Saturday, December 3, 2016

Stravinsky from Concert Hall

A few months ago, Nick Morgan tipped me off not only to the existence of this LP, but to its availability on ebay at a quite reasonable price. (Thanks, Nick!) In December, 1954, when the record was released, it must have seemed the height of chutzpah for a relatively small record label like Concert Hall, with a little-known orchestra and conductor, to challenge major labels like RCA Victor and Mercury, who had the only available recordings of Stravinsky's Danses Concertantes and Dumbarton Oaks, respectively, conducted by Stravinsky himself! And quite creditably, too. For good measure, Concert Hall threw in their recordings, from 78s originally sold by subscription, of the Gordon String Quartet in Stravinsky's complete works for string quartet - which, I have to admit, was the main reason I was interested in this LP:

Stravinsky: Danses Concertantes and Dumbarton Oaks Concerto
Rochester Chamber Orchestra conducted by Robert Hull
Recorded c. 1954
Stravinsky: Three Pieces for String Quartet and Concertino
The Gordon String Quartet (Gordon-Rossi-Dawson-Magg)
Recorded c. 1947
Concert Hall CHS-1229, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 116.63 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 81.29 MB)

I can find out very little online about the conductor, Robert Hull, and the sleeve-note for the record unobligingly offers no information either, focusing its attention on the orchestra (and advertising its previous releases). It appears that Hull was active also at Cornell University during this period, then went to Fort Worth, Texas, in 1957 to conduct the symphony orchestra there. In the 70s his name turns up as conductor of the Arizona Symphony on several LPs of contemporary music made by very small specialist labels such as Klavier and Laurel.  Jacques Gordon, the leader of the quartet that bears his name, had, sadly, been dead for six years at the time this LP reissued his Stravinsky recordings.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The First Electrical Recording of a Bach Concerto?

As I mentioned several weeks ago, I have lately discovered the online treasure-trove of the Phonograph Monthly Review magazine (1926-1932). I have been methodically plodding through this, issue by issue, and am about halfway through the run. One of its features was R. D. Darrell's monthly "Recorded Symphony Programs" - an overview of recorded orchestral works one might likely encounter in concert, with the aim of allowing the reader to recreate such a concert at home by means of records. The issue for April, 1928, gives an overview of orchestral recordings of Bach, and notes that Harriet Cohen's acoustical recording of the D minor concerto (BWV 1052) is the only "Bach piano concerto" yet recorded. Moreover, all the other Bach concertos (for violin) listed were acoustical recordings. In the very next issue, in the very same feature, mention is made of this French HMV recording of a concerto for three pianos, as having just been released:

Bach: Concerto in C Major, BWV 1064, for three claviers and strings
Hélène Pignari, Lydia Schavelson, Lucette Descaves, pianos
Orchestra conducted by Gustave Bret
Recorded November 2, 1927
HMV D 2080 and D 2081, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 45.47 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 26.67 MB)

My copy, however, is from an English issue of five years later. Of the three pianists involved, I can only find out information online about Lucette Descaves (1906-1993), a pupil of Marguerite Long who went on to teach Pascal Rogé and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, among others. The name of Hélène Pignari (sometimes billed Pignari-Salles; I assume she married a Monsieur Salles at some point?) comes up sometimes in connection with recordings in partnership with violinist Louis Kaufman for Concert Hall, but of Schavelson I can find out nothing. If anyone out there knows anything more about these two ladies, please comment! The conductor, Gustave Bret (1875-1969) appears to have also been an organist and composer with a particular interest in Bach. In 1933 he directed a recording of the Vivaldi-Bach concerto for four keyboards (with Pignari again as one of the pianists) for French HMV, which can be heard at the CHARM website.

Thanks also to PMR, I have new information about this recording of the Bach Double Concerto by Anton Witek and his wife - apparently it was made at Bayreuth in 1928; for further details see my update to that post.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Happy Birthday, Paul Hindemith!

Paul Hindemith, 1923
This is a recording that I had meant to upload last year for Hindemith's 120th birthday (he was born November 16, 1895), but I got rather busy and in the end, the only composer anniversary I celebrated last autumn was Sibelius' 150th. Well, what's a year between friends? And so, for Hindemith's 121st birthday on Wednesday, here is his fellow viola player, the incomparable William Primrose, in his first sonata for the instrument:

Hindemith: Sonata in F Major, Op. 11, No. 4
William Primrose, viola; Jesús Maria Sanromá, piano
Recorded November 18, 1938
Victor Musical Masterpiece Set M-547, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 38.48 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 26.42 MB)

Hindemith's Opus 11 consists of no less than six sonatas, all written in 1918-19, for various stringed instruments with and without piano.  The first two are violin sonatas with piano, the third a sonata for cello and piano, the fourth for viola and piano, the fifth for viola unaccompanied, and the sixth (unpublished during his lifetime) for violin unaccompanied. He was to add further examples of each combination to his oeuvre, the viola being particularly favored with three accompanied and four unaccompanied sonatas in total.

This is the first of three recordings pianist Sanromá would make of Hindemith's music for Victor during the late 1930s; in the spring of 1939 he would join the composer for recordings of a sonata for piano duet and of the third accompanied viola sonata.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 (Levant)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
This posting is in response to a request. I obtained this set of Oscar Levant playing "the" Tchaikovsky concerto, graced with one of Alex Steinweiss' most delightful cover designs, about five years ago from Ken Halperin of Collecting Record Covers. I duly made a transfer, then shelved it, not sure if it would be of interest to anybody. Then, two months ago, after I posted Levant's debut album, there was a request for it, and I am delighted to be able to oblige:

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 23
Oscar Levant, piano; Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded December 12, 1947
Rachmaninoff: Prelude in G Major, Op. 32, No. 5
Oscar Levant, piano
Recorded November 19, 1947
Columbia Masterworks set MM-785, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 86.99 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 60.07 MB)

This was Oscar Levant's first concerto recording other than of works by Gershwin, with whom he was so closely associated; on the very next day, however, he was in New York recording the Grieg concerto with Efrem Kurtz! With Ormandy, the Tchaikovsky was his second recording, after the best-selling "Rhapsody in Blue" of 1945. That, however, was not Levant's first phonographic outing with the Rhapsody; that honor belongs to a Brunswick issue of 1927, with Frank Black's Orchestra, which I recently discovered here on YouTube. Writing in his best-selling book, "A Smattering of Ignorance", Levant said of this recording that "contrary to the common impression that composers do not think highly of their own abilities as performers, Gershwin was quite firm in his preference for his own version on Victor. At this distance [twelve years] I can acknowledge that it is much superior."

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Oscar Seagle in Two Sacred Songs

Oscar Seagle
Born in Ooltewah, Tennessee (now a suburb of Chattanooga), baritone Oscar Seagle (1877-1945) enjoyed a successful career as a concert singer and teacher during the early 20th century. A student of Jean de Reszke, in 1915 he founded a music school. the Seagle Music Colony, which is still in existence, and which claims to be the oldest summer vocal training program in the USA. Seagle recorded prolifically for Columbia between 1914 and 1926, with 96 issued sides to his credit. A measure of his enduring popularity among record buyers can be gauged by the fact that of 11 acoustically recorded discs listed as still available in the 1937 Columbia Catalogue, one of them was Seagle's (a coupling of "Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms" and "When You And I Were Young, Maggie"). About a third of his recorded output was of hymns and sacred songs such as the two presented here:

Tillman: Life's Railway to Heaven*
Lorenz: The Name of Jesus Is So Sweet
Oscar Seagle, baritone, with orchestra and *male quartet
Recorded March 28-29, 1921
Columbia A-3420, one 10-inch 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 19.56 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 11.25 MB)

I find "The Name of Jesus" a rather saccharine song, though Seagle sings it well. "Life's Railway to Heaven", however, with its railroad allusions, is a song I've loved since childhood, when I knew it from a George Beverly Shea album my grandmother had. In later years the song has become a standard for country and bluegrass artists, perhaps most movingly in this performance by Johnny Cash with a large backup group including the Carter Family, Earl Scruggs and a young Mark O'Connor.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Mozart: Quintet in D, K. 593 (Budapest Quartet & Katims)

The Budapest Quartet with Milton Katims
This past spring, I uploaded a Mozart string quintet recording (C major, K. 515) by the Budapest String Quartet with their frequent collaborator, Milton Katims, as the second violist. At the same time as I acquired that set, I also obtained the one I present today; however, the other set gave me an excuse to add a nice Steinweiss cover to my online gallery, whereas this one's cover is generic. Moreover, I think this recording was slightly more widely circulated than the K. 515 one was. Be that as it may, I see no reason to withhold this transfer any longer:

Mozart: String Quintet in D Major, K. 593
The Budapest String Quartet (Roisman-Ortenberg-Kroyt-Schneider)
with Milton Katims, second viola
Recorded December 12-13, 1946
Columbia Masterworks set MM-708, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 64.49 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.88 MB)

I hadn't meant to be inactive quite so long - two weeks! But shortly after posting my last post, I stumbled across the Internet Archive's making available of the complete run of the Phonograph Monthly Review magazine from 1926 to 1932, and this has lured me away from other record-related pursuits fairly consistently since. PMR is one of those publications I've heard about but have never been able to read until now, and it chronicles a very exciting time in American recording history, the beginnings of the push to create a library of symphonic and chamber music masterworks in recorded form. As such, it fulfilled the same function that "The Gramophone" magazine did in England starting three years earlier. The latter magazine is still with us, of course, but PMR, alas, fell victim to the Great Depression.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Musical Stories for Children (Cricket Records)

This post is pure nostalgia for me, because recordings similar to the ones in it represent some of my earliest record-listening experiences. Cricket Records was a line of children's records introduced in 1953 by Cy Leslie (1922-2008) as the flagship label of the Pickwick Sales Corporation (later Pickwick International), initially as 10-inch 78s, then as 7-inch 78s and 45s. I had several dozen of these little records in both speeds between the ages of 4 and 8; the 45s were sold in department stores, and the 78s, which even at that age I preferred, could be found as late as 1970 at the Record Center at Broadview Plaza in Atlanta, probably as unused old stock. In 1959 Cricket marketed LP releases, most of them drawing from the singles line, including this one:

Musical Stories for Children, Vol. 1
Cricketone Chorus and Orchestra and Playhour Players
1. The Little White Duck
2. Jack and the Beanstalk
3. Hansel and Gretel
4. The Gingerbread Man
5. Peter Pan
6. Tubby the Tuba
7. The Tortoise and the Hare
8. The Three Pigs
9. The Toy Town Choo-Choo
10. Pinocchio
Issued May, 1959
Cricket Playhour CR-19, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 97.89 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 60.94 MB)

Most enjoyable of these tracks for me, at this remove of nearly fifty years, is probably "Peter Pan" with its zany little songs for Captain Hook and the crocodile, with the "Gingerbread Man" running a close second - the baked creature's silly laughing song is maddeningly memorable! I also find myself marveling at the creativity that went into the fairy-tale arrangements, all of which are rendered in verse and song, with a quartet of singers sometimes in unison, sometimes in harmony, and accompaniments in which wind instruments predominate, often with a bass clarinet on the bass line, and a rhythm section in the background. Even when I was young, records for children such as these were going out of fashion. The generation of kids after my own had nothing but Disney music marketed for them, and I pity them....

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The First Complete Recording of the "New World" Symphony

Hamilton Harty, from the 1927 Columbia Catalogue
After all these years, the symphony most associated with America remains Dvořák's ever-fresh Symphony "From the New World." It is one of the peculiarities of the early recording industry that its first complete outing on shellac should have emanated from London, played by a Manchester-based orchestra conducted by an Irishman. Oh, the famous "Largo" had been recorded in the USA several times, by bands and orchestras including those of Philadelphia and New York, always abridged to one four-minute side. In 1919-21, Landon Ronald made the first recording of all four movements, issued piecemeal and with all but the Scherzo being cut. Then in 1923 came Harty's fine version, his first recording of any symphony, absolutely complete except for one repeat in the Trio of the Scherzo:

Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 ("From the New World")
The Hallé Orchestra conducted by Hamilton Harty
Recorded April 10, October 23 and October 24, 1923
Columbia Masterworks Set No. 3, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 103.11 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 63.84 MB)

This would be the only complete "New World" recorded acoustically; the next recording would be Stokowski's 1925 early electric version (which can be heard here). Harty would re-record the symphony in 1927, as would Ronald; interestingly, both conductors would be knighted during the period between their respective recordings.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Rare Baroque Music from Fiedler's Sinfonietta

Those of you seeing my title for this post, and then seeing the label picture above, must be thinking, "he's joking, right?" Because the Pachelbel Canon is so familiar to us nowadays, that it's hard to imagine a time, not so long ago, that the piece, and its composer, was almost as unknown as two of the other composers whose works Arthur Fiedler's little orchestra (composed of Boston Symphony players) recorded during the same week. (Doubtless many people, particularly cellists, wish this were still the case! I myself always had fun with it, as a continuo harpsichordist, because I could slip in tunes like "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" with the right hand and see if anybody noticed. Nobody ever did.) The other two composers represented here are, even today, hardly household names: the lutenist Esajas Reusner (1636-1679) and Rev. William Felton (1713-1769):

William Felton: Organ Concerto No. 3 in B-Flat Major
E. Power Biggs with Arthur Fiedler's Sinfonietta
Recorded March 17, 1940
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-866, two 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 33.74 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 21.69 MB)

Esajas Reusner: Suite No. 1 (arr. J. G. Stanley) and
Pachelbel: Canon in D Major
Arthur Fiedler's Sinfonietta
Recorded March 21, 1940
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-969, two 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 35.35 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 24.25 MB)

It's taken six years, but between 8 and 9 o'clock this morning this blog passed a milestone: one million pageviews! It now stands at 1,000,301. My thanks to you, my loyal fans, for making this possible.