Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Albert Sammons plays Grieg

Here is a rare sonata recording by the man considered by many to be the greatest British violinist, Albert Sammons (1886-1957).  It is of Grieg's Sonata in G, Op. 13, recorded on March 12, 1925 with Sammons' longtime sonata partner William Murdoch (1888-1942) at the piano.  This was one of the last acoustical recordings made by Columbia (they had switched to the Western Electric recording process by October 1925) and consequently experienced a very short catalogue life, issued in November 1925 and deleted in Feburary 1928.

Grieg: Violin Sonata No. 2 in G, Op. 13
Albert Sammons, violin; William Murdoch, piano
Recorded March 12, 1925
English Columbia L 1661 through L 1663, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 63.25 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 24.61 MB)

The three Grieg violin sonatas enjoyed a much greater circulation 75-100 years ago than today.  Heifetz recorded Op. 13 in the 1930s, and there's a famous 1928 recording of Op. 45 in C minor by Fritz Kreisler and Sergei Rachmaninoff.  This Sammons recording appears to be the first one made of Op. 13, a charming work.

Only a month after making this recording, and still by the acoustical recording process, Sammons made his first complete recording of a violin concerto, and his only recording of a non-British concerto at that.  This was Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1, with an unidentified orchestra conducted by Sir Hamilton Harty.  Early in 2008 I did a transfer of this recording, which is still available for download:

Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26
Albert Sammons, violin, with orchestra conducted by Sir Hamilton Harty
Recorded April 9, 1925
Columbia Masterworks Set No. 30, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 65.85 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 24.17 MB)

Albert Sammons, for all his many achievements as a soloist, was also a great quartet leader.  He was one of the founding members of the London String Quartet in 1908 and played first violin in it for nine years, until being called up for military service in 1917.  The Fall 2010 issue of Classic Recordings Quarterly features a fine article by Tully Potter about the LSQ and its recordings.  Late in 2007 I did transfers of a group of LSQ recordings from 1915-17 (when Sammons was still in it), featuring music by Mozart, Schubert, Schumann and Tchaikovsky, which are still available for download:

Mozart: Quartet No. 16 in E-Flat, K. 428
Schubert: Quartet No. 12 in C minor, D. 703 ("Quartettsatz")
Schumann: Quartet No. 3 in A, Op. 41, No. 3
Tchaikovsky: Quartet No. 1 in D, Op. 11: Scherzo
London String Quartet (led by Albert Sammons)
Recorded 1915-17
English Columbia L 1015, 1043, 1044, 1199, 1200, 5 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 105.6 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 38.35 MB)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dmitri Shostakovich!

One of my all-time favorite composers, Dmitri Shostakovich, was born 104 years ago this Saturday, on September 25, 1906.  To celebrate, I present two early recordings of his music, including one that might very well be the earliest.  This is of two excerpts from his 1929 ballet, "The Golden Age" - the Polka and Russian Dance.  It was recorded in the early 1930's for Pathé (issued by Columbia in the US and Britain) by the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris under Julius Ehrlich - the exact recording date is unknown.  The other contender for the title of "First Shostakovich Recording" would be Stokowski's November 1933 account of the First Symphony, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, which has been reissued on CD by Pearl.  Both recordings were reviewed in the September 1934 issue of Gramophone Magazine, which I would love to be able to link to, but, maddeningly, this review does not appear to have been scanned into Gramophone's archive, nor do PDF scans of the actual pages appear to be downloadable as in the past.  (Fortunately, about a year ago, I did get to download PDF scans of a number of Columbia ads from the magazine, including one that advertises this Ehrlich recording, and have included it in the ZIP file at the link below.)  The record of "Golden Age" excerpts was one of a pair designed to show how "far-out" the music from Bolshevik Russia had become.  The other record features orchestral music that graphically illustrates the noise made by machinery - Mossolov's "Steel Foundry" and Meytuss' "Dnieper Water Power Station."  The whole package was called, in its American release, "Strange Music of the Modern Russian School" - a hilarious title, I think!  Here are the links for this set:

"Modern Russian Music"
Orchestre Symphonique de Paris conducted by Julius Ehrlich
Columbia Masterworks set M-347, two 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 27.12 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 12.81 MB)

The other Shostakovich recording I present is of the Ninth Symphony of 1945, for me one of the most delightful of his fifteen symphonies.  This is only the second recording made of it, by the New York Philharmonic (or, as it was called in those days, the "Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York") conducted by Russian-born Efrem Kurtz (1900-1995).  It's a fine one, marred only by the extremely slow tempo that he takes for the second movement, probably resulting from an incorrect metronome marking in the earliest scores of the symphony published in America.  It was released at the same time as the first recording, by Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony (currently available on a Biddulph CD).  I've also included, as a bonus, a transfer of a single record by Kurtz and the New York Philharmonic, of a Shostakovich Waltz and a Prokofiev March:

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 9, Op. 70; Waltz from "The Golden Mountains"
Prokofiev: March, Op. 99*
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York conducted by Efrem Kurtz
Recorded April 8, 1947, and *April 20, 1946
Columbia Masterworks set MM-688, four 78-rpm records and
Columbia Masterworks 12881-D, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 82.33 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.48 MB)

Below I reproduce the cover art for the 78-rpm album of the Shostakovich Ninth (thanks to Buster, Joe and others for the advice on how to do scans of large record covers!).  It's by the inimitable Alex Steinweiss, Columbia's art director during the 40s.  Note the stick figures in the background: there are nine of them, to match the fact that it's a "Symphony No. 9" - a typical Steinweissism.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bach by Bartlett, Robertson and Barbirolli

This time I present a fairly rare recording of a Bach concerto by the British husband-and-wife piano duo team of Ethel Bartlett (1896-1978) and Rae Robertson (1893-1956), pictured above with tenor Peter Pears on the left.  (The picture was taken by Benjamin Britten - who wrote three works for the Robertsons - while he and Pears were staying at the couple's California home during the summer of 1941.  It was while staying here that Britten ran across a magazine article about George Crabbe, that ultimately led to the creation of his most famous opera, "Peter Grimes.")  The Robertsons were of diminutive stature - notice how Pears is standing on a lower stair in the picture - but there was nothing diminutive about their piano-playing.

This recording of Bach's Concerto in C, BWV 1061, was made in London in 1933 with a pickup orchestra conducted by John Barbiroll (who in previous years had given cello recitals with Bartlett as his accompanist).  It seems to have been the first recording of the work, although a much more famous one was made only three years later, also by HMV, featuring pianist Artur Schnabel and his son Karl Ulrich Schnabel, with Adrian Boult conducting the strings of the London Symphony.  The Bartlett-Robertson version, however, must have still had some customers, as it was much cheaper - only 8 shillings for two Plum Label records, versus 18 shillings for three Red Label records in the Schnabels' version!  In any case, the Bartlett-Robertson records remained available until 1943.

Bach: Concerto in C for two claviers and strings, BWV 1061
Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson, pianos
Orchestra conducted by John Barbirolli
Recorded December 20, 1933
HMV C 2648 and C 2649, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 43.19 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 18.1 MB)

Over three years ago I posted to RMCR two other Bach recordings by Ethel Bartlett, one with her husband, one with Barbirolli in one of his rare cello recordings.  These are still available for download; the details:

Bach: Organ Sonata No. 1 in E-Flat, BWV 525, arranged for two pianos
Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson, pianists
Recorded July 20, 1933
HMV C 2614, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 21.26 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 7.94 MB)

Bach: Sonata in G, BWV 1027, for viola da gamba and harpsichord
John Barbirolli, cello, and Ethel Bartlett, piano
Recorded July 1, 1929, by Columbia
National Gramophonic Society 133-134, 2 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 35.67 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 16.13 MB)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Roussel: Symphony No. 3

Well, Satyr has been giving us a number of fine recordings by Albert Wolff lately, over on the blog "78 toeren en LPs," and here's my contribution to the Wolff-fest: the first recording of Roussel's Third Symphony, from a set of French Polydor 78s.  This was recorded c. 1932, shortly after Wolff and the Lamoureux Orchestra gave the Paris premiére of the symphony, and only a year or two after the world premiére, in October 1930, by the Boston Symphony under Koussevitzky, who commissioned the work as part of the orchestra's 50th anniversary celebrations.  It was a rare honor in those days for a contemporary work to be recorded so soon after its unveiling!

Roussel: Symphony No. 3 in G minor, Op. 42
Lamoureux Orchestra conducted by Albert Wolff
Recorded c. 1932
French Polydor 566126 through 566128, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 56.18 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 25.75 MB)

Albert Roussel (1869-1937) is one of those curious composers (like Scriabin or Szymanowski) whose works written in the last fifteen or so years of his life are so unlike his earlier, yet fully mature works that it's sometimes hard to believe they're by the same composer.  In Roussel's case, he migrated from a post-Impressionistic style to a somewhat abrasive neo-classicism as found in this Third Symphony.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Vaughan Williams: Violin Concerto

Here is another recording première: the Vaughan Williams Concerto in D Minor for violin and string orchestra, written in 1925 for Yelly d'Aranyi, and given the rather ironic subtitle "Concerto Accademico" - a subtitle the composer came to dislike. Ironic, because there really is nothing academic about it; it's earthy, vigorous and boasts a particularly beautiful slow movement. There is the slight aura of Bach about it: if Villa-Lobos could write works he called "Bachianas Brasileiras" (Bach in Brazilian style) then this is surely a "Bachianas Anglicanas" or something like that - Bach in English peasant dress. In any case, I loved this concerto on first hearing it at age 13, and it remains one of my very favorite Vaughan Williams works.

Vaughan Williams: Concerto in D minor (Concerto Accademico)
Frederick Grinke, violin, with the Boyd Neel String Orchestra
Recorded May 8, 1939
English Decca X 248 and X 249, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 44.85 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 17.8 MB)

This recording features Winnipeg-born Frederick Grinke as the violin soloist, with the Boyd Neel String Orchestra conducted by - you guessed it - Boyd Neel. While Grinke moved from Canada to England as a young man, Neel made the reverse transition in middle age, becoming head of Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music in 1953. The strong Canadian ties of both men ensure that a fair number of their recordings can be heard at The Virtual Gramophone (see my list of links at the right), but this Vaughan Williams concerto is not among them. Nor are two other Boyd Neel String Orchestra recordings that I posted to RMCR previously, which are still available for download:

Dvorak: Serenade for Strings in E, Op. 22
Boyd Neel String Orchestra (leader: Frederick Grinke) conducted by Boyd Neel
Recorded Dec. 10, 1937 and February 18, 1938
English Decca X 214 through X 217, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 64.39 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 27.49 MB)

Stravinsky: Apollon Musagètes - Ballet (1928)
Boyd Neel String Orchestra (leader: Louis Willoughby) conducted by Boyd Neel
Recorded Feb. 17 and April 29, 1937
English Decca X 167 through X 170, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 71.62 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 29.09 MB)

The Stravinsky ballet is also a first recording (though Koussevitzky, with the Boston Symphony, had recorded one section of it in 1928), and the Dvorak Serenade might be, too.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Griffes: Poem for Flute and Orchestra

Here is something that will delight flute fans and fans of American music: the first-ever recording of the impressionistic Poem for Flute and Orchestra, composed in 1918 by Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920), who is pictured above.  It is played, magnificently, by Joseph Mariano (1911-2007), Professor of Flute at the Eastman School of Music from 1935 to 1974, with Eastman's director, Howard Hanson, leading the Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra.  This is from a somewhat battered copy of Victor 11-8349, recorded May 8, 1942 - and not helped by the fact that it was pressed during World War II in recycled shellac!  But the beauty of the performance, I think, makes up for the less-than-perfect sound.

Link (FLAC file, 23.26 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 10.2 MB)

Arguably, no other man ever did more for the cause of American classical music than Howard Hanson, who once estimated that over 2,000 works by 500 American composers (including, of course, himself) were premiered in Rochester during his 40-year tenure as director of the Eastman School.  Earlier I posted to RMCR several of Hanson's early Victor recordings with the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra, including two of his own works.  These are still available for download.  The details:

Howard Hanson: The Lament for Beowulf, Op. 25
with the Eastman School Choir
Recorded May 7, 1941
Spencer Norton: Prologue from Dance Suite
Recorded May 9, 1941
Victor set DM-889, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 52.27 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 25.72 MB)

Howard Hanson: Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 21 ("Nordic")
Recorded May 7, 1942
Victor set DM-973, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 65.99 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 29.36 MB)

Charles Martin Loeffler: A Pagan Poem, Op. 14 (after Virgil)
Piano obbligato: Irene Gedney; English horn: Richard Swingly
Recorded May 10, 1941
Victor set DM-876, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 56.21 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 27.85 MB)