Saturday, December 28, 2013

Franz Reizenstein: Prologue, Variations and Finale

Franz Reizenstein
Franz who? - I hear you say.  And I can't say I would blame you.  My only prior awareness of the Nuremberg-born Franz Reizenstein (1911-1968) was of his participation in the 1956 Hoffnung Music Festival, to which he contributed a highly amusing Concerto Popolare ("A Piano Concerto to End All Piano Concertos").  But the Jewish Reizenstein, who fled Germany for England in 1934, had a much more serious side.  He had studied with Paul Hindemith while still in Germany, and continued studies with Vaughan Williams after his emigration.  (A very useful online biography of the composer can be found here.)  For the brilliant violinist Max Rostal (1905-1991), a fellow emigré, he wrote this set of Hindemith-like variations in 1938:

Reizenstein: Prologue, Variations and Finale, Op. 12
Two Pieces for Violin and Piano, Op. 7 (Lullaby, Marcia Barbara)
Max Rostal, violin; Franz Reizenstein, piano
Recorded March 12 and July 30, 1945
London set LA-155, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 72.80 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 52.24 MB)

I hope I did the side joins in this set correctly; there has never been another recording of the piece, and I had no score to guide me, for it is long out-of-print.  I even tried contacting the erstwhile publishers, Boosey and Hawkes, who were unable to find a copy in their archives, but did offer to send a score of the orchestrated version! (I declined.)

For those wishing to hear Max Rostal in more mainstream repertoire, the CHARM database has his recordings of two Beethoven sonatas with Franz Osborn - Op. 12, No. 2, and Op. 96.

My best wishes to everyone for a happy and prosperous 2014!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Bizet: Jeux d'Enfants (Antal Dorati)

Antal Dorati
As I mentioned at about this time last year, when I put up this post, Christmas is for children, and so children and their games are the focus of this post.  Bizet's delightful set of twelve pieces for piano duet illustrating various kids' antics dates from 1871, and he later orchestrated five of the pieces to form his "Petite Suite."  The latter was recorded several times during the 78 era, but the complete set of pieces in its original duet form had to wait until Vitya Vronsky and Victor Babin released a ten-inch LP of them in 1950.  In the meantime, a young Antal Dorati made this recording of a Ballet Russes arrangement, adding to Bizet's "Petite Suite" five additional orchestrations by Pierre Kolpikoff of pieces previously unrecorded:

Bizet: Jeux d'Enfants - Suite, Op. 22
London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Antal Dorati
Recorded September 17 and 27, 1937
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-510, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 41.06 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 29.84 MB)

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Borodin and Tchaikovsky by Mitropoulos

Cover design by Karl Kezer
Dimitri Mitropoulos, like his Minneapolis predecessor Eugene Ormandy, never disappoints in performances of Russian music.  (My first exposure to Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, almost 40 years ago, was through a blazing Mitropoulos reading on a Columbia 78 set - and oh, how I wish I still had it!)  Here is an LP coupling two Russian masterpieces.  The Borodin Second Symphony was a specialty of Mitropoulos, but the CD reissue companies invariably have tapped his 1941 Minneapolis performance for release, never this New York version which, I believe, deserves attention as well.  The Tchaikovsky First Suite is a rarity as well, and this is only the second recording of it (after Walter Goehr's for Concert Hall, which can be heard here).  Unfortunately the third movement (Intermezzo) is omitted, presumably in the interest of getting the Suite on one side.  What remains is delightful, particularly its final galumphing Gavotte which surely influenced Prokofiev when he came to write his own Gavotte for his "Classical Symphony."

Borodin: Symphony No. 2 in B Minor
Recorded November 2, 1953
Tchaikovsky: Suite No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 43
Recorded October 18 and November 17, 1954
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos
Columbia Masterworks ML-4966, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 152.15 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 94.15 MB)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Beethoven: Quartet No. 6 (Coolidge Quartet)

Happy Beethoven's Birthday! Here is my latest Coolidge Quartet find, another in their aborted series to record all the Beethoven string quartets (which stopped short halfway through, with No. 8).  This is the last of the "early" quartets (Op. 18), and the Coolidge Beethoven set which had the shortest catalogue life (since it was the last issued of their Op. 18 sets, all of which were deleted during the Second World War, unlike their two successors):

Beethoven: Quartet No. 6 in B-Flat, Op. 18, No. 6
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded December 19, 1939
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-745, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 59.46 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.73 MB)

This recording would appear to have been made at the same time as that of the Beethoven quartet which preceded it, if the proximity of its matrix numbers is any indication.  Said matrix numbers can be found here at the British Library website (as can the recording itself...but not for us poor Americans!).

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Beethoven via Saint-Saëns, Bartlett and Robertson

Camille Saint-Saëns, c. 1875
Beethoven's birthday is upon us again (Dec. 16), and, to celebrate, I present the finest set of variations known to me on one of his themes by someone other than Beethoven himself.  This is Saint-Saëns' 1874 set of variations for two pianos, based on the Trio of the Menuetto from the Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-Flat, Op. 31, No. 3 - and notice how Saint-Saëns works in, at the very beginning of this piece, a sly reference to another great sonata from the same opus, the "Tempest" Sonata, with his arpeggios running up the keyboard in different keys!  The performance here is another gem by Bartlett and Robertson, from their all-too-meager series of recordings for HMV from the early 30s:

Saint-Saëns: Variations on a Theme of Beethoven, Op. 35
Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson, duo-pianists
Recorded July 22, 1932
HMV C 2483 and C 2484, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 42.31 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 25.38 MB)

I am aware of only three recordings of these Variations made during the 78-rpm era; this is the second.  The first was by Georges Bertram and Karol Szreter for French Odeon in 1927, and the last was a Victor set by Pierre Luboshutz and Genia Nemenoff issued in 1940.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 3 (Boult)

Adrian Boult, 1933
An orchestral suite by Bach is hardly repertoire that one would associate with the great British conductor Sir Adrian Boult (1889-1983), but this recording, one of Boult's earliest with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (which he helped to found in 1930), is noteworthy for two reasons, both concerning the opening slow section of the Ouverture.  First, to my knowledge it's the only recording of a Bach orchestral suite made during the 78-rpm era to observe the repeat of the opening section.  Second, it's the earliest recording in which the "modern" practice of synchronizing the dotted rhythms (so that, for example, when eighth notes and sixteenth notes occur simultaneously in different parts, the rhythm adopted is that of the sixteenths) is heard.  Boult must have received coaching in this from Arnold Dolmetsch, for who else in England at that time would have known about it?  This practice became almost universal for Baroque music in the 1960s (and indeed there was a backlash against it starting in the 1980s, led by the American musicologist Frederick Neumann, and put into practice by Reinhard Goebel and his wonderful ensemble "Musica Antiqua Köln"), but it's rather startling to hear it in a 1933 recording.  Indeed the performance is very stylish and modern-sounding, and only the absence of any continuo instrument reminds one that it dates from eighty years ago:

Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068
Prelude from the Violin Partita, BWV 1006 (arr. Pick-Mangiagalli)
BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adrian Boult
Recorded May 22-23, 1933
HMV DB 1963 through DB 1965, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 69.15 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 37.99 MB)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Two Plum Morsels by the Virtuoso Quartet

The Virtuoso String Quartet, with which I have dealt more extensively in this post, was founded late in 1923 by four British musicians apparently for the express purpose of making recordings.  While earlier string quartet ensembles (such as the Flonzaley, Catterall and Lener String Quartets) had begun their recording careers by being limited to making potboilers, isolated movements and abridgements from the string quartet repertoire before being permitted to record complete works, the Virtuoso String Quartet took the opposite trajectory during their brief career in the studios (1924-29).  They began by recording complete quartets by Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Franck for HMV's more expensive Black Label series, but by 1927, had been switched to the cheaper Plum Label, and were recording potboilers!  Among them were these two charming miniatures:

Gossec: Tambourin (arr. Cedric Sharpe)
Grainger: Molly on the Shore
Virtuoso String Quartet (Hayward-Virgo-Jeremy-Sharpe)
Recorded July 1, 1927
HMV B 2589, one 10-inch 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 16.40 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 9.56 MB)

I should mention that at the same time as I acquired this record, I also got the Virtuoso String Quartet's 1925 acoustical set of the Franck Quartet in D, in its original album.  This can be heard already at the CHARM website which has some 40 sides by the VSQ available for audition, some of them overlapping my offerings at the other post.  (They don't, however, have B 2589.)  But if there is any interest in my transfer I will attempt it (I probably will, anyway, sooner or later!).

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel (Rodzinski)

I must confess that the choice of "Till Eulenspiegel" for my latest post was inspired by being inundated with emails about "Black Friday" sales.  I get so sick of these, that it puts me into an Eulenspiegel-like attitude, specifically the wish to go upsetting marketplace goods and wares as he does in Richard Strauss' tone poem!  (When did the day after Thanksgiving get the name "Black Friday" anyhow?  It seems to me a recent phenomenon.  In the past the references were always to "after-Thanksgiving Day sales" in the papers.)  So what better time to enjoy this impudent masterpiece than now, and in as brilliant and high-spirited a performance as you are likely to hear anywhere:

Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Op. 28
Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Artur Rodzinski
Recorded December 14, 1940
Columbia Masterworks set MX-210, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 35.43 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 24.27 MB)

It's worth noting that though the piece had been recorded at least a dozen times previously (including a couple by the composer himself), Rodzinski's appears to have been the first to be issued as part of an album set series.  Sets comprising only two records had been marketed for only five years, and then only in the USA.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The New Music Quartet

The New Music Quartet, founded in 1948 by violinists Broadus Erle and Matthew Raimondi, violist Walter Trampler, and cellist Claus Adam (later of the Juilliard Quartet), was much admired during its brief history - I think it may have disbanded in 1956 when Erle moved to Japan for four years.  (He later came back to teach at Yale and to head the Yale Quartet, where Trampler joined him.)  The New Music Quartet made a handful of recordings for Bartók Records (including the première recording of the Third Quartet by that label's namesake), then moved to Columbia where they produced eight or nine albums, among them the first recording of Hugo Wolf's Quartet in D minor.  Their last-issued recording, which occupied one side of an LP, was of this première recording of Roger Sessions' fine Second String Quartet:

Sessions: String Quartet No. 2 (1951)
The New Music Quartet (Erle-Raimondi-Trampler-Soyer)
Recorded May 12, 1955
Side 1 of Columbia ML-5105, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 82.23 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 56.17 MB)

By the time of this recording, David Soyer, later to be one of the founding members of the Guarneri Quartet, had replaced Adam as cellist.

The Sessions quartet strikes me as a modern answer to Beethoven's Op. 131, with its opening slow fugue, its long central variation movement, and its one-in-a-bar scherzo following the variations.  Instead of Beethoven's galloping finale, however, we get a particularly haunting slow movement.  The work has only been recorded three times to my knowledge - in the early 70s by the Kohon Quartet for Vox, and in 1987 by the Juilliard Quartet for CRI.  This pioneering version has, as far as I'm aware, never been reissued.

Its disc mate seems to me a mite incongruous - an early concerto for piano and winds by Colin McPhee (1900-1964), best known for his interest in Balinese folk music.  This work, less than half the length of the Sessions quartet, would seem to owe a lot to Stravinsky, and it does bear some surface similarities to the latter's own piano concerto, especially in the last two movements.  But the opening of the first movement is utterly dissimilar - instead of Stravinsky's pompous neo-Baroque introduction there is a quiet, Impressionistic texture that seems to start in medias res:

McPhee: Concerto for Piano and Wind Octet (1928)
Grant Johannesen with wind octet conducted by Carlos Surinach
Recorded February 22, 1955
Side 2 of Columbia ML-5105, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 39.33 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 28.43 MB)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Wagner Concert (Reiner)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
It almost never happens these days that I go into a record store (or any other kind of store) and stumble upon any 78s worth buying, especially classical ones; the supply, never plentiful here in the South, has all but dried up.  Imagine my delight when, three weeks ago, I went into Records Galore in Clarkston, Ga., and found, among the three or four 78 sets tucked away in the back, this Reiner album (including his very first recording with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the "Ride of the Valkyries"), and very reasonably priced too (as you can see from the sticker on the above picture)!  I'm afraid it was the only set there that had both musical interest and acceptable condition, but there it was, and now I offer it to you, along with another Wagner set by Reiner that I've harbored for seven years, but never got around to transferring until now:

A Wagner Concert:
Prelude to Act I of "Die Meistersinger"
"Forest Murmurs" from "Siegfried"
Preludes to Acts I and III of "Lohengrin"
"The Ride of the Valkyries" from "Die Walküre"
Columbia Masterworks set MM-549, four 78-rpm records


Wagner: Bacchanale (Venusberg Music) from "Tannhäuser"
Columbia Masterworks set MX-193, two 78-rpm records

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner
Recorded March 14, 1940, January 9, 1941, and November 15, 1941
Link (FLAC files, 120.52 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 78.29 MB)

For those who like to burn CDs from my downloads, or make playlists, I would suggest following the order of the "Wagner Concert" but inserting the "Tannhäuser" extract before the "Ride of the Valkyries" - this seems to give the best balance of moods and tempi.

MM-549 was one of several albums of reissues that Columbia issued in the closing days of the Petrillo recording ban in 1944, when the supply of backlogged recordings had run dry, and new ones from Europe were unavailable due to the war.  So they took four single records of Wagner already on the catalog, and cobbled them together into an album.  The resulting "Wagner Concert" was also part of Columbia's initial LP launch, and in that form would have been the first Wagner compilation to be listed in the fondly-remembered Schwann Long Playing Record Guide.  I always wondered why, under the Wagner listings, albums of compilations of his music were under the heading "Wagner Concert" while all the other composers' compilations were under headings like "Music of Beethoven," "Music of Brahms," etc.  This issue, I've decided, has to be the reason....

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Hindemith by the Guilet Quartet

Yes, another LP, but this time one that's taken from 78-rpm originals.  Truth to tell, I wish I had those 78 originals, because there's at least one side join in Concert Hall's c. 1950 transfer that I know I could have done a better job with, simply because I have technology that wasn't available to the good folks at Concert Hall Society back then.  But I suspect this LP is easier to come by than the 78s, simply because the 78s were part of a subscription package whereby the subscriber had to buy all the releases for a given year (and besides that, they were expensive, and a limited edition to boot), whereas the LP was a general release that remained in the catalog until 1957.  So here it is, this first (and, I believe, the only pre-digital) recording of this early Hindemith quartet:

Hindemith: Quartet No. 4 [new No. 5], Op. 32
Guilet String Quartet (Guilet-Gorodetzky-Brieff-Laporte)
Recorded c. 1947
Concert Hall CHS-1086, one ten-inch LP record
Link (FLAC files, 56.72 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.38 MB)

In this post I had some tart comments about the confusing issue of the numbering of Hindemith's quartets.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tchaikovsky: Suite No. 3 (Little Orchestra Society)

I've been spending a lot more time lately with LPs than with 78s (easier, for one thing), particularly "6-eye" Columbias, and here's a comparatively rare one. Thomas K. Scherman (1917-1979) was the founder of the Little Orchestra Society, still going strong after 66 years, and right away established himself and the orchestra as a force for presenting new and unrecorded works on Columbia (as with this recording of Dello Joio's Harp Concerto). But it's likely that folks in the 1950s were more familiar with his speaking voice than with his conducting, simply because he presented so many spoken analysis records in connection with the Book-of-the-Month Club's series of Music Appreciation Records, of which Scherman was the musical director. (His father, Harry Scherman, had founded Book-of-the-Month Club in 1926.) Today I present the last recording I can trace that he made for Columbia:

Tchaikovsky: Suite No. 3 in G Major, Op. 55
Little Orchestra Society conducted by Thomas Scherman
Recorded February 1, 1955
Columbia ML-5256, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 100.90 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 65.49 MB)

This was only the second recording of Tchaikovsky's delightful Third Suite with pretensions to completeness - in those days only its famous variation finale was usually heard. I say "pretensions" because an unfortunate cut is made in the second movement (Valse mélancolique), robbing it of almost half its length. The same cut was made in Walter Goehr's 1952 recording, for Concert Hall (which can be heard here), suggesting that a performing edition of the suite was floating around incorporating this cut.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Walton: Sinfonia Concertante

Sacheverell, Edith, and Osbert Sitwell
A piano concerto in all but name, William Walton's delightful Sinfonia Concertante (the first of Walton's four concertos) had its genesis in a ballet written in 1925-26 for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet russes, but after the great impresario rejected it, Walton decided to turn the score into something more practical. The result was this three-movement concerto, unveiled in 1928 with each movement bearing a dedication to one of the Sitwell siblings, his friends and patrons - the first to Osbert, the second to Edith, and the third to Sacheverell. (One can hear Sachie's fondness for the music of Scarlatti reflected in "his" movement.) In 1943 Walton revisited the piece, simplifying the piano part, and, as his relationship with the Sitwells had cooled, he removed the dedications; I knew nothing of them until I began researching for this post, and I have enjoyed this work for thirty years! Shortly thereafter, the Sinfonia Concertante received this first recording:

Walton: Sinfonia Concertante (1927, rev. 1943)
Phyllis Sellick, piano
City of Birmingham Orchestra conducted by William Walton
Recorded August 8, 1945


Walton: Henry V (film music, 1944) - Two Pieces for Strings
(Death of Falstaff; Touch her soft lips and part)
Philharmonia String Orchestra conducted by William Walton
Recorded October 12, 1945

HMV C 7635 through C 7637, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 58.28 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 37.07 MB)

The pieces from "Henry V" used as the filler for this set were recorded as part of a session, 68 years ago tomorrow, that Walton shared with his friend Constant Lambert, whose ballet "Romeo and Juliet" was the first English ballet presented by Diaghilev, and who thus inspired, indirectly, the Sinfonia Concertante. Lambert's contribution to the session produced several short pieces for Columbia, including a Purcell Chaconne.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Two More American "Thirds"

Cover design by Robert Selnick
I've written in the past about the phenomenon of the Great American Third Symphony, particularly in respect to Copland and Roy Harris, and here on this LP are two more contenders. I confess that I had never heard any of the music of Wallingford Riegger (1885-1961) before I found this record. What little I knew about him - that his mature style was essentially atonal - didn't make me eager to seek him out. I've never particularly cared for atonality, and all the atonal works I like - such as Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire and Serenade, and most of Alban Berg's music - I like resolutely in spite of the atonality. Well, I was quite blown away by Riegger's Third Symphony, an atonal work with freshness and great rhythmic vitality, and I'm sorry I took so long to make Riegger's acquaintance. It's astonishing to me that this great symphony has never received a recording subsequent to this Naumberg Foundation-funded one of 1952:

Wallingford Riegger: Symphony No. 3, Op. 42
Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra conducted by Howard Hanson
Recorded April 30, 1952
Side 1 of Columbia Masterworks ML-4902, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 71.62 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 44.13 MB)

Quite unusual repertoire, too, for Howard Hanson to conduct - he tended to favor more conservative styles among his numerous recordings of American works. But his advocacy for Riegger is quite persuasive in this, one of his few Columbia recordings with the Eastman orchestra. By the time it was released in 1955, he was already a fixture at Mercury, and I suspect that the issue was delayed because there was nothing else "in the can" conducted by Hanson to pair it with. The Mennin symphony, conducted by Mitropoulos, was recorded two years later:

Peter Mennin: Symphony No. 3 (1946)
New York Philharmonic conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos
Recorded February 1, 1954
Side 2 of Columbia Masterworks ML-4902, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 63.24 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 38.04 MB)

I'm sorry to say that I can't summon as much enthusiasm for this work as for the Riegger, although I recognize the importance of Peter Mennin (1923-1989) as a symphonist (he was another in that long list of those who wrote nine, although I think he suppressed the first one). But I hear too many echoes of Vaughan Williams' inimitable Fourth Symphony in Mennin's first movement for comfort. Still, it's good solid music, quite impressive for a 23-year-old youngster, and of course it gets a superb performance from Mitropoulos and his orchestra.

Both of these recordings were reissued around 1970 by Composers Recordings, Inc., but unfortunately with fake stereo effect added. I would hope that they removed this for the CD reissues they made, but it's a moot point in any case, since CRI went bankrupt some ten years ago.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Brahms: Haydn Variations (Bartlett and Robertson)

Rae Robertson and Ethel Bartlett
I've featured several recordings in the past by the British duo-piano team of Ethel Bartlett (1896-1978) and Rae Robertson (1893-1956), and here's another: the original piano duo version of Brahms' wonderful Variations on the St. Anthony Chorale, previously attributed to Haydn but more likely, according to the latest scholarship, to be by Haydn's pupil Ignaz Pleyel.  Of course, several recordings of the orchestral version had achieved wide currency when this recording was issued late in 1940, including ones by Toscanini and Weingartner, but this appears to be the first-issued recording of the piano duo.  (A year after this recording appeared, a version by Pierre Luboshutz and Genia Nemenoff was issued by Victor, but since I don't have access to Victor's recording dates, I have no way of knowing which was actually recorded first.)

Brahms: Variations on a Theme of Haydn, Op. 56b
Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson, duo-pianists
Recorded January 4 and April 3, 1940
Columbia Masterworks set X-181, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 41.29 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 25.26 MB)

Sadly, Bartlett and Robertson's recording career was not as extensive as artists of their caliber would warrant.  It began with several NGS recordings of works by Arnold Bax in the late 1920s, continued in the 30s with a dozen or so sides for HMV, and when they moved to the USA in the late 30s they signed with Columbia, where they recorded 32 issued sides before Vronsky and Babin, who had been at Victor, displaced them as the reigning piano duo.  In the early 50s, they made several LPs for MGM, which are so obscure that I knew nothing of them until researching for this post!  They included a second recording of the Brahms Haydn Variations and their only recordings of works by Stravinsky.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Kammermusikkreis Scheck-Wenzinger

The Swiss cellist and viola da gamba player August Wenzinger (1905-1996), a student of Feuermann, was one of the 20th century pioneers of historically-informed performances of Baroque music, both through his performances on the gamba and his participation in various orchestras, principally that of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and the Capella Coloniensis.  He gained fame in the 1950s through directing these groups.  But he was active long before this in exploring Baroque music; he was one of the gamba players on the Busch Chamber Players' recording of the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in 1935, and in 1930, with a like-minded colleague, the flutist Gustav Scheck (1901-1984), he co-founded a Baroque ensemble, Kammermusikkreis Scheck-Wenzinger.  This group made a handful of recordings in the late 1930s for Electrola, including this one featuring Scheck (his first name Italianized on this pressing as "Gustavo"!) as a soloist in a flute concerto attributed to Pergolesi - although most scholars seem fairly certain that it isn't actually his:

Pergolesi [attrib.]: Flute Concerto in G Major and
Bach: Sarabande (from the Suite for lute, BWV 997, arr. Hinnenthal)
Gustav Scheck, flute and the Kammermusikkreis Scheck-Wenzinger
Recorded October 1938 and probably the summer of 1939
La Voce del Padrone S 10494 and S 10495, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 43.81 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 20.86 MB)

There are a couple of interesting aspects about this recording.  One is that, when played at 78-rpm, the instruments appear to be tuned at A = 415 Hz, the current standard for what is called "low pitch" used by period-instrument ensembles!  Surely this is one of the earliest examples of this on a recording (outside, perhaps, of the various Dolmetsch family recordings).  The other is the sound of Scheck's flute: the tone is much closer to a recorder than to a modern metal flute, and I'm wondering whether he actually used an early flute for this recording.  He was known for his interest in the Baroque flute; Hans-Martin Linde, also a specialist in this field, is Scheck's most famous student.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Bartók: Quartet No. 6 (Hungarian Quartet, 1948)

The Hungarian String Quartet:
Zoltán Szekely, Alexandre Moszkowsky, Denes Koromzay, Vilmos Palotai
The Hungarian String Quartet, led by Bartók's friend Zoltán Szekely from 1937 to 1972, probably needs no introduction in playing the string quartets of their great compatriot, but perhaps this particular recording does.  The group's benchmark recordings of the Bartók quartets, for Deutsche Grammophon, were made in 1962, by which time the lineup pictured above had changed in both the second violin and cello chairs, so that the two recordings they made in the late 40s of Bartók's last two quartets (the other, No. 5, can be heard at the CHARM website) present a substantially different group:

Bartók: Quartet No. 6, Sz. 114 (1939)
The Hungarian String Quartet
Recorded March 21, 1948
HMV DB 9389 through DB 9392, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 70.17 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 38.86 MB)

(See the comments section for additional links, if those above give trouble.)

I obtained this set about six years ago, and made my transfer shortly thereafter, but have never put it up till now, because one of the records is cracked.  (I was, however, able to obtain the set for free, for that reason.)  The crack is from the center outwards, and is barely visible, but it is all too audible, I'm sorry to say, and affects about the last minute of the first movement and about a minute and a half in the middle of the last movement.  Nothing ClickRepair was able to do, or that I could do manually, could eliminate everything, although I managed to tame some of the more egregious thumps during quiet passages.  I present the recording anyway, because in the intervening years, no one else has come forward with it, to my knowledge, and it's too important to ignore.

Bartók's Sixth String Quartet, that brooding masterpiece haunted by the specter of upcoming war, was exceptionally well served during the 78 era, receiving no less than three recordings (four if you count the Juilliard Quartet's Columbia versions of all the Bartók quartets, which appeared simultaneously on LP and 78) - more than any other Bartók quartet.  The first was in 1946, by the Gertler Quartet on English Decca, a recording that can also be heard at the CHARM website, the second was this one by the Hungarian Quartet, and the third followed only a month later by the Erling Bloch Quartet for Danish HMV.  Here is a chronology of 78-rpm recordings of the Bartók quartets:

1927: No. 2 - Amar-Hindemith Quartet (Polydor) - available from Satyr
1934: No. 1 - Pro Arte Quartet (HMV/Victor)
1936: No. 2 - Budapest Quartet (HMV/Victor)
1940: No. 5 - Kolisch Quartet (Columbia, unissued until 1996, by Biddulph)
c. 1945: No. 4 - Guilet Quartet (Concert Hall) - available from Squirrel's Nest
1946 (March): No. 6 - Gertler Quartet (Decca)
1946 (May): No. 5 - Hungarian Quartet (HMV)
1948 (March): No. 6 - Hungarian Quartet (HMV)
1948 (April): No. 6 - Erling Bloch Quartet (Danish HMV)

Then in 1949 the Juilliard Quartet made their groundbreaking first set, which, in the opinion of most reviewers at the time, blew all the existing versions out of the water.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Hindemith, Schoenberg and Stravinsky for Band

Cover painting by Russell Connor
As I mentioned earlier, I spent much of the summer enjoying the fruits of the new Mercury Living Presence CD box, and gained thereby an idea or two for future transfers.  Well, here's one of them realized.  The box contained nine discs conducted by Frederick Fennell (1914-2004), who, arguably, did more to raise awareness of the serious literature for wind band than anyone else (much as his colleague at the Eastman School of Music, Howard Hanson, did for American music).  Included among Fennell's recordings in the series of Mercury CD reissues of the 1990s (from which the box set were derived) are fine works for band by the likes of Holst, Vaughan Williams, Grainger, Khatchaturian, Milhaud, Persichetti and Morton Gould, but inexplicably ignored was this issue:

Hindemith: Symphony in B-Flat (1951)
Schoenberg: Theme and Variations, Op. 43a (1943)
Stravinsky: Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920, rev. 1947)
Eastman Wind Ensemble conducted by Frederick Fennell
Recorded March 24, 1957
Mercury Golden Imports SRI-75057, one stereo LP record
Link (FLAC files, 160.95 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 54.10 MB)

In the case of the Schoenberg work (which also exists in a version for full orchestra, Op. 43b), this was a first recording.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 (Ormandy)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
The Ormandy series continues with what Columbia proudly hailed in its liner notes for this set as "the first recording of a Tchaikovsky symphony that Eugene Ormandy and The Philadelphia Orchestra have made for Columbia Masterworks" - the Fourth.  (Of course, they had already recorded the Fifth and Sixth - but that was for Victor.)  This is the first of four recordings the Fabulous Philadelphians were to make of Tchaikovsky's "Fate" symphony (the others were in 1953, 1963 and 1973):

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded December 3-4, 1947
Columbia Masterworks set MM-736, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 112.24 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 53.86 MB)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Maggie Teyte in 18th-Century Arias

Cover design by Henry Stahlhut
The great British-born soprano Maggie Teyte, née Margaret Tate (1888-1976) made her reputation as an interpreter of French art songs, especially those of Debussy, who actually coached her for the role of Mélisande in his opera Pelléas et Mélisande when she replaced its originator, Mary Garden.  As the vast majority of her discography is of music written after 1850, it is something of a surprise to hear her in music that is mostly from a century earlier, as in this rather rare album:

French Operatic Arias
1. Pergolesi: La Servante Maîtresse - Air de Zerbina
2. Monsigny: Rose et Colas - Le Sagesse est un trésor
3. Grétry: Zémire et Azor - Rose chérie
4. Dourlen: Les Oies de Frère Philippe - Je sais attacher des rubans
5. Monsigny: Le Déserteur - Adieu. chère Louise
6. Grétry: Le Tableau Parlant - Vous étiez, ce que vous n'êtes plus
Maggie Teyte, soprano, with orchestra conducted by Jean Paul Morel
Recorded September 21 and 23, 1946
RCA Victor set MO-1169, three ten-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 51.97 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 27.1 MB)

Actually, of course, Pergolesi wasn't French, but as the liner notes to this set make clear, his opera La Serva Padrona (which Teyte here sings an aria from, in French) was a big influence on French opera, and, by extension, on Mozart.

As I was working on this transfer, I found myself thinking of one of my earliest record-collecting influences, William P. (Bill) Brooks, who was a big fan of Maggie Teyte.  Mr. Brooks was a kindly old gentleman in his 70s when I first knew him (I was 11) with a little white mustache that reminded me of Arthur Fiedler; he himself had been collecting records since his teen years, and that was when Caruso was an active recording artist!  His house in the Virginia-Highlands neighborhood of Atlanta was crammed with records of all speeds and sizes, and he would invite me over and sell me 78s cheaply to encourage my own budding hobby.  Through records I got from him I discovered the genius of Koussevitzky, Albert Coates, Vaclav Talich, Schnabel, Gieseking, the Flonzaley Quartet and countless others; he even introduced me to the delights of Florence Foster Jenkins!

His musical tastes were idiosyncratic, to say the least.  He disliked Bach, my favorite composer, and I would rib him about this mercilessly, which he took with his usual good nature. On the other hand, he liked Handel, and preferred Haydn to Mozart.  His favorite composer was Berlioz, and he admired Mahler long before Mahler was fashionable; he had long owned the Bruno Walter 78 sets of "Das Lied von der Erde" and the Ninth Symphony.

Not one to sit around the house after his retirement, Mr. Brooks worked until the end of his life, manning the exit desk four hours per day at the library at Emory University, where I often would go and chat with him.  Mr. Brooks passed away in 1986, aged 86, when I was 23, and I feel privileged to have known him.  His birthday, I discovered through a Google search, was August 18, so I am putting this Maggie Teyte set up today in his honor.  Happy birthday, Bill Brooks, wherever you may be.
Bill Brooks at his library post, c. 1978
(talking to my little brother, Gregory)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Walton by the Hollywood String Quartet

The Hollywood String Quartet
The legendary Hollywood String Quartet (Felix Slatkin and Paul Shure, violins; Paul Robyn, viola; Eleanor Aller Slatkin, cello) has been well-served on CD, with most of their Capitol Records output from 1949-1958 having appeared on the Testament label.  Their performance of the Walton string quartet, the work's first-issued recording (a 1948 version by the Philharmonia Quartet for English Columbia was apparently made, but never issued) also appears on the Testament lists, but there's a slight difference between that version and the one I present here.  The original recording omitted the repeat in the Scherzo (second movement), for the players felt that the repeat detracted from the excitement of the piece.  The composer didn't agree, so he asked that it be re-recorded - and it was, a year later; this is what you hear on the Testament release.  The original recording sans repeat is here:

Walton: String Quartet in A Minor (1947)
The Hollywood String Quartet
Recorded November 2 and 3, 1949
Capitol set KCM-8058, three 45-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 70.72 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 35.78 MB)

On a personal note, this set represents my first-ever purchase on eBay some 15 years ago.  It was part of a lot of some 50 Capitol classical 45 sets, all in mint condition; if I remember correctly, they had previously belonged to a Capitol employee at their factory in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the eBay seller, whose main focus is pottery and jewelry and who appears to still be going strong as a "power seller" in Scranton, had somehow fallen heir to them.  There was some good stuff in that lot but this Walton quartet, for me, is the cream of the crop. Many of the sets had a brochure advertising Capitol's then-new classical series, and I've added scans of this to the download.  For several months they made a great ballyhoo about offering classical records at all three speeds, but when it became obvious that LP was going to win they quietly withdrew the 45 and 78 sets.  I don't think the re-recording of the Walton quartet's Scherzo made it to either short-play format.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Brahms: Hungarian Dances (Harry Horlick)

Harry Horlick
According to Wikipedia, the Tiflis-born violinist Harry Horlick (1896-1970) learned Gypsy music while traveling with Gypsy bands in Istanbul, before coming to America and achieving success as a radio conductor with a program featuring light orchestral music, "The A&P Gypsies" (sponsored by the grocery store chain), which ran from 1924 to 1936.  Thus, one imagines, his interpretations of Brahms' Hungarian Dances have a certain ring of authenticity to them:

Brahms: Hungarian Dances Nos. 1-7 and 17
Decca Concert Orchestra conducted by Harry Horlick
Recorded September 5, 1939
Decca Album 89, four 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 74.97 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 30.69 MB)

After his radio stint was over, Horlick signed with Decca and from 1938 to 1942 made some two dozen albums with eponymous light orchestras, both for the cheaper blue label (35 cents) and, as here, for the slightly more prestigious red label series.  This review of the Brahms set makes it seem as though Decca was intent on encroaching upon the classical territory dominated at the time by Victor and Columbia; as it turned out, of course, Decca did not develop a serious classical presence in the USA until the days of LP, other than through imports of English Decca and Parlophone matrices which had already been ongoing at the time this set was released!  In Decca's defence, however, neither Victor nor Columbia had a whole album devoted to the Brahms Hungarian Dances at the time.

Horlick later (in the late 40s and early 50s) made a few albums for MGM, and in the late 50s made a couple of LPs for Pickwick's Design label.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Szell and the Budapest Quartet

George Szell
George Szell (1897-1970) made his international reputation as the music director of the Cleveland Orchestra via his recordings for American Columbia (and through their subsidiary, Epic), but, at the time the recording I present here was made, that was all in the future.  His career with American Columbia actually began as a pianist, with members of the Budapest Quartet, in the two piano quartets by Mozart, of which this was the first to be released:

Mozart: Quartet No. 2 in E-Flat Major, K. 493
George Szell, piano, with members of the Budapest String Quartet
Recorded July 20, 1946, in Hollywood
Columbia Masterworks set MM-493, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 56.95 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 29.12 MB)

By the time this release appeared, early in 1947, Szell had already begun making recordings with the Cleveland Orchestra, two of which were actually issued before the other Mozart piano quartet was.

Sorry to be away for so long, but most of my free time this month has been spent glorying in the new Mercury Living Presence CD box which I decided to spring for earlier this summer.  It's also given me a couple of ideas for future transfers...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Hanson and Piston by Hanson

Just in time for the Fourth of July, a couple of Pulitzer Prize-winning symphonies which are utterly different from each other, and therefore complement each other nicely.  Piston's, which received the 1948 Pulitzer, is yet another of those "Great American Third Symphonies" (a phenomenon started by Roy Harris, and continued by William Schuman and Aaron Copland) and seems to me one of the finest of his eight, with a spiky scherzo that makes one regret he didn't write more symphonies with scherzos (only Nos. 4 and 6 also have them), which fits into an overall slow-fast-slow-fast four movement pattern of the type that had been recently been popularized by Shostakovich and Prokofiev in their Fifth Symphonies.  Hanson's Fourth, the 1944 Pulitzer winner, has the exact opposite pattern, and is cast as an orchestral Requiem "In Memory of my beloved Father." (Had he taken the idea from Britten's "Sinfonia da Requiem"?)  The Sibelian echoes are very strong here, but even so this strikes me as the finest of Hanson's symphonies among those that I've heard (which is all of them except Nos. 5 and 7), and of course the performance is authoritative.

Piston: Symphony No. 3 (1947)
Hanson: Symphony No. 4 (1943)
Eastman Rochester Orchestra conducted by Howard Hanson
Recorded May 11, 1954 (Piston) and May 11-13, 1953 (Hanson)
Mercury Golden Imports SRI-75107, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 141.32 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 64.8 MB)

This LP is a reissue from the late 1970s, one of about 150 reissues pressed by Philips in the Netherlands of Mercury Living Presence material.  It was, unfortunately, "enhanced" with fake stereo, even though this had become passé by the 70s, and naturally I have "monoed" it back again in this transfer.  As far as I am aware, neither of these recordings has ever appeared on CD; they were not part of the slew of Mercury Living Presence CD reissues produced in the 1990s, although they certainly should have been.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Columbia's Educational Sets

A couple of weeks ago, when I discovered Sam Hopper's marvelous Columbia Masterworks 78rpm Album Discography, I was perusing his page devoted to Columbia's "E" series of sets - a little-known series that, as far as I can tell, was limited to eleven sets, all released in 1941-42 - when I remembered that I actually had one of them!  And while this set, devoted to readings of speeches and prose writings by American political figures, will probably only be of documentary interest to most people, it is at least appropriate to the upcoming Independence Day holiday, and contains a reverently subdued reading of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to recommend it.  (And I didn't remember until after doing the transfer that the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg is this week!  Serendipity?)  Here are the details:

Masterpieces of Literature, Vol. 2 ("Our American Heritage")
1a. The Mayflower Compact
1b. The Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges - excerpt
2. The Declaration of Independence
3. Washington's Farewell Address - selections
4. Jefferson's First Inaugural Address - excerpt
5. Daniel Webster: Sacred Obligations - excerpt
6. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
7. Edward Everett: The History of Liberty - excerpt
8. Lyman Abbott: Patriotism
9. Elihu Root: A Pan-American Policy - excerpt
10. Theodore Roosevelt: Our Responsibilities as a Nation - excerpt
11. Woodrow Wilson: Americans of Foreign Birth - excerpt
12. Mary Antin: The Promised Land - excerpt
Wesley Addy, reader
Recorded May 5-8, 1941
Columbia set E-6, six 10" 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 107.58 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 61.40 MB)

A teacher's manual is included with the set, which has been reproduced as a PDF file.

As I said, there were eleven of these Educational sets, of which two of the others were also under the "Masterpieces of Literature" rubric.  Both of these contained six records of poetry, one volume read by Norman Corwin, the other by Basil Rathbone.  "Our American Heritage" is further described as "Prose Album I" which suggests that further prose volumes were intended, but they never materialized.  The other eight sets were collectively entitled "Student Music Library Series" and contained four sets of Piano Literature, played by Sergius Kagen, two of Violin Literature, played by Alexander Cores, and two of Cello Literature, played by a young Bernard Greenhouse.  Each of these volumes contained three records.  I imagine they are quite rare.

Wesley Addy
I had never heard of Wesley Addy (1913-1996), the reader on these records, before acquiring this set, but he seems to have been a highly regarded character actor for dramatic roles in film and TV.  But at the time this recording was made, all that was years in the future and his reputation was based solely on stage work, particularly Shakespeare.  He appeared opposite Orson Welles and Maurice Evans, both of whom had made Shakespeare recordings for Columbia.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Beethoven from L'Oiseau Lyre

The French music publisher, Éditions de L'Oiseau Lyre (named after the Australian lyrebird), was founded in 1932 by Louise Hanson Dyer (1884-1964) the Australian-born pianist and patron of the arts.  About 1937 the firm expanded its operations to recording, becoming well-known almost immediately for its excursions into off-the-beaten-path repertoire, especially from the Baroque and Classical eras, a reputation it still enjoys as the early-music subsidiary of Decca, which it became in the 1950's.  On 78s there were over 200 issues, and in my heyday as a 78 collector I had some three dozen of them, made by some of the finest musicians in France at the time, including violinist Henri Merckel, harpsichordist Isabelle Nef, cellist André Navarra, and a wind trio, the Trio d'Anches de Paris, which consisted of oboist Myrtile Morel and the two gentlemen who play on this record - the only L'Oiseau Lyre 78 I still possess:

Beethoven: Duo No. 3 in B-Flat Major, WoO 27, No. 3
Pierre Lefebvre, clarinet; Fernand Oubradous, bassoon
Recorded c. 1938-39
L'Oiseau Lyre OL 78, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 25.48 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 9.55 MB)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Morton Gould and Menotti

It's been a while since I've offered anything by Morton Gould, whose centennial year we are in (he was born Dec, 10, 1913), so I make partial amends with a work that he himself, according to his biographer Peter Goodman, considered one of his most important pieces.  This is the Dance Variations, a concerto for two pianos written in 1953 on commission by Arthur Whittemore and Jack Lowe, who premiered the score with Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic in October of that year, and, one month later, also made this first recording.  (As far as I am aware, the work has received only one other recording, by Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas, about twenty years ago for Koch International Classics, no longer available on CD but only as an MP3 download.)  I concur with the composer's assessment and that of Goodman, who calls it "a score of depth and complexity" - it is a major addition to the all-too-meager repertoire of two-piano concertos and its neglect is unjustified.

Gould: Dance Variations, for two pianos and orchestra (1953)
Arthur Whittemore and Jack Lowe, pianists
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Recorded November 22, 1953
Side 1 of RCA Victor LM-1858, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 57.72 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 27.93 MB)

With the other work on this LP, we are in slightly more familiar territory, although Gian-Carlo Menotti (1911-2007) is best remembered as an operatic composer.  His ballet Sebastian was written in 1944, before the operas that brought him his greatest fame, The Medium, The Consul, and Amahl and the Night Visitors.  This recording of the ballet's Suite by Stokowski was actually also made in stereo, but not issued as such until 24 years later, with a different coupling.  Here is the original mono version:

Menotti: Sebastian - Ballet Suite
NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Recorded September 28, 1954
Side 2 of RCA Victor LM-1858, one LP record
Link (FLAC file, 60.44 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 30.87 MB)

LM-1858 was issued with two different covers; the one I have (pictured above) is the second one, from 1958.  I've seen the original cover at a local college library but remember none of the details; in particular, I can't remember whether the Gould or the Menotti was credited first.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tchaikovsky: Fifth Symphony (Rodzinski)

In 1939, Columbia Records, under the new ownership of CBS, began a serious push to compete with RCA Victor in the field of orchestral recording.  At this time Victor had the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Symphony, and  its own NBC Symphony under Toscanini.  Columbia, which hitherto had been content to import orchestral recordings from Europe (particularly Beecham's and Weingartner's), saw this source of supply threatened by the onset of war, and began signing up orchestras all over America.  In short order they  acquired the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Minneapolis Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, and the Pittsburgh Symphony for the Masterworks line.  Except for the Pittsburgh, none of these orchestras were new to records, but the contracts they had with other companies (chiefly Victor) had been allowed to lapse.  Several of the conductors involved, however, were new to records, among them Minneapolis' Mitropoulos, Pittsburgh's Reiner, and Cleveland's Polish-born firebrand Artur Rodzinski (1892-1958), whose recording career began in December 1939 with several major works - Strauss' "Ein Heldenleben", Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade" and this exciting reading of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony:

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64
Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Artur Rodzinski
Recorded December 13, 1939, and January 8, 1940
Columbia Masterworks set MM-406, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 103.87 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 55.42 MB)

Anyone interested in Columbia's classical 78 sets owes it to themselves to check out Sam Hopper's online Columbia Masterworks 78rpm Album Discography, which I have just stumbled across.  This is a first-rate piece of research, some four years in the making, and I cannot recommend it too highly.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Debussy: En blanc et noir (Bartlett & Robertson)

Rae Robertson and Ethel Bartlett
In honor of D-Day, sixty-nine years ago today, I present a work by a Frenchman who was profoundly depressed by the events of a previous war - Claude Debussy, who actually abandoned composition for several months at the outset of World War I in 1914.  His return to it came in the form of this three-movement suite for two pianos, "En blanc et noir" - a masterpiece, whose second movement clearly evokes the war.  This recording by Bartlett and Robertson appears to have been only the second one made of the work; an earlier version, on French HMV by Marcelle Ruff and Dominique Jeanes, from 1929, had long been deleted when this one appeared, coincidentally, about the time of D-Day! - three years after it was recorded:

Debussy: En blanc et noir, for two pianos (1915)
Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson, duo-pianists
Recorded April 29, 1941
Columbia Masterworks set MX-241, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 43.67 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 24.97 MB)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mozart by Koussevitzky

In a recent issue of Classical Recordings Quarterly, in an article entitled "Why Don't the Record Companies..." (the same article that inspired this post), Donald Manildi laments the lack of a systematic approach to CD reissues of recordings by Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951), the great Russian conductor, such as that given to comparable figures like Toscanini and Stokowski.  He notes that many CD reissues of Koussevitzky's considerable legacy have been allowed to go out of print, and that his Mozart recordings, in particular, have largely been untapped.  Well, in an attempt to rectify that situation, I present three major Mozart works, all recorded at Tanglewood in the late 1940s:

Mozart: Serenade No. 10 in B-Flat, K. 361, for 13 wind instruments
Members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Serge Koussevitzky
Recorded August 15, 1947
RCA Victor WDM-1303, four 45-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 74.73 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 38.04 MB)

Mozart: Symphony No. 33 in B-Flat Major, K. 319 and
Mozart: Overture to "Idomeneo, Re di Creta", K. 366
Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Serge Koussevitzky
Recorded August 15, 1946, and August 17, 1949
RCA Victor WDM-1369, three 45-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 69.14 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 36.58 MB)

Mozart: Symphony No. 36 in C Major, K. 425 ("Linz")
Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Serge Koussevitzky
Recorded August 16, 1949
RCA Victor WDM-1354, three 45-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 64.86 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 31.61 MB)

Some may find Koussevitzky's approach to Mozart a little hard-driven, particularly in the symphonies; he is much closer to Toscanini than to Beecham or Walter.  Perhaps this is why his Mozart recordings have been ignored - they are unfashionable.  No such reservations about the Serenade!  This is a wonderfully relaxed and unbuttoned reading from the Boston wind players, and the only regret here is that two of the movements (as well as one of the Menuetto's trios) were omitted.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Wartime Rarities on the "Yellow Label"

The famous Deutsche Grammophon yellow "tulip" label, pictured above, made its debut in the late 40s, when the company sold the German rights to the use of the "His Master's Voice" trademark to EMI.  In 1949, the "yellow label" was introduced to American record buyers without much fanfare, when the London Gramophone Corporation (importers of English Decca records relabelled as "London Records") began importing them, charging quite steep prices (almost $3 per disc) and issuing some 30 sets in the plainest imaginable American-made packaging without documentation or liner notes.  The strength of the series was in its unusual repertoire, often first recordings of the works in question.  I have two such sets, and here they are:

Cannabich: Symphony in B-Flat Major
Berlin Municipal Orchestra conducted by Walther Gmeindl
Recorded March 21, 1940
Deutsche Grammophon set DGS-8, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 50.88 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 23.27 MB)

Respighi: Concerto Gregoriano, for violin and orchestra
Paul Richartz with the Berlin Municipal Orchestra conducted by Robert Heger
Recorded April 18, 1943
Deutsche Grammophon set DGS-19, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 79.21 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 35.69 MB)

I was completely unfamiliar with either of these works before obtaining these sets.  The pleasing symphony by Mannheim-based composer Christian Cannabich (1731-1798) is unusual in that its scoring replaces the flutes and oboes of a Classical-period orchestra with clarinets.  The Respighi concerto has none of the flashiness usually associated with this composer; with its lyrical bent I'm strongly reminded of the Delius violin concerto.

It will be noticed that both of these recordings emanate from the Third Reich, and in fact, that was the case for all but three of the London-issued DGG sets.  As with the Vox issue of French Polydor records as an album set that I posted earlier this month, the set numbers of these two issues are visible only on the spines of the albums; however, these set numbers are given in various reference sources (among them, the World's Encyclopedia of Recorded Music, and David Hall's "Record Book" of 1950).  So it's possible to reconstruct a numerical listing of these sets:

1  Beethoven Prometheus Overture & Ballet (Dresden/van Kempen)
2  Reger Mozart Variations (Concertgebouw/van Beinum)
3  Respighi Feste Romane (BPO/de Sabata)
4  Mozart Divertimento in D, K. 251 (BPO/von Benda)
5  Mozart Milanese Quartets 1-4 (Dessauer Qt.)
6  Weber Der Freischutz (Berlin Municipal/Heger)
7  JC Bach Symphony in B-Flat (Berlin Municipal/Gmeindl)
8  Cannabich Symphony in B-Flat (Berlin Municipal/Gmeindl)
9  Cherubini Symphony in D (Leipzig Gewandhaus/Schmitz)
10 Von Einem Concerto for Orch. (Saxon State/Elmendorff)
11 Haydn Symphony No. 90 (Gewandhaus/Schmitz)
12 Kodaly Dances from Galanta (BPO/de Sabata)
13 Liszt Tasso (Berlin State/van Kempen)
14 Liszt Mazeppa (Berlin State/van Kempen)
15 Leopold Mozart Divertimento Militaire (Berlin Municipal/Gmeindl)
16 Ravel Piano Concerto in G (Monique Haas, Schmidt-Isserstedt)
17 Bruckner Symphony No. 8 (Hamburg PO/Jochum)
18 Reger Ballet Suite (Concertgebouw/van Beinum)
19 Respighi Concerto Gregoriano (Richartz, Berlin/Heger)
20 Stamitz Symphony in E-Flat (Berlin Municipal/Gmeindl)
21 Vivaldi Concerto Op, 3 no. 8 (Gewandhaus/Schmitz)
22 Wagenseil Symphony in D (Berlin Municipal/Gmeindl)
23 Strauss Tod und Verklärung (BPO/de Sabata)
24 Brahms Symphony No. 1 (Concertgebouw/Karajan)
25 Beethoven An die Ferne Geliebte (Heinrich Schlusnus)
26 JC Bach Harpsichord Concerto in A (Li Stadelmann)
27 Schumann Piano Quartet (Elly Ney Qt.)
28 JC Bach Symphony in D, Op.18 no. 4 (BPO/von Benda)
29 Strauss Don Quixote (Bavarian State/Strauss)
30 Strauss Ein Heldenleben (Bavarian State/Strauss)
31 not traced
32 Beethoven Egmont, incidental music (Wurttemburg/Leitner)

Only the Ravel, Bruckner and Beethoven Egmont sets are postwar recordings.  Probably this was inevitable given the conditions in Germany after the war.

The London Gramophone Corporation didn't import Deutsche Grammophon recordings into the USA for very long; by the early 1950's American Decca was releasing DGG material in its own classical LP series, and the yellow label became exchanged for a gold one.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Schubert by Ormandy

Cover design by Nancy Donald
My Ormandy series continues with some rather rare repertoire for him - two early Schubert symphonies in nice, well-sounding, straightforward performances.  The odd thing about this release is that it didn't appear until 1972, a full ten years after both works were recorded, and four years after Ormandy and the Philadelphians had moved back to RCA!  Columbia, of course, had plenty of Ormandy still "in the can" after this move, but this was one of the last releases, and certainly one of the most delayed.  My guess is that the slight differences in pitch that are noticeable between tape edits in certain sections (particularly the Scherzo of No. 6) mitigated against releasing these performances in 1962:

Schubert: Symphony No. 4 in C Minor, D. 417 ("Tragic") and
Schubert: Symphony No. 6 in C Major, D. 589 ("Little")
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded January 17 (No. 6) and April 8 (No. 4), 1962
Columbia Masterworks M-31635, one stereo LP record
Link (FLAC files, 304.5 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 83.69 MB)

Two other Ormandy recordings were released at the same time as this Schubert LP, and bear adjacent catalog numbers.  M-31634 is Beethoven's Fifth and Eighth Symphonies, itself a reissue from his complete Beethoven cycle from the 60s, and D3M-31636 is a three-record set of the Brahms symphonies, recorded in 1966-68, and not a reissue.  This lately turned up on eBay, sealed, and fetched the unbelievable price of $152.50!  Both the Beethoven and Brahms issues bear the phrase "The Fabulous Philadelphia Sound Series," which is missing from the Schubert issue.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Kempff's First Op. 111

The last of Beethoven's mighty series of piano sonatas, the great Op. 111 in C minor, was first recorded in 1932 by Artur Schnabel, and issued in the first volume of HMV's Beethoven Sonata Society, which was a limited edition.  So the work didn't receive widespread distribution on records until the mid-1930s, when versions appeared by Egon Petri (for Columbia), Wilhelm Backhaus (also for HMV), Elly Ney (for Electrola) and this one by Wilhelm Kempff:

Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111
Wilhelm Kempff, piano
Recorded c. 1936
French Polydor 516.743 through 516.745, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 71.14 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 30.65 MB)

As with his version of the "Hammerklavier" Sonata recorded at about the same time, this was the first of three recordings Kempff was to make of the work.  The other two belonged to complete Beethoven cycles in the early 50s (mono) and the 60s (in stereo), also for Deutsche Grammophon.

My copy of this, on French Polydor, was imported into the USA after the Second World War by Vox, and issued by them in an album, No. 455 - a curious procedure for them, but fortunate, for they normally pressed their own dubbings of Polydor material, and inferior dubbings at that, on inferior shellac.  This is the only imported set of theirs I've ever seen - does anyone else know of any other?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Wagner: Die Walküre, Act II

Richard Wagner, 1871
"Richard Wagner, I hate you - but I hate you on my knees."  Thus spake Leonard Bernstein about the composer whose bicentennial (May 22, 1813) we celebrate this month, and the quote gets to the heart of a curious paradox about Wagner: that the most anti-Semitic composer in music history, whom Hitler idolized above all others, should have among his most persuasive interpreters a number of Jews, from Hermann Levi in his own time to Klemperer and Bruno Walter during the Nazi era.  The set I present today offers a graphic example of this dichotomy.  One-fourth of this set features the inspired direction of Bruno Walter with Lotte Lehmann and Lauritz Melchior, recorded in Vienna in 1935 (at the same time as their famous recording of Act I).  The remainder, recorded three years later in Berlin (after the Nazis' annexation of Austria), features the reliable but relatively workmanlike direction of Bruno Seidler-Winkler, with a young Hans Hotter as Wotan.  EMI has offered this recording as a CD reissue, but in order to fit it complete on one disc has cut out one of the orchestral interludes.  I offer it complete, but with a choice of downloading one long file (82 minutes) or, for those who like to burn CDs from their downloads, in two files of 43 and 39 minutes respectively:

Wagner: Die Walküre, Act II (nearly complete)
Hans Hotter, Marta Fuchs, Margarete Klose and Lauritz Melchior with the
Berlin State Opera Orchestra conducted by Bruno Seidler-Winkler and
Lotte Lehmann, Lauritz Melchior and Emanuel List with the
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bruno Walter
RCA Victor set DM-582, ten 78-rpm records
Link (one FLAC file, 218.57 MB)
Link (two FLAC files, 217.35 MB)
Link (one MP3 file, 110.10 MB)
Link (two MP3 files, 108.81 MB)

This act contains five scenes, of which 1, 2 and 4 were recorded in Berlin, and 3 and 5 in Vienna.  The description "nearly complete" is necessary because five cuts, totalling 97 bars, are made in Scene 2.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mozart by Mitropoulos

The great Greek conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) was renowned as an interpreter of 20th century music, but one hardly associates him at all with music before Beethoven (except for a few orchestral transcriptions of Bach organ works).  He made only one commercial recording of Mozart's music, other than a concerto accompaniment (for Vronsky and Babin in the concerto for two pianos), and that was of a piece so obscure that it represented a first on records at the time.  This was of two entr'actes from his incidental music for "Thamos, King of Egypt" - a play by Tobias Philipp von Gelber that is only remembered today because of Mozart's music:

Mozart: Thamos, King of Egypt, K. 345 - Entr'actes 1 and 2
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos
Recorded December 3, 1940
Columbia Masterworks 11578-D, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 17.33 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 9.67 MB)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Bach: Chromatic Fantasy (Liselotte Selbiger)

Liselotte Selbiger
Born in 1906 as the only child in a well-to-do German family of Jewish lineage, harpsichordist Liselotte Selbiger had to escape the Nazis not once but twice - first in 1935, when she relocated to Denmark, then again in 1943, when she escaped to Sweden in the bottom of a fishing boat, carrying poison with her in case of capture.  We are fortunate that she survived, because on the evidence of her all-too-few recordings (the first of which was made after the war), she was a very fine musician.  She actually trained as a cellist, then switched to piano, then, just before leaving Germany for good, acquired a Neupert harpsichord, with which she became the first person to give a full-length harpsichord recital in Denmark.  Danacord, that indefatigable purveyor of historical Danish recordings, has issued several CD's of her extant commercial and broadcast recordings, but this earlier version of the Bach Chromatic Fantasy is not among them:

Bach: Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903 and
Bach: Partita No. 1 in B-Flat Major, BWV 825 - Gigue
Liselotte Selbiger, harpsichord
Recorded December 13, 1949
Danish Columbia LDX 7014 and 7015, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 35.28 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 16.07 MB)