Monday, August 30, 2010

Happy 100th, William Schuman!

Okay, so I'm a little late to the party here, since the 100th anniversary of the birth of William Schuman (1910-1992) was at the beginning of the month (August 4) and here we are nearing the end of it, but what's a few weeks between friends?  In any case, to celebrate, here's the first recording of any of William Schuman's five string quartets (the first of which was withdrawn).

William Schuman: String Quartet No. 3 (1939)
Gordon String Quartet
Recorded c. 1946-47
Concert Hall Society Release AB, three vinyl 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 58.2 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 28.42 MB)

The Concert Hall Society was established in 1946 as a mail-order subscription label, and dedicated to presenting esoteric classical repertoire.  (Concert Hall Society also made the first recording of a William Schuman symphony - his fifth, the Symphony for Strings.)  Although RCA Victor had been using vinyl as a pressing material since 1945 for a limited number of releases, Concert Hall Society was one of the first two record labels to employ vinyl exclusively (the other was Young Peoples' Records, founded about the same time, and also as a mail-order subscription label).  For more information about the Concert Hall Society, click here.

We've certainly had a lot of important composer birthdays this year!  Two great American composers' centennials (William Schuman and Samuel Barber) and the 200ths of Chopin and the other Schuman(n) - Robert.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Classics from Arthur Pryor's Band

In the earliest days of commercial recording (roughly, from 1890 to 1910), military and concert bands, unlike orchestras, were frequent visitors to the recording studio. The reason for this is simple: massed strings didn't record well, while brass and woodwinds did. Bands recorded everything: popular songs of the day, medleys from operettas and musical shows, dance music, and, of course, marches. This upload, however, focuses on band transcriptions of standard orchestral repertoire. The following works are presented:

GRIEG: Peer Gynt Suite - "Morning" and "Death of Ase"
LISZT: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
LISZT: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9 - Finale
ROSSINI: William Tell Overture
SCHUBERT: Unfinished Symphony - First movement (abridged)
TCHAIKOVSKY: Marche Slave (abridged)
WAGNER: Tannhäuser Overture (abridged)

These were all recorded between 1905 and 1914 (complete recording details are supplied in a text file accompanying the recordings) by Arthur Pryor's Band, one of the most active concert bands making records in the USA during this period.

Link (FLAC files, 134.31 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 49.75 MB)

Arthur Pryor (1870-1942) was a virtuoso trombonist who joined Sousa's Band in 1892, becoming assistant conductor of that legendary organization before leaving to form his own band in 1903. It was Pryor who actually conducted Sousa's Band on records - apparently the great man considered recording beneath him. He was also a composer, his most famous piece being "The Whistler and His Dog." (Fans of "The Little Rascals" films will remember Buckwheat pretending to whistle while a somewhat damaged record plays behind a curtain; "The Whistler and His Dog" is the tune in question.)

A particularly pioneering effort is represented by the movement from Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, which was recorded in 1910 and released in November of that year. It would appear that this was the very first time Victor recorded any part of a symphony. The record must have sold reasonably well, for the band had to remake it two years later. Clearly, the record-buying public had a taste for "serious" symphonic fare. Certainly my copy of Victor 31798 was much loved by its original owner!

In 1912, Victor embarked on a program of recording abridged symphonic works, not with a band, but with its own in-house orchestra, the Victor Concert Orchestra. Two Haydn and two Mozart symphonies, the Beethoven Fifth and the Schubert Unfinished, as well as movements from Mendelssohn's "Italian" and Dvorak's "New World," were among the offerings. Most of these do not credit any conductor, though Walter B. Rogers, Victor's house conductor, was probably responsible for most of them. Nearly three years ago, I uploaded to the newsgroup "" (RMCR) a selection of these recordings, containing the following:

HAYDN: Military Symphony (No. 100 in G)
MOZART: Symphony in G minor (No. 40, K. 550)
MOZART: Jupiter Symphony (No. 41 in C, K. 551)
BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3 (Op. 72a)
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 4 - Adagio
    (played by Vessella's Italian Band, as a filler for the Leonore Overture)

These are still available for download at the following links:

Link (FLAC files, 181.49 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 67.8 MB)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Virtuoso String Quartet

The Virtuoso String Quartet (Marjorie Hayward and Edwin Virgo, violins; Raymond Jeremy, viola; Cedric Sharpe, cello) was organized by the Gramophone Company of England (HMV) in 1924, and was, apparently, the first chamber music group formed specifically for making recordings.  Their recording career was brief, however.  By the late 1920s, ensembles with international reputations, such as the Budapest Quartet, were recording for HMV, and the Virtuoso Quartet with its more localized reputation was shunted aside in favor of these.  A pity, for the Virtuoso Quartet was a fine ensemble whose performances are passionate and compelling, and whose recordings, which include four Beethoven quartets and quartets by Tchaikovsky, Franck, Debussy and Ravel, as well as numerous shorter works, have become sought after by collectors.

I have three of their Beethoven quartet recordings available, as well as a group of shorter works, headed by Ravel's Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet (with harpist John Cockerill, flutist Robert Murchie, and clarinetist Charles Draper) and including the first of Frank Bridge's "Three Idylls" for string quartet, composed in 1906.  (Benjamin Britten, who was Bridge's pupil, wrote variations for string orchestra on the second of these Idylls.)

Beethoven: Quartet No. 6 in B-Flat, Op. 18, No. 6 and
Schubert: Moment Musicale
Virtuoso String Quartet
Recorded from December 6, 1926, to January 31, 1927
HMV D 1206 through D 1209, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 83.68 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 57.02 MB)

Beethoven: Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2
Virtuoso String Quartet
Recorded May 20 and June 18, 1924
HMV D 953 through D 956, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 94.01 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 32.44 MB)

Beethoven: Quartet No. 12 in E-Flat, Op. 127 and
Dittersdorf: Quartet No. 5 in E-Flat - Minuet
Virtuoso String Quartet
Recorded from October 26, 1925, to October 12, 1926
HMV D 1183 through D 1187, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 107.58 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 72.12 MB)

Ravel: Introduction and Allegro
(with John Cockerill, harp; Robert Murchie, flute; Charles Draper, clarinet)
Bridge: Three Noveletten - No. 3 in E-Flat
Virtuoso String Quartet
Recorded February 4 and March 18, 1929
HMV C 1662 and C 1663, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 36.10 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 25.29 MB)

Bridge: Three Idylls - No. 1 in C-Sharp Minor
Virtuoso String Quartet
Recorded June 18, 1928
HMV C 1593, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 20.47 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 13.87 MB)

Bridge [arr.]: Londonderry Air and
Haydn: "Emperor" Quartet - Theme and Variations
Virtuoso String Quartet
Recorded July 1 and November 21, 1927
HMV C 1470, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 22.17 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 16.52 MB)

Julius Harrison: Widdicombe Fair - Humoreske, Op. 22 and
Haydn [attrib.]: Quartet in F, Op. 3, No. 5 - Serenade
Virtuoso String Quartet
Recorded November 21, 1927, and July 8, 1928
HMV B 3137, one 10-inch 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 15.74 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 11.25 MB)

Since this was originally posted, I have made available two additional transfers of VSQ recordings.  I list them below, for the convenience of having all my files of their recordings in one place:

Gossec: Tambourin (arr. Cedric Sharpe)
Grainger: Molly on the Shore
Virtuoso String Quartet
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)

Franck: Quartet in D Major
Virtuoso String Quartet
Recorded January 14 to April 20, 1925
HMV D 1006 through D 1011, six 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 149.02 MB)
Link (FLAC files, 74.09 MB)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mitch Miller plays Handel

For this debut entry in my new blog, I wish to pay tribute to Mitch Miller, who passed away on Saturday, July 31, 2010, aged 99.  For Americans over a certain age he will always be associated with his series of "Sing Along With Mitch" LPs (and the television show which these inspired, which ran from 1961 to 1966).  One of my very first records, received with my very first record player (at Christmas 1965), was a 6-eyes Columbia LP of "Still More Sing Along with Mitch" which I am listening to in this photo:

Long before his career as a sing-along leader, however, Mitchell Miller (as he was billed on his classical recordings) was well-known for his fine oboe and English horn playing.  No less a conductor than Leopold Stokowski admired his playing, and when Stokowski conducted a recording of Dvorak's "New World" Symphony in 1947, he hired Mitch to play the famous English horn solo in the second movement, and insisted that Mitch be credited on the label, at a time when such credits were rarely given.  From 1935 to 1947 he was oboist in the Columbia Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra, who accompanies him on the first of two Handel recordings below:

Handel: Oboe Concerto No. 3 in G minor
Mitch Miller and the Columbia Broadcasting Symphony under Howard Barlow
Recorded June 19, 1939
Columbia 69660-D, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 16.3 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 8.34 MB)

Handel: Oboe Sonata in G minor, Op. 1, No. 6
Mitch Miller, oboe; Yella Pessl, harpsichord
Recorded August 4, 1938 (information courtesy of Don Tait)
Victor 15378, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 15.51 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 7.28 MB)

Both of these recordings have been transferred from my own 78-rpm shellac records (although, in the case of the Sonata, from a cassette copy, as I no longer own the record).