Thursday, February 28, 2013

Happy Birthday, Dimitri Mitropoulos!

Dimitri Mitropoulos
Tomorrow, March 1, is the birthday of the great Greek conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960), and so I present his first recording of a piece that was one of his specialties, the often-maligned "Scotch" Symphony of Mendelssohn. David Hall, in a supplement to his 1940 Record Book, confessed that this symphony was not a favorite of his among Mendelssohn's works, but that Mitropoulos' "arresting and revelatory reading" had forced him to revise his opinion!  And indeed Mitropoulos finds just the right blend of excitement and poetry in the piece:

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56 ("Scotch")
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos
Recorded December 6, 1941
Columbia Masterworks set MM-540, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 86.58 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 39.98 MB)

This recording was made on the Saturday of that fateful weekend when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, drawing the USA into World War II; I'm sorry to say that this pressing was made under wartime conditions with recycled shellac, but I have done what I could with it.  Mitropoulos recorded the symphony again twelve years later, with the New York Philharmonic.

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
(restored by Peter Joelson)

I was saddened yesterday to hear of the death of Van Cliburn, who had been suffering from bone cancer since last August.  His New York Philharmonic debut, in 1954, was under Mitropoulos' direction, and Cliburn is the only person I am aware of to repeat Mitropoulos' feat of simultaneously playing and conducting Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto - once, at a concert memorializing Mitropoulos!

Cliburn's famous 1958 recording of the Tchaikovsky concerto, incidentally, appears to have been the last extended classical work ever to have been issued in a short-playing format - 3 extended-play 45s (RCA Victor set ERC-2252), with the first movement spread out over four sides just as it was in the days of 78s!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lewis Richards, American Harpsichordist

Lewis Richards
Michigan-born Lewis Richards (1881-1940) appears to have been the first American to figure in the harpsichord revival of the early 20th century.  He acquired a Pleyel harpsichord in Brussels, where he had trained as a pianist, and embarked on a career with it in 1923, becoming the first harpsichordist to play a concerto with an American orchestra - the Haydn D major in Minneapolis - beating Wanda Landowska to the honor by a matter of months.  In 1927 he was the first harpsichordist in modern times to play at the White House, for President Calvin Coolidge.  (One hopes that "Silent Cal" enjoyed the recital more than he did most societal functions.  One unfortunate lady, seated next to him at a dinner party, is supposed to have said, "Mr. Coolidge, I've made a bet with a friend who said it's impossible to get more than two words out of you." His reply: "You lose.") Richards made pitifully few recordings; only three ten-inch Brunswick issues, with this coupling (which duplicated a coupling by Landowska on Victor) being the first:

Mozart: Rondo alla turca ("Turkish March")
Handel: Air and Variations ("The Harmonious Blacksmith")
Lewis Richards, harpsichordist
Recorded May 21, 1925
Brunswick 2930, one ten-inch 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 19.12 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 8.29 MB)

This was almost certainly the first electrical recording of the harpsichord, done by Brunswick's "Light Ray" process only about a month after the company began using it.  The Mozart side is frankly experimental - it begins and ends quietly, with a crescendo in the middle and a diminuendo at the end which are impossible on the harpsichord.  Although some of this can perhaps be attributed to registration, it really sounds to me as though the engineers were getting the effect by playing with the controls!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Debussy and Ravel by Newell and Wummer (and others)

Laura Newell, John Wummer, Milton Katims
Two sets this week, the common denominator of both being not only French impressionism, but the same harpist and flutist.  These are Laura Newell, active in the 1940s and 1950s as a freelance harpist (she was Robert Shaw's choice for both recordings by his Robert Shaw Chorale of Britten's Ceremony of Carols), and John Wummer, principal flute of the New York Philharmonic from 1942 to 1965.  They're both joined by Milton Katims, who played second viola on a number of Budapest Quartet recordings of Mozart and Beethoven quintets, and later conducted the Seattle Symphony, for this Debussy trio:

Debussy: Sonata No. 2, for flute, viola and harp
John Wummer, Milton Katims, Laura Newell
Recorded April 24, 1945
Columbia Masterworks set MX-282, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 49.8 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 27.1 MB)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
(restored by Peter Joelson)

Laura Newell was also associated with the brothers Sylvan and Alan Shulman, all three being members of the group "New Friends of Rhythm" for which Alan Shulman wrote jazz-influenced arrangements and compositions.  So it's natural that she should have recorded Ravel's Introduction and Allegro with the Shulmans' Stuyvesant String Quartet:

Ravel: Introduction and Allegro
Laura Newell, harp; John Wummer, flute; Ralph McLane, clarinet
Stuyvesant String Quartet (Shulman-Dembeck-Kievman-Shulman)
Debussy: The Maid with the Flaxen Hair (arr. Grandjany)
Laura Newell, harp
Recorded March 22, 1940
Columbia Masterworks set MX-167, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 34.1 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 21.6 MB)

As I mentioned in an earlier post about the Stuyvesant Quartet, the two inner parts changed hands several times during their first few years of existence.  This appears to have been the only recording that John Dembeck, who that same year moved to Toronto and eventually became a Canadian citizen, made as their second violinist.

All my old files are now up and running; and the links from my blog have been changed to the new ones.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13 (Ormandy)

Cover design by Thomas Upshur
Shostakovich's Thirteenth Symphony, based on five poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, is one of the Russian master's most powerful works, and represents the closest he ever came to outright public dissent against the Soviet government.  So close was it to the composer's heart that he celebrated the date of its completion, July 20, 1962, as an anniversary for the rest of his life; only the date of the première of his First Symphony enjoyed a similar honor.  The Soviet authorities, naturally, did their best to suppress the Thirteenth Symphony, banning it after two performances.  An unofficial recording of the second of these performances, conducted by Kiril Kondrashin, somehow turned up on Everest in 1967, in terrible sonics made worse by their unfortunate application of fake stereo.  This recording by Ormandy was the first professionally made one, done in the wake of the Western première, from a score that had to be smuggled out of the USSR:

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13, Op. 113 ("Babi Yar")
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
with Tom Krause, baritone, and the Male Chorus of the Mendelssohn Club
Recorded January 21 and 23, 1970
RCA Red Seal LSC-3162, one stereo LP record
Link (FLAC files, 293.23 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 113.5 MB)

I'm very fond of this recording; I got to know the work through it some thirty-seven years ago from, believe it or not, an 8-track tape!  Ormandy went on to make early recordings of Shostakovich's last two symphonies; I also had the Fifteenth as an 8-track.

Links for my previous posts are now restored going as far back as April, 2011, and I hope to have everything back up and running within the week.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Zino Francescatti Violin Recital

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
(restored by Peter Joelson)
A modest offering for my first upload following the Mediafire debacle, but one very dear to my heart.  I first owned this set in 1974, when I was 11, having purchased it from Clark Music, the mom-and-pop store that I spoke about in this post.  As I recall, the cost was $3.94, and it was something of a revelation to me that classical music could be found on ten-inch discs in album sets!  I associated the smaller format with popular and children's records.  Here are the details:

Violin Recital
1. Tartini: Variations on a Theme of Corelli
2. Shostakovich: Polka from "The Age of Gold"
3. Debussy: La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin
4. Debussy: Minstrels
5. Schumann: The Prophet Bird
6. Wieniawski: Caprice in A minor
Zino Francescatti, violin; Max Lanner, piano
Recorded April 12 and 25, 1946
Columbia Masterworks set M-660, three 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 43.6 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 26.7 MB)

I believe this album contained the first piece I had ever heard by Shostakovich (at the time, I thought it sounded pretty weird!), as well as by Tartini and Wieniawski.

All files going back to May 2012 are now up and running.