Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Schubert: Quartet in E-Flat (Musical Art Quartet)

Some years ago, I uploaded two of the Musical Art Quartet's major recordings for Columbia, made during 1927 and 1928, noting there were three in total. Well, here's the third and last, one of the group's two contributions to the Schubert Centennial celebrations in 1928:

Schubert: Quartet No. 10 in E-Flat Major, D. 87 (Op. 125, No. 1)
Recorded March 28, 1928
Schubert (arr. Conrad Held): Hark, Hark, the Lark (D. 889)
Recorded April 11, 1928
The Musical Art Quartet (Jacobsen, Bernard, Kaufman, Roemaet-Rosanoff)
English Columbia 9473 through 9475, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 60.18 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 35.75 MB)

This set was actually issued in Britain one month before it was issued in the USA, its country of origin. In the USA, it was the last of the Schubert Centennial sets to be issued -- as Masterworks Set No. 96, in December, 1928, coming after Set No. 97, the Octet, which had been issued the previous month. It was viewed as a holdover by the Phonograph Monthly Review, whose editor called the piece "an interesting little work, but hardly as significant as some of the other Schubert recordings."

Sascha Jacobsen (1895-1972), the leader of the Musical Art Quartet, had been an exclusive Columbia artist for nine years (since 1918) when he founded the ensemble. His last recordings for the company as a soloist were made the day after the Quartet's filler side for this set, though the Quartet would continue to record short pieces for Columbia until 1930.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Seventeenth Century Organ Music (Finn Viderø)

Finn Viderø
One of the most renowned record shops in America in the second quarter of the twentieth century was New York's Gramophone Shop, on East 48th Street. Begun in the spring of 1928 by William H. Tyler and Joseph Brodan, the store did a thriving business in imported recordings and eventually took to releasing esoteric fare under its own imprint, although in most cases the actual records were recorded and pressed by HMV. (Latter-day collectors have additional reason to bless the existence of the Gramophone Shop - the three editions of the Encyclopedia of Recorded Music which it sponsored, from 1936, 1942, and 1948, which remain standard reference works.) Among its albums under the heading of "Gramophone Shop Celebrities" is this marvelous collection by the Danish organist Finn Viderø:

Seventeenth Century Organ Music:
Buxtehude: Toccata in F Major, BuxWV 156
Froberger: 2 Ricercare - In the Phrygian Mode; in F-Sharp Minor
Louis Marchand: Dialogue in C Major
Franz Tunder: Prelude in G Minor
Matthias Weckmann: Toccata in E Minor
Pachelbel: Fantasia in G Minor; Ricercare in C Minor
Buxtehude: Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, BuxWV 140
Buxtehude: Canzonetta in E Minor, BuxWV 169
Finn Viderø at the organ of Jaegersborg Church, Denmark
Recorded c. 1948 by HMV
Gramophone Shop Celebrities Album No. 6, six 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 130.42 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 84.19 MB)

Of the Gramophone Shop's two co-founders, Mr. Tyler, who had since at least 1925 been the manager of the record department at the New York Band Instrument Company (as we find out in the June, 1925, issue of "The Talking Machine World"), has a connection with my native city, Atlanta, as well. For, by the time these "Gramophone Shop Celebrities" sets were being made in the late 40s, Mr. Tyler had left New York to found his own shop down here, at 845 Peachtree Street, known as Tyler's Gramophone Shop. My old mentor Bill Brooks spoke of working for this shop (and indeed, the 1947 Atlanta City Directory lists him as a salesman there) - which would explain the large number of imported records that Mr. Brooks possessed, for Mr. Tyler worked as an importer here as he had in New York. His store didn't last long, unfortunately. It's listed in only two editions of the city directories, 1947 and 1948-49. Some twenty years ago I acquired a few 78s from a lady who had been one of his customers (this lady's name, alas, I cannot remember, but she attended the church I was playing for at the time). She remembered Tyler's Gramophone Shop as "a wonderful place," and that "it closed down after Mr. Tyler committed suicide." The original Gramophone Shop in New York closed its doors for good early in 1954.

I do not know whether I will post again before Christmas, so everyone accept my best wishes for a happy holiday season!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Stravinsky from Concert Hall

A few months ago, Nick Morgan tipped me off not only to the existence of this LP, but to its availability on ebay at a quite reasonable price. (Thanks, Nick!) In December, 1954, when the record was released, it must have seemed the height of chutzpah for a relatively small record label like Concert Hall, with a little-known orchestra and conductor, to challenge major labels like RCA Victor and Mercury, who had the only available recordings of Stravinsky's Danses Concertantes and Dumbarton Oaks, respectively, conducted by Stravinsky himself! And quite creditably, too. For good measure, Concert Hall threw in their recordings, from 78s originally sold by subscription, of the Gordon String Quartet in Stravinsky's complete works for string quartet - which, I have to admit, was the main reason I was interested in this LP:

Stravinsky: Danses Concertantes and Dumbarton Oaks Concerto
Rochester Chamber Orchestra conducted by Robert Hull
Recorded c. 1954
Stravinsky: Three Pieces for String Quartet and Concertino
The Gordon String Quartet (Gordon-Rossi-Dawson-Magg)
Recorded c. 1947
Concert Hall CHS-1229, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 116.63 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 81.29 MB)

I can find out very little online about the conductor, Robert Hull, and the sleeve-note for the record unobligingly offers no information either, focusing its attention on the orchestra (and advertising its previous releases). It appears that Hull was active also at Cornell University during this period, then went to Fort Worth, Texas, in 1957 to conduct the symphony orchestra there. In the 70s his name turns up as conductor of the Arizona Symphony on several LPs of contemporary music made by very small specialist labels such as Klavier and Laurel.  Jacques Gordon, the leader of the quartet that bears his name, had, sadly, been dead for six years at the time this LP reissued his Stravinsky recordings.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The First Electrical Recording of a Bach Concerto?

As I mentioned several weeks ago, I have lately discovered the online treasure-trove of the Phonograph Monthly Review magazine (1926-1932). I have been methodically plodding through this, issue by issue, and am about halfway through the run. One of its features was R. D. Darrell's monthly "Recorded Symphony Programs" - an overview of recorded orchestral works one might likely encounter in concert, with the aim of allowing the reader to recreate such a concert at home by means of records. The issue for April, 1928, gives an overview of orchestral recordings of Bach, and notes that Harriet Cohen's acoustical recording of the D minor concerto (BWV 1052) is the only "Bach piano concerto" yet recorded. Moreover, all the other Bach concertos (for violin) listed were acoustical recordings. In the very next issue, in the very same feature, mention is made of this French HMV recording of a concerto for three pianos, as having just been released:

Bach: Concerto in C Major, BWV 1064, for three claviers and strings
Hélène Pignari, Lydia Schavelson, Lucette Descaves, pianos
Orchestra conducted by Gustave Bret
Recorded November 2, 1927
HMV D 2080 and D 2081, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 45.47 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 26.67 MB)

My copy, however, is from an English issue of five years later. Of the three pianists involved, I can only find out information online about Lucette Descaves (1906-1993), a pupil of Marguerite Long who went on to teach Pascal Rogé and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, among others. The name of Hélène Pignari (sometimes billed Pignari-Salles; I assume she married a Monsieur Salles at some point?) comes up sometimes in connection with recordings in partnership with violinist Louis Kaufman for Concert Hall, but of Schavelson I can find out nothing. If anyone out there knows anything more about these two ladies, please comment! The conductor, Gustave Bret (1875-1969) appears to have also been an organist and composer with a particular interest in Bach. In 1933 he directed a recording of the Vivaldi-Bach concerto for four keyboards (with Pignari again as one of the pianists) for French HMV, which can be heard at the CHARM website.

Thanks also to PMR, I have new information about this recording of the Bach Double Concerto by Anton Witek and his wife - apparently it was made at Bayreuth in 1928; for further details see my update to that post.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Happy Birthday, Paul Hindemith!

Paul Hindemith, 1923
This is a recording that I had meant to upload last year for Hindemith's 120th birthday (he was born November 16, 1895), but I got rather busy and in the end, the only composer anniversary I celebrated last autumn was Sibelius' 150th. Well, what's a year between friends? And so, for Hindemith's 121st birthday on Wednesday, here is his fellow viola player, the incomparable William Primrose, in his first sonata for the instrument:

Hindemith: Sonata in F Major, Op. 11, No. 4
William Primrose, viola; Jesús Maria Sanromá, piano
Recorded November 18, 1938
Victor Musical Masterpiece Set M-547, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 38.48 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 26.42 MB)

Hindemith's Opus 11 consists of no less than six sonatas, all written in 1918-19, for various stringed instruments with and without piano.  The first two are violin sonatas with piano, the third a sonata for cello and piano, the fourth for viola and piano, the fifth for viola unaccompanied, and the sixth (unpublished during his lifetime) for violin unaccompanied. He was to add further examples of each combination to his oeuvre, the viola being particularly favored with three accompanied and four unaccompanied sonatas in total.

This is the first of three recordings pianist Sanromá would make of Hindemith's music for Victor during the late 1930s; in the spring of 1939 he would join the composer for recordings of a sonata for piano duet and of the third accompanied viola sonata.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 (Levant)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
This posting is in response to a request. I obtained this set of Oscar Levant playing "the" Tchaikovsky concerto, graced with one of Alex Steinweiss' most delightful cover designs, about five years ago from Ken Halperin of Collecting Record Covers. I duly made a transfer, then shelved it, not sure if it would be of interest to anybody. Then, two months ago, after I posted Levant's debut album, there was a request for it, and I am delighted to be able to oblige:

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 23
Oscar Levant, piano; Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded December 12, 1947
Rachmaninoff: Prelude in G Major, Op. 32, No. 5
Oscar Levant, piano
Recorded November 19, 1947
Columbia Masterworks set MM-785, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 86.99 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 60.07 MB)

This was Oscar Levant's first concerto recording other than of works by Gershwin, with whom he was so closely associated; on the very next day, however, he was in New York recording the Grieg concerto with Efrem Kurtz! With Ormandy, the Tchaikovsky was his second recording, after the best-selling "Rhapsody in Blue" of 1945. That, however, was not Levant's first phonographic outing with the Rhapsody; that honor belongs to a Brunswick issue of 1927, with Frank Black's Orchestra, which I recently discovered here on YouTube. Writing in his best-selling book, "A Smattering of Ignorance", Levant said of this recording that "contrary to the common impression that composers do not think highly of their own abilities as performers, Gershwin was quite firm in his preference for his own version on Victor. At this distance [twelve years] I can acknowledge that it is much superior."

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Oscar Seagle in Two Sacred Songs

Oscar Seagle
Born in Ooltewah, Tennessee (now a suburb of Chattanooga), baritone Oscar Seagle (1877-1945) enjoyed a successful career as a concert singer and teacher during the early 20th century. A student of Jean de Reszke, in 1915 he founded a music school. the Seagle Music Colony, which is still in existence, and which claims to be the oldest summer vocal training program in the USA. Seagle recorded prolifically for Columbia between 1914 and 1926, with 96 issued sides to his credit. A measure of his enduring popularity among record buyers can be gauged by the fact that of 11 acoustically recorded discs listed as still available in the 1937 Columbia Catalogue, one of them was Seagle's (a coupling of "Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms" and "When You And I Were Young, Maggie"). About a third of his recorded output was of hymns and sacred songs such as the two presented here:

Tillman: Life's Railway to Heaven*
Lorenz: The Name of Jesus Is So Sweet
Oscar Seagle, baritone, with orchestra and *male quartet
Recorded March 28-29, 1921
Columbia A-3420, one 10-inch 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 19.56 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 11.25 MB)

I find "The Name of Jesus" a rather saccharine song, though Seagle sings it well. "Life's Railway to Heaven", however, with its railroad allusions, is a song I've loved since childhood, when I knew it from a George Beverly Shea album my grandmother had. In later years the song has become a standard for country and bluegrass artists, perhaps most movingly in this performance by Johnny Cash with a large backup group including the Carter Family, Earl Scruggs and a young Mark O'Connor.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Mozart: Quintet in D, K. 593 (Budapest Quartet & Katims)

The Budapest Quartet with Milton Katims
This past spring, I uploaded a Mozart string quintet recording (C major, K. 515) by the Budapest String Quartet with their frequent collaborator, Milton Katims, as the second violist. At the same time as I acquired that set, I also obtained the one I present today; however, the other set gave me an excuse to add a nice Steinweiss cover to my online gallery, whereas this one's cover is generic. Moreover, I think this recording was slightly more widely circulated than the K. 515 one was. Be that as it may, I see no reason to withhold this transfer any longer:

Mozart: String Quintet in D Major, K. 593
The Budapest String Quartet (Roisman-Ortenberg-Kroyt-Schneider)
with Milton Katims, second viola
Recorded December 12-13, 1946
Columbia Masterworks set MM-708, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 64.49 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.88 MB)

I hadn't meant to be inactive quite so long - two weeks! But shortly after posting my last post, I stumbled across the Internet Archive's making available of the complete run of the Phonograph Monthly Review magazine from 1926 to 1932, and this has lured me away from other record-related pursuits fairly consistently since. PMR is one of those publications I've heard about but have never been able to read until now, and it chronicles a very exciting time in American recording history, the beginnings of the push to create a library of symphonic and chamber music masterworks in recorded form. As such, it fulfilled the same function that "The Gramophone" magazine did in England starting three years earlier. The latter magazine is still with us, of course, but PMR, alas, fell victim to the Great Depression.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Musical Stories for Children (Cricket Records)

This post is pure nostalgia for me, because recordings similar to the ones in it represent some of my earliest record-listening experiences. Cricket Records was a line of children's records introduced in 1953 by Cy Leslie (1922-2008) as the flagship label of the Pickwick Sales Corporation (later Pickwick International), initially as 10-inch 78s, then as 7-inch 78s and 45s. I had several dozen of these little records in both speeds between the ages of 4 and 8; the 45s were sold in department stores, and the 78s, which even at that age I preferred, could be found as late as 1970 at the Record Center at Broadview Plaza in Atlanta, probably as unused old stock. In 1959 Cricket marketed LP releases, most of them drawing from the singles line, including this one:

Musical Stories for Children, Vol. 1
Cricketone Chorus and Orchestra and Playhour Players
1. The Little White Duck
2. Jack and the Beanstalk
3. Hansel and Gretel
4. The Gingerbread Man
5. Peter Pan
6. Tubby the Tuba
7. The Tortoise and the Hare
8. The Three Pigs
9. The Toy Town Choo-Choo
10. Pinocchio
Issued May, 1959
Cricket Playhour CR-19, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 97.89 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 60.94 MB)

Most enjoyable of these tracks for me, at this remove of nearly fifty years, is probably "Peter Pan" with its zany little songs for Captain Hook and the crocodile, with the "Gingerbread Man" running a close second - the baked creature's silly laughing song is maddeningly memorable! I also find myself marveling at the creativity that went into the fairy-tale arrangements, all of which are rendered in verse and song, with a quartet of singers sometimes in unison, sometimes in harmony, and accompaniments in which wind instruments predominate, often with a bass clarinet on the bass line, and a rhythm section in the background. Even when I was young, records for children such as these were going out of fashion. The generation of kids after my own had nothing but Disney music marketed for them, and I pity them....

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The First Complete Recording of the "New World" Symphony

Hamilton Harty, from the 1927 Columbia Catalogue
After all these years, the symphony most associated with America remains Dvořák's ever-fresh Symphony "From the New World." It is one of the peculiarities of the early recording industry that its first complete outing on shellac should have emanated from London, played by a Manchester-based orchestra conducted by an Irishman. Oh, the famous "Largo" had been recorded in the USA several times, by bands and orchestras including those of Philadelphia and New York, always abridged to one four-minute side. In 1919-21, Landon Ronald made the first recording of all four movements, issued piecemeal and with all but the Scherzo being cut. Then in 1923 came Harty's fine version, his first recording of any symphony, absolutely complete except for one repeat in the Trio of the Scherzo:

Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 ("From the New World")
The Hallé Orchestra conducted by Hamilton Harty
Recorded April 10, October 23 and October 24, 1923
Columbia Masterworks Set No. 3, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 103.11 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 63.84 MB)

This would be the only complete "New World" recorded acoustically; the next recording would be Stokowski's 1925 early electric version (which can be heard here). Harty would re-record the symphony in 1927, as would Ronald; interestingly, both conductors would be knighted during the period between their respective recordings.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Rare Baroque Music from Fiedler's Sinfonietta

Those of you seeing my title for this post, and then seeing the label picture above, must be thinking, "he's joking, right?" Because the Pachelbel Canon is so familiar to us nowadays, that it's hard to imagine a time, not so long ago, that the piece, and its composer, was almost as unknown as two of the other composers whose works Arthur Fiedler's little orchestra (composed of Boston Symphony players) recorded during the same week. (Doubtless many people, particularly cellists, wish this were still the case! I myself always had fun with it, as a continuo harpsichordist, because I could slip in tunes like "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" with the right hand and see if anybody noticed. Nobody ever did.) The other two composers represented here are, even today, hardly household names: the lutenist Esajas Reusner (1636-1679) and Rev. William Felton (1713-1769):

William Felton: Organ Concerto No. 3 in B-Flat Major
E. Power Biggs with Arthur Fiedler's Sinfonietta
Recorded March 17, 1940
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-866, two 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 33.74 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 21.69 MB)

Esajas Reusner: Suite No. 1 (arr. J. G. Stanley) and
Pachelbel: Canon in D Major
Arthur Fiedler's Sinfonietta
Recorded March 21, 1940
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-969, two 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 35.35 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 24.25 MB)

It's taken six years, but between 8 and 9 o'clock this morning this blog passed a milestone: one million pageviews! It now stands at 1,000,301. My thanks to you, my loyal fans, for making this possible.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Oscar Levant in a Recital of Modern Music

Oscar Levant
The Pittsburgh-born pianist, composer, author, actor, and (in later years) professional neurotic Oscar Levant (1906-1972) probably doesn't need any introduction to my readers, but perhaps this particular album does, for with the exception of the oft-reissued Gershwin preludes, it is comparatively rare. It actually was his first, issued in mid-1942, when he was already famous for his role as a panelist on the radio quiz show "Information Please" and as the author of the best-selling "A Smattering of Ignorance", and, in some respects, the most satisfying of the dozen or so albums he would make for Columbia:

Oscar Levant in a Recital of Modern Music:
Gershwin: Three Preludes
Debussy: Les Collines d'Anacapri
Debussy: Jardins sous la pluie
Jelobinsky: Etudes, Op. 19, Nos. 1 and 2 
Shostakovich: Prelude in A Minor, Op. 34, No. 2
Shostakovich: Polka from "The Golden Age"
Ravel: Sonatine - Menuet
Levant: Sonatina - First movement (Con ritmo)
Oscar Levant, piano
Recorded December 17, 1941, and January 20, 1942
Columbia Masterworks set M-508, four 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 54.67 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 40.61 MB)

Gershwin, Debussy, Ravel and Shostakovich are of course very well-known, but Levant the composer and Valery Viktorovich Jelobinsky (1913-1946) are far less so. The latter (whose name has also been transliterated "Zhelobinsky") was quite prolific in his short career, with six symphonies, three piano concertos and four operas to his credit. Shostakovich evidently thought highly of him, but posterity seems to have completely ignored him. This is the only recording ever made of the second of these two Etudes (from a set of six, which Horowitz championed for a time); Raymond Lewenthal later included the first one on a Westminster LP.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 1 (Sanderling)

In the early 1950s, the switch from standard 78-rpm records to the new long-playing ones occasioned, in some countries, some pretty strange hybrid types. Deutsche Grammophon had a "variable micrograde" 78 shellac disc, playable with an ordinary 78-size stylus, that managed to extend the timing of a 12-inch disc to eight minutes. These didn't last long; by 1952 DGG bowed to the future and began producing 33-rpm LPs. In the Soviet Union, LPs were also launched about 1952, but with a twist - longer works were presented as 33-rpm records, but shorter ones were issued on 8-inch or 10-inch 78-rpm vinyl records, playable with the same microgroove stylus as the 33-rpm LPs. I'm aware of only one issue on Soviet microgroove 78s that offered an extended work on two records, and this is it:

Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C Major, BWV 1066
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kurt Sanderling
Issued c. 1953
USSR D-893/6, two 10-inch vinyl microgroove 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 85.34 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 52.52 MB)

This appears to be the first Soviet recording of a Bach orchestral work other than a solo concerto or a transcription, and it's fitting that Kurt Sanderling (1912-2011) should have been chosen to make it. Born a Jew in Germany, he fled east when the Nazis took power, becoming co-conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic (with Yevgeny Mravinsky) before returning back to East Berlin in 1960. His performance of the Bach Suite sounds rather old-fashioned in some ways, with stately tempi and no continuo instrument, but in terms of scholarship, it's quite up-to-date, with all cadential trills observed, even those usually missing from contemporaneous recordings of the Bach suites.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Coolidge Quartet Completed (III)

Daniel Gregory Mason
The third and final installment of my Coolidge Quartet series is here, meaning you can now hear every one of their published Victor recordings through my uploads. All of their sets are fairly rare, but these two may be the rarest, so I have saved them for last. These two sets also share another, rather more unfortunate distinction: there are cuts in both major works presented. In the Hummel work, only the slow movement is affected, but in the work by Massachusetts-born Daniel Gregory Mason (1873-1953), all the movements are cut, the last one most seriously. Had the cuts not been taken, however, it would not have been possible to include the filler side, a quartet movement by Virginia native Mary Howe (née Carlisle, 1882-1964):

Daniel Gregory Mason: Quartet in G Minor, Op. 19 (On Negro Themes) and
Mary Howe: Allegro inevitabile
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Pepper-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded September 27, 1940
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-891, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 70.47 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 47.45 MB)

Johann Nepomuk Hummel: Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 30, No. 2
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded March 24, 1939
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-723, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 45.80 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 33.09 MB)

I had never heard the Hummel quartet before acquiring this set; it is charming, and its finale is particularly fun. Certain passages suggest that Hummel was familiar with Bach's "Goldberg" Variations.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Coolidge Quartet Completed (II)

Victor Chapman, 1916
Here is the next installment of my Coolidge Quartet series. The "Music for Four Stringed Instruments" by Charles Martin Loeffler, based on a Gregorian chant for Easter Sunday ("Resurrexi"), was composed to honor the memory of Victor Chapman, the first American aviator to be killed in the First World War - in 1916, a year before the USA itself actually entered that war. Loeffler, evidently, was a friend of Chapman's father. The piece makes unusual demands on the cellist, who must, several times during the second movement, tune the lowest string down while playing it. This was the first recording of the work, and the Coolidge Quartet's second recording of anything:

Loeffler: Music for Four Stringed Instruments (1917)
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded May 27, 1938
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-543, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 63.82 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 43.86 MB)

The Coolidge Quartet's version of Beethoven's G Major Quartet, Op. 18, No. 2, competed directly in Victor's catalogue with one by the Budapest Quartet. Irving Kolodin, in his 1941 "Guide to Recorded Music," preferred the Coolidge version, saying that "the Coolidges have apparently made a particular study of this work, for they play it with extraordinary grace and flexibility. Comparatively the Budapest performance is a bit heavy-handed though superbly executed."

Beethoven: Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded April 28, 1939
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-622, four 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 53.54 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 36.55 MB)

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Coolidge Quartet Completed (I)

Irene and Frederick Jacobi in Paris, 1950
My heroic quest is ended! This summer I have realized my goal of acquiring all of the Coolidge Quartet's published recordings, when the six sets that I lacked to make up a complete collection became available to me almost simultaneously from two different sources. So, this is to be the first of three posts uploading these. Particularly valuable is the piano quintet Hagiographa by San Francisco-born Frederick Jacobi (1891-1952), a composer who, like his teacher Ernest Bloch, specialized in music on Jewish themes. Like the Roy Harris Piano Quintet recording of a year earlier, this has the Coolidge Quartet collaborating with the composer's wife, Irene Jacobi (née Schwarcz, 1890-1984):

Frederick Jacobi: Hagiographa - Three Biblical Narratives (1938)
Irene Jacobi, piano, with the Coolidge Quartet
Recorded January 23, 1940
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-782, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 56.41 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 39.85 MB)

Beethoven: Quartet No. 7 in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded April 3, 1940
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-804, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 87.82 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 59.20 MB)

This Beethoven set was the Coolidges' last to have Nicolai Berezowsky as the second violinist; in the next season, he would be replaced by Jack Pepper.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Larry Adler - Harmonica Virtuoso

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
Some more light listening for the summer months - a set that would have been the first exposure of many Americans to the genius of harmonica king Larry Adler (1914-2001), of whom Sting, with whom Adler collaborated towards the end of his life, said "he was one of the youngest old men I've ever met." This album, released in 1940, is a reissue of some of Adler's most successful sides for English Columbia:

Larry Adler - Harmonica Virtuoso
1. Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue*
2. Kreisler: Caprice Viennois
3. Falla: Ritual Fire Dance
4. Ravel: Bolero
5. Porter: I've Got You Under My Skin
6. Kern: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
7. Conrad: The Continental
*With Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans
Recorded 1934-37
Columbia set C-18, four 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 78.03 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 45.19 MB)

Reportedly, when Gershwin first heard Adler play his "Rhapsody in Blue" he exclaimed, "it sounds as if the goddamned thing was written for you!" And Ravel, upon hearing Adler's record of his "Bolero" - but let's let Adler himself tell the story (as extracted from his entertaining memoir, "It Ain't Necessarily So", published in 1984)":

"I had a call from Jacques Lyon, who ran a record shop, the Sinfonia, on the Champs-Elysées. He said he'd had a call from Maurice Ravel who had heard that I played his Bolero and wanted to hear me. I couldn't stand before the maître playing without accompaniment so I brought my record with me. We drove to Montfort-d'Amaury, outside Paris and had a hard time finding Ravel's house - no one seemed to have heard of him. When we did find it, Ravel opened the door, took the record and before Jacques could even introduce me, put it on. Until then I'd thought it was a good record, it was a big seller and I was proud of it. Standing there while its composer listened to it I was aware of imperfections, of mistakes that I had never noticed. It sounded awful and, though it was on one side of a 78-rpm record, it seemed interminable. When it finished, Ravel spoke to Jacques.
"'The master he say, you play it very fast. Why?'
"Hell, I didn't know why. I hadn't ever known that I did play it fast. Ravel spoke again.
"'The master he says you have made cuts, you do not play the whole thing. Why?'
"I explained that, in music-hall, my act ran fifteen minutes, which was the length of Bolero. I loved the number, I meant no criticism but, to include it, I had to make cuts.
"Jacques said, 'The master he ask, do you know Arturo Toscanini?'
"Yes, I had met him.
"Jacques said, 'The master, he say that Toscanini plays the whole thing.'
"Well, he had me there. What could I say? The conversation languished. I held out the record to Ravel to sign. (I had never asked for an autograph before, have never asked for one since. It was pure embarrassment.) Ravel looked surprised.
"Jacques said: 'The master say, he thought the record was for him.' Now I was surprised. Ravel had given every sign of loathing the record and me. Then Ravel held up his hands, they were shaking. He said that he had palsy, had written nothing in the past five years. I apologized and we left. A few days later Jacques phoned me and told me to get to his record shop at once; the master was there. Ravel was bundled in a heavy coat and a scarf though it was a warm day. He said that, by sitting in a dark room and concentrating, he had been able to steady his hand, long enough to write his signature and he had brought it to me. I was touched and honoured by Ravel's gesture but felt guilty as I hadn't really wanted the autograph.
"In 1940 I was soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra's Robin Hood Dell concerts. Saul Caston, the conductor, suggested an encore; when I chose Bolero the librarian objected. Performance fees for one performance were very high, not worth it for an encore. Elkan, Vogel, Ravel's publishers, were in Philadelphia; I went to their office and announced myself. Mr. Elkan came out and told me he knew about me. Ravel had left instructions that I was to have free rights to play the Bolero in whatever medium I pleased. That right is unique to me."

Monday, July 18, 2016

Two Swedish Symphonies

Kurt Atterberg                              Gösta Nystroem
This week I present two symphonies from Sweden, one of which is probably the most famous to come from that land, while the other is not as well known, perhaps, but should be. The former, of course, is Kurt Atterberg's notorious "Dollar" Symphony, so called because it was the prize-winning entry in Columbia's Schubert Centennial contest of 1928 (with some of the $10,000 that he won, the 41-year-old composer bought his first automobile, a Model A Ford). Much nonsense was written about this work at the time, for it was believed that Atterberg (1887-1974) had plagiarized much of the symphony's material. What remains at this 88-year distance is a fresh, enjoyable, fun three-movement symphony that seems to fully justify its prize. One of the conditions of this prize was that Columbia recorded the piece (with Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic), which is natural enough, given that they sponsored the contest. Almost unheard of, for a new work at that time, was for it to receive a second recording from a different company, under the direction of the composer:

Atterberg: Symphony No. 6 in C Major, Op. 31
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kurt Atterberg
Recorded October, 1928
Deutsche Grammophon 95193 through 95195, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 70.00 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 44.73 MB)

The other Swedish symphony here is the second of six composed by Gösta Nystroem (1890-1966), who spent much time in Paris during the 1920s. His music inhabits a much more modern-sounding world than Atterberg's (which is firmly rooted in the 19th century); it is tonal but dissonant (I'm strongly reminded of Frank Martin). The very fine Sinfonia Espressiva, composed in 1935, is in four movements: a long elegiac opening movement scored for strings and timpani is followed by a scherzo, passacaglia (on a Swedish folk song) and fugue, each subsequent movement adding more instruments to the scoring. Tor Mann, the conductor on this recording, gave the work's first performance in 1937:

Gösta Nystroem: Sinfonia Espressiva (1935)
Tor Mann conducting the Stockholm Concerts Association Orchestra
Recorded June 29, 30 and July 1, 1950
HMV DBS 11030 and DB 11031 through DB 11033, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 72.75 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 45.72 MB)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Couperin by Maurice Hewitt

Maurice Hewitt
In time for Bastille Day this year, another artifact from Occupied France, from a member of the Resistance, the violinist and conductor Maurice Hewitt (1884-1971). Hewitt, in earlier years a member of the Quatour Capet and of the Société des Instruments Anciennes, was also the founder of the acclaimed label "Les Discophiles Françaises" which specialized at first in early music. Hewitt himself directed many of its early recordings, including this one, an album containing two disc premières of important chamber works by François Couperin:

Couperin: L'Impériale (No. 3 of "Les Nations") and L'Apothéose de Lulli
Orchestre de Chambre Maurice Hewitt
Recorded December 1-3, 1941
Les Discophiles Françaises 11 through 16, six 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 141.75 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 88.96 MB)

Couperin did not specify instrumentation for either of these works, merely two treble instruments and continuo; they are normally heard as trio sonatas. Hewitt uses his own arrangement for string orchestra with harpsichord, pardessus de viole, viola d'amore and viola da gamba. This is Couperin with a big, rich string sound, quite unlike what we are accustomed to hearing today.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Haydn: "Farewell" Symphony (Leinsdorf, 1946)

Haydn and Leinsdorf notwithstanding, a large part of the reason for this post is to pay tribute to Deems Taylor, who died fifty years ago this Sunday (July 3, 1966). Composer, author, journalist, and broadcaster, he had the gift of explaining classical music in layman's terms, similar to that of Leonard Bernstein a generation later. As intermission commentator for the New York Philharmonic broadcasts during the 1930s and early 1940s, heard throughout the USA, he exercised this gift, drawing countless listeners into what must have seemed to many of them a rarefied world. In 1946, the Pilot Radio Corporation hit on the idea of marketing symphonic albums with recorded introductory commentary, and it must have seemed natural for them to approach Deems Taylor for the job. In the event, however, only two sets appeared - Grieg's "Holberg Suite" (conducted by Rudolph Ganz) and this one:

Haydn: Symphony No. 45 in F-Sharp Minor ("Farewell")
Erich Leinsdorf conducting the "Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra"
(with introductory commentary by Deems Taylor)
Recorded c. 1946
Pilotone set DA-302, four 10" vinylite 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 67.08 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.70 MB)

This recording must have been made between Leinsdorf's appointments with the Cleveland Orchestra (which ended in 1946) and the Rochester Philharmonic (which began in 1947). It, and the Grieg set, were in the shops in time for Christmas 1946. That there were no further sets in the rather grandiosely named "Pilotone Academy of Music" series is perhaps explained by a lawsuit brought by the Metropolitan Opera Association against Pilot for their use of the word "Metropolitan" in the name of their pseudonymous orchestra.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Morton Gould's First Decca and Columbia Sets

Summertime, and the listenin' is easy....or it should be, I suppose. Anyway, it seems a good time to share my latest Morton Gould acquisitions, One of these is his first-ever album, a group of piano solos recorded for Decca in 1940. His association with Decca did not last long; it produced exactly one other set (with a string orchestra) before he switched to Columbia, a relationship that proved much more fruitful. His first album with Columbia (as a conductor) included one of the same pieces as the first Decca set. This was the delightful "Pavanne" - his most popular piece - which he deliberately spelled incorrectly, with two n's, in the hope that ignorant radio announcers would pronounce it correctly!

Morton Gould At The Piano in a Group of His Own Compositions:
1. Pavanne (from "American Symphonette No. 2")
2. The Prima Donna (from "Caricatones")
3. American Caprice
4. The Child Prodigy (from "Caricatones")
5. Tropical
6. The Ballerina (from "Caricatones")
7. Deserted Ballroom
8. Gavotte (from "American Symphonette No. 3")
Recorded October 9, 1940
Decca set DA-195, four 10" 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 66.01 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.12 MB)

A Morton Gould Concert
1. Gould: Pavanne (from "American Symphonette No. 2")
2. Friml: Donkey Serenade (from "The Firefly")
3. Freire: Ay, Ay, Ay
4. Trad.: España Cañi
5. Trad.: Dark Eyes
6. Rodgers-Hart: Where or When (from "Babes in Arms")
Morton Gould and His Orchestra
Recorded c. April-May 1942
Columbia set C-96, three 12" 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 62.98 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.70 MB)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss (?)
The "Pavanne" was originally written for orchestra, but the other selections in the Columbia set feature Gould as arranger. Somehow he works in a reference to Enesco's Roumanian Rhapsody No. 1 in his arrangement of the Russian folk song "Dark Eyes". Of the piano compositions, attention is called to the group for which he coined the word "Caricatones" - for me, the most amusing of these is "The Child Prodigy", in which he works in not only the expected Hanon and Kreutzer exercises but also references to Haydn's D Major piano sonata and Chopin's "Minute Waltz"!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Reger: String Trio in A Minor (Amar-Hindemith Trio)

This is one of those recordings that I am particularly excited to possess and to share; however, about 98% of the excitement derives from the identities of the performers rather than of the composer, for Max Reger (1873-1916) is, for me, a problematical figure in music history. I respect Reger as a craftsman and as a carrier of the Austro-German chamber music tradition, but as much as I've tried, I can't really like his music. (I do retain some fondness for his orchestral Serenade, Op. 95, and its neighboring opus, the Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue for two pianos, Op. 96 - with its comically interminable fugue subject culminating in a trill that sounds almost as an afterthought!) Part of the problem, I suspect, is that the weight of this tradition bogged him down - and those works without such weight, such as the serenades and string trios, seem to be more successful as a result. Certainly committed performances help. I remember reading somewhere (alas, I can't remember where) that Reger was a strong influence on Paul Hindemith as a budding composer, so it's not at all surprising that he and his cohorts should turn out a performance of this string trio that makes it sound as one of Reger's more enjoyable works:

Reger: String Trio No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 77b
The Amar Trio (Walter Caspar, Paul Hindemith, Rudolf Hindemith)
Recorded c. 1927
Polydor 66575 through 66577, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 56.18 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 37.25 MB)

For those unaware (as I was, until about six weeks ago), the super-rare acoustical version of the Amar Quartet's performance of Hindemith's Quartet, Op. 22, has been reissued in download format by a German outfit called Archiphon Records, and in quite a good transfer, too. It's well worth buying (which one can do here), but for those not wanting to download, the various tracks have been "autogenerated" as YouTube videos (a search on "amar hindemith archiphon" should bring them up).

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Miaskovsky: Symphonies Nos. 16 and 21 (Ivanov)

Nikolai Miaskovsky
In recent years, the music of Nikolai Yakovlevich Miaskovsky (1881-1950) - or, to give the currently preferred transliteration of his surname, Myaskovsky (I still prefer the old one, merely because it doesn't relegate him to the back of the alphabet within the group of composers whose names start with "M") - seems to have made something of a comeback after many years of Cold War-era neglect. During his lifetime, his symphonies were regularly performed in the West, particularly by the Chicago Symphony under Frederick Stock, who not only programmed his epic Sixth on a yearly basis, but also commissioned the single-movement Twenty-First, destined to become his best-known work (recorded by Ormandy and Morton Gould, among others). After his death, however, his essentially conservative style became passé, and he became known merely as the composer who wrote more symphonies (27) than anyone else in the first half of the 20th century. A reassessment of his work became more feasible after Yevgeny Svetlanov undertook, in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse, to record all of Miaskovsky's orchestral output, and while it's undeniably valuable to have this largess available, some of Svetlanov's performances don't quite measure up to earlier ones in those cases where comparisons are possible. There is evidence of haste in preparation and lack of rehearsal, and some of the tempi are glacially slow. A case in point: the earlier recording of his fine Sixteenth Symphony, conducted by Svetlanov's predecessor as director of the USSR State Symphony Orchestra, Konstantin Ivanov (1907-1984), takes 35½ minutes as opposed to Svetlanov's 46½:

Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 16 in F Major, Op. 39 and
Symphony No. 21 in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 51
Konstantin Ivanov conducting the USSR State Symphony Orchestra
Recorded in the early 1950s
Melodiya 33D 09415-16, one mono LP record
Link (FLAC files, 117.96 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 80.58 MB)

I can never think of Miaskovsky without also thinking of Richard Taruskin, who gave me my first copy of this LP when I was a teenager, one of several gifts from this brilliant man to encourage my budding interest in Russian music, one of his specialties as a musicologist. Dr. Taruskin was, earlier in his career, a fine viola da gamba player (as proven by a number of recordings he made as part of the Aulos Ensemble, for the Musical Heritage Society), and that was my personal connection with him, for the fraternity of gamba players is and always has been a close-knit one, and my mother, also a member of said fraternity, has been friends with Dr. Taruskin for over 40 years. He, in fact, encouraged her to write and publish a viola da gamba method, which she did in 1979. The last time we saw him was about seven years ago, when he came to Atlanta to give a lecture at Emory, and almost his first words to me were about the Svetlanov Miaskovsky series. He seemed somewhat rueful about the notoriety he has gained as a music critic, something well in the future at the time I first knew him. I, like countless others before and since, have known Richard Taruskin as a mentor and teacher, and a great one.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Loeffler: Partita for Violin and Piano

Charles Martin Loeffler, 1917
(pencil sketch by John Singer Sargent)
81 years and one week ago today, May 19, 1935, the Alsatian-born American composer Charles Martin Loeffler died in Medford, Massachusetts, at the age of 74. Two and a half weeks later, Odessa-born violinist Jacques Gordon (1899-1948) began recording one of Loeffler's last works, his four-movement Partita of 1930, an unaccountably neglected work of which I can trace no subsequent recording. Gordon's partner in this undertaking was Lee Pattison (1890-1966), better known as one-half of the Maier and Pattison piano duo that was popular during the 1920s. The set was issued by Columbia late in 1936 or early in 1937, and is quite rare, because it was deleted from the catalogue upon CBS's takeover of Columbia in 1939:

Loeffler: Partita for Violin and Piano (1930) and
Loeffler (arr. Gordon) Peacocks, Op. 10, No. 4
Jacques Gordon, violin; Lee Pattison, piano
Recorded June 5, 12, and July 30, 1935
Columbia Masterworks Set No. 275, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 92.60 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 54.43 MB)

The movements of Loeffler's Partita, dedicated to Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, are an Intrada, loosely in the form of a Baroque ouverture à la française, a Sarabande (by Mathieson) with 5 variations, a Divertissement with echoes of tango and ragtime (!), and a Finale des tendres Adieux whose opening reminds me strongly of the last movement of Brahms' first violin sonata, though the musical language is nothing like Brahms.

This recording appears to be Jacques Gordon's only one of a large-scale work for violin and piano. He was much more active in the recording studios as a quartet leader. The Gordon String Quartet made some dozen recordings for Columbia, Schirmer, and Concert Hall; for the last-named label they recorded William Schuman's Third Quartet.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Schubert: Rosamunde (Harty)

The great Sir Hamilton Harty (1879-1941) contributed to Columbia's centennial celebrations of both Beethoven and Schubert in 1927-28 with major recordings of works then new to Columbia's catalogue. Of Beethoven he recorded the Fourth Symphony, and of Schubert the "Great C Major." Both of these have been professionally restored by Mark Obert-Thorn, working for Pristine Classical, but I am unaware of any reissue of Harty's other Schubert Centennial recording, this set of excerpts from "Rosamunde":

Schubert: Incidental Music to "Rosamunde" (Op. 26)
(with Overture to "Die Zauberharfe")
Hallé Orchestra conducted by Sir Hamilton Harty
Recorded May 2, 1927 (Overture) and April 27, 1928 (Incidental Music)
Columbia Masterworks set MM-343, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 84.86 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 53.98 MB)

This set has a curious issue history. It didn't appear in the USA until 1938, and then with a different overture than the one in the 1928 British issue. There are two overtures associated with "Rosamunde" (Schubert not having written one specifically for the Helmina von Chézy play), the other one being that for "Alfonso and Estrella" - and Harty recorded both, the latter one on the same day as the incidental music. Both overtures were, in fact, issued as single records by American Columbia before this set appeared.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Hindemith: Mathis der Maler (Ormandy, 1940)

Matthias Grünewald: Temptation of St. Anthony
This week I present Eugene Ormandy's first recording of the Hindemith work that he recorded more than any other (three times, in 1940, 1952 and 1962) - the celebrated symphony extracted from the 1934 opera Mathis der Maler, its movements inspired by three of the panels that Matthias Grünewald contributed to the Isenheim Altarpiece 500 years ago. For all intents and purposes, this recording represented the general American record-buyer's introduction to this piece; an earlier one had been made by Telefunken in 1934, with Hindemith himself conducting the Berlin Philharmonic (his conducting debut on records), but one imagines that it did not receive much currency at the time because of Hindemith's position as persona non grata with the Nazi regime. In any case, the Telefunken set didn't receive widespread distribution in the USA until 1949, when Capitol repressed it in its new Captol-Telefunken series. Meanwhile, Ormandy's version had appeared on the US market seven years previously:

Hindemith: Mathis der Maler, symphony (1934)
Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra
Recorded October 20, 1940
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-854, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 58.01 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 40,62 MB)

The same session also produced this recording of a symphony by Harl McDonald, in addition to works by Sibelius, Barber and three sides featuring soprano Dorothy Maynor - 23 sides in all! It was to be Ormandy's only Philadelphia session in the 1940-41 season not shared with another conductor, so he must have been inclined to make the most of it. (Stokowski's last two regular Philadelphia sessions, incidentally, occurred in December that season. The first of these produced the world première recording of Shostakovich's Sixth Symphony.)

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Modern Age of Brass (Roger Voisin)

A couple of months ago, I was researching old Schwann catalogues to try and discover the deletion date of this LP by the New Art Wind Quintet, Since a work by Nicolai Berezowsky was the guiding force behind my posting that recording, I searched under Berezowsky's name in the Schwanns that I have from the late 50s, and found that there was one other LP available with his music, a brass piece coupled with music by Dahl, Hindemith and somebody else unknown to me. I saw this several times before I realized, "hold on, I think I may have that LP!" I checked my collection and sure enough, there was a copy, which I had found some 30 years ago when I wanted to hear the Dahl piece. I had learned that its second movement was the theme for WQXR's long-running radio program "Music at First Hearing" - on which a panel of well-known music critics like Irving Kolodin, Martin Bookspan and others reviewed new record releases on the spot without advance knowledge of what they were, a sort of "What's My Line" for record collectors. Here is the LP in question:

"The Modern Age of Brass":
Ingolf Dahl: Music for Brass Instruments (1944)
Hindemith: Morgenmusik (1932)
Nicolai Berezowsky: Brass Suite, Op. 24 (pub. 1942)
Robert Sanders: Quintet in B-Flat (1942)
Roger Voisin and His Brass Ensemble
Issued in December, 1956
Unicorn UNLP-1031, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 96.71 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 69.65 MB)

Roger Voisin (1918-2008) was the principal trumpeter of the Boston Symphony from 1950 to 1966, and he leads an ensemble of fellow BSO members on this recording, made for an independent Boston label called Unicorn Records (not to be confused with the much better-known British label of the same name from two decades later). The label, whose recordings were produced by Peter Bartók, the composer's son, lasted only two or three years before being subsumed by Kapp Records in 1958.  Kapp kept most of Voisin's Unicorn records in its own catalogue through the 1960s, including this one.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Lord Berners: The Triumph of Neptune (Beecham)

Lord Berners, 1935
Today, April 29, is the birthday of no less than three famous conductors - Beecham, Sargent, and Zubin Mehta (who turns 80 this year).  I honor the first of these here, with one of his rarer items, the most famous work by Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson (1883-1950), usually referred to by the much shorter name "Lord Berners" after becoming the 14th Baron Berners in 1918.  This is a suite from the 1926 ballet he wrote for Diaghilev's "Ballet Russes" to a story by Sacheverell Sitwell, "The Triumph of Neptune":

Lord Berners: The Triumph of Neptune - Ballet Suite
London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham
Recorded December 20, 1937
Columbia Masterworks set X-92, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 35.56 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 24.30 MB)

This recording stayed in the American Columbia catalogue for only five years - unlike most of Beecham's London Philharmonic output, which remained available until all classical 78s were deleted, by which time Columbia was amassing a sizable LP catalogue of Beecham's Royal Philharmonic recordings to replace them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Happy 125th, Sergei Prokofiev!

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
Saturday, April 23, marks a significant composer anniversary - the 125th birthday of Prokofiev (1891-1953). I present the recording that was my introduction to his "neoclassical" style - or, to put it more accurately, the first work of his in an academic form that I came to know, since the first copy of this set which I owned (purchased from Clark Music in Decatur, Ga.) was a gift to me for my 11th birthday, and at that age, the name Prokofiev meant to me only "Peter and the Wolf", of course, as well as the March from "The Love for Three Oranges." This first recording of the D Major Sonata, originally for flute but recast for violin at David Oistrakh's suggestion, has never been surpassed:

Prokofiev: Sonata in D Major, Op. 94a (1943)
Joseph Szigeti, violin; Leonid Hambro, piano
Recorded December 8 and 10, 1944
Columbia Masterworks MM-620, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 59.42 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 42.86 MB)

Incredibly, the liner notes (written by Szigeti himself) make no mention of the work's origin as a flute sonata, and for years I had no idea that it had been anything other than a violin piece. Then in high school, a flute-playing friend asked me if I had this recording. He was dissatisfied with James Galway's version, and his flute teacher, Warren Little (first-chair flutist of the Atlanta Symphony back then) had insisted that this Szigeti 78 set was the one to hear, because he played it like a "big Russian bear" - never mind, I suppose, that Szigeti was Hungarian! But he certainly had an affinity for Prokofiev....

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Stokowski's All-American Youth Orchestra

Leopold Stokowski rehearsing with the
All-American Youth Orchestra, 1940
Leopold Stokowski's birthday is upon us again (he was born 134 years ago this Monday), and this year I've chosen some samples of his work with the All-American Youth Orchestra, essentially his own creation for the purposes of touring and recording. I will not go into the details, but instead direct you to this article at Larry Huffman's incredible site about the conductor, an article that contains a discography, orchestra roster, and several pictures (such as the one above). The orchestra existed for two years, in 1940 and 1941, and both years are represented here:

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 and
Bach-Stokowski: "Little" Fugue in G Minor, BWV 578
The All-American Youth Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Recorded November 14, 1940
Columbia Masterworks set MM-451, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 83.82 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 58.94 MB)

Liszt-Stokowski: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
The All-American Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Recorded July 8, 1941
Columbia Masterworks 11646-D, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 22.03 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 13.03 MB)

Mendelssohn: Scherzo (from "A Midsummer Night's Dream")
Bach-Stokowski: Preludio (from Partita in E Major, BWV 1006)
The All-American Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Recorded July 11 and 20, 1941
Columbia Masterworks 11983-D, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 21.38 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 13.07 MB)

The Beethoven set is a relatively recent acquisition for me; but for the two single discs I have revisited the reclaimed record pile. I'm particularly pleased to have reclaimed the Bach-Mendelssohn disc, for it was a gift from my first piano teacher, George A. Neely (1903-1990), with whom I began lessons at the age of 11. Mr. Neely was a kind man who traveled to our neighborhood once a week to give lessons to kids in their homes. When he learned of my interest in collecting classical 78s, he decided to give me his entire collection - accumulated 25-35 years previously and containing some 40 or 50 sets, among them all the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies! The Stokowski record I'm sharing here is all I have left of this largess. I took lessons from Mr. Neely until I was fourteen, at which point I wanted to learn to play Shostakovich and he declared he had nothing left to teach me, so another teacher was found. But I remember Mr. Neely with the greatest fondness, am grateful for his many gifts, and hope I give as much to my own students as he gave me.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ortenberg, Foss and the Budapest Quartet

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
For a dozen years, beginning in 1932, one half of the famed Budapest String Quartet consisted of the Schneider brothers - Alexander as second violinist and Mischa as cellist.  Then in 1944, Alexander decided to strike out on his own with other projects (for example, a fruitful partnership with harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick), and he was replaced in the Quartet by the Odessa-born Edgar Ortenberg (1900-1996).  One of the first recording projects with Ortenberg, and in fact the first Budapest Quartet recording with him to be released, was this Mozart quintet with another frequent Budapest collaborator, Milton Katims (1909-2006):

Mozart: String Quintet in C Major, K. 515
Budapest String Quartet (Roisman-Ortenberg-Kroyt-Schneider)
with Milton Katims, second viola
Recorded February 6 and April 23, 1945
Columbia Masterworks MM-586, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 80.06 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 54.29 MB)

At about the same time, Ortenberg made his only American recording as a violin soloist, this first recording of a Hindemith violin sonata:

Hindemith: Sonata in E (1935) and
Foss: Dedication (1944)
Edgar Ortenberg, violin; Lukas Foss, piano
Issued May, 1944
Hargail set MW-300, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 43.73 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 27.12 MB)

This would also appear to be Lukas Foss' first appearance on record as either pianist or composer.  He was in his early 20s at the time.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bliss: Music for Strings (Boult)

Arthur Bliss
I can't claim a great deal of familiarity with the music of Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975), but of the dozen or so works I have heard, by far my favorite is the Music for Strings, a three-movement symphony in all but name.  I find much of Bliss' work to be rather dry, but that cannot be said of this piece, which has a richness and sweep very reminiscent of Elgar, albeit combined with more astringent harmonies than old Sir Edward would ever have employed.  It was introduced at the Salzburg Festival of 1935 by Adrian Boult, who made its first recording two years later:

Bliss: Music for Strings (1935)
BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult
Recorded March 24 and June 5, 1937
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-464, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 56.35 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 37.46 MB)

Friday, March 11, 2016

The New Art Wind Quintet

The New Art Wind Quintet (Murray Panitz, Melvin Kaplan,
Aldo Simonelli, Tina di Dario, Merrill Wilson)
Last month, when I posted the First String Quartet by Nicolai Berezowsky, Nick of Grumpy's Classics Cave commented that we can now hear all commercial 78s of his work, given that Symposium Records made available the other candidate, a New Music Quarterly issue of two movements of Berezowsky's 1928 Suite for Woodwinds. That exchange led me to seek out the third and last commercial recording of Berezowsky's music made during his too-short lifetime. This was an early LP containing the same Suite for Woodwinds, this time complete:

Milhaud: Two Sketches for woodwind quintet, Op. 227b
Berezowsky: Suite for Woodwinds, Op. 11
Irving Fine: Partita for Woodwind Quintet (1948)
The New Art Woodwind Quintet
Issued July, 1951
Link (FLAC files, 77.61 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 60.21 MB)

The Milhaud (derived from piano pieces) and Berezowsky works are enjoyable enough, but the real masterpiece here is the Stravinsky-influenced Partita by the even shorter-lived Irving Fine (1914-1962), who died of heart disease at age 47.

Murray Panitz, the flutist on this recording, went on to become the principal flutist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, succeeding William Kincaid in 1961 and serving until his death in 1989 at age 63.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 3 (Efrem Zimbalist)

Efrem Zimbalist
For someone of his eminence during the golden age of violin playing, Efrem Zimbalist (1890-1985) did not have a recording career that really did him justice. Yes, there was the series of acoustic sides for Victor beginning in 1911, but he had Elman and Kreisler (and, later, Heifetz) to compete with in that sphere, and his usefulness to the company seems to have been principally to play obbligati to his wife, soprano (and Red Seal luminary) Alma Gluck. (His best-remembered recording is the famous Bach Double Concerto with Kreisler.) In 1928 he switched to Columbia, an association that produced some 34 issued sides, but only one recording of an extended work, this Brahms sonata:

Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108
Efrem Zimbalist, violin; Harry Kaufman, piano
Recorded May 19, 1930
Columbia Masterworks Set No. 140, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 62.75 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.74 MB)

This recording would have been intended to replace the one by Arthur Catterall and William Murdoch in Columbia's catalogue, and would itself be replaced eight years later with the version by Joseph Szigeti and Egon Petri. New York-born Harry Kaufman (1894-1961) may not be in quite the same league as Murdoch or Petri, but as someone who was head of the Department of Accompanying at the Curtis Institute at the time this recording was made, he acquits himself admirably. Zimbalist himself was later Curtis' director (from 1941 to 1968).

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Carpenter: Adventures in a Perambulator (Ormandy)

John Alden Carpenter
Barely remembered today, John Alden Carpenter (1876-1951), born 140 years ago next Sunday (Feb. 28) in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, Illinois, was among the most celebrated of living American composers in the period before such younger men as Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber became prominent. Like his almost exact contemporary, Charles Ives, he was a successful businessman who composed in his spare time, and also like Ives, his works are imbued with an American spirit; but while Ives' works are an evocation of 19th-century America through sometimes aggressively modern-sounding means, Carpenter's take the opposite route, often evoking the 20th century (e.g., his ballets Krazy Kat and Skyscrapers) in a more conservative style. One of his best-remembered works is this charming baby's-eye view of life on the streets one hundred years ago, written in 1914 for Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra:

Carpenter: Adventures in a Perambulator, suite for orchestra
Recorded January 17, 22 and 23, 1934
Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro - Overture
Recorded January 23, 1934
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-238, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 86.50 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 55.47 MB)

These were some of the fruits from Ormandy's first recording sessions as conductor of a major symphony orchestra. The series of sessions actually ran from Tuesday, January 16, through Wednesday the 24th - every day except Sunday. The session of the 17th which produced this Carpenter suite also produced the recording of Kodály's "Háry János" Suite that can be heard here.

UPDATE (June 16, 2016): The listings at USCB's online Discography of American Historical Recordings (formerly the Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings) now include the 1934 Ormandy-Minneapolis sessions, and they indicate that retakes of the Carpenter suite from January 22 (sides 3 and 4) and January 23 (sides 6 and 7) were used for M-238.