Friday, July 3, 2015

Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue (Sanromá, Fiedler)

Cover design by Peter Arno (?)
For the Fourth of July holiday weekend, I offer that most quintessentially American concert work in its first recording with pretensions to completeness - and a smashing performance, at that. Jesús Maria Sanromá's way with this music is so full of panache and improvisational flair that it is almost like hearing it for the first time, and most subsequent recordings seem to me staid by comparison. Sanromá was the official pianist of the Boston Pops at the time that organization's first recordings were made, and, in fact, this version of the Rhapsody comes from the Pops' very first day of sessions:

Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue
Jesús Maria Sanromá, piano, with the
Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler
Recorded July 1, 1935
Gershwin: Strike Up the Band
Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler
Recorded July 3, 1935
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-358, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 52.44 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 33.70 MB)

As I said, this is the first recording of the Rhapsody with pretensions to completeness, with only two minor cuts made. The piece had, of course, been recorded many times before, in a dizzying array of arrangements (including Larry Adler on the harmonica, Jesse Crawford on the Wurlitzer organ, and the Eight Piano Ensemble, whose version can be heard at the CHARM website), but all of these, including Gershwin's own recording with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, abridged the piece to fit onto two sides.

Ken Halperin's blog shows an alternate cover design for this set, which he believes might be by Steinweiss. My copy of the set has the one pictured above, but lacking its front cover, as the previous owner wished to keep it for framing! Fortunately, the back cover is identical, except for having the spine binding on the right instead of the left. This was Victor's practice during the early 1940s with its pictorial album covers.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Mogens Wöldike - Two Brandenburg Concertos

Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg
As the 200th anniversary of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach approached in the year 1950, several record companies worldwide engaged in a flurry of activity making new recordings of his works, including several versions of the six Brandenburg Concertos.  Columbia had a version with Fritz Reiner conducting an ad hoc ensemble of New York players, and Decca had the newly-signed Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra under its founder, Karl Münchinger.  HMV countered with piecemeal issues of the six concertos with Mogens Wöldike leading two different Danish ensembles (Nos. 3 and 6 being done by an ensemble of soloists), recorded over a span of one-and-a-half years.  Nos. 4 and 6 of this set can be heard at the CHARM website; to complement these, I present Wöldike's readings of Nos. 3 and 5:

Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048
Chamber Ensemble of the Chapel Palace, Copenhagen,
conducted by Mogens Wöldike
Recorded December 1, 1949
Bach: Partita No. 1 in B-Flat, BWV 825 - Sarabande
Liselotte Selbiger, harpsichord
Recorded February 3, 1950
HMV C 3947 and C 3948, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 40.01 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 25.03 MB)

Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major, BWV 1050
Herman D. Koppel, harpsichord; Leo Hansen, violin; Poul Birkelund, flute;
Danish State Broadcasting Chamber Orchestra
conducted by Mogens Wöldike
Recorded May 31, 1950
HMV DB 20118 through DB 20120, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 60.63 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 37.54 MB)

Herman D. Koppel, the harpsichordist in No. 5, can be heard in an utterly different triple concerto here - as pianist in Niels Viggo Bentzon's Chamber Concerto recorded the following year.

For those interested, here are the particulars of the order of recording for Wöldike's set of Brandenburgs, culled from Michael Gray's listings, WERM, and Frank Andrews' HMV "C" Series Discography:

No. 4 - mats. 2CS2718-22: Nov 29 '49 & Mar 1 '50* (DB 20109-11 & C 4073-5)
No. 3 - mats. 2CS2723-25: Dec 1 '49 (DB 5291-2 & C 3947-8)
No. 6 - mats. 2CS2813-17: May 27 '50 (DB 20121-3 & C 4164-6)
No. 5 - mats. 2CS2819-24: May 31 '50 (DB 20118-20)
No. 2 - mats. 2CS2908-11: Dec 20 '50 (DB 20107-8 & C 7848-9)
No. 1 - mats. 2CS2952-56: Mar 10 & 11 '51 (DB 20140-2)

*Most, if not all, issued takes of No. 4 are surely from the later date, on the evidence of the high take numbers (4's and 6's).

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Berg: Lyric Suite (Galimir Quartet)

Alban Berg
Of the three composers of the Second Viennese School, Alban Berg has always been my favorite, because the expressive and emotional power of his music shines through the often harsh sounds of his chosen idiom (i.e., music not based in traditional tonality) more strongly for me than it does with the works of Schoenberg or Webern, geniuses though those two undoubtedly were. Berg was, essentially, a Romantic composer, and his best interpreters, which included Felix Galimir (1910-1999), have understood this. Galimir and his three sisters founded a string quartet while they were students at the Vienna Conservatory, which learned Berg's then-newest work, the Lyric Suite, being coached by Berg himself in its performance. (The full story can be read here.) At about the time of Berg's death, in 1935, the group recorded it - the first recording of any of his works:

Berg: Lyric Suite, for string quartet
Galimir String Quartet of Vienna
Recorded c. 1935
Brunswick-Polydor set BP-2, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 79.54 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 49.87 MB)

My source is a superb set of pressings on the short-lived Brunswick-Polydor label, the successor to Brunswick's gold-label classical series that also featured mainly Polydor material. Introduced in 1937, the entire series, such as it was, seems to have been retired when CBS purchased the American Record Corporation in 1939.  I have been able to trace information about only eight album sets in the series, as follows:

BP-1 Stravinsky: Violin Concerto (Dushkin; Lamoureux/Stravinsky)
BP-2 Berg: Lyric Suite (Galimir Qt.)
BP-3 Roussel: Symphony No. 3 (Lamoureux Orch./Wolff)
BP-4 Beethoven: "Hammerklavier" Sonata (Kempff)
BP-5 Verdi: Quartet in E minor (Prisca Qt.)
BP-6 Bach: English Suite No. 3 (Alexander Borovsky, piano)
BP-7 Beethoven: Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2 (Prisca Qt.)
BP-8 Heinrich Schlusnus Lieder Album (Graener, Schubert, Schumann, Strauss)

The first four sets were 12-inch sets, and the other four were 10-inch.  All except BP-6 and BP-8 had "slide automatic" couplings available as well, an "A" appearing after the album number to indicate this.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Brahms: Symphony No. 1 (Rodzinski)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
For four years, Artur Rodzinski was the music director of the New York Philharmonic (1943-47), but his recording career with that august organization occupied only two of them - eighteen sessions from December, 1944, to October, 1946. The first of these produced recordings of Tchaikovsky's "Pathétique" Symphony and of Gershwin's "An American in Paris" that were quickly released. The second session, four weeks later, produced this Brahms symphony which, for reasons unknown, had to wait over a year and a half for its issue:

Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York conducted by Artur Rodzinski
Recorded January 8, 1945
Columbia Masterworks set MM-621, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 108.62 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 72.20 MB)

This was only the second recording of a Brahms symphony made by the Philharmonic; it was preceded by Barbirolli's 1940 version of the Second. (A complete cycle did follow in the early 1950s, conducted by Bruno Walter.)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Happy 150th, Carl Nielsen!

This year marks the 150th birth anniversaries of two giants of Scandinavian music - Jean Sibelius and Carl Nielsen. Sibelius' anniversary won't be for another six months, but Nielsen's is this Tuesday, June 9, and so I present two early recordings of his music - one of them, as far as I can determine, the very first recording of a large-scale work by Nielsen, a youthful violin sonata as played by his son-in-law Emil Telmányi:

Nielsen: Violin Sonata No. 1 in A Major, Op. 9
Emil Telmányi, violin, and Christian Christiansen, piano
Recorded October 13, 1935
HMV DB 2732 through DB 2734, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 59.79 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 35.36 MB)

The other offering is a mature piano work in a recording from late in the 78-rpm era:

Nielsen: Theme and Variations, Op. 40
Arne Skjold Rasmussen, piano
Recorded January 17, 1952
Tono A-177 and A-178, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 33.85 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 24.70 MB)

Apropos of Sibelius and Nielsen, the two appear to have been friends. And the Finn admired the Dane's music greatly; the story goes that Sibelius, perhaps embarrassed by the obvious disparity in their worldly success, generously told or wrote to Nielsen (sources seem to differ which), "I don't even reach as high as your ankles!"

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Mendelssohn: "Italian" Symphony (Harty)

This week, I present one of the last major recordings made by the Hallé Orchestra under the man who guided its musical fortunes for 13 years (from 1920 to 1933), the great Sir Hamilton Harty (1879-1941). This is their 1931 recording of Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony, an endearing reading full of vivacity and authentic string portamenti, in a splendid early Columbia "Vivatonal" pressing I was lucky enough to find recently:

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90 ("Italian")
The Hallé Orchestra conducted by Sir Hamilton Harty
Recorded April 10, 1931
Columbia Masterworks Set No. 167, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 90.41 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 62.77 MB)

Included with the download is the original 16-page booklet of program notes, which even includes a listing of all Columbia Masterworks sets available up through the time of this release at the end of 1931. It reveals that even at this late date, no less than fourteen of Columbia's earliest acoustical sets were still available for sale.

Friday, May 22, 2015

First Recordings by the First Piano Quartet

I'm revisiting the reclaimed record pile this week, with the first three issued recordings by the First Piano Quartet (Vladimir Padwa, Frank Mittler, Adam Garner, Edward Edson). Initially all three were issued in Victor's "Double Feature" series, a semi-classical line priced 25 cents lower than the Red Seal series. The 1948 RCA Victor Catalog describes these as having teal labels; however, as can be clearly seen, my copy of one of them has an ordinary black label. My guess is that they replaced the teal labels with black ones as being cheaper to produce. In any event, all three issues were subsequently upgraded to Red Seal status a year later, the form in which I have the other two (in somewhat battered copies, I'm afraid):

Chopin: Polonaise in A-Flat, Op. 53
RCA Victor 46-0005, one 78-rpm record
Paganini: Variations in A minor (composed by the ensemble's members)
Chopin: Etudes, Op. 25, Nos. 6, 1 and 9
RCA Victor 12-0250, one 78-rpm record
Liszt: Second Hungarian Rhapsody
RCA Victor 12-0251, one 78-rpm record
The First Piano Quartet
Recorded c. early 1947
Link (FLAC files, 57.89 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.69 MB)

The Paganini Variations were the group's radio theme signature, according to the label, which also bears the cryptic composer credit "Paganini-Garner-Edson-Mittler-Padwa" - it is of course the same theme that also inspired Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Lutoslawski and so many others for variations.

Friday, May 15, 2015

MacDowell: "Indian" Suite (Howard Barlow)

Cover image restored by Peter Joelson
This week, an album by that indefatigable purveyor of unusual and little-known music on record, Howard Barlow (1892-1972), who, with his Columbia Broadcasting Symphony, was responsible for a number of recorded premières, including this one.  Actually, four-fifths of one, because another Howard - Hanson - beat Barlow to the punch by four days in recording the fourth of the five movements of this MacDowell Suite (the "Dirge") as part of his first Victor album of American music, which didn't actually hit the stores until after the present recording did:

MacDowell: Suite No. 2 in E minor, Op. 48 ("Indian")
Columbia Broadcasting Symphony conducted by Howard Barlow
Recorded May 15, 1939
Columbia Masterworks set M-373, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 78.16 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 62.05 MB)

The simple but appealing cover design shown above is original to the set, which is a nice early pressing.  I'm pretty sure it predates Alex Steinweiss' design work for Columbia, and there were a few other sets from the same time period (middle to late 1939) that featured a composer's silhouette, as this one does.  Later copies of this MacDowell set that I've seen use an ordinary generic cover.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Andor Földes)

Andor Földes, 1956
The Hungarian pianist Andor Földes (1913-1992) studied under the two towering musical figures of his time and place - Ernst von Dohnányi and Béla Bartók, and in fact became best known for his performances of the latter composer's works. He came to America around 1940, and would first have become known to American record-buyers through his role as accompanist to another compatriot, violinist Joseph Szigeti, in a series of prewar Columbia recordings, most notably sonatas by Schubert and Debussy. In 1947, Földes gave the New York première of Bartók's Second Concerto, and made the first recording of it two years later, in France:

Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2 (1931)
Andor Földes, piano
Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux conducted by Eugène Bigot
Recorded June 27 and 29, 1949
Polydor (France) A6.320 through A6.322, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 65.70 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 43.66 MB)

These French Polydor pressings, though looking lovely, turned out to be quite noisy. I did what I could with them with several different styli, but some sides still have an audible swish and in fact the right channel turned out to be unusable. Despite this, I still think it sounds better than the Vox LP which was the recording's only issue in the USA.