Saturday, January 7, 2012

Mitch and the 20th Century Harpsichord

Back to mining early LPs we go, with two quite dissimilar works, the common thread being that they are both 20th century works featuring the harpsichord, and that Mitch Miller plays oboe on both.  Even the harpsichordists are different! This Mercury LP is a reissue of two 78-rpm sets of c. 1947, and by the time it appeared, in late 1949 or early 1950, Mitch Miller was the head of A & R for Mercury's pop division.  He would move to a similar position with Columbia in 1950.

First up is what I and many others consider the greatest 20th century work for harpsichord, Manuel de Falla's Concerto.  This is only its second recording, after the famous one that Falla himself made for French Columbia in 1930.  Ralph Kirkpatrick is the soloist, and he is accompanied by an ensemble consisting of Alexander Schneider, violin; Bernard Greenhouse, cello; Samuel Baron, flute; the aforementioned Mitchell Miller, oboe; and Harold Freeman, clarinet.  This was originally recorded by Keynote, a company that was subsumed by Mercury in 1947:

Falla: Harpsichord Concerto (1926)
Ralph Kirkpatrick, harpsichord, and ensemble
Recorded c. 1947
Side A of Mercury MG 10012, one 12-inch LP record
Link (FLAC files, 46.37 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 23.44 MB)

Also on this LP is the delightful Partita by Vittorio Rieti (1898-1994), a composer who should be far better known.  I like to think of him as a sort of Italian Poulenc; his music has the same sort of witty charm as the French master.  He wrote quite a lot for harpsichord: three works for Sylvia Marlowe, of which this Partita was the first.  (The others were a "Sonata all'Antica" of 1946, and a Harpsichord Concerto of 1955, both of which Miss Marlowe recorded for Decca.)  This is Sylvia Marlowe's first recording of it (she did another for Capitol in the 1950s, and a stereo version for Decca), made with the players who gave the work its première in the spring of 1946:

Rieti: Partita for Harpsichord, Flute, Oboe and Strings (1945)
Sylvia Marlowe, harpsichord; Julius Baker, flute;
Mitchell Miller, oboe; The Kroll Quartet
Recorded c. 1946
Side B of Mercury MG 10012, one 12-inch LP record
Link (FLAC files, 52.44 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 27.62 MB)


  1. Bryan,
    Quite a find - I've never seen this item and only heard of the Falla.
    Also... quite uncannily, I had a similar item in the pipeline! Give me a day...

  2. your activity after the break is amazing. always glad to your new finds and shares.
    great (and almost unknown!) oeuvres in striking renditions.
    lot of thanks!

  3. Again, thanks so much - the de Falla is a new one on me! & I always love a bit of harpsichord.

  4. Thanks a lot! The Falla concerto was published also under the "Classic" label, with Stravinsky conducting his own "Dumbarton oaks" in 1947 on the opposite side. It has been said that he was also the conductor in Falla's concerto, which he liked very much.

  5. Discobole - hmm, that makes me wonder whether the Falla and the Stravinsky were recorded the same day (April 28, 1947). I do know that Schneider, Greenhouse, Baron and Freeman all were on the "Dumbarton Oaks" recording; Miller wasn't, but only because that score doesn't call for oboe.

  6. Could be, could be, don't you think so?

  7. Thank you for this one: the 2nd I've heard of the Falla, but (bizarrely) only the 1st time I've ever heard Ralph Kirkpatrick! An unusual way to get to know him, but very enjoyable thank you!

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. It is quite a shame that SHELLACKOPHILE has been suspended
    by the likes of MEDIAFIRE. Is there anything that can be done?
    Can I download this file from any other source / or way??
    How can I contact MEDIAFIRE?

  10. Thanks Shellackophile for the invaluable info about matrix numbers and dating contained in your upload of Falla's Concerto. Yes, I think it is safe to consider that the Falla (Mercury DM-5), Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks Concerto (Keynote DM-1), the Vivaldi Concerto (Keynote K-2003, apparently reissued as Mercury DM-2 although I've never actually seen a photo or contemporary review of that one) and the Mozart Divertimento (Mercury DM-4) with the Dumbarton Oaks (Festival) Chamber Orchestra conducted by Stravinsky (in Stravinsky) and Alexander Schneider (in Mozart and Vivaldi) were all recorded for Keynote, at the Reeves Beaux Arts Studio in New York, on 28 April 1947, by engineer Robert Fine, who would become famous among audiophiles a few years later for his collaboration with Mercury records.

    1. Hmm, interesting point. Mitch Miller was also on that Mozart Divertimento, which I used to have on DM-4 but alas no longer do, else I'd check the recording date. But I remember that what was described as "chamber orchestra" was actually a septet or octet, with Mitch, two French horn players, and solo strings headed by Schneider and probably including Greenhouse. If the Vivaldi was recorded the same day, that brings up the possibility that Kirkpatrick played harpsichord continuo on it. In any case, that would have been a busy day of recording for certain of the players, especially Schneider!

  11. Incidentally, have you actually had or seen Mercury DM-5? I am wondering, because everybody, including the Mercury discographers Michel Ruppli and Ed Novitsky, claim that it was published under the Mercury label, but I've chanced online on the 20 september 1947 issue of the Billboard, which announced it among the "Advanced Record Releases" as "Keynote DM 5". It's possible of course that between announcement to the press and actual release things changed (it is at the beginning of March 1948 that the deal was announced by which Mercury took over Keynote), but I haven't found any uploaded photo of either the Keynote or Mercury to make sure, and the online evidence is scanty.

    1. I;ve never had or seen DM-5, but I believe a friend has it, so stay tuned and I'll report after I've had a chance to ask him about it.

    2. Sorry - said friend has the LP, just like I do.

  12. Tom Fine, the son of Bob Fine and Wilma Cozart Fine of the Mercury Living Presence series wrote a short post in Tape Op Magazine which gives some insight into these early proto-Mercury recordings:

    I recently came into possession of the Keynote DM-1 "Dumbarton Oaks" 78 album (later released as one of the first Mercury LPs) and was surprised to see Robert Fine listed as the engineer in the liner notes. It turns out that that recording session was arguably the first Living Presence session.

    The session was held at the Reeves Sound Studios' then brand new Beaux Art Studio. Fine would continue to work for Hazard Reeves for several years before solely focusing on Mercury (future Living Presence cutting engineer George Piros was also working at Reeves). The session was supervised by legendary A&R man John Hammond (Sr.), who would later arrange for Keynote to be absorbed by Irving Green's Mercury label.

    Mitch Miller also showed up on another of Mercury's famous early sessions, "Charlie Parker with Strings", which was also engineered by Bob Fine.