HMV DB 5226, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 20.16 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 11.83 MB)

Beethoven: Variations on "Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu", Op. 121a
Members of the Danish Quartet (Bloch-Svendsen-Christiansen)
Recorded January 16 and 21, 1939
HMV DB 5229 and DB 5230, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 40.31 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 26.74 MB)

The trio movement by Friedrich Kuhlau (1786-1832) is complete as issued; its composer was German-born but fled to Denmark as a young man to escape having to fight in the Napoleonic wars. During his lifetime he was famous as a pianist and composer of Danish operas, but he is best remembered now for his piano sonatinas and his works featuring the flute.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Corelli: Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 7 (Wöldike)

During the 78-rpm era, record buyers might well be forgiven for thinking that Arcangelo Corelli wrote only one concerto - the ever-popular "Christmas Concerto" - because, for all the attention paid to the other works in his Opus 6, he might as well have. There were, in fact, more recordings made of this eighth of the concerti through 1950 than of the others combined, and not until 1953 did an integral set of the twelve appear (in a Vox LP set) to mark the composer's tercentenary. Meanwhile, a few of the others did manage to make their way to records, including this first recording of No. 7 from Denmark:

Corelli: Concerto Grosso in D Major, Op. 6, No. 7
Chamber Orchestra of the Castle Church, Copenhagen
conducted by Mogens Wöldike
HMV DA 5256 and DA 5257, two 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 31.15 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 19.15 MB)

The concertino soloists are Else Marie Bruun and Julius Koppel, violins, and Torben Anton Svendsen, cello; the harpsichordist is unnamed, but I presume it to be Wöldike himself.

Regular followers of this blog will no doubt have noticed the preponderance lately of recordings from Denmark; this is due partly to relatively reasonable postage rates from that country to the USA of late, with the result that I have been buying a fair number of 78s from there in recent months. Stay tuned for more recordings by Danish artists and composers...