Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kempff's First "Hammerklavier"

The mightiest of Beethoven's piano sonatas, the "Hammerklavier," was slow to come to records in its original form.  Its first recording, in 1930, wasn't by a pianist at all, but by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Felix Weingartner, in Weingartner's own orchestration.  Then when Artur Schnabel undertook his pioneering cycle of all the Beethoven sonatas, the "Hammerklavier" was one of the last to be released in his series, appearing in 1936 as the tenth of twelve volumes devoted to the sonatas.  About the same time, this utterly different interpretation by Wilhelm Kempff (very controlled, while Schnabel's was hell-for-leather with fistfuls of wrong notes) appeared, the first of three recordings he was to make of the work:

Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-Flat Major, Op. 106 ("Hammerklavier")
Wilhelm Kempff, piano
Recorded c. 1935-36
Brunswick-Polydor set BP-4, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 102.02 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 45.44 MB)

Jean Sibelius, when Kempff visited him in Finland, requested that he play the slow movement of the "Hammerklavier."  When Kempff finished, Sibelius said, "You did not play that as a pianist but rather as a human being."

This set was one of only eight that American Brunswick presented as album sets in about 1937, in its new red-label Brunswick-Polydor series.  The entire series was withdrawn after the American Record Corporation (at the time, the parent company of both Brunswick and Columbia) was sold to CBS a year later.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Steinweiss' Generic Covers

Part 5 of my Steinweiss covers series is a survey of the various designs he did, or that I suspect he did, for Columbia Masterworks 78-rpm sets.  From about 1940 to 1943, Masterworks sets without unique covers (and this was the vast majority of them) came in plain grey covers with the title and artist information enclosed within a box, as shown in my earlier post this month devoted to Enrique Arbos' Spanish Album.  The highest-numbered sets that I have seen with this type of cover (nicknamed the "tombstone" cover in collectors' circles) are M-537 (Beethoven's String Quartet No. 12, by the Budapest Quartet) and X-234 (Ravel's Rapsodie Espagnole, Rodzinski/Cleveland), both from 1943.  After that, an attractive new generic design was unveiled which, though unsigned by Steinweiss, appears to be his work (in particular, the lower-case rendering of "columbia" is a hallmark of his style).  I like to call this the "polka-dot" cover, and it appeared with three background colors - black, blue and maroon:
This was used for all extant sets in the back catalog without unique cover designs, as well as a few new sets like the Barber and Haydn symphonies pictured above.  The highest-numbered sets I have seen with the "polka-dot" cover are M-578 (French Arias by Martial Singher) and X-256 (Elizabethan Suite by Bartlett and Robertson).

The next generic cover design appeared in 1947, and it is the only one that's actually signed by Steinweiss.  It features a Greek statue in the background, three large spots for work, artist and album details, and smaller spots showing various instruments, a singer and a conductor.  This came in four background colors - red, blue, green and what was probably meant to be gold or bronze, though in practice it usually shows up as a rather icky shade of yellowish-tan.  Collecting Record Covers has several examples of the blue and gold, so I present here a red cover (I don't have a green one):

Again, this was used for all extant sets in the back catalog plus a few new ones.  The highest-numbered that I have seen with this design are MM-730 (Brahms' Violin Sonata No. 3, by Issac Stern) and MX-288 (Ravel's Left Hand Concerto, by Casadesus and Ormandy).

In 1948 came not one, but at least four new generic covers, keyed to various genres of music.  For example, orchestral music was issued with this cover:
String and chamber music with this one:
and all other instrumental music with this type of cover:
Vocal music was issued with this type of cover:
All of these cover designs came in a variety of colors as well.  I've also seen green and red for the conducting hand, and light blue for the strings.  These designs were used primarily for new issues, with back issues continuing to use the Greek statue of 1947.  Original Steinweiss designs became fewer as the set numbers passed c. MM-750 and MX-300.  Actually, all Columbia 78 sets from this period are pretty scarce, since Columbia introduced the LP about this time and sales of 78s plummeted.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Gallery of Steinweiss Covers, Part 4

Today is Alex Steinweiss' 94th birthday!  For my next installment of the Columbia Masterworks Steinweiss gallery, I present the last covers in my collection that adorn the sets with MM- prefixes (i.e., the Masterworks 78 sets of three records or more), beginning with a couple that I missed earlier.  The "Robin Hood" set (MM-583) is from late 1945, and the Beethoven "Pastorale" (MM-631) numerically belongs to 1946 though it must have been issued out of sequence, as the cover bears a date of 1947.  My copy of this, alas, is not in very good condition - there were some brown spots along the right side which are not part of the design! My thanks to Peter Joelson for his restoration work on this image.
The next two covers (MM-688 and MM-703, both from 1947) have appeared on this blog before, when I uploaded transfers of the recordings contained therein.  But here they are in sequence, and with the left border displayed this time (which, unfortunately, display water damage caused by the Great Georgia Flood of 2009):
Finally, two from 1948.  I've also seen the Mahler 5th (MM-718) with a generic cover.  My guess is that Columbia rushed copies of this set to the stores for the 1947 Christmas trade before the cover shown here was ready (the generic-cover copy that I saw had Christmas 1947 greetings to the original owner written inside):
 To be continued, with a survey of Steinweiss generic covers....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Walton's Viola Concerto: The First Recording

William Walton's first fully mature work, his 1929 Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, was written for the dean of English viola players, Lionel Tertis, who, however, declined to play it at first (the honor for the first performance went to a young Paul Hindemith).  Tertis did eventually take it up, but when in 1937 the time came for Decca to make the first recording, Tertis had retired from playing, so he suggested that Frederick Riddle (1912-1995), the principal violist of the London Symphony, be engaged for the session.  Riddle's interpretation became the composer's favorite.  Perhaps Riddle's background as a chamber music player - he later formed a famous string trio with Jean Pougnet and Anthony Pini that made many fine recordings - accounted for a more intimate presentation of Walton's concerto than virtuosos like Tertis or William Primrose (who also recorded the work with the composer conducting) were able to deliver.

Walton: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra
Frederick Riddle with the London Symphony conducted by William Walton
Recorded December 6, 1937
Decca Album No. 8, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 54.91 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 24.74 MB)

This set, incidentally, was one of the few English Decca recordings to be issued by American Decca as part of its domestic album series, before that series was given over largely to popular material.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Early Schubert by the Guilet Quartet

Back in November, Squirrel's Nest gave us a transfer of the first recording of Bartók's Fourth String Quartet played by the Guilet String Quartet for a Concert Hall limited edition release of 1946.  A year later, the same ensemble and label, in a general release this time, offered the early Schubert quartet which I present here, a recording mentioned in TIME Magazine's May 26, 1947 issue.  The article mentions Schubert's being 20 years old when he wrote it, but it's now believed he was actually 16, and that this is the last of five quartets Schubert wrote in 1813.  Whatever its genesis, it's a charming work well played by the Guilet ensemble:

Schubert: String Quartet in E-Flat, D. 87 (Op. 125, No. 1)
The Guilet String Quartet
Recorded c. 1946-47
Concert Hall Society Release AE, three vinyl 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 45.81 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 29.52 MB)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Gallery of Steinweiss Covers, Part 3

The Steinweiss gallery continues with seven Columbia Masterworks covers from early 1947.  Here are the first two, MM-644 (a ten-inch set) and MM-650:
The next two are MM-652 and MM-661.  Steinweiss often used a hammer-and-sickle motif on covers featuring works by Soviet composers - remember, the USSR were still officialy our friends in 1947:
Someone at Columbia had a wicked sense of humor, reserving for the "Messiah" set the fatal number of MM-666! This set is in two volumes, with the same cover design used for both:
To continue, with MM-669 and MM-671:
Immediately following this was perhaps the cleverest Steinweiss cover of all, that for MM-672, the Delius Violin Concerto.  It's just been posted by Collecting Record Covers - don't miss it!

To be continued...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Columbia Spanish Album (1930)

This week I present a program of Spanish music mostly conducted by the man who was considered in the first half of the 20th century to be the dean of Spanish conductors, Enrique Fernández Arbós (1863-1939).  Here he leads the Madrid Symphony Orchestra in works by Isaac Albéniz, Tomás Bretón and Joaquin Turina, in a set that was a mainstay in the US Columbia catalogue for 20 years: mentioned in a TIME magazine article of Nov. 10, 1930, the set was still listed in the 1949 Columbia Catalog.  My copy dates from about halfway between this timespan; the "tombstone" cover pictured above was used by Columbia from c. 1940-43 for most of its Masterworks albums.  By this time, the album was designated "Vol. 1" since a Vol. 2, with works by Granados, Bretón, Turina, and Arbós himself, had appeared in 1938.
Arbós (pictured above in 1894) shares the limelight in this album with one other conductor, Maurice Bastin (misspelled "Bustin" on the record labels), about whom I can find nothing on the Internet.  He leads the Orchestra of the Théatre Monnaie, Brussels, in two dances from De Falla's "La Vida Breve," the second one of which also features a wordless chorus.

Columbia Spanish Album, Vol. 1 - featuring:

De Falla: La Vida Breve - Two Dances
Brussels Monnaie Theatre Orchestra under Maurice Bastin

Bretón: En la Alhambra and Polo Gitano
Albeniz: Intermezzo from "Pepita Jiménez" and Navarra
Turina: Danzas Fantásticas, Nos. 2 and 3
Madrid Symphony Orchestra conducted by Enrique Fernández Arbós

Recorded c. 1928-29
Columbia Masterworks Set M-146, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 95.8 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.39 MB)

This isn't the first time that Señor Arbós has had to share the conducting credits in one of my uploads.  Back in 2007, I uploaded to RMCR a recording of Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3 conducted by Désiré Defauw, which had as a filler a Corelli Sarabande conducted by Arbós.  This is still available, as are new FLAC files:

Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major
Brussels Royal Conservatory Orchestra conducted by Désiré Defauw
Recorded March 27-29, 1929
and
Corelli (arr. Arbós): Sarabande (from Sonata in D minor, Op. 5, No. 7)
Madrid Symphony Orchestra conducted by Enrique Fernández Arbós
Recorded April 6, 1929

English Columbia 9916 through 9918, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 66.16 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 25.76 MB)

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Gallery of Steinweiss Covers, Part 2

For my next installment of Columbia Masterworks album covers by Steinweiss, I present six covers from late 1945-early 1946.  Here are the first two, MM-589 and MM-591:
This cover for the Ormandy Beethoven Ninth (MM-591) is one of two unique Steinweiss designs for the same set.  The other, which I possessed many years ago but no longer do, showed four hands - one white, one black, one red and one yellow - coming from each side of the cover at right angles to touch a globe in the center, all on a light blue background.  This graphic illustration of "alle Menschen werden Brüder" must have been controversial at the time, and may have been replaced by the above, more innocuous cover; however, I have no way of knowing which design actually came first.  To continue with two more covers (MM-596 and MM-604):
MM-604, incidentally, was Issac Stern's debut recording.  To continue, with MM-608 and MM-570:
Though the Ormandy "New World" with its album number of MM-570 would appear to be out of sequence here, it actually was issued after the Franck Symphony, whose individual record numbers are 12312-D through 12317-D, while the Dvorak's are 12328-D through 12332-D.

To be continued....

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mogens Wöldike's Haydn

This week I present what I believe to be the first recording of a Haydn symphony by the great Danish conductor Mogens Wöldike (1897-1988).  His stereo Vanguard recordings of Haydn symphonies with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra became famous, and rightfully so, but I don't think this particular symphony - No. 91 in E-Flat, one of three written in 1788 for the Count d'Ogny - was among that Vanguard series.

Haydn: Symphony No. 91 in E-Flat Major and
Haydn: Twelve German Dances (1792) - Nos. 1 to 6
Danish State Broadcasting Chamber Orchestra conducted by Mogens Wöldike
Recorded c. 1949
HMV Z 7016 through 7018, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 63.01 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 27.34 MB)