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)

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Coolidge Quartet Completed (I)

Irene and Frederick Jacobi in Paris, 1950
My heroic quest is ended! This summer I have realized my goal of acquiring all of the Coolidge Quartet's published recordings, when the six sets that I lacked to make up a complete collection became available to me almost simultaneously from two different sources. So, this is to be the first of three posts uploading these. Particularly valuable is the piano quintet Hagiographa by San Francisco-born Frederick Jacobi (1891-1952), a composer who, like his teacher Ernest Bloch, specialized in music on Jewish themes. Like the Roy Harris Piano Quintet recording of a year earlier, this has the Coolidge Quartet collaborating with the composer's wife, Irene Jacobi (née Schwarcz, 1890-1984):

Frederick Jacobi: Hagiographa - Three Biblical Narratives (1938)
Irene Jacobi, piano, with the Coolidge Quartet
Recorded January 23, 1940
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-782, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 56.41 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 39.85 MB)

Beethoven: Quartet No. 7 in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded April 3, 1940
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-804, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 87.82 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 59.20 MB)

This Beethoven set was the Coolidges' last to have Nicolai Berezowsky as the second violinist; in the next season, he would be replaced by Jack Pepper.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Larry Adler - Harmonica Virtuoso

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
Some more light listening for the summer months - a set that would have been the first exposure of many Americans to the genius of harmonica king Larry Adler (1914-2001), of whom Sting, with whom Adler collaborated towards the end of his life, said "he was one of the youngest old men I've ever met." This album, released in 1940, is a reissue of some of Adler's most successful sides for English Columbia:

Larry Adler - Harmonica Virtuoso
1. Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue*
2. Kreisler: Caprice Viennois
3. Falla: Ritual Fire Dance
4. Ravel: Bolero
5. Porter: I've Got You Under My Skin
6. Kern: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
7. Conrad: The Continental
*With Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans
Recorded 1934-37
Columbia set C-18, four 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 78.03 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 45.19 MB)

Reportedly, when Gershwin first heard Adler play his "Rhapsody in Blue" he exclaimed, "it sounds as if the goddamned thing was written for you!" And Ravel, upon hearing Adler's record of his "Bolero" - but let's let Adler himself tell the story (as extracted from his entertaining memoir, "It Ain't Necessarily So", published in 1984)":

"I had a call from Jacques Lyon, who ran a record shop, the Sinfonia, on the Champs-Elysées. He said he'd had a call from Maurice Ravel who had heard that I played his Bolero and wanted to hear me. I couldn't stand before the maître playing without accompaniment so I brought my record with me. We drove to Montfort-d'Amaury, outside Paris and had a hard time finding Ravel's house - no one seemed to have heard of him. When we did find it, Ravel opened the door, took the record and before Jacques could even introduce me, put it on. Until then I'd thought it was a good record, it was a big seller and I was proud of it. Standing there while its composer listened to it I was aware of imperfections, of mistakes that I had never noticed. It sounded awful and, though it was on one side of a 78-rpm record, it seemed interminable. When it finished, Ravel spoke to Jacques.
"'The master he say, you play it very fast. Why?'
"Hell, I didn't know why. I hadn't ever known that I did play it fast. Ravel spoke again.
"'The master he says you have made cuts, you do not play the whole thing. Why?'
"I explained that, in music-hall, my act ran fifteen minutes, which was the length of Bolero. I loved the number, I meant no criticism but, to include it, I had to make cuts.
"Jacques said, 'The master he ask, do you know Arturo Toscanini?'
"Yes, I had met him.
"Jacques said, 'The master, he say that Toscanini plays the whole thing.'
"Well, he had me there. What could I say? The conversation languished. I held out the record to Ravel to sign. (I had never asked for an autograph before, have never asked for one since. It was pure embarrassment.) Ravel looked surprised.
"Jacques said: 'The master say, he thought the record was for him.' Now I was surprised. Ravel had given every sign of loathing the record and me. Then Ravel held up his hands, they were shaking. He said that he had palsy, had written nothing in the past five years. I apologized and we left. A few days later Jacques phoned me and told me to get to his record shop at once; the master was there. Ravel was bundled in a heavy coat and a scarf though it was a warm day. He said that, by sitting in a dark room and concentrating, he had been able to steady his hand, long enough to write his signature and he had brought it to me. I was touched and honoured by Ravel's gesture but felt guilty as I hadn't really wanted the autograph.
"In 1940 I was soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra's Robin Hood Dell concerts. Saul Caston, the conductor, suggested an encore; when I chose Bolero the librarian objected. Performance fees for one performance were very high, not worth it for an encore. Elkan, Vogel, Ravel's publishers, were in Philadelphia; I went to their office and announced myself. Mr. Elkan came out and told me he knew about me. Ravel had left instructions that I was to have free rights to play the Bolero in whatever medium I pleased. That right is unique to me."

Monday, July 18, 2016

Two Swedish Symphonies

Kurt Atterberg                              Gösta Nystroem
This week I present two symphonies from Sweden, one of which is probably the most famous to come from that land, while the other is not as well known, perhaps, but should be. The former, of course, is Kurt Atterberg's notorious "Dollar" Symphony, so called because it was the prize-winning entry in Columbia's Schubert Centennial contest of 1928 (with some of the $10,000 that he won, the 41-year-old composer bought his first automobile, a Model A Ford). Much nonsense was written about this work at the time, for it was believed that Atterberg (1887-1974) had plagiarized much of the symphony's material. What remains at this 88-year distance is a fresh, enjoyable, fun three-movement symphony that seems to fully justify its prize. One of the conditions of this prize was that Columbia recorded the piece (with Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic), which is natural enough, given that they sponsored the contest. Almost unheard of, for a new work at that time, was for it to receive a second recording from a different company, under the direction of the composer:

Atterberg: Symphony No. 6 in C Major, Op. 31
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kurt Atterberg
Recorded October, 1928
Deutsche Grammophon 95193 through 95195, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 70.00 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 44.73 MB)

The other Swedish symphony here is the second of six composed by Gösta Nystroem (1890-1966), who spent much time in Paris during the 1920s. His music inhabits a much more modern-sounding world than Atterberg's (which is firmly rooted in the 19th century); it is tonal but dissonant (I'm strongly reminded of Frank Martin). The very fine Sinfonia Espressiva, composed in 1935, is in four movements: a long elegiac opening movement scored for strings and timpani is followed by a scherzo, passacaglia (on a Swedish folk song) and fugue, each subsequent movement adding more instruments to the scoring. Tor Mann, the conductor on this recording, gave the work's first performance in 1937:

Gösta Nystroem: Sinfonia Espressiva (1935)
Tor Mann conducting the Stockholm Concerts Association Orchestra
Recorded June 29, 30 and July 1, 1950
HMV DBS 11030 and DB 11031 through DB 11033, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 72.75 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 45.72 MB)