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....

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Stokowski's All-American Youth Orchestra

Leopold Stokowski rehearsing with the
All-American Youth Orchestra, 1940
Leopold Stokowski's birthday is upon us again (he was born 134 years ago this Monday), and this year I've chosen some samples of his work with the All-American Youth Orchestra, essentially his own creation for the purposes of touring and recording. I will not go into the details, but instead direct you to this article at Larry Huffman's incredible site about the conductor, an article that contains a discography, orchestra roster, and several pictures (such as the one above). The orchestra existed for two years, in 1940 and 1941, and both years are represented here:

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 and
Bach-Stokowski: "Little" Fugue in G Minor, BWV 578
The All-American Youth Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Recorded November 14, 1940
Columbia Masterworks set MM-451, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 83.82 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 58.94 MB)

Liszt-Stokowski: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
The All-American Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Recorded July 8, 1941
Columbia Masterworks 11646-D, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 22.03 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 13.03 MB)

Mendelssohn: Scherzo (from "A Midsummer Night's Dream")
Bach-Stokowski: Preludio (from Partita in E Major, BWV 1006)
The All-American Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Recorded July 11 and 20, 1941
Columbia Masterworks 11983-D, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 21.38 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 13.07 MB)

The Beethoven set is a relatively recent acquisition for me; but for the two single discs I have revisited the reclaimed record pile. I'm particularly pleased to have reclaimed the Bach-Mendelssohn disc, for it was a gift from my first piano teacher, George A. Neely (1903-1990), with whom I began lessons at the age of 11. Mr. Neely was a kind man who traveled to our neighborhood once a week to give lessons to kids in their homes. When he learned of my interest in collecting classical 78s, he decided to give me his entire collection - accumulated 25-35 years previously and containing some 40 or 50 sets, among them all the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies! The Stokowski record I'm sharing here is all I have left of this largess. I took lessons from Mr. Neely until I was fourteen, at which point I wanted to learn to play Shostakovich and he declared he had nothing left to teach me, so another teacher was found. But I remember Mr. Neely with the greatest fondness, am grateful for his many gifts, and hope I give as much to my own students as he gave me.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ortenberg, Foss and the Budapest Quartet

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
For a dozen years, beginning in 1932, one half of the famed Budapest String Quartet consisted of the Schneider brothers - Alexander as second violinist and Mischa as cellist.  Then in 1944, Alexander decided to strike out on his own with other projects (for example, a fruitful partnership with harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick), and he was replaced in the Quartet by the Odessa-born Edgar Ortenberg (1900-1996).  One of the first recording projects with Ortenberg, and in fact the first Budapest Quartet recording with him to be released, was this Mozart quintet with another frequent Budapest collaborator, Milton Katims (1909-2006):

Mozart: String Quintet in C Major, K. 515
Budapest String Quartet (Roisman-Ortenberg-Kroyt-Schneider)
with Milton Katims, second viola
Recorded February 6 and April 23, 1945
Columbia Masterworks MM-586, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 80.06 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 54.29 MB)

At about the same time, Ortenberg made his only American recording as a violin soloist, this first recording of a Hindemith violin sonata:

Hindemith: Sonata in E (1935) and
Foss: Dedication (1944)
Edgar Ortenberg, violin; Lukas Foss, piano
Recorded c. 1944-45
Hargail set MW-300, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 43.73 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 27.12 MB)

This would also appear to be Lukas Foss' first appearance on record as either pianist or composer.  He was in his early 20s at the time.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bliss: Music for Strings (Boult)

Arthur Bliss
I can't claim a great deal of familiarity with the music of Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975), but of the dozen or so works I have heard, by far my favorite is the Music for Strings, a three-movement symphony in all but name.  I find much of Bliss' work to be rather dry, but that cannot be said of this piece, which has a richness and sweep very reminiscent of Elgar, albeit combined with more astringent harmonies than old Sir Edward would ever have employed.  It was introduced at the Salzburg Festival of 1935 by Adrian Boult, who made its first recording two years later:

Bliss: Music for Strings (1935)
BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult
Recorded March 24 and June 5, 1937
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-464, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 56.35 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 37.46 MB)