Friday, September 26, 2014

Buxtehude: Sonata in C Major (Mogens Wöldike)

Dietrich Buxtehude in his only authenticated portrait
My exploration into Danish music continues with a magnificent piece of chamber music by Dietrich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707). Actually, Buxtehude spent most of his career in what is now Germany - in the town of Lübeck, where, towards the end of his life, the 20-year-old J. S. Bach walked 250 miles from Arnstadt in order to be able to learn from him. So his music is squarely in the German Baroque tradition, but the Danes have always claimed him as their own, and rightfully so, for all of his training was in Denmark. And in the dark early days of the Nazi occupation of Denmark, four Danish musicians committed to disc this sonata by their compatriot, one of 22 that survive:

Buxtehude: Sonata in C Major, BuxWV 266
Else Marie Bruun and Julius Koppel, violins;
Alberto Medici, cello; Mogens Wöldike, harpsichord
Recorded November 19, 1940
HMV DB 5249, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 26.47 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 14.81 MB)

Wöldike is by far the best-known of these musicians, and I'm sure his was the guiding spirit behind this performance, with his well-known qualities as a Baroque scholar. Koppel and Bruun were husband and wife, and Medici, despite his Italian-sounding name, appears to have spent his entire career in Denmark; he was principal cellist for the Danish Radio Orchestra for several decades. (Satyr has another recording featuring Elsa Marie Bruun, with Wöldike conducting - the Bach Concerto for violin and oboe.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Peer Gynt and L'Arlesienne Suites (Ormandy)

Cover photo by Adrian Siegal
Another one by Ormandy and his "Fabulous Philadelphians" is the offering this week, and it doesn't feature offbeat repertoire or even anything particularly exciting, perhaps - just enjoyable music superbly played. Except for the first Peer Gynt Suite, which he had recorded in 1947, these recordings represent Ormandy's first of these works, which make an odd but satisfying coupling:

Grieg: Peer Gynt Suites Nos. 1 and 2
Bizet: L'Arlesienne Suites Nos. 1 and 2
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded May 14, 1955
Columbia ML-5035, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 144.59 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 96.47 MB)

On a personal note, this was my introduction to Bizet's L'Arlesienne music; when I was 11, I obtained the EP version of this recording of Suite No. 1, which, incidentally, had the same cover photo. I haven't had that 45 for at least thirty years, but I remember that the turnover occurred in the middle of the Minuetto - even though neither the cover nor labels for A-2038 bothered to identify the movements!

This was another of Columbia's 1950s LPs to be reissued with a different cover; around 1958-59 this nature scene replaced Ormandy's visage above (photo borrowed from discogs.com):


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Boris Tishchenko

About a year ago, when Berkshire Record Outlet put on sale a number of Albany Records CDs on sale at ridiculously low prices ($0.99-1.99 per disc) I bought a handful of them. Among these were three discs of piano sonatas by Boris Tishchenko (1939-2010) performed by Sedmara Zakarian Rutstein. I knew of Tishchenko as a composition pupil of Shostakovich, whom the master thought very highly of, but I had never heard his music before. Well, Shosty was right - I was blown away by the quality of the music I heard. It is bold, direct, displays a firm grip of musical architecture, and enough variety to sustain interest over works lasting nearly an hour. I was moved to obtain the scores of the sonatas represented on the Albany CDs (Nos. 5, 7 and 9), and to seek out the composer's own performance of No. 7 on a Melodiya LP made shortly after the work was written:

Tishchenko: Piano Sonata No. 7 (with bells), Op. 85 (1982)
Boris Tishchenko, piano
Alexander Mikhailov, bells
Recorded in 1983
Melodiya C10 20091 004, one stereo LP record
Link (FLAC files, 155.12 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 66.90 MB)

The bells, which are of a different type in each of the sonata's three movements, are not heard continuously, but appear at strategic points - in the slow movement's climax, for example, and at the opening and closing of the first movement.

Berkshire, when last I checked, still has their Tishchenko CDs in stock, and if this music has intrigued you I would urge you to acquire them. And the scores, published by Compozitor Publishing House in St. Petersburg, can be obtained outside Russia via the Ruslania website.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Suk: Serenade (Boyd Neel)

Cover restored by Peter Joelsen
Perhaps no musician in the 20th century was more responsible for generating interest in the vast repertoire of music for chamber orchestra than London-born Boyd Neel (1905-1981). Trained as a doctor, he yearned to conduct, and to this end formed the Boyd Neel String Orchestra in 1933 by recruiting seventeen string players - 11 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos and 2 basses - from various London music schools. From 1934 the orchestra recorded copiously for English Decca, including the complete Handel Op. 6 concerti grossi, and gave a boost to young Benjamin Britten's career by commissioning (and recording) his first recognized masterpiece, the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. The war years curtailed their activities a bit, but not completely. One of their first recordings after Decca's introduction of the "ffrr" recording technique was this charming 1892 Serenade by the eighteen-year-old Josef Suk, composed under the influence of his mentor Dvořák:

Suk: Serenade in E-Flat, Op. 6
Boyd Neel String Orchestra conducted by Boyd Neel
Recorded July 6 and September 25, 1944
Decca set EDA-66 (AK 1209 through AK 1211), three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 60.30 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.40 MB)

This is one of about 120 sets imported into the USA and issued in an album series (the records made in England, the albums manufactured in America) between early 1947 and mid-1949 by American Decca, Late in 1947, British Decca began importing its popular series directly to the USA on the London label, then by May of 1948 was importing semi-classical (Léhar, Eric Coates, and the like) 12-inch issues here on London even as American Decca was importing the heavier classics! A May 1, 1948, article in Billboard magazine states that "according to a London spokesman, the [new semi-classical] series will in no way conflict with the deal between London's parent firm (English Decca) and American Decca for the latter to distribute English Decca classical wax here exclusively." But American Decca must have seen the handwriting on the wall, for the beautifully designed covers they had been using for the EDA series (samples of which can be seen here and here) soon gave way to more generic ones like the one pictured above. By the summer of 1949 London Gramophone Corp. (as it was then called) was importing all English Decca product, including the new LPs.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Copland by the Dorian String Quartet

Aaron Copland wrote precious little chamber music, but what he did write is of high quality, and this extends back to works he wrote as a young man in the 1920s. For string quartet there are only three extant pieces, all dating from the 20s, a Movement written while he was studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris (between 1921 and 1924), which was shelved and forgotten until it was rediscovered in the 1980s, a Rondino from the same period, and a Lento molto from 1928. The latter two pieces (in reverse order) form a satisfying slow-fast grouping, and Copland decided to publish them that way. This is the pair's first recording:

Copland: Two Pieces for String Quartet (1923-28)
Dorian String Quartet
Recorded February 8, 1940
Columbia 70092-D, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 19.69 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 13.63 MB)

I can't find out much about the Dorian String Quartet, other than that they seem to have been active between about 1939 and 1942, and their membership consisted of Alexander Cores and Harry Friedman, violins; David Mankovitz, viola, and a very young Bernard Greenhouse, who went on to later fame with the Beaux Arts Trio, as cellist. They made only a handful of recordings: the Piston String Quartet No. 1 in 1939, and Arthur Foote's Night Piece with flutist John Wummer, made on the same day as the Copland pieces. Cores and Greenhouse went on to make sets of violin and cello literature, respectively, for Columbia's educational series.

I got this Copland record from an eBay seller, and in the same package was John Kirkpatrick's pioneering set of Ives' "Concord" Sonata on five Columbia 78s. It was only after I ordered it that I realized that Buster had given us this same recording as transferred from its LP reissue, which is the preferable way to hear it, because the quality of Columbia's shellac from this time (1948) was simply awful. The "Concord", however, takes nine sides, making a filler necessary, and this - a part of the second movement of Ives' First Piano Sonata, recorded the same day as the larger work - didn't make it onto the LP. So I offer it here, as a sort of appendix to Buster's upload:

Ives: "In the Inn" (from Piano Sonata No. 1)
John Kirkpatrick, piano
Recorded April 9, 1945
Side 10 of Columbia set MM-749, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 14.05 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 10.33 MB)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Nielsen: Early Chamber Music Recordings

The Royal Danish Orchestra Wind Quintet:
Gilbert Jespersen, Aage Oxenvad, Hans Sørensen,
Knud Lassen, Svend Christian Felumb
The year 1922 saw the composition of two towering masterpieces of the wind quintet genre, utterly dissimilar from each other: Hindemith's Kleine Kammermusik, and Carl Nielsen's Quintet, Op. 43, written for four of the five players pictured above. The exception, Gilbert Jespersen, didn't join the group until 1929; in the meantime, Nielsen had written his Flute Concerto for him. Nielsen actually intended to write a concerto for each wind instrument, but only the ones for flute and clarinet had been written before he died in 1931 - surely one of the most tantalizing projects in music history, along with Debussy's set of six sonatas for diverse instruments, to be cut short by its composer's death. To return to the Quintet, however, this recording of it by the work's dedicatees became the major vehicle for Nielsen's fame outside Denmark, long before his symphonies were known:

Nielsen: Quintet for winds, Op. 43
The Royal Danish Orchestra Wind Quintet
Recorded January 24, 1936
and
Nielsen: Taagen letter (The Fog is Lifting)
(from the incidental music for "Moderen", Op. 41)
Gilbert Jespersen (flute) & Mrs. Valborg Paulsen (harp)
Recorded January 31, 1936
HMV DB 5200 through DB 5203, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 75.51 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 45.33 MB)

This recording was the first entry in HMV's Scandinavian Red Label series; the next was another Nielsen recording, featuring three of the same players, of this amusing piece depicting a group of strolling musicians who, after two fruitless attempts to serenade a lady, give it up as a lost cause:

Nielsen: Serenata in Vano (1914)
Aage Oxenvad (clarinet), Knud Lassen (bassoon), Hans Sørensen (horn),
Louis Jensen (cello), Louis Hegner (bass)
Recorded February 2, 1937
HMV DB 5204, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 22.23 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 13.59 MB)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ravel: Sonatine (Casadesus)

The greatest interpreter of the piano music of Ravel, for my money, was Robert Casadesus. He had met the composer in 1923, after giving a performance of Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit, and, according to his wife Gaby (also a fine musician with whom he often partnered in piano duo repertory), "had the pleasure to be congratulated by the composer for his interpretation, for his performance of Le Gibet in the slow and nostalgic manner which Ravel had intended, all the time emphasizing the harmonic relationships." It is this sensitivity to the harmonic relationships in Ravel's music that gives Casadesus' performances their unique power. Take, for instance, a work like Le Tombeau de Couperin - Ravel's tribute both to the Baroque dance suite and to fallen friends in World War I, its surface placidity concealing deep grief, which Casadesus is able to draw out fully but, paradoxically, without calling our attention to it.

Casadesus' fame as a Ravel interpreter rests on his 1951 Columbia recordings of the complete solo piano music, but his earlier recordings of the composer have not received such wide circulation.  His very first session in the USA, in 1940 (although he had been a Columbia artist for many years, all his recordings prior to this were made in France), was entirely devoted to Ravel:

Ravel: Sonatine and
Menuet from "Le Tombeau de Couperin"
Robert Casadesus, piano
Recorded February 23, 1940
Columbia Masterworks set X-179, two 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 27.94 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 19.90 MB)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Telemann: Suite in A Minor (Kincaid, Ormandy)

William Kincaid
The great Philadelphia Orchestra, which no less a perfectionist than Sergei Rachmaninoff preferred to any other (as both pianist and conductor) would not have been what it was without its great players. A prime example of this is its first-chair flutist from 1921 to 1960, William Kincaid (1895-1967). Here is one of several recordings that showcased him as a soloist:

Telemann: Suite in A minor, TWV 55:a2
William Kincaid, flute
The Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded March 15, 1941
Victor set DM-890, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 60.06 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 41.15 MB)

I am indebted to Christopher Steward, who maintains this wonderful page devoted to early flute recordings, not only for making the transfer but for sending it to me with permission to use it on this blog.

Telemann was an almost unknown composer at the time this recording was made; in fact this Suite was, I believe, the first work of his to be offered in the Victor catalogue - the Fiedler Sinfonietta's recording of the Don Quichotte Suite was the second (actually the first to be recorded, but the second to be released), and for most of the decade of the 1940s these two sets constituted all the music of Telemann available to the American record buyer.

The playing by Kincaid and by Ormandy's string section is stylish and delightful, but be prepared to be shocked about 4 minutes into the recording by the sound of a piano, with its action altered so sound like a harpsichord, playing in the continuo passages! This was the best the Philadelphia Orchestra could do in 1941. Mengelberg had a similar instrument in Amsterdam when the Concertgebouw Orchestra recorded Vivaldi for Telefunken, and Mahler is said to have used a similar hybrid when presenting his arrangement of a Bach orchestral suite in New York in 1910. By the time Ormandy recorded Telemann again, in 1968 when four concertos were recorded by various Philadelphia first-chair soloists, the orchestra had acquired a real harpsichord.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Larry Adler and His Harmonica

Cover by Al Hirschfeld
(restored by Peter Joelson)
The greatest harmonica player of them all, Larry Adler, would have been 100 years old last February had he lived.  (He died in August, 2001, aged 87.)  Around the time that anniversary would have been celebrated, I was lucky enough to find this Decca set in a used record shop.  Adler recorded copiously, but the vast majority of his recordings were British, for it was in Britain that he achieved his greatest fame.  There were sixteen issued American Decca sides made during the 1940s, the last two of them on the very day before the 1948 Petrillo recording ban took effect.  After that ban was over, he had been blacklisted for alleged Communist sympathies, and he moved to England permanently.  Here are one-half of those sixteen sides:

Larry Adler and His Harmonica, Vol. 2:
Katscher: When Day is Done
Olshanetzky: My Little Town Belz
Londonderry Air
Adler: Beguine
Debussy: Clair de Lune
Dinicu-Heifetz: Hora Staccato
Enesco: Roumanian Rhapsody No. 1
Recorded 1945-47
Decca set DA-653, 4 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 81.97 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 46.53 MB)

Strictly speaking, the Debussy/Dinicu record doesn't belong to DA-653; the previous owner had substituted it, but I was glad to get it anyway.  The Hora Staccato is a tour de force, as is the Enesco Roumanian Rhapsody.  The latter was featured in the 1948 MGM musical "Three Daring Daughters" starring Jeannette MacDonald, José Iturbi and Jane Powell.  In his entertaining 1984 memoirs, "It Ain't Necessarily So," Adler recounts how Iturbi almost cheated him out of the chance to work on the film:

"[In the film] I was to play Enesco's Roumanian Rhapsody in a Carnegie Hall setting, with Iturbi conducting a symphony orchestra. Before shooting I flew to Chicago for an engagement at the Chicago Theatre. When I returned I had a call from Abe Lastfogel [Adler's agent]. He told me that due to a set-designer's strike, they couldn't get the Carnegie Hall set built. Would I let [the film's producer Joe] Pasternak out of our deal? He'd put me in another film some other time. I could have insisted that I be paid - I had held the time free and signed a contract - but it didn't seem important enough to make it an issue, creating bad feeling and certainly ensuring that I'd never work at MGM again. So I agreed, the deal was off.
"That night Johnny Green rang me. Johnny, an old friend, was most famous as the composer of Body and Soul. He was in charge of music at MGM.
"'Larry', he said, it means my job if word of this gets out.' I promised secrecy.
"He told me that the set-designer story was phony. The set was up, they were shooting the number but without me. Instead of conducting the orchestra while I played, Iturbi would conduct from the piano while he played. And what would he be playing? Enesco's Roumanian Rhapsody. What a coincidence!
"'And Larry', said Johnny, 'he's using your arrangement!'
"Even for Hollywood this seemed to be carrying chutzpah to extremes. I phoned Lastfogel and, keeping Johnny's name out of it, told him what I'd learned. I said find out if the set is up; if it is, then is Iturbi doing a number and, if so, what number?
"Lastfogel called back.
"'You're back on the picture', he said. 'You don't know anything, you keep schtumm.'
"Next day Pasternak phoned. He was delighted, he said, that all the difficulties were ironed out, that I would be in the film after all.
"'Larry', he said, 'I've got a script problem and I need your advice. Could you come out to the studio today?
"I'm in the picture as a mouth-organist and suddenly I'm advising the producer on script problems. I drove out to the MGM studio.
"'Larry', said Pasternak, 'I've got to establish that José and Jeannette MacDonald are in love; there's only one logical place to establish it and that's during your number. Jeannette will be sitting in the audience and I want to show, with one look between them, that they're in love.'
"I had an idea what was coming.
"'Now, Larry', said Pasternak, and this time I could have written the script, 'if José is conducting the orchestra, his back is to the audience, right? And if his back is to the audience, he can't look at Jeannette. Ya with me?'
"Joe, I was way ahead of you.
"'And if he can't look at her, she can't look at him, right?'
"Right.
"'So, the way I worked it out, if José is at the piano, see, like he's playing a duet with you and conducting the orchestra at the same time, this way I can establish the look, the audience knows they love each other, you got it?'
"I got it. I also know I'm screwed.
"That's what we did, except that José had one more trick; he worked his sister, for God's sake, into the act. José Iturbi, Amparo Iturbi, and Friend. I was the friend. The number was lousy."

I've never seen the movie, so I can't agree or disagree with Adler's opinion, but the record certainly isn't lousy.  Of course the Iturbis were Victor artists so they aren't on it - fortunately!