Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Balakirev: Piano Sonata (Louis Kentner)

Mily Balakirev
Mily Balakirev (1837-1910) is one of those composers who is more talked about than played. The founder of Russian nationalism in music, and organizer of the famous group known as "The Mighty Handful", he was eclipsed as a composer by three of the fellow members of that group - Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky. (The fifth member, César Cui, was influential mainly as a critic.) This is unfortunate, for there is some most enjoyable, well-crafted music among his output. Typical is this piano sonata, which has its roots in a student composition, though it achieved its final form only five years before his death:

Balakirev: Sonata in B-Flat Minor (1905)
Louis Kentner, piano
Recorded June 2, 1949
English Columbia LX 8810 through 8812, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 62.64 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 39.26 MB)

This was one of a number of recordings made under the auspices of the Maharaja of Mysore's Musical Foundation, established by Jayachamarajendra Wadijar (1919-1974), the 25th and last ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore before it was merged into the Republic of India in 1950.  The good maharaja is perhaps most famous for his sponsorship of Medtner, whose Third Piano Concerto was dedicated to him. Three Medtner Society volumes containing the composer's own interpretations of his three concertos were issued under the Foundation, as well as a volume of his songs with the composer accompanying Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Balakirev's First Symphony was recorded by Karajan (with the Philharmonia Orchestra), and Louis Kentner made a nine-disc set of Transcendental Etudes by Sergei Lyapunov, a student of Balakirev.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Beethoven: Quartet No. 5 (Coolidge Quartet)

With this set, I'm one step closer to having a complete run of Coolidge Quartet recordings - 11 down, 8 to go! This one is part of their ill-fated Beethoven series, which only got as far as Opus 59, No. 2 before the Coolidges' recording activity abruptly ceased. This one of Opus 18, No. 5, is actually available elsewhere online, from the British Library, but we poor Americans cannot listen to those files, so I'm happy to now be able to provide our chance to hear them:

Beethoven: Quartet No. 5 in A Major, Op. 18, No. 5
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded December 18, 1939
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-716, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 55.40 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 37.15 MB)

My latest discographic project is an article on the Coolidge Quartet, which was published in the June, 2015, issue of the 78rpm Community's Discographer Magazine.  This can be read online here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Paderewski: Piano Concerto (Sanromá, Fiedler)

As I've mentioned elsewhere, Puerto Rican-born Jesús Maria Sanromá (1902-1984) was the official pianist of the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops orchestras for over 20 years, and while there, made several recordings of piano concertos with them, including the first complete recording of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, and concertos by Mendelssohn and MacDowell. Perhaps the rarest collaboration is this one of Paderewski's youthful A Minor Concerto of 1888, not only a first recording of the piece, but seemingly the first recording of any work by Paderewski requiring more than two 78-rpm sides:

Paderewski: Concerto in A Minor, Op. 17
Jesús Maria Sanromá, piano
Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler
Recorded June 30, 1939
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-614, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 79.45 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 56.99 MB)

The Paderewski concerto may not be an earth-shattering masterpiece, but it is great fun, and Sanromá plays it for all it is worth. (The piece, incidentally, was tapped for the very first issue in Hyperion Records' acclaimed series "The Romantic Piano Concerto".) Paderewski played it at his American debut in 1891, and that wildly successful American tour quickly became a media circus, giving rise to such cartoons as the one shown above.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 (Munch, New York Philharmonic)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
This Saturday, September 26, marks the birth anniversary of the great Alsatian conductor Charles Munch (1891-1968), and so I present the first recording he made in America, in 1947, not with the Boston Symphony (that appointment was to come two years later) but with the New York Philharmonic. It's also the second-only recording made anywhere of Saint-Saëns' "Organ" Symphony (after Piero Coppola's 1930 version for French HMV) - perhaps understandably, it wasn't until the stereo era that the piece became the vehicle for high-powered collaborations between famous organists and conductors that it is now:

Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 78
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York conducted by Charles Munch
Edouard Nies-Berger (organ); Walter Hendl (piano)
Recorded November 10, 1947
Columbia Masterworks set MM-747, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 90.03 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 54.40 MB)

Edouard Nies-Berger (1903-2002), born in Munch's hometown of Strasbourg, was a protegé of Albert Schweitzer. He came to the USA in 1922 and was the official organist of the New York Philharmonic at the time this recording was made. Shamefully, Columbia did not even bother to identify his first name, billing him on the cover and labels as "E. Nies-Berger." But that was more information than they gave about the pianist, who was completely uncredited. James North, in his Philharmonic discography, says that Walter Hendl (1917-2007), then the assistant conductor of the orchestra, fulfilled this role.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Brahms: String Quartet No. 2 (Budapest Qt.)

Another gem from the 1935 incarnation of the Budapest Quartet this week, recorded at the same sessions that produced this Mendelssohn recording I uploaded some weeks ago.  This is not one of the works that made it into the Odyssey LP boxes that were discussed in comments to that post, though it did make it into a Biddulph CD set of the Budapest Quartet's Brahms recordings that appeared about 20 years ago - which, I imagine, is long out-of-print as well.

Brahms: String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2
The Budapest String Quartet (Roisman-Schneider-Ipolyi-Schneider)
Recorded April 30 and May 1, 1935
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-278, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 85.53 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 49.35 MB)

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Happy Birthday, Antonín Dvořák!

Tuesday marks the 174th anniversary of the birth of Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904). I guess that means I'm a year ahead of celebrating a nice round number (175th), but so what? - any excuse to listen to Dvořák's music seems a good one to me. And so here is his Cello Concerto, one of the works composed in America, and suffused with nostalgia and homesickness. Of course, almost every cellist of note has recorded it, and most of these recordings that I've heard fall short of the ideal interpretation. It requires a performance of total emotional commitment, while at the same time avoiding sentimentality, and that's a fine line indeed! I think this version by Piatigorsky, himself a lifelong exile, comes as close as any I've heard (naturally, it doesn't hurt to have the support of Ormandy and his great orchestra):

Dvořák: Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104
Gregor Piatigorsky, cello
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded January 17, 1946
Columbia Masterworks set MM-658, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 88.01 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 64.36 MB)

This cover design of this set affords another excuse to add to my ongoing Alex Steinweiss gallery:

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bloch: String Quartet No. 3 (Griller Quartet)

The Griller Quartet with Ernest Bloch, 1947
About a month ago, I sprang for the recent Decca big box (53 CDs) called "Decca Sound: The Mono Years." Some real gems are rattling around in there, and one of the highlights has been the set of four Bloch string quartets played by the Griller Quartet, who were the dedicatees of the master's Third Quartet of 1952. But it struck me as I was listening to this, that the recording is different than another one that I've had on a ten-inch LP for some time, and consulting Philip Stuart's Decca discography revealed the reason why: the recording on the ten-incher was not reissued in the complete set - instead, an entirely new recording was made, even though it was a mere year later! The earlier recording, which to my knowledge has never been reissued, was made a mere five days before the British première of the piece:

Bloch: String Quartet No. 3 (1952)
The Griller String Quartet (Griller-O-Brien-Burton-Hampton)
Recorded June 16, 1953
London LS-840, one ten-inch LP record
Link (FLAC files, 63.38 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 46.29 MB)

The main difference between the two versions seems to be one of playing time: the earlier one is nearly two minutes slower than the newer one.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Beethoven's Ninth - The First Recording

This is my 300th post on this blog - can you believe it? Something really big seemed called for, so I offer a recording that I have posted before, but this time, it's complete! Seven years ago I offered all I had of this pioneering recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, almost certainly the first complete one ever made, but that was only the first two movements. Now I have the whole thing, complete with album (the cover is pictured above) and I am pleased to present it now:

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Neues Symphonie-Orchester conducted by Bruno Seidler-Winkler
with soloists and the chorus of the Berlin Staatskapelle
Recorded c. 1923
Deutsche Grammophon 69607 through 69613, seven 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 185.69 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 114.34, MB)

Bruno Seidler-Winkler (1880-1960), the hero of this undertaking, had been the music director of Deutsche Grammophon since 1903, and left that position the year this recording was issued, so this must have seemed at the time a fitting cap to his career there. But in fact, it was the opening salvo in Deutsche Grammophon's bid to have all nine Beethoven symphonies recorded and available for sale. In the same month as this Beethoven Ninth recording was issued (December, 1923), Seidler-Winkler's of the Fifth and Pfitzner's of the Sixth were also released, according to Claude Arnold's "The Orchestra on Record, 1896-1926" (Greenwood Press, 1997). Here are the details of DGG's first Beethoven symphony cycle, in order by catalogue number:

69607-13: No. 9 (Neues S.O./Seidler-Winkler, issued Dec. 1923)
69638-41: No. 5 (Neues S.O./Seidler-Winkler, issued Dec. 1923)
69642-47: No. 6 (Neues S.O./Pfitzner, issued Dec. 1923)
69659-62: No. 7 (Berlin Staatskapelle/Walter Wohllebe, issued March 1924)
69663-67: No. 4 (Berlin Staatskapelle/Pfitzner, issued Aug. 1924)
69706-11: No. 3 (Berlin Staatskapelle/Oskar Fried, issued July 1924)
69760-63: No. 1 (Berlin Staatskapelle/Klemperer, issued Dec. 1924)
69786-88: No. 8 (Berlin Staatskapelle/Klemperer, issued May 1925)
69799-802: No. 2 (Berlin Staatskapelle/Fried, issued Nov. 1925)

Parlophon, with the same pool of Berlin players working under Eduard Mörike and Frieder Weissmann, entered the race as well in 1924 (intriguingly, also with the Ninth). By March, 1925, they had all nine recorded and available for sale, while DGG lagged with their last two issues.

The Seidler-Winkler Ninth seems to have been more widely disseminated than some of the other Beethoven symphony sets. Vocalion in the USA carried it - in fact it appears to be the only album set they ever issued from DGG sources. They took out an ad in the Talking Machine World magazine of November 15, 1924 (image borrowed from Allan Sutton's "Recording the Twenties", Mainspring Press, 2008):
And from eBay I borrowed this image of one of the Vocalion labels (notice their characteristic red shellac was used):
In Europe, outside Germany, the set was first marketed with the "dogless" Gramophone label (one of the spookiest designs on a record label I have ever encountered! - again, an image borrowed from eBay):

My copy, however, is a German one, with Nipper in full-color glory:

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe (Phillippe Gaubert)

Phillippe Gaubert
This week, a fine recording by the French flutist and conductor, Phillippe Gaubert (1879-1941) - the Second Suite from Ravel's ballet "Daphnis et Chloé" - a piece which, with its beautiful flute solo in the middle section, one imagines was close to Gaubert's heart. It isn't the first recording of this music - Koussevitzky beat Gaubert to that honor by eighteen months - but it is the first made in France, and was the only competing version to Koussevitzky's throughout the 1930s:

Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé - Suite No. 2
Orchestre des Concerts Straram conducted by Phillippe Gaubert
Recorded March 24, 1930
Columbia Masterworks set MX-32, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 43.19 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 27.85 MB)

My thanks go to Adam Schweigert for the loan of this and several other sets that I have posted here earlier this year, among them Szell's first Cleveland recording of Mozart's 39th Symphony, Stock's of Brahms' Tragic Overture; Barbirolli's of Brahms' Second; Kubelik's of excerpts from Smetana's Ma Vlást, and excerpts from the film Humoresque played by Isaac Stern.