Monday, December 31, 2012

Program Notes (V)

The next installment of my program notes series.  For this one, a chamber music concert in 1999, I had to rework an earlier program note I had written for a Handel concerto grosso.

Handel: Concerto Grosso in G major, Op. 6, No. 1

The concerto grosso was one of several archetypal Baroque instrumental forms.  Originated in Italy during the seventeenth century, and perfected by Arcangelo Corelli, the supreme example of the form is Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos.  Originally the word “concerto” merely indicated a type of composition where a voice would sing “in concert” with a bass instrument for accompaniment, in contrast to most earlier types of vocal composition, which were unaccompanied by instruments.  Eventually this idea was applied to strictly instrumental compositions, with the voice replaced by a treble instrument.  When more treble instruments were added, it became a “concerto grosso” (literally, “large concerto”).  In Corelli’s scheme, a concerto grosso had four movements, in the pattern slow-fast-slow-fast.

There are two sets of concerti grossi (which, typically, were published in sets of six or twelve) bearing Handel’s name: the six of Opus 3, and the twelve of Opus 6, in addition to several independent ones.  Of the two sets, the Opus 6 concertos are far better known, being on a somewhat grander scale, and closer to traditional Italian models, scored for strings only.  Most of them were also newly-composed for the purpose.  It was an accepted practice of the time for a composer to reuse music conceived in another medium, and a few of the Opus 6 concertos do indeed borrow from earlier compositions.  The Opus 3 set, however, consists entirely of borrowings; moreover, they were compiled and arranged not by Handel himself but by his publisher, John Walsh, and rather clumsily done.  The Opus 6 set was Handel’s answer; he apparently wished to have an authentic set of his concertos before the public.  The first of the series, in G major, does not follow the traditional Corellian scheme outlined above; it is in five movements, only one of which is slow.  It is a fittingly vigorous introduction to a splendid set of works, which, collectively, contain some of Handel’s finest instrumental writing.


Mozart: String Quartet in G major, K. 156

Few composers can have had such a cosmopolitan upbringing as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  From the time his phenomenal gifts were discovered as a boy of seven, through his teenage years, he toured all of Western Europe with his family, entertaining kings, queens, princes and even a Pope.  He visited Italy no less than three times while in his teens.  The first journey was lengthy, and designed, like all his prior trips, to showcase his talents; but the second and third trips were shorter, and designed to fulfill specific commisions - for operas, in Milan.  For his father and manager, Leopold Mozart, knew that time was running out; his son wasn’t going to stay a child prodigy forever, and parading him thus would soon cease to be lucrative.  On the other hand, to establish him as a major operatic composer might (and indeed, did, for a while) pay dividends.

So in the fall of 1772 we find the sixteen-year-old Mozart in Milan with his father, writing his opera “Lucia Silla” for the carnival season of 1773.  But “to while away the time,” as Leopold put it in a letter back home, on the journey itself, Mozart wrote his first set of six string quartets.  (Not his first actual quartet, however; he wrote a single one, K. 80, in 1770.)  That he planned them as a set is evident in their sequence of keys - D major, G major, C major, F major, B-Flat major, and E-Flat major, each successive quartet’s key a fifth lower - and in the fast-slow-fast three-movement pattern used for each quartet.  Two of the quartets (including the second one, performed here) finish with a minuet.  Mozart took as his models the quartets of Giovanni Battista Sammartini, the most esteemed composer in Milan at the time.  The works do not aim for the depth and profundity characteristic of the later quartets of Mozart and Haydn; they aim to entertain, and do so admirably.


Debussy: "Golliwog's Cakewalk"

In 1908, Claude Debussy published his suite for piano, “Children’s Corner,” inspired by and dedicated to his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Chouchou, “with fond apologies from her father for what follows.”  The suite’s title, and the titles of its individual movements, are in English, possibly representing a tip of the hat to the English governess from whom Debussy’s tiny daughter was picking up English mannerisms!  The last piece of the set is the famous “Golliwog’s Cake-Walk.”

The music doesn’t require much explanation - it’s a delightful romp influenced by the rhythms of ragtime, which was just being discovered in Europe at the time - but perhaps the title does.  Golliwogs were fashionable children’s toys, the Beanie Babies of their time, originating as an African-American doll in the highly successful children’s stories of the American-born illustrator Florence Upton.  Chouchou owned a Golliwog, and in the piece one can imagine the Debussy daughter’s doll stumbling to the strains of the American dance - the cakewalk, another name for ragtime.


Kreisler: "Schön Rosmarin" and "Tambourin Chinois"

Fritz Kreisler was possibly the most beloved violinist of the earlier half of this century - in an age that encompassed the careers of many legendary violinists, from Eugène Ysaÿe to Heifetz and the young Yehudi Menuhin.  He pioneered in the use of vibrato as a constant coloring, giving an unparalleled sweetness to the tone (most violinists before Kreisler used vibrato only sparingly).  He was the first “celebrity” instrumentalist to record extensively; beginning in 1910, he cut hundreds of discs, bringing the elegance and charm of his performances into living rooms across the world.  His discography (all of which is currently available on CD) includes concertos by Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Mozart and Paganini, which have long been highly prized by collectors; and he was the first to record the complete Beethoven violin sonatas, in the 1930s.

All this largess notwithstanding, Kreisler is best remembered today (as he was best loved in his own time) for the many short salon pieces which he wrote to enhance his repertoire (for recording as well as concerts, since they fit nicely within the four-minute time limitation of a 78-rpm record!) - such as “Liebesleid” (Love’s Sorrow), “Liebesfreud” (Love’s Joy), and “Caprice viennois” - pieces which perfectly capture the essence of his native Vienna, with its laid-back easy grace.  Many of them feature lilting waltz rhythms, including “Schön Rosmarin” (Fair Rosemary), performed here.  And “Tambourin Chinois” might be described as an Oriental trinket seen in a Viennese shop-window.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Moeran: String Trio

E. J. Moeran
New Year's Eve will see the 118th anniversary of the birth of the English composer (with strong Irish roots) Ernest John Moeran (1894-1950), and so I present the first recording of a major work of his: the utterly delectable String Trio in G of 1931.  This was recorded ten years after its composition, during the darkest days of World War II, by a group that would later become renowned for its Westminster LPs - among them, the two Hindemith string trios - but this appears to have been their only 78-rpm recording as a string trio:

Moeran: String Trio in G Major (1931)
Jean Pougnet, violin; Frederick Riddle, viola; Anthony Pini, cello
Recorded May 16, 1941
English Columbia DX 1014 through 1016, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 58.68 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 26.38 MB)

Riddle (1912-1995) we have met before, in his pioneering recording of Walton's viola concerto, and Pini (1902-1989) turned up on numerous recordings as a second cellist to the Budapest and Pro Arte quartets.  Pini was also the cellist in the Philharmonia String Quartet.  Jean Pougnet (1907-1968), who was British despite his French-sounding name, recorded the Delius violin concerto with Beecham, and was active also in Karl Haas' London Baroque Ensemble, recording several concertos with them.  In the earlier stages of his career, he often played in dance bands - as on Jolyon's most recent post.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fauré: Dolly (Siegel & Léonet)

Gabriel Fauré playing a duet with Mlle. Lombard, 1913
(the daughter of his host at Lake Lugano)
Christmas is for children, and what better way to celebrate the season of the birth of the Child who changed the world, than with a work not only written for children, but played by them?  Here's is Fauré's delightful suite written for Hélène Bardac, the young daughter of the singer Emma Bardac, with whom Fauré had a long-running affair.  It is said that Hélène was so tiny when she was born that she was nicknamed Dolly, hence the title of Fauré's suite:

Fauré: Dolly - Suite for piano duet, Op. 56
Anita Siegel and Babeth Léonet, pianists
Recorded May 9 and November 11, 1934
Columbia 9103-M and 4120-M, one 12" and one 10" record
Link (FLAC file, 32.11 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 20.26 MB)

Later, Mme. Bardac became Debussy's second wife, so that Dolly and Claude-Emma Debussy (the "Chouchou" of Children's Corner fame) were stepsisters, with some thirteen years difference in their ages.

The Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of 1936 states that the performers on this recording were "child pupils of Marguerite Long," herself a renowned interpreter of Fauré's music.  Anita Siegel appears also to have studied with Lazare Lévy, and to have perished in the Holocaust (she died in 1943, aged 22).  Babeth Léonet may still be alive at age 91.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

P.S. (January 3, 2015): A niece of Anita Siegel has kindly come forward and informed me that her aunt did not perish in the Holocaust, but fell to her death from the balcony of her apartment in Grenoble, whence she had moved from Neuilly after her marriage in 1941.  She was a few months pregnant at the time of this tragic accident.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Program Notes (IV)

The next installment of my program notes series (for a concert of works for strings only):



Mendelssohn: Sinfonia No. 8 in D major

Felix Mendelssohn, like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart before him, was a musically precocious child.  Unlike Mozart, he had the good fortune to be born into a wealthy family who was able to nurture his gifts at a steady, appropriate rate of speed (Leopold Mozart, by contrast, shamelessly exploited his son, amassing through him a great deal of wealth).  Beginning at the age of eleven, Mendelssohn began to write copious amounts of music, from songs and piano pieces to chamber and orchestral works - which his proud parents would give a hearing by hosting musicales in their spacious Berlin home, inviting prominent people and musicians.  Sometimes a small orchestra would be engaged for Felix to conduct, although he was so small he had to stand on a stool to be seen.  These experiences offered the boy a unique opportunity for practical experimentation; few composers have had the chance of trying out so young the actual sound of their music.  By the time he was sixteen (when he wrote his Octet for Strings, Op. 20, his first certifiable masterpiece, and one of his finest works altogether), he had developed a fully mature style.

Among the works that Mendelssohn wrote for the home musicales is a series of Sinfonias, or symphonies, for string orchestra - thirteen in all, dating from 1821 to 1823, which taken as a whole demonstrate perhaps better than any other genre Mendelssohn’s musical development.  The first six symphonies are short and rather simple, based on Classical models, but beginning with No. 7 the works increase in scope and depth.  No. 8, performed here, was written in November 1822 (just three months short of the composer’s fourteenth birthday), after the return of the Mendelssohn family from a trip to Switzerland.  Mendelssohn evidently thought well enough of this symphony that he later added wind parts to it, thus producing his first fully orchestral work.



Elgar: Serenade in E minor, Op. 20

Sir Edward Elgar is generally considered the greatest English composer since Henry Purcell, who died over two hundred years before Elgar began producing the works upon which his reputation rests.  Among these are the “Enigma” Variations, the first great British orchestral work; the two symphonies, likewise the first great British symphonies; and “The Dream of Gerontius,” considered the finest oratorio written by an Englishman.

He was also a late bloomer.  The son of a piano tuner in Worceter, by age thirty he had achieved a strictly local reputation as a freelance musician - violinist, organist, teacher, conductor, but not as a composer; most of his attempts to write large-scale works foundered.  Then in 1889 occured the most significant event in his creative life - his marriage to Alice Roberts, who had come to him for piano lessons three years before.  Her support seemed to foster creative abilities that could not function without it; it is significant that his last large-scale work, the Cello Concerto, was written just before her death - fourteen years before his own.

The Serenade for Strings was written in 1892 (and published the next year - the first Elgar full score in print); after its completion, Elgar noted in a page of his diary, “Braut [his pet name for his wife] helped a great deal to make these little tunes.”  The “little tunes” form a charming three-movement suite, redolent of the English countryside Elgar loved.  It begins with a gently rocking rhythm in the violas that pervades much of the first movement, which then returns at the very end of the Serenade.



Vivaldi: Concerto in B minor, Op. 3, No. 10

Antonio Vivaldi is unquestionably the most original and influential Italian composer of his generation, especially in the field of the concerto, a genre to which he contributed over 500 items.  Yet he is sometimes uncharitably dismissed as the composer who wrote the same concerto 500 times over!  This dismissal surely is based on the idea that someone who wrote so much music couldn’t be any good, rather than acquaintance with the music itself.  Yes, the works are variable in quality (as with any composer), but the finest of them possess a freshness of invention, a deftness of scoring, and a rhythmic vitality second to none.  Some of them also contain descriptive titles or programmatic elements, unusual in orchestral music of the Baroque (for example, the famous “Four Seasons” set of violin concertos).

Vivaldi published eight sets of concertos himself.  The first such, possibly the most influential music publication of the first half of the 18th century, was his set of twelve concertos, Opus 3, collectively entitled “L’Estro Armonico” (Harmonic Inspiration).  Bach knew them, and transcribed several of them for harpsichord or organ solo; they served as models for his own violin and harpsichord concertos.  The set consists of four concertos for one violin and strings, four for two violins and four for four violins.  No. 10 of the set is the best-known of the ones for four violins, and was transcribed, most ingeniously, by Bach for four harpsichords and strings!  Particularly effective is a passage in the second, slow movement, where each of the four solo violins arpeggiates the same chord, but in a different pattern.



Britten: Simple Symphony for strings, Op. 4

The story of Benjamin Britten’s “Simple Symphony” is best told in the composer’s own words, as excerpted from a liner note to a 1956 recording by the Decca Record Co., Ltd.:

“Once upon a time there was a prep-school boy.  He was called Britten mi., his initials were E.B., his age was nine, and his locker number was seventeen.  He was quite an ordinary little boy...  But there was one curious thing about this boy: he wrote music.  He wrote lots of it, reams and reams of it.  I don’t really know when he had time to do it.  In those days, long ago, prep school boys didn’t have much free time; the day started with early work at 7:30, and ended with prayers at 8 [p.m.] - and the hours in between were fully organized.  Still there were odd moments in bed, there were half holidays and Sundays too, and somehow these reams and reams got written.  And they are still lying in an old cupboard to this day - String Quartets (six of them), twelve piano sonatas; dozens of songs; sonatas for violin, sonatas for viola and cello too; suites, waltzes, rondos, fantasies, variations; a tone-poem 'Chaos and Cosmos'...all the opus numbers from 1 to 100 were filled (and catalogued) by the time Britten mi. was fourteen.

“Of course they aren’t very good, these works; inspiration didn’t always run very high, and the workmanship wasn’t always academically sound...besides, for the sake of neatness, every piece had to end precisely at the bottom of the right-hand page, which doesn’t always lead to a satisfactory conclusion.  No, I’m afraid they aren’t very great; but when Benjamin Britten, a proud young composer of twenty (who’d already had a work broadcast) came along and looked in this cupboard, he found some of them not too uninteresting; and so, rescoring them for strings, changing bits here and there, and making them more fit for general consumption, he turned them into a 'Simple Symphony,' and here it is.”



Sunday, December 16, 2012

Beethoven: First Symphony (Rodzinski)

Artur Rodzinski
Happy Beethoven's birthday, everyone! To celebrate, here is the first of the "immortal nine" (to use Edwin Evans' phrase), in a taut, vigorous reading by the Polish-born conductor Artur Rodzinski (1892-1958).  From 1933 to 1943 he was the music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, which he built up into the world-class ensemble that it remains today.  During the 1940s, he enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with Columbia Records, first in Cleveland and then in New York, making recordings not only of standard repertoire but of works considered very daring at the time - symphonies by Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Sibelius, and Berg's Violin Concerto with its dedicatee, Louis Krasner.  But this is the only recording of a Beethoven symphony he was to make for Columbia, who also had Bruno Walter on its books by this time:

Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21
Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Artur Rodzinski
Recorded December 28, 1941
Columbia Masterworks set MM-535, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 59.35 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 49.21 MB)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dances by Bronislaw Gimpel

Bronislaw Gimpel
A happy Chanukah to all my Jewish friends (as well as everyone else)! Here's a little present for the sixth day: an album of dances played by the Polish-American violinist Bronislaw Gimpel (1911-1979), one of which, Joseph Achron's Dance Improvisation, is based on the Yiddish folk tune "Chanukah, Oh Chanukah." (Another bit of serendipity, that I would realize this while working on this transfer!)  This set was made for the fledgling Vox label, founded in 1945 by George H. de Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, a descendant of the composer, and still in operation 67 years later.  Vox was dedicated to presenting unusual repertoire from the very start, as well as introducing less established artists to perform it - pianists like Leonard Shure, Shura Cherkassky, and Jakob Gimpel, and violinists like Jakob's brother Bronislaw Gimpel and Ruggiero Ricci all made 78-rpm records for Vox.  I believe this album, reviewed in the Nov. 22, 1947 issue of Saturday Review, was Bronislaw Gimpel's debut recording:

Dances:
Bartók: Rumanian Folk Dances (arr. Szekely)
Stravinsky: Petrouchka - Danse Russe (arr. Dushkin)
Wieniawski: Mazurka in D, Op. 19, No. 2 ("Dudziarz")
Achron: Hebrew Dance, Op. 35, No. 1
Achron: Dance Improvisation on a Hebrew Folk Tune, Op. 37
Sarasate: Jota Navarra (Spanish Dance No. 4), Op. 22, No. 2
Bronislaw Gimpel, violin; Artur Balsam, piano
Issued in 1947
Vox album 616, four 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 75.18 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.63 MB)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Program Notes (III)

Here's the next installment of my program-note writing:




Fauré: Masques et Bergamasques - Suite, Op. 112

Gabriel Fauré could almost be considered the French Schubert.  As Schubert was the greatest German composer of songs, so was Fauré the greatest French; indeed, both would be considered immortals had they written nothing else.  Both also left us wonderful piano and chamber music.  Both posessed prodigious melodic invention, and both were quite daring in their use of harmony.  Both also tended to shy away from orchestral writing.  Schubert’s purely orchestral output, the symphonies, while masterly, quantitatively represent a tiny fraction of his total life’s work.  Fauré, likewise, left little for the orchestra, and he withdrew much of what he did write (including two symphonies and a violin concerto).  Nevertheless, his orchestral writing has substance; his symphonic masterpiece is perhaps the suite he drew from incidental music for Maeterlinck’s "Pelléas et Mélisande."

His last orchestral work, the suite "Masques et Bergamasques," has its origin in a theater piece with the same title, assembled for performance at Monte Carlo in April 1919 from various earlier compositions, both vocal and instrumental, some already in print.  The published suite contains four pieces, all of them otherwise unpublished at the time.  Of these, the Ouverture and Menuet use thematic material from much earlier pieces, while the Gavotte is lifted almost verbatim from the first of the withdrawn symphonies.  Only the Pastorale is original, Fauré’s final farewell to the orchestra.

The original program for "Masques et Bergamasques" is as follows:

“The characters Harlequin, Gilles and Colombine, whose task is usually to amuse the aristocratic audience, take their turn at being spectators at a ‘fête galante’ on the island of Cythera.  The lords and ladies who as a rule applaud their efforts now unwittingly provide them with entertainment by their coquettish behavior.”



Debussy: Petite Suite

Claude Debussy is generally regarded as one of the great innovators in musical history; his mature works are remarkably independent of traditional norms in form, harmony and coloring.  Among musicians, his name has become virtually synonymous with Impressionism – despite the fact that Debussy disliked the term; he felt it was misused (as undoubtedly it was).  His music, like the works of the Impressionist painters and poets, expresses Romantic ideals (such as emphasis on mood and atmosphere) through modern-sounding means.  Thus, Impressionism can be seen as a blend of Romanticism and modernism.

That the Romanticism came first is evident in the Petite Suite, one of the earliest works of Debussy that is still in general circulation.  Originally written as a piano duet, it was first performed in March 1889 by the 26-year old composer with his future publisher, Jacques Durand.  It achieved great popularity, which continues unabated to this day, in the 1907 orchestration by Henri Busser, a friend of Debussy and himself a highly regarded composer and conductor (he held a conducting post at the Paris Opera from 1905 to 1939).  There is little evidence of the mature Debussy style, but it is nevertheless a work of great charm which shows, through its tunefulness and the individuality of its melodies, what a successful composer of light music he could have become, if he had not been called on a different path.  And one can see glimmerings of Debussy’s future preoccupations: in the first of its four movements, "En bateau" (Sailing), we see the beginnings of a fascination with the sonic depiction of water, which was to haunt Debussy all his life – reaching its fullest fruition in the orchestral suite "La Mer."



Ravel: Introduction and Allegro

Despite its origins in the days of antiquity, the harp did not come into its own as an orchestral instrument until the 19th century.  In 1810, a French piano builder, Sebasten Erard, patented the modern pedal harp.  Unlike earlier harps, it was capable of playing in all the keys, and thus the way was paved for its exploitation within the orchestra – a process begun by another Frenchman, Hector Berlioz, that master of orchestration, with his "Symphonie fantastique" of 1830.

Maurice Ravel had an intuitive understanding of the harp’s potential.  Himself a master orchestrator (the usually-heard version of Moussorgsky’s "Pictures at an Exhibition," originally for piano solo, is Ravel’s orchestration), he used the harp effectively in every one of his orchestral scores.  But his most famous work featuring the instrument is the Introduction and Allegro, written in 1905 for the harpist Micheline Kahn.  Scored originally for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet, it has been regarded as a miniature harp concerto in one movement, brilliantly written for the harp and requiring a virtuoso technique, complete with a solo cadenza towards the close.  It is frequently performed thus, with an expanded string section.  However, there is a skillfully achieved balance between the harp and the ensemble, with equal sharing of melodies (often the harp plays an accompanying role) more characteristic of chamber music.  Which is it – concerto or chamber work?  The truth is, it straddles both worlds.  In keeping with this idea, we present a performance in which certain portions are played by solo strings, and others by the full ensemble.

It is interesting to note that, in the first commercial recording of the work (in 1923, for Columbia, featuring the harpist Gwendolyn Mason, and now available on CD), this dichotomy was reinforced by the work being called “Septet” on the label, yet it also featured a conductor – Ravel himself!



Gounod: Symphony No. 1 in D Major

It is the fate of many composers to be remembered for only a handful of pieces.  Charles Gounod, though greatly popular and influential in his day, is no exception.  Ever torn between the church and the theater (as a young man he studied for the priesthood), he wrote copiously in both sacred and secular vocal styles; yet we have, in the active repertory, only the “Ave Maria” (based on Bach’s first Prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier) and “O Divine Redeemer” on the one hand, and the operas "Faust" and "Roméo et Juliette" on the other.

Gounod, in common with many French composers of his generation, wrote little purely instrumental music; French public musical life during the 19th century revolved almost exclusively around the opera, and concert music was not a commercially viable proposition.  The only instrumental piece of Gounod that is remembered is the “Funeral March of a Marionette” (used by Alfred Hitchcock for many years as the theme for his TV series).  Yet he also wrote two symphonies, three string quartets and a delightful Petite Symphonie for double wind quintet.  These works show modest but unfailing skill in the handling of unpretentious material in traditional forms.

The First Symphony was written in the last months of 1854, as an antidote to the depression that Gounod had lately suffered over the failure of his latest opera, "La nonne sanglate."  After disappointment of the theater it seems to have been a relief for him to write music that had no other aim than his own satisfaction.  As with Bizet’s youthful symphony written the next year, influences of Haydn and early Beethoven are abundant; the Andante has a slyly contrived little fugue and, after a slow introduction, the Finale is of Mendelssohnian vivacity. The work was much appreciated by its first hearers in 1855, and Gounod was encouraged by its welcome to write a successor, his Second Symphony in E-Flat, the following year.



Monday, December 10, 2012

Ormandy: Two American Ninths

Cover design by Victor Atkins
I had a request about three weeks ago for this record, which appears never to have been released on CD except for a very obscure Japanese issue.  With it, I now have available on this blog all of Ormandy's recordings of William Schuman symphonies (#3, 6 and 9).  Alas, I don't have the other Persichetti symphony he recorded (#4).  Of these two single-movement symphonies, the Persichetti is much more to my taste.  I frankly have never warmed to Schuman's late style, primarily because it's atonal, and I don't much like atonal music, which seems to me to have been the biggest aesthetic mistake of the 20th century, musically speaking.  (All the atonal and twelve-tone works that I like - such as "Pierrot Lunaire" and Berg's Violin Concerto - I enjoy because they have great communicative power in spite of their atonality.)  Persichetti's Ninth, while quite dissonant, is at least rooted in tonality (in this case, E).

William Schuman: Symphony No. 9 ("The Ardeatine Caves")
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded May 27, 1969
Side 1 of RCA Red Seal LSC-3212, one stereo LP record
Link (FLAC file, 137.64 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 37.53 MB)

Persichetti: Symphony No. 9, Op. 113 ("Sinfonia: Janiculum")
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded March 16, 1971
Side 2 of RCA Red Seal LSC-3212, one stereo LP record
Link (FLAC file, 105.7 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 32.12 MB)

Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987) was yet another of the seemingly dozens of composers to write exactly nine symphonies; in America alone Peter Mennin and Roger Sessions joined him in this particular statistic.  Schuman did manage to break the "curse" by writing a Tenth ("The American Muse"),

I well remember the circumstances under which I acquired this record.  I was a freshman in college, but was transferring to another school, and as a parting gift my roommate offered me any record in his collection, about 50 LPs.  I chose this one, because it had the most unusual repertoire, and he was really glad, because he said he'd never liked this record!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Two by the Coolidge Quartet

The Coolidge Quartet with Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge
(left to right: Nicolai Berezowsky, William Kroll,
Mrs. Coolidge, Nicholas Moldavan, Victor Gottlieb)
Today I present two more sets by the Coolidge Quartet, that pioneering group named after the great patron of early 20th-century chamber music, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge.  On records, besides their aborted project to record the complete Beethoven quartets, the Coolidge Quartet brought to American record buyers many previously unrecorded works; they had a penchant for American works, as well as for unearthing rarities from the Classical era.  Both are represented here:

Griffes: Two Sketches Based on Indian Themes and
Chadwick: Quartet No. 4 in E minor - Andante semplice
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded May 27 and 31, 1938
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-558, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 46.55 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 25.62 MB)

Schubert: Quartet No. 9 in G minor, D. 173
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded October 28, 1938
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-641, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 53.85 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 32.15 MB)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tchaikovsky: Rococo Variations (Tortelier)

Paul Tortelier
Today I present an early recording by the great French cellist, Paul Tortelier (1914-1990), famous for his interpretation of Strauss' Don Quixote, which he played under the composer's direction, and which he recorded with Sir Thomas Beecham in 1947.  (Beecham said to him, "my boy, you will succeed in England because you have temperament.")  The next year, he made this recording of Tchaikovsky's delightful Rococo Variations (it seems to me that some of Tchaikovsky's happiest music was in the variation form - think of the Orchestral Suite No. 3, or the great Piano Trio):

Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33
Paul Tortelier, cello, with orchestra conducted by Norman Del Mar
Recorded March 23, 1948
HMV C 3776 and C 3777, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 40.49 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 18.88 MB)

This must have been the first recording made by Norman Del Mar (1919-1994) as a conductor, though he had appeared on records as early as 1944, playing second horn to Dennis Brain in a Decca recording of Brahms' Op. 17 part songs for women's choir, horns and harp, with the Nottingham Oriana Choir and harpist Gwendolyn Mason.  This recording can be heard at the CHARM website.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Program Notes (II)


Continuing my series of program note writing, above is shown the second Georgia Sinfonia concert for which I provided these.  Michael Kurth, who since 1994 has been a member of the Atlanta Symphony bass section, wrote his own program note for his piece, which I do not feel authorized to reproduce here, but here
are my notes for the other three works on the program:



Handel: Concerto Grosso in D minor, Op. 3, No. 5

The concerto grosso was the most highly developed of Baroque orchestral forms.  Originated in Italy during the seventeenth century, and perfected by Arcangelo Corelli, the supreme example of the form is Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos.  It is based on the principle of contrast - alternating the use of a large group of instruments, the concerto grosso (literally, “large ensemble”), with a smaller group, the concertino.  The later Classical concerto, pitting a solo instrument against the orchestra, was the logical successor to the concerto grosso.

There are two sets of concerti grossi (which, typically, were published in sets of six or twelve) bearing Handel’s name: the six of Opus 3, and the twelve of Opus 6, in addition to several independent ones.  Of the two sets, the Opus 6 concertos are far better known, being on a somewhat grander scale, and closer to traditional Italian models, scored for strings only.  Most of them were also newly-composed for the purpose.  It was an accepted practice of the time for a composer to reuse music conceived in another medium, and a few of the Opus 6 concertos do indeed borrow from earlier compositions.  The Opus 3 set, however, consists entirely of borrowings; moreover, they were compiled and arranged not by Handel himself but by his publisher, John Walsh (though with Handel’s approval).  It is a testament to Handel’s genius that the freshness of his invention shines through Walsh’s sometimes clumsy handling of the scores.

The Opus 3 concertos came to be known as the “Oboe Concertos” because the scoring adds oboes and bassoons to the strings of the Italian concerto grosso.  The fifth of them is atypical of the concerto grosso form, having no solo passages.  It is closer in style to an overture; in fact, the first movement was lifted verbatim from the overture to Handel’s second Chandos Anthem, “In the Lord I Put My Trust.”   Many years later, Sir Edward Elgar made a transcription of this overture for full symphony orchestra.



Holst: Brook Green Suite, for string orchestra

The name of Gustav Holst is so inextricably associated in the public’s mind with that of his most famous composition, the orchestral suite The Planets, that both the man and his many other accomplishments have become overshadowed.  A person of wide-ranging interests, from Eastern philosophy and astrology (the impetus behind The Planets) to English folk song (in which his friend, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, undertook pioneering research), Holst believed passionately in music as a form of human communication.  This belief led him to greatly enrich the repertoire of music for amateurs, both vocal and instrumental.  Imogen Holst, the composer’s daughter, has said that “it is characteristic of my father that the pieces he wrote for amateurs should sound equally at home when played by learners in a school-room as by professionals in a concert hall.”

Holst found his calling as a schoolteacher; from 1905 until his death he was the music director at St. Paul’s Girls’ School in Brook Green, London.  For the string orchestra at this school, he wrote the St. Paul’s Suite in 1913, and its lesser-known companion, the Brook Green Suite, in 1933.  Imogen Holst (herself a St. Paul’s alumnus) has described the latter work thus: “The short Prelude is founded on the descending scale of C major.  In the slow Air the flowing lines of melody are a link between the language of English folk song and the enharmonic counterpoint of my father’s last works.  The Dance, a cheerful jig, borrows a puppet show’s tune that he once heard during a holiday in Sicily.”

(I should credit my source here for Imogen Holst's comments, as I did not on the original program note: they come from the liner note to the Lyrita LP of her conducting the English Chamber Orchestra in this and four other of her father's works, SRCS 34).



Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C, K. 551, “Jupiter”

Mozart’s last three, and finest, symphonies - No. 39 in E-Flat, K. 543, No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, and No. 41 in C, K. 551 - were all written during the summer of 1788, as were two piano trios, a piano sonata, and a violin sonata!  The reason for this burst of productivity seems, surmises Maynard Solomon in his wonderful recent (1995) biography of the composer, to stem from Mozart’s pressing financial needs.  From 1782 to 1786 his income came largely from a series of subscription concerts he gave, performing his own piano concertos (he wrote no less than fifteen during this period), then he turned his hand to opera with The Marriage of Figaro in 1786 and Don Giovanni in 1787.  But these operatic ventures, while reasonably successful in their own right, did not bring the commissions for more operas as he had hoped.  So in the summer of 1788 he scheduled a series of subscription concerts, about which little is known, since no documentary evidence about them has survived.  But it seems likely that the new symphonies, and perhaps the trios, were intended for them.  It is also known that Mozart tentatively planned a London tour which did not materialize; perhaps, like Haydn a few years later, he hoped to capitalize on the popularity of his symphonies there.

London, in fact, was the origin of the nickname “Jupiter” given to the Symphony in C, K. 551; apparently the sobriquet was coined by Haydn’s sponsor, the violinist and conductor Johann Peter Salomon, and the nickname appeared on British concert programs from 1819 on.  Certainly the pomp and circumstance reflected in the first movement, with its use of martial rhythms, trumpets and drums, evoke images of nobility, even of Olympian grandeur.  Truly awe-inspiring is the finale, in which five separate themes can be discerned, all brought together and sounded simultaneously during the amazing fugue that forms the final coda.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Howard Ferguson: Piano Sonata

Howard Ferguson
The Irish composer and pianist Howard Ferguson (1908-1999) seems to have been one of the few contemporary composers championed by the great Dame Myra Hess (one thinks of Beecham championing Delius, or Benno Moiseiwitsch his fellow Russian-turned-Englishman Medtner), who, at the outbreak of World War II, enlisted Ferguson's help in running the famous National Gallery concerts in London.  She recorded, during the war years, two of his works: the Five Bagatelles, and this fine Piano Sonata:

Ferguson: Piano Sonata in F Minor, Op. 8 (1938-40)
and
Purcell: Saraband, Minuet and Air
Myra Hess, piano
Recorded November 19, 1942, and February 1, 1943
HMV C 7580 through C 7582, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 62.55 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 29.11 MB)

This Sonata was written in memory of the pianist Harold Samuel (1879-1937), famous as a Bach interpreter, who was Ferguson's first teacher, and through whom Ferguson met Hess.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Schubert "Great C Major" (Bruno Walter, 1946)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
(restored by Peter Joelson)

Today I present a recording that is very dear to me, as it was my introduction not only to this wonderful symphony, but the very first set of 78s I ever bought (or, more accurately, that was bought for me, by my grandmother, for $8.49 plus tax) at Clark Music, the wonderful music store that I wrote about in this post.  I was all of 10 years old, that fall of 1973, when I discovered the place, and of the twenty or twenty-five classical album sets in mint condition there that had remained unsold since the late 1940s, this one beckoned to me, mainly because I knew Schubert to be a Great Composer - I don't think I had even heard of most of the other composers represented in that motley collection - and moreover, it was a great big Symphony on six records!  Such is a child's reasoning.  Of course, this isn't the same copy as that one.  I wore that one out within two or three years, eventually obtaining another to replace it, which was sold off along with most of my 78s eight years ago.  This copy came to me courtesy of Ken Halperin of Collecting Record Covers:

Schubert: Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D. 944 ("The Great")
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York conducted by Bruno Walter
Recorded April 22, 1946
Columbia Masterworks set MM-679, six 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 124.35 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 64.3 MB)

Bruno Walter, it seems to me, came closer to the essence of this symphony than anyone else, and I don't think I'm saying that merely because I "learned" the work through this recording.  This is the second of his three recordings of it - the first was in 1938, with the London Symphony for HMV, and the last was in 1959, with his California-based, eponymous Columbia Symphony Orchestra.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Program Notes (I)

Back in 1998-99, I was active in a local chamber orchestra, the Georgia Sinfonia, as a writer of program notes for concerts (and, when the repertoire required it, as continuo harpsichordist).  I have decided to perpetuate my program-note writing by means of this blog, an idea given to me by Satyr when he told me some time ago how he enjoys my writing about music and musicians no less than my record transfers.  I hope the rest of you will agree.  Here is the first Georgia Sinfonia program for which I wrote notes:

And below are reprinted the program notes themselves:


Brahms: Quintet in B minor, Op. 115, for clarinet and strings

Johannes Brahms, although an indisputable master of orchestration, never felt truly comfortable writing for instruments other than his own, the piano.  In maturity, even while writing the four symphonies which became, and remain, the finest since Beethoven’s, he never quite gave the same importance to instrumental color as to harmony, counterpoint, or form.  Nor, with his rather prudish, severe North German temperament, did he revel in the sensuality of sheer sound as did, say, Tchaikovsky.  That is, until he heard Richard Mühlfeld, clarinettist with the Meiningen Orchestra (which Brahms conducted regularly), play the Mozart Clarinet Concerto in March 1891.  Captivated by the darkly singing quality of the instrument in Mühlfeld’s hands, he befriended the clarinettist, nicknaming him “Fräulein Klarinette” - Miss Clarinet - suggesting unequivocally that Brahms had found an inspiration from the instrument that matched in intensity those previously given to him by the women in his life.

His last four chamber works would feature the clarinet.  First came the Clarinet Trio (clarinet, cello and piano), then what he called “a far greater folly,” the Quintet for clarinet and strings, both written in the summer of 1891.  Three years later came the two sonatas for clarinet and piano.  The Quintet, in fact, turned out to be Brahms’ last work involving more than two performers; after it, there were only the piano pieces of Opp. 116-119, the clarinet sonatas, the Four Serious Songs, and the chorale preludes for organ of Op. 122.  Thus the Quintet can be seen as Brahms’ swan song among his large-scale works.  In his splendid recent (1997) biography of the composer, Jan Swafford states that “the music so clearly looks back on lost love with a distillation of Brahmsian yearning...its beginning a gentle, dying-away roulade that raises a veil of autumnal melancholy over the whole piece.”  It is formally loosely modelled on Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet; both works have as a concluding movement a theme and variations.


Weber: Adagio and Rondo, for 2 clarinets, 2 horns and 2 bassoons

Among the instrumental works of Carl Maria von Weber, a conspicuous place is given to music for wind instruments.  There are concertos for clarinet, bassoon and horn, in addition to a series of pieces for wind ensembles.  Most of the latter were composed for Prince Carl Friedrich of Löwenstein-Wertheim, an enthusiast for wind ensemble music whom Weber met while he was in the employ of the Duke of Württemberg, from 1806 to 1810.  This ensemble music is relatively little known (it is not listed in Otto Jahn’s thematic catalog of Weber’s works), having been published only beginning in 1970, after languishing in the Bibliotèque Nationale in Paris for over a century.

The Adagio in E-Flat is dated July 6, 1808; the Rondo in B-Flat was written earlier, completed June 24 of the same year.  One might be forgiven for assuming that it might have formed two movements of a larger work in B-Flat, but in fact the two-part slow-fast formation was a favorite with Weber.  He used it for several other works, including the well-known "Andante and Hungarian Rondo" for viola and orchestra (later rewritten for bassoon).


Beethoven: Sextet in E-Flat for winds, Op. 71

Although bearing the opus number 71 (and therefore, standing between the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies in Beethoven’s catalog of works published), the Sextet in E-Flat for winds in an early work, dating from 1796, thirteen years before its publication.  Beethoven offered it to his publisher with an apology, saying that it “was composed in one night - All that one can really say about it is that it was written by a composer who had produced a few better works, yet for some, works of this type are the best.”  The work was certainly not written in such a short time.  Beethoven’s comment represents the tetchy annoyance of a composer towards his public, which preferred “easy” works like his Septet for strings and winds, Op. 20 (a piece he came to hate, as passionately as Rachmaninoff came to hate his C-sharp minor Prelude) to what he rightly considered his more significant utterances such as the symphonies, concertos and string quartets.  This same annoyance caused him to belittle so beloved, yet so innovative a work as the “Moonlight” Sonata: “upon my word, I have written better ones...”

Beethoven produced a fair amount of wind ensemble music in his early years (other examples are the Octet for winds, Op. 103, and the Quintet for piano and winds, Op. 16), but virtually abandoned the medium after about 1800.  Despite their light character, the works are important in Beethoven’s output, for they surely helped the young composer develop his treatment of wind instruments in the symphonies.  They also allowed him to polish his handling of large-scale forms, in music that was traditionally not considered “serious” (despite Mozart’s masterly serenades for wind instruments) before tackling them in the more serious genres of string quartet and symphony.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Happy Birthday, Eugene Ormandy!

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
(restored by Peter Joelson)
This wasn't planned - I actually didn't realize that it was Ormandy's birthday (his 113th) until about an hour ago, and by that time I had finished processing the download that I offer here!  On the East Coast of the US, which includes Philadelphia, the city where he made his mark, there are about two hours left in Ormandy's birthday, so my comments shall be brief.  This is the first of two recordings he was to make of the Brahms Third Symphony (the second one was made as part of a Brahms cycle in the mid-60s):

Brahms: Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded April 19, 1946
Columbia Masterworks set MM-642, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 89.61 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 50.58 MB)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Beethoven: Quartet No. 8 (Coolidge Quartet)

About a year ago, when I was doing my "reissue" series, I devoted one post to the Flonzaley Quartet and two groups that contained members of that famous ensemble after it disbanded.  One of these was the Coolidge Quartet, whose violist, Nicolas Moldavan, had been in the Flonzaley Quartet.  This very interesting group was founded in 1936 by violinist William Kroll, who remained the only constant presence in the quartet until its disbanding in 1944.  The other original members were violinist Nicolai Berezowsky and cellist Victor Gottlieb.

In 1937 they began recording for Victor, and a big project was undertaken: a complete recording at popular prices of the Beethoven string quartets.  It should be explained that until 1940, when all Red Seal records were reduced in price to $1 each per 12-inch disc, there were two tiers of pricing for them - a cheaper series at $1.50 and a more expensive series at $2.  The Coolidge Quartet's non-Beethoven recordings sold at the higher rate, as did recordings by other, more prestigious chamber music groups such as the Budapest and Busch quartets.  But with the price reduction, the Beethoven project sort of ran out of steam, and it stopped short, halfway, with the work I present here:

Beethoven: Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Pepper-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded in September, 1940
Victor Musical Masterpiece Set DM-919, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files,  80.44 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 40.61 MB)

By the time this recording was made, the American-born Jack Pepper had replaced Berezowsky as the group's second fiddle.  By the following year (1941), Moldavan would be replaced by another American, David Dawson on viola, and Gottlieb would be replaced by the Russian-born Naoum Benditzky on cello.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dello Joio: Harp Concerto

Norman Dello Joio
Next year will see the centenary of American composer Norman Dello Joio (1913-2008), godson of Pietro Yon (famous for the Christmas carol "Gesu Bambino") and student of Paul Hindemith - although, unlike many of Hindemith's composition students, his music sounds nothing like his master's.  To get a jump on the celebrations, I present a work which, as far as I can tell, has received only this one recording, and that shortly after the work was written.  This is his Harp Concerto, a two movement-work consisting of an Introduction and Passacaglia, and a Scherzo-March.  This is masterfully played by Edward Vito, at the time principal harpist in Toscanini's NBC Symphony.

Dello Joio: Concerto for Harp and Orchestra (1944)
Edward Vito, with the Little Orchestra Society
conducted by Thomas K. Scherman
Recorded November 21, 1947
Columbia Masterworks set MX-339, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 45.09 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 23.4 MB)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Mendelssohn: Elijah (Sargent, 1947)


Felix Mendelssohn died on November 4, 1847, and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of this, Columbia issued this set of one of his grandest works, the 1846 oratorio Elijah.  This set actually was intended to replace an earlier (1930) recording of the work, conducted by Stanford Robinson, which featured two of the same soloists on the present recording - Isobel Baillie, soprano, and the great Harold Williams, bass-baritone, in the title role.  The other two soloists are Gladys Ripley, contralto, and James Johnston, tenor.  Except for Williams, these are exactly the same forces (soloists, chorus, orchestra and conductor) that were heard on the previous year's recording of Handel's Messiah which I uploaded around this time last year.  (Sargent would go on to record the work again, about ten years later, with the same chorus and orchestra but with different soloists.)

Mendelssohn: Elijah - Oratorio, Op. 70
Soloists, Huddersfield Choral Society and Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent
Recorded May 29 - June 1, 1947
Columbia Masterworks Set MM-715, sixteen 78-rpm records in two volumes
Link (FLAC files [part 1], 175.22 MB)
Link (FLAC files [part 2], 161.05 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 154.12 MB)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mozart Violin Sonatas (Schneider & Kirkpatrick)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
This Sunday is the birthday of the Lithuanian-born violinist, conductor and teacher Alexander Schneider (1908-1993), perhaps best known for his work with the Budapest String Quartet, of which he was second violinist from 1932 to 1944 and again from 1956 to their disbanding in 1967.  In between his two stints with the Quartet, he was involved in a variety of projects, perhaps the most famous being organizing the Prades Festival with Pablo Casals.  One of the most intriguing projects was a fruitful collaboration begun in 1944 with the harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick (1911-1984), which even resulted in a number of contemporary works being written for them, including a sonata by Milhaud and a Sonatina by Walter Piston.  They recorded the latter work, as well as six Bach sonatas, six by Handel, and eight by Mozart.  The duo's first appearance on records was this album of three Mozart sonatas:

Mozart: Violin Sonatas, K. 296, 378 and 379
Alexander Schneider, violin; Ralph Kirkpatrick, harpsichord
Recorded November 26-28, 1945
Columbia Masterworks set MM-650, six 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 132.25 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 70.02 MB)

At the time, the substitution of a harpsichord for the piano in these works was somewhat controversial, and still might raise some eyebrows; but it must be understood that the pianos of Mozart's time were actually closer in sonority to the harpsichord than to the modern grand piano, and in 1945 replicas of fortepianos (the term that has come to be used for early pianos) were still a good twenty or thirty years in the future.  So the use of the harpsichord here represents a compromise, although in truth it works better in the earliest Mozart violin sonatas than in the later ones.  Ralph Kirkpatrick, with all his artistry, was probably the only harpsichordist at the time who was able to pull it off convincingly.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Bernstein: Age of Anxiety (Original Version)

Cover design by Darrill Connelly
About a month ago, I treated myself to the Leonard Bernstein Symphony Edition, a 60-CD set containing 110 symphonies that he recorded for Columbia from the 1950s through the 1970s.  Among these, of course, were his own three - Jeremiah, The Age of Anxiety (based on W. H. Auden's poem of the same name), and Kaddish.  It occurred to me, as I listened to the second of these - for me, the finest of the three, and one of his finest works altogether - that I had long harbored a mono LP of the same work (the version in the CD set is the stereo remake, featuring Philippe Entremont at the piano), and that the older recording represented the only extant one of the original version of the score.  In 1965 Bernstein, while preparing the replacement recording, decided to revise the finale of the symphony, which originally had limited the piano's role to a single chord at the end.  He had come to feel that this didn't so much convey the intended detachment in Auden's poem as rob the piano of its concertante function, so the revision incorporates the piano into the scoring and even provides a cadenza.  No doubt Bernstein was right, but it is still, I think, valuable to be able to hear his original intentions as represented by the earlier recording:

Bernstein: The Age of Anxiety (Symphony No. 2, after W. H. Auden)
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
conducted by Leonard Bernstein, with Lukas Foss, piano
Recorded February 27, 1950
Columbia ML-4325, one 12-inch LP record
Link (FLAC files, 82.57 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.18 MB)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Franck: Organ Chorales (Guy Weitz)

Guy Weitz
During the late 1920s, when the introduction of electrical recording made it possible for the record companies to make on-location recordings on a wide scale, a great deal of attention was focused on the one instrument which had no chance of being recorded by the acoustical process - the pipe organ.  The pages of the HMV and Columbia catalogues of this period are littered with organ records, most of them by organists of strictly local (British) reputation - men such as G. D. Cunningham and George Thalben-Ball.  An exception was the Belgian-born organist and composer Guy Weitz (1883-1970), a student of Widor and Guilmant at the Schola Cantorum in Paris.  At the onset of war in 1914 he fled Belgium for London, where he was organist at the Farm Street Church from 1917 to 1967.  HMV got him to make these first recordings of two Franck chorales:

Franck: Chorale No. 1 in E Major
Guy Weitz at the Organ of St. Thomas' Church, Wandsworth
Recorded October 7, 1929
HMV C 1825 and C 1826, two 78-rpm records

Franck: Chorale No. 3 in A minor and
Widor: Symphony No. 4 - Andante cantabile
Guy Weitz at the Organ of Westminster Cathedral, London
Recorded December 16, 1926, and May 4, 1927
HMV C 1378 and C 1379, two 78-rpm records

Both recordings are available in one bundle:
Link (FLAC files, 71.91 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 31.99 MB)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Morton Gould: After Dark

Ad from LIFE magazine, June 18, 1945

This week I offer something which, had someone told me five years ago (when I acquired this set, for free) that I would be transferring and offering it as a download I would have said they were crazy!  Ordinarily, the type of lush orchestral stylings of popular song à la Kostelanetz or Mantovani, as represented in this album, is complete anathema to me; however, I have become convinced over the past year that Morton Gould (1913-1996) was a genius, and, like it or not, the numerous albums he made of his own arrangements of popular material are a part of his legacy.  (One might argue that they made the more serious part of his legacy possible, as they certainly earned him a lot of money!)  Moreover, Gould's arrangements seem to me a cut above the Kostelanetz standard - more symphonic in character.  Kosty was mainly concerned with gorgeous sounds, and Gould matches him on that level, but there are subtleties of harmony and counterpoint that I don't recall hearing in a typical Kostelanetz cover.  Even so, I wouldn't recommend listening to this album all at once; after one or two tracks, my mind tends to wander.  Here are the details:

"After Dark"
1. Temptation (Freed-Brown)
2. Speak Low (Nash-Weill)
3. Dancing in the Dark (Schwartz-Dietz)
4. Bésame Mucho (Consuelo Velazquez)
5. That Old Black Magic (Mercer-Arlen)
6. I Get a Kick Out of You (Cole Porter)
7. I've Got You Under My Skin (Cole Porter)
8. The Very Thought of You (Ray Noble)
Morton Gould and His Orchestra
Recorded November 22, 1944
Columbia set C-107, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 83.48 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.71 MB)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
This was Gould's last album in Columbia's Popular series (and one of that series' rare 12-inch albums); afterwards, he was switched to the green-label Masterworks semi-classical line, where Kostelanetz reigned supreme.  No doubt Kosty didn't like that!  Certainly, Gould never got the promotion that Kostelanetz got at Columbia, and by 1954 he had jumped ship for RCA.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Shostakovich: Sixth Symphony (Reiner)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
Well, Shostakovich's birthday is upon us again, on Tuesday (I first celebrated it on this blog two years ago, with Efrem Kurtz's 1947 recording of his Ninth Symphony).  Here is Fritz Reiner's only commercial recording of a work by Shostakovich, which happens to be my favorite of his 15 symphonies, primarily because it's the first major Shostakovich work I ever came to know, through this very set:

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 54
and
Kabalevsky: Colas Breugnon - Overture
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner
Recorded March 26, 1945
Columbia Masterworks set MM-585, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 95.39 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 50.5 MB)

This set was issued in direct competition with Stokowski's 1940 recording, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, on Victor, and was then reissued on LP (unlike Stoki's).  Incredibly, the next version of the Shostakovich Sixth wasn't made until 1958 (a fine one, by Sir Adrian Boult, on Everest), by which time this Reiner version had been deleted!

This is the second copy of MM-585 that I have owned, thanks to Ken Halperin of Collecting Record Covers.  The first I purchased as a lad of almost twelve, from a wonderful shop in downtown Decatur, Ga., called Clark Music, at 115 Sycamore Street.  I could write a book about this place, which was so important to me during the 1970s.  It was, among other things, the site of my first summer job.  Clark's was a mom-and-pop operation opened in 1945 by Mayo and Mary Clark, which originally sold both sporting goods and musical merchandise.  Mr. Clark oversaw the former, and Mrs. Clark the latter.  They apparently never sent back to the manufacturers anything they couldn't sell, for when I discovered the store in 1973, the back wall was crammed with 78s, classical and popular, in brand-new condition.  Mrs. Clark also insisted the prices were the same as in the late 40s, and I know now that she was right, but for one of my limited means, these were still expensive!  This Shostakovich set cost $7.25, and I remember that after buying it, I had to call a neighbor for a ride home, for I had miscalculated the sales tax, and ended up a penny short of the 15-cent bus fare!  Clark's finally closed its doors in 1990, shortly after Mrs. Clark died, and I miss it still.  I found some wonderful treasures there.

Photo courtesy of the blog Next Stop...Decatur

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Handel: Harp Concerto (Grandjany)

Marcel Grandjany
This week I offer something that should be a real treat for lovers of the harp (and really now, who doesn't love the harp?) - a wonderful performance of Handel's Harp Concerto by that master of the instrument, Marcel Grandjany (1891-1975), complete with his own cadenza.  These records were my introduction to this ever-fresh piece, way back when I was a tot, and this remains my favorite recording of it (I'm not familiar with Grandjany's subsequent recording, from the early stereo era, on Decca).  The set is unique in my experience for having not one, but three separate fillers - a fact about which Irving Kolodin loudly complained in the May 29, 1948, issue of Saturday Review - apparently so that the Handel Concerto could be played in one pass through an automatic record changer.  These three extras present Grandjany's transcriptions of Baroque lute and keyboard pieces, and I for one am quite pleased to have them!

Handel: Harp Concerto in B-Flat major, Op. 4, No. 6
Marcel Grandjany with the RCA Victor Chamber Orchestra
conducted by Jean Paul Morel
Recorded March 12, 1946

and

Gottfried Kirchhoff: Aria and Rigaudon
François Couperin: Soeur Monique
Antoine Francisque: Pavane et Bransles
Marcel Grandjany, harp
Recorded September 30, 1946

RCA Victor set DM-1201, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 68.33 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 36.61 MB)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bruckner: String Quintet (Prisca Quartet)

Anton Bruckner
I'm afraid I'm a little late to the party, but last week (Sept. 4) saw the 188th anniversary of the birth of Anton Bruckner (1824-1896), and I guess it's better late than never.  So in his honor, I present the première recording of his finest chamber work, the String Quintet in F, which falls chronologically between the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies.  This features the Cologne-based Prisca Quartet, named after its leader, Walter Schulze-Prisca - whose name originally appears to have been simply Walter Schulze, but he took his wife's last name, Prisca, when he married her!  The playing sounds quite old-fashioned even by the standards of its time, and it may well be the slowest version of the Quintet on record.  (If the Scherzo weren't cut, it would be easier to make a comparison.)  Hans Roelofs, in his excellent Bruckner discography devoted to the composer's non-symphonic music, considers this recording to be of documentary interest only.  But this could be the closest we can come to hearing Bruckner's music as Bruckner himself would have heard it, and it's worth noting that Schulze-Prisca was born the same year, 1879, as this Quintet was written.  Judge for yourself:

Bruckner: String Quintet in F Major (1879) and
Haydn: Serenade (from Quartet in F, Op. 3, No. 5)
Prisca Quartet with Siegfried Meincke, viola
Recorded December 29-30, 1937
Decca-Polydor X 220 through X 225, six 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 135.05 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 54.9 MB)

During the 1930s, the Prisca Quartet recorded several sets for Deutsche Grammophon-Polydor.  Besides this Bruckner quintet, there were three Mozart quartets (one of which is available from Pristine Audio), and quartets by Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert and Verdi.  Oddly, all but the Haydn and Bruckner were released on ten-inch discs!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ormandy's Beethoven Ninth

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
Here's another treat for you Ormandy fans out there - the first of his two recordings of the Beethoven Choral Symphony, recorded only two weeks after V-E Day in 1945 (incidentally, at the same time as the Prokofiev Alexander Nevsky Cantata I uploaded earlier).  It features the Westminster Choir, directed by John Finlay Williamson, and soloists Stella Roman, Enid Szantho, Frederick Jagel, and Nicola Moscona.  This recording boasts two "firsts" - it was the first commercially-available recording of the Ninth made outside of a German-speaking country to have the vocal portions sung in the original German, and it was the first available on LP (in 1949).  It's also one of the few 78-era recordings to take the second repeat in the Scherzo - the only others I'm aware of are the two by Albert Coates (acoustical and electrical).

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125
Soloists, Westminster Choir and Philadelphia Orchestra
Conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded May 20 and 21, 1945
Columbia Masterworks set MM-591, eight 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 147.71 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 80.87 MB)

This is one of the few Columbia 78 sets to circulate with two distinct Steinweiss covers.  The other one looked like this:

(Please excuse the poor scan; it was lifted from an eBay ad.)  I suspect that this graphic illustration of "alle Menschen werden Brüder" was thought too hot to handle in some markets, although I once had a copy of the set with this cover, and the price sticker inside revealed that it had originally been purchased at Rich's Department Store - in Atlanta!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, Lenny!

Leonard Bernstein, 1944
Saturday marks the birthday of that phenomenon, Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), and, to celebrate, I offer his first recording as a conductor.  Not, however, the first one offered to the public.  This recording of his ever-fresh ballet, Fancy Free, was made in June, 1944, for Decca - during the period when Victor and Columbia were unable to make recordings because of the Petrillo ban.  But it wasn't released until 1946, because it apparently took Decca that long to secure the definitive performance needed for the set's filler, that of Billie Holiday singing Bernstein's song "Big Stuff" (on which the ballet's Pas de deux section is based), with her lover at the time, Joe Guy, on trumpet.  In the meantime Lenny had switched his allegiance to Victor, which recorded and released two sets in 1945, both of his own music: a set of excerpts from On the Town (with Robert Shaw leading the chorus) and the Jeremiah Symphony (with the St. Louis Symphony).  I do not, alas, have these, but here is the Decca set:

Bernstein: Fancy Free - Ballet Music
Ballet Theatre Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein
Recorded June 2, 1944
and
Bernstein: Big Stuff
Billie Holiday with Joe Guy (trumpet) and Rhythm Section
Recorded March 13, 1946
Decca set A-406, four 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 67.79 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 28.05 MB)

Cover image, restored by Peter Joelson

Friday, August 17, 2012

Jack Benny Fiddles With the Classics

Sheer fun this week, as I present a children's album by that still much-beloved American comedian, Jack Benny (1894-1974).  Ostensibly a recording designed to introduce kids to the glories of the classical violin literature (excellently played by his friend Issac Stern), in Jack's hands it becomes a delightful story showcasing many of the facets of his on-air persona - his vanity, his bad violin playing; even his catchphrase "Well!!!" is worked in.  The record also features spoken contributions from his wife, Mary Livingstone, and the ever-dependable Mel Blanc.  Note also the delightful underscore by Billy May which accompanies the story portions, which seems to work in everything from Jack's trademark Kreutzer etude and Paderewski's Minuet in G, to "Hooray for Hollywood."  I have owned and loved this LP since my college days, when I purchased it from a local used record shop (my apologies for the nasty "cut-out" snip in the scan above, but that's how it was when I bought it!).  The album is a 1978 reissue of a 1956 release originally titled "Jack Benny Plays The Bee, Ably Assisted by Issac Stern":

"Jack Benny Fiddles With the Classics"
Jack Benny, Mary Livingstone, Mel Blanc, speakers
Issac Stern, violin, with orchestra conducted by Izler Solomon
Incidental Music composed and conducted by Billy May
Capitol Special Markets L-8108, one 12-inch LP record
Link (FLAC file, 95.93 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 46.6 MB)

That Jack Benny actually could play the violin quite well, when he wanted to, is proven by this YouTube posting of an excerpt from a 1961 concert in Carnegie Hall, where he plays the first movement of the Bach Double Concerto with Issac Stern (and Eugene Ormandy conducting):

YouTube link

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sor: Grand Sonata, Op. 22 (Oyanguren)

Julio Martinez Oyanguren
Born and trained in Uruguay, Julio Martinez Oyanguren (1901-1973) seems to have been the only classical guitarist besides the great Andrés Segovia whose recordings were sold at premium prices in the USA.  (A mere handful of Segovia's HMV recordings were released here on Victor Red Seal.)  During 1936-37 Oyanguren made a number of recordings for Columbia in New York: 22 sides were released in the Masterworks line, all of which were deleted during the Second World War.  All of them were of short pieces except this one set:

Sor: Grand Sonata in C Major, Op. 22
Julio Martinez Oyanguren, guitar
Recorded July 29 and 30, 1937
Columbia Masterworks set X-84, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 39.58 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 21.23 MB)

The work itself, a charming one, is the third of four sonatas by the Catalan guitarist and composer Fernando Sor (1778-1839), and the first of two "grand sonatas" - the adjective apparently being used to denote a multi-movement work, as the two earlier sonatas are single-movement ones.  It was published in Paris in the mid-1820s, though possibly dates from earlier.