Friday, June 24, 2016

Morton Gould's First Decca and Columbia Sets

Summertime, and the listenin' is easy....or it should be, I suppose. Anyway, it seems a good time to share my latest Morton Gould acquisitions, One of these is his first-ever album, a group of piano solos recorded for Decca in 1940. His association with Decca did not last long; it produced exactly one other set (with a string orchestra) before he switched to Columbia, a relationship that proved much more fruitful. His first album with Columbia (as a conductor) included one of the same pieces as the first Decca set. This was the delightful "Pavanne" - his most popular piece - which he deliberately spelled incorrectly, with two n's, in the hope that ignorant radio announcers would pronounce it correctly!

Morton Gould At The Piano in a Group of His Own Compositions:
1. Pavanne (from "American Symphonette No. 2")
2. The Prima Donna (from "Caricatones")
3. American Caprice
4. The Child Prodigy (from "Caricatones")
5. Tropical
6. The Ballerina (from "Caricatones")
7. Deserted Ballroom
8. Gavotte (from "American Symphonette No. 3")
Recorded October 9, 1940
Decca set DA-195, four 10" 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 66.01 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.12 MB)

A Morton Gould Concert
1. Gould: Pavanne (from "American Symphonette No. 2")
2. Friml: Donkey Serenade (from "The Firefly")
3. Freire: Ay, Ay, Ay
4. Trad.: España Cañi
5. Trad.: Dark Eyes
6. Rodgers-Hart: Where or When (from "Babes in Arms")
Morton Gould and His Orchestra
Recorded c. April-May 1942
Columbia set C-96, three 12" 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 62.98 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.70 MB)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss (?)
The "Pavanne" was originally written for orchestra, but the other selections in the Columbia set feature Gould as arranger. Somehow he works in a reference to Enesco's Roumanian Rhapsody No. 1 in his arrangement of the Russian folk song "Dark Eyes". Of the piano compositions, attention is called to the group for which he coined the word "Caricatones" - for me, the most amusing of these is "The Child Prodigy", in which he works in not only the expected Hanon and Kreutzer exercises but also references to Haydn's D Major piano sonata and Chopin's "Minute Waltz"!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Reger: String Trio in A Minor (Amar-Hindemith Trio)

This is one of those recordings that I am particularly excited to possess and to share; however, about 98% of the excitement derives from the identities of the performers rather than of the composer, for Max Reger (1873-1916) is, for me, a problematical figure in music history. I respect Reger as a craftsman and as a carrier of the Austro-German chamber music tradition, but as much as I've tried, I can't really like his music. (I do retain some fondness for his orchestral Serenade, Op. 95, and its neighboring opus, the Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue for two pianos, Op. 96 - with its comically interminable fugue subject culminating in a trill that sounds almost as an afterthought!) Part of the problem, I suspect, is that the weight of this tradition bogged him down - and those works without such weight, such as the serenades and string trios, seem to be more successful as a result. Certainly committed performances help. I remember reading somewhere (alas, I can't remember where) that Reger was a strong influence on Paul Hindemith as a budding composer, so it's not at all surprising that he and his cohorts should turn out a performance of this string trio that makes it sound as one of Reger's more enjoyable works:

Reger: String Trio No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 77b
The Amar Trio (Walter Caspar, Paul Hindemith, Rudolf Hindemith)
Recorded c. 1927
Polydor 66575 through 66577, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 56.18 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 37.25 MB)

For those unaware (as I was, until about six weeks ago), the super-rare acoustical version of the Amar Quartet's performance of Hindemith's Quartet, Op. 22, has been reissued in download format by a German outfit called Archiphon Records, and in quite a good transfer, too. It's well worth buying (which one can do here), but for those not wanting to download, the various tracks have been "autogenerated" as YouTube videos (a search on "amar hindemith archiphon" should bring them up).

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Miaskovsky: Symphonies Nos. 16 and 21 (Ivanov)

Nikolai Miaskovsky
In recent years, the music of Nikolai Yakovlevich Miaskovsky (1881-1950) - or, to give the currently preferred transliteration of his surname, Myaskovsky (I still prefer the old one, merely because it doesn't relegate him to the back of the alphabet within the group of composers whose names start with "M") - seems to have made something of a comeback after many years of Cold War-era neglect. During his lifetime, his symphonies were regularly performed in the West, particularly by the Chicago Symphony under Frederick Stock, who not only programmed his epic Sixth on a yearly basis, but also commissioned the single-movement Twenty-First, destined to become his best-known work (recorded by Ormandy and Morton Gould, among others). After his death, however, his essentially conservative style became passé, and he became known merely as the composer who wrote more symphonies (27) than anyone else in the first half of the 20th century. A reassessment of his work became more feasible after Yevgeny Svetlanov undertook, in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse, to record all of Miaskovsky's orchestral output, and while it's undeniably valuable to have this largess available, some of Svetlanov's performances don't quite measure up to earlier ones in those cases where comparisons are possible. There is evidence of haste in preparation and lack of rehearsal, and some of the tempi are glacially slow. A case in point: the earlier recording of his fine Sixteenth Symphony, conducted by Svetlanov's predecessor as director of the USSR State Symphony Orchestra, Konstantin Ivanov (1907-1984), takes 35½ minutes as opposed to Svetlanov's 46½:

Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 16 in F Major, Op. 39 and
Symphony No. 21 in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 51
Konstantin Ivanov conducting the USSR State Symphony Orchestra
Recorded in the early 1950s
Melodiya 33D 09415-16, one mono LP record
Link (FLAC files, 117.96 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 80.58 MB)

I can never think of Miaskovsky without also thinking of Richard Taruskin, who gave me my first copy of this LP when I was a teenager, one of several gifts from this brilliant man to encourage my budding interest in Russian music, one of his specialties as a musicologist. Dr. Taruskin was, earlier in his career, a fine viola da gamba player (as proven by a number of recordings he made as part of the Aulos Ensemble, for the Musical Heritage Society), and that was my personal connection with him, for the fraternity of gamba players is and always has been a close-knit one, and my mother, also a member of said fraternity, has been friends with Dr. Taruskin for over 40 years. He, in fact, encouraged her to write and publish a viola da gamba method, which she did in 1979. The last time we saw him was about seven years ago, when he came to Atlanta to give a lecture at Emory, and almost his first words to me were about the Svetlanov Miaskovsky series. He seemed somewhat rueful about the notoriety he has gained as a music critic, something well in the future at the time I first knew him. I, like countless others before and since, have known Richard Taruskin as a mentor and teacher, and a great one.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Loeffler: Partita for Violin and Piano

Charles Martin Loeffler, 1917
(pencil sketch by John Singer Sargent)
81 years and one week ago today, May 19, 1935, the Alsatian-born American composer Charles Martin Loeffler died in Medford, Massachusetts, at the age of 74. Two and a half weeks later, Odessa-born violinist Jacques Gordon (1899-1948) began recording one of Loeffler's last works, his four-movement Partita of 1930, an unaccountably neglected work of which I can trace no subsequent recording. Gordon's partner in this undertaking was Lee Pattison (1890-1966), better known as one-half of the Maier and Pattison piano duo that was popular during the 1920s. The set was issued by Columbia late in 1936 or early in 1937, and is quite rare, because it was deleted from the catalogue upon CBS's takeover of Columbia in 1939:

Loeffler: Partita for Violin and Piano (1930) and
Loeffler (arr. Gordon) Peacocks, Op. 10, No. 4
Jacques Gordon, violin; Lee Pattison, piano
Recorded June 5, 12, and July 30, 1935
Columbia Masterworks Set No. 275, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 92.60 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 54.43 MB)

The movements of Loeffler's Partita, dedicated to Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, are an Intrada, loosely in the form of a Baroque ouverture à la française, a Sarabande (by Mathieson) with 5 variations, a Divertissement with echoes of tango and ragtime (!), and a Finale des tendres Adieux whose opening reminds me strongly of the last movement of Brahms' first violin sonata, though the musical language is nothing like Brahms.

This recording appears to be Jacques Gordon's only one of a large-scale work for violin and piano. He was much more active in the recording studios as a quartet leader. The Gordon String Quartet made some dozen recordings for Columbia, Schirmer, and Concert Hall; for the last-named label they recorded William Schuman's Third Quartet.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Schubert: Rosamunde (Harty)

The great Sir Hamilton Harty (1879-1941) contributed to Columbia's centennial celebrations of both Beethoven and Schubert in 1927-28 with major recordings of works then new to Columbia's catalogue. Of Beethoven he recorded the Fourth Symphony, and of Schubert the "Great C Major." Both of these have been professionally restored by Mark Obert-Thorn, working for Pristine Classical, but I am unaware of any reissue of Harty's other Schubert Centennial recording, this set of excerpts from "Rosamunde":

Schubert: Incidental Music to "Rosamunde" (Op. 26)
(with Overture to "Die Zauberharfe")
Hallé Orchestra conducted by Sir Hamilton Harty
Recorded May 2, 1927 (Overture) and April 27, 1928 (Incidental Music)
Columbia Masterworks set MM-343, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 84.86 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 53.98 MB)

This set has a curious issue history. It didn't appear in the USA until 1938, and then with a different overture than the one in the 1928 British issue. There are two overtures associated with "Rosamunde" (Schubert not having written one specifically for the Helmina von Chézy play), the other one being that for "Alfonso and Estrella" - and Harty recorded both, the latter one on the same day as the incidental music. Both overtures were, in fact, issued as single records by American Columbia before this set appeared.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Hindemith: Mathis der Maler (Ormandy, 1940)

Matthias Grünewald: Temptation of St. Anthony
This week I present Eugene Ormandy's first recording of the Hindemith work that he recorded more than any other (three times, in 1940, 1952 and 1962) - the celebrated symphony extracted from the 1934 opera Mathis der Maler, its movements inspired by three of the panels that Matthias Grünewald contributed to the Isenheim Altarpiece 500 years ago. For all intents and purposes, this recording represented the general American record-buyer's introduction to this piece; an earlier one had been made by Telefunken in 1934, with Hindemith himself conducting the Berlin Philharmonic (his conducting debut on records), but one imagines that it did not receive much currency at the time because of Hindemith's position as persona non grata with the Nazi regime. In any case, the Telefunken set didn't receive widespread distribution in the USA until 1949, when Capitol repressed it in its new Captol-Telefunken series. Meanwhile, Ormandy's version had appeared on the US market seven years previously:

Hindemith: Mathis der Maler, symphony (1934)
Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra
Recorded October 20, 1940
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-854, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 58.01 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 40,62 MB)

The same session also produced this recording of a symphony by Harl McDonald, in addition to works by Sibelius, Barber and three sides featuring soprano Dorothy Maynor - 23 sides in all! It was to be Ormandy's only Philadelphia session in the 1940-41 season not shared with another conductor, so he must have been inclined to make the most of it. (Stokowski's last two regular Philadelphia sessions, incidentally, occurred in December that season. The first of these produced the world première recording of Shostakovich's Sixth Symphony.)

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Modern Age of Brass (Roger Voisin)

A couple of months ago, I was researching old Schwann catalogues to try and discover the deletion date of this LP by the New Art Wind Quintet, Since a work by Nicolai Berezowsky was the guiding force behind my posting that recording, I searched under Berezowsky's name in the Schwanns that I have from the late 50s, and found that there was one other LP available with his music, a brass piece coupled with music by Dahl, Hindemith and somebody else unknown to me. I saw this several times before I realized, "hold on, I think I may have that LP!" I checked my collection and sure enough, there was a copy, which I had found some 30 years ago when I wanted to hear the Dahl piece. I had learned that its second movement was the theme for WQXR's long-running radio program "Music at First Hearing" - on which a panel of well-known music critics like Irving Kolodin, Martin Bookspan and others reviewed new record releases on the spot without advance knowledge of what they were, a sort of "What's My Line" for record collectors. Here is the LP in question:

"The Modern Age of Brass":
Ingolf Dahl: Music for Brass Instruments (1944)
Hindemith: Morgenmusik (1932)
Nicolai Berezowsky: Brass Suite, Op. 24 (pub. 1942)
Robert Sanders: Quintet in B-Flat (1942)
Roger Voisin and His Brass Ensemble
Issued in December, 1956
Unicorn UNLP-1031, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 96.71 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 69.65 MB)

Roger Voisin (1918-2008) was the principal trumpeter of the Boston Symphony from 1950 to 1966, and he leads an ensemble of fellow BSO members on this recording, made for an independent Boston label called Unicorn Records (not to be confused with the much better-known British label of the same name from two decades later). The label, whose recordings were produced by Peter Bartók, the composer's son, lasted only two or three years before being subsumed by Kapp Records in 1958.  Kapp kept most of Voisin's Unicorn records in its own catalogue through the 1960s, including this one.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Lord Berners: The Triumph of Neptune (Beecham)

Lord Berners, 1935
Today, April 29, is the birthday of no less than three famous conductors - Beecham, Sargent, and Zubin Mehta (who turns 80 this year).  I honor the first of these here, with one of his rarer items, the most famous work by Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson (1883-1950), usually referred to by the much shorter name "Lord Berners" after becoming the 14th Baron Berners in 1918.  This is a suite from the 1926 ballet he wrote for Diaghilev's "Ballet Russes" to a story by Sacheverell Sitwell, "The Triumph of Neptune":

Lord Berners: The Triumph of Neptune - Ballet Suite
London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham
Recorded December 20, 1937
Columbia Masterworks set X-92, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 35.56 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 24.30 MB)

This recording stayed in the American Columbia catalogue for only five years - unlike most of Beecham's London Philharmonic output, which remained available until all classical 78s were deleted, by which time Columbia was amassing a sizable LP catalogue of Beecham's Royal Philharmonic recordings to replace them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Happy 125th, Sergei Prokofiev!

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
Saturday, April 23, marks a significant composer anniversary - the 125th birthday of Prokofiev (1891-1953). I present the recording that was my introduction to his "neoclassical" style - or, to put it more accurately, the first work of his in an academic form that I came to know, since the first copy of this set which I owned (purchased from Clark Music in Decatur, Ga.) was a gift to me for my 11th birthday, and at that age, the name Prokofiev meant to me only "Peter and the Wolf", of course, as well as the March from "The Love for Three Oranges." This first recording of the D Major Sonata, originally for flute but recast for violin at David Oistrakh's suggestion, has never been surpassed:

Prokofiev: Sonata in D Major, Op. 94a (1943)
Joseph Szigeti, violin; Leonid Hambro, piano
Recorded December 8 and 10, 1944
Columbia Masterworks MM-620, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 59.42 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 42.86 MB)

Incredibly, the liner notes (written by Szigeti himself) make no mention of the work's origin as a flute sonata, and for years I had no idea that it had been anything other than a violin piece. Then in high school, a flute-playing friend asked me if I had this recording. He was dissatisfied with James Galway's version, and his flute teacher, Warren Little (first-chair flutist of the Atlanta Symphony back then) had insisted that this Szigeti 78 set was the one to hear, because he played it like a "big Russian bear" - never mind, I suppose, that Szigeti was Hungarian! But he certainly had an affinity for Prokofiev....