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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Oscar Levant in a Recital of Modern Music

Oscar Levant
The Pittsburgh-born pianist, composer, author, actor, and (in later years) professional neurotic Oscar Levant (1906-1972) probably doesn't need any introduction to my readers, but perhaps this particular album does, for with the exception of the oft-reissued Gershwin preludes, it is comparatively rare. It actually was his first, issued in mid-1942, when he was already famous for his role as a panelist on the radio quiz show "Information Please" and as the author of the best-selling "A Smattering of Ignorance", and, in some respects, the most satisfying of the dozen or so albums he would make for Columbia:

Oscar Levant in a Recital of Modern Music:
Gershwin: Three Preludes
Debussy: Les Collines d'Anacapri
Debussy: Jardins sous la pluie
Jelobinsky: Etudes, Op. 19, Nos. 1 and 2 
Shostakovich: Prelude in A Minor, Op. 34, No. 2
Shostakovich: Polka from "The Golden Age"
Ravel: Sonatine - Menuet
Levant: Sonatina - First movement (Con ritmo)
Oscar Levant, piano
Recorded December 17, 1941, and January 20, 1942
Columbia Masterworks set M-508, four 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 54.67 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 40.61 MB)

Gershwin, Debussy, Ravel and Shostakovich are of course very well-known, but Levant the composer and Valery Viktorovich Jelobinsky (1913-1946) are far less so. The latter (whose name has also been transliterated "Zhelobinsky") was quite prolific in his short career, with six symphonies, three piano concertos and four operas to his credit. Shostakovich evidently thought highly of him, but posterity seems to have completely ignored him. This is the only recording ever made of the second of these two Etudes (from a set of six, which Horowitz championed for a time); Raymond Lewenthal later included the first one on a Westminster LP.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 1 (Sanderling)

In the early 1950s, the switch from standard 78-rpm records to the new long-playing ones occasioned, in some countries, some pretty strange hybrid types. Deutsche Grammophon had a "variable micrograde" 78 shellac disc, playable with an ordinary 78-size stylus, that managed to extend the timing of a 12-inch disc to eight minutes. These didn't last long; by 1952 DGG bowed to the future and began producing 33-rpm LPs. In the Soviet Union, LPs were also launched about 1952, but with a twist - longer works were presented as 33-rpm records, but shorter ones were issued on 8-inch or 10-inch 78-rpm vinyl records, playable with the same microgroove stylus as the 33-rpm LPs. I'm aware of only one issue on Soviet microgroove 78s that offered an extended work on two records, and this is it:

Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C Major, BWV 1066
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kurt Sanderling
Issued c. 1953
USSR D-893/6, two 10-inch vinyl microgroove 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 85.34 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 52.52 MB)

This appears to be the first Soviet recording of a Bach orchestral work other than a solo concerto or a transcription, and it's fitting that Kurt Sanderling (1912-2011) should have been chosen to make it. Born a Jew in Germany, he fled east when the Nazis took power, becoming co-conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic (with Yevgeny Mravinsky) before returning back to East Berlin in 1960. His performance of the Bach Suite sounds rather old-fashioned in some ways, with stately tempi and no continuo instrument, but in terms of scholarship, it's quite up-to-date, with all cadential trills observed, even those usually missing from contemporaneous recordings of the Bach suites.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Coolidge Quartet Completed (III)

Daniel Gregory Mason
The third and final installment of my Coolidge Quartet series is here, meaning you can now hear every one of their published Victor recordings through my uploads. All of their sets are fairly rare, but these two may be the rarest, so I have saved them for last. These two sets also share another, rather more unfortunate distinction: there are cuts in both major works presented. In the Hummel work, only the slow movement is affected, but in the work by Massachusetts-born Daniel Gregory Mason (1873-1953), all the movements are cut, the last one most seriously. Had the cuts not been taken, however, it would not have been possible to include the filler side, a quartet movement by Virginia native Mary Howe (née Carlisle, 1882-1964):

Daniel Gregory Mason: Quartet in G Minor, Op. 19 (On Negro Themes) and
Mary Howe: Allegro inevitabile
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Pepper-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded September 27, 1940
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-891, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 70.47 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 47.45 MB)

Johann Nepomuk Hummel: Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 30, No. 2
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded March 24, 1939
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-723, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 45.80 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 33.09 MB)

I had never heard the Hummel quartet before acquiring this set; it is charming, and its finale is particularly fun. Certain passages suggest that Hummel was familiar with Bach's "Goldberg" Variations.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Coolidge Quartet Completed (II)

Victor Chapman, 1916
Here is the next installment of my Coolidge Quartet series. The "Music for Four Stringed Instruments" by Charles Martin Loeffler, based on a Gregorian chant for Easter Sunday ("Resurrexi"), was composed to honor the memory of Victor Chapman, the first American aviator to be killed in the First World War - in 1916, a year before the USA itself actually entered that war. Loeffler, evidently, was a friend of Chapman's father. The piece makes unusual demands on the cellist, who must, several times during the second movement, tune the lowest string down while playing it. This was the first recording of the work, and the Coolidge Quartet's second recording of anything:

Loeffler: Music for Four Stringed Instruments (1917)
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded May 27, 1938
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-543, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 63.82 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 43.86 MB)

The Coolidge Quartet's version of Beethoven's G Major Quartet, Op. 18, No. 2, competed directly in Victor's catalogue with one by the Budapest Quartet. Irving Kolodin, in his 1941 "Guide to Recorded Music," preferred the Coolidge version, saying that "the Coolidges have apparently made a particular study of this work, for they play it with extraordinary grace and flexibility. Comparatively the Budapest performance is a bit heavy-handed though superbly executed."

Beethoven: Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded April 28, 1939
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-622, four 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 53.54 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 36.55 MB)