Friday, January 29, 2016

Handel: Cuckoo and the Nightingale (Biggs, Fiedler)

E. Power Biggs, 1937
As I was growing up, E. Power Biggs (1906-1977) was a one-man institution in organ-playing, at least in my awareness, through his many, many Columbia LPs spanning a wide range of repertoire, performed on historic organs all over the world. His career at Columbia spanned some thirty years, but before this, he had been at Victor from 1939 to 1946, where most of his work was done on the 1937 Aeolian-Skinner organ built to Baroque specifications (pictured above) and located in Harvard's Germanic Museum. His recordings included collaborations with Arthur Fiedler and his Sinfonietta composed of Boston Symphony players; in fact Biggs' first Victor release was of a Handel concerto with Fiedler, which Larry Austin has made available here. A year later, they recorded this most popular of the Handel concertos:

Handel: Concerto No. 13 in F Major ("The Cuckoo and the Nightingale")
E. Power Biggs, organ, with Arthur Fiedler's Sinfonietta
Recorded March 17, 1940
RCA Victor set M-733, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 40.36 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 28.11 MB)

Both Biggs and Fiedler would later make complete recordings of the Handel organ concertos in stereo - but not together: Biggs' set was with Boult and the London Philharmonic, for Columbia, and Fiedler's was with Carl Weinrich for RCA.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Hanson's "Romantic" - The First Recording

Howard Hanson
The most popular work by Nebraska-born Howard Hanson (1896-1981) is his Second Symphony of 1930, long a favorite with youth and amateur orchestras because it is apparently relatively easy to bring off a convincing performance by such ensembles. Perhaps this is fitting, given Hanson's status as a musical educator; after all, he transformed the Eastman School of Music into one of America's top music schools during his 40 years as its director. But his Second Symphony actually was commissioned by the Boston Symphony, for its 50th anniversary. Ten years later, in 1940, Victor's first two sets featuring American symphonies simultaneously hit the record shops. The BSO's contribution wasn't Hanson's - it was the Third Symphony by Roy Harris. Hanson himself led his Eastman-Rochester orchestra in the symphony he had written for Boston:

Hanson: Symphony No. 2, Op. 30 ("Romantic")
Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra conducted by Howard Hanson
Recorded May 11, 1939
Victor Musical Masterpiece set AM-648, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 86.64 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 55.94 MB)

Hanson was to record the "Romantic" Symphony twice more, in 1952 for Columbia, and in 1958 for Mercury. This Victor recording is not only his first recording of the work, but his first recording of anything. I've compiled a list, from Michael Gray's Classical Discography, of Hanson's Victor sessions from 1939-42, and the 58 issued sides they produced, in order by matrix number:

May 11, 1939:

CS-035859/66 Hanson: Symphony No. 2 "Romantic"  (15865/8 [M-648])
BS-035867 Charles Vardell: Joe Clark Steps Out  (2059-A)
BS-035868 Still: Afro-American Symphony - Scherzo  (2059-B)
CS-035869/70 MacDowell: "Indian" Suite - Dirge  (15567 [in M-608])
CS-035871/2 Chadwick: Symphonic Sketches - Jubilee  (15566 [in M-608])
BS-035873/4 Sowerby: Comes Autumn Time  (2058)
CS-035875/6 Paine: Oedipus Tyrannus - Prelude  (15568 [in M-608])
CS-035877 Griffes: The White Peacock  (15569-A [in M-608])
CS-035878 Kent Kennan: Night Soliloquy  (15569-B [in M-608])

April 29 & 30, 1940:

CS-048819/22 Hanson: Merry Mount Suite  (17795/6 [M-781])
BS-048823 Robert Braine: Pavane - El Greco  (2112-A)
BS-048824 Robert Braine: Habañera - Lazy Cigarette  (2112-B)
CS-048825 Wayne Barlow: Rhapsody - The Winter's Past  (18101-B [in M-802])
CS-048826 Bernard Rogers: Soliloquy  (18101-A [in M-802])
CS-048827/32 Copland: Music for the Theatre  (17688/90 [M-744])
CS-048833 Burrill Phillips: American Dance  (18102-A [in M-802])
CS-048834 Homer Keller: Serenade  (18102-B [in M-802])

May 9 & 10, 1941:

CS-065310/4 Hanson: The Lament for Beowulf  (11-8114/6-A [in M-889])
CS-065315 Spencer Norton: Dance Suite - Prologue  (11-8116-B [in M-889])
CS-065316/21 Loeffler: A Pagan Poem  (18479/81 [M-876])

May 7 & 8, 1942:

CS-075100/5 Hanson: Symphony No. 1 "Nordic"  (11-8623/5 [M-973])
CS-075109 Charles Skilton: Suite Primeval - War Dance  (11-8302-A)
CS-075113/4 Griffes: Poem for Flute and Orchestra  (11-8349)
CS-075115 Skilton: Suite Primeval - Sunrise Dance  (11-8302-B)

(All the 1941-42 recordings except the Skilton can be accessed here.)

Hanson had two sessions for Columbia, one in 1950, the other in 1952, producing a total of five works (among them, Wallingford Riegger's Third Symphony). Four days after the second Columbia session, he began the fruitful association with Mercury that would continue until 1965.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Bach by Adolf Busch

Cover design by Darrill Connelly (?)
Happy New Year, everyone! 2016 marks the 125th birth anniversary of one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, the German violinist, conductor and quartet leader Adolf Busch (1891-1952). Fortunately for us, Busch's recorded legacy was large, varied and has been readily available in the decades since his death. To commemorate the anniversary, Warner Music Group, which has fallen heir to EMI's catalog of classical recordings, has done right by Busch in issuing a 16-CD set containing his complete HMV/EMI output, which comprises a little over half his legacy. I urge everyone to obtain this set, especially as it quite modestly priced (one Amazon dealer has it for just over $30). A few of the transfers are not up to par; Warner (which, laughably, refers to this set as "The Complete Warner Recordings" - almost implying that Bugs Bunny and not Fred Gaisberg was in charge of producing them in the first place), merely re-uses old EMI transfers in most cases. The vast majority of these, fortunately, are still quite serviceable, and the few which Warner has had newly made are, invariably, very good.

Unfortunately, I don't see anything forthcoming from Sony, which controls most of the other half of the Busch legacy - the American Columbia recordings made from 1941 to 1951. So to plug the gap a little, I present one of the rarer of these. It's characteristic that Busch, although he only recorded two of the unaccompanied Bach violin works commercially - one Sonata and one Partita - would choose to do the ones with the most complex movements. And so, the Partita that he recorded in 1929 is No. 2 with the great Chaconne (this is in the Warner box), and the Sonata is the one with the grandest Fugue:

Bach: Unaccompanied Violin Sonata No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1005
Adolf Busch, violin
Recorded May 18, 1942
Columbia ML-4309, one side of one 12" LP record
Link (FLAC files, 62.75 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 39.15 MB)

Although made in 1942, this recording did not receive a release until 1950, simultaneously on LP and 78 (the latter was set MM-926), the LP being coupled with a Bach concerto played by the 19-year-old Eugene Istomin which had been released on 78s four years previously. I have chosen to transfer this from the 78s (since tracking these old Columbia LPs is, for me, always a bit dicey):

Bach: Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, BWV 1052
Eugene Istomin (piano) with the Busch Chamber Players
Recorded April 25 and May 3, 1945
Columbia Masterworks set MM-624, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 58.40 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.49 MB)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mozart: Quartet in D, K. 499 (Budapest Quartet)

As I have mentioned before, this year I came into possession of four or five Budapest Quartet sets from the ensemble's vintage period (1933-35) in superb early Victor pressings. Here is one of those, a Mozart recording from 1934:

Mozart: Quartet in D Major, K. 499
The Budapest String Quartet (Roisman-Schneider-Ipolyi-Schneider)
Recorded April 5, 1934
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-222, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 67.87 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 40.13 MB)

It's interesting to note that the records of this set were issued in Victor's lower-priced 12" Red Seal series (9000 and up), priced at $1.50 per disk, as opposed to the $2 series (6000 and up, skipping to 14000 when 8999 was reached). Only in 1935 did the Budapest Quartet "graduate" to the higher-priced series; of course, such distinctions were erased when, in 1940, Victor dropped the price of almost all Red Seals to $1 per 12" record. (The exceptions were the operatic ensembles - Lucia sextets and Rigoletto quartets - which remained $3.50 as before.)

My best wishes to everyone for a Merry Christmas and a safe, prosperous 2016!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 (Barbirolli, 1940)

Jean Sibelius
Sorry for the long absence, but it's become more and more difficult for me to find time to work on this blog. I've spoiled everyone in the past with weekly posts, and now I find that one or two posts a month is the best I can do. Be that as it may, I didn't want to miss the Sibelius sesquicentennial next month (Dec. 8), and here is my little contribution to the celebrations, John Barbirolli's first recording of a Sibelius symphony:

Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43
New York Philharmonic conducted by John Barbirolli
Recorded May 6, 1940
Columbia Masterworks set MM-423, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 99.37 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 66.72 MB)

This was Barbirolli's second Philharmonic session for Columbia; the first had produced this recording of another Second Symphony - that by Brahms.  In between these two sessions, Igor Stravinsky made his first recordings with the Philharmonic, conducting his own "Rite of Spring" and suite from "Petrouchka."

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.