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.