Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Gallery of Steinweiss Covers, Part 1

No links to sound files in this post - sorry!  In my last post I stated my intention to devote an entire entry to those wonderful Alex Steinweiss covers for Columbia Masterworks 78 sets.  Since writing that, I have discovered a marvelous blog, Collecting Record Covers, which is in the process of systematiclly putting up scans of all the Steinweiss covers, classical and popular, that the blogger, who specializes in collecting record covers, owns.  And this blogger owns a lot of them - far more than I!  So, in these posts I will merely fill in the gaps that I perceive, all scanned from albums in my own possession.

Steinweiss, as many of you may know, was the art director at Columbia from 1939 through the 40s, and in this capacity designed over 300 covers for the Masterworks series alone (along with quite a few for the Popular and Children's series).  His first Masterworks cover appears to be that for Set M-415, "Music of Victor Herbert" conducted by Kostelanetz, which appeared in 1940 (this is pictured at the above-mentioned blog, in a far better scan than I could manage).  There were, of course, earlier-numbered sets for which his cover designs exist, but they seem to have all been reissues of sets that had previously appeared with plain generic covers.  Here are two of those:

The Mahler was originally released in 1937, the Fauré early in 1939.  Steinweiss's designs date from c. 1943-44.

In the early years of his work for Columbia, Steinweiss appears to have focused on designing covers for the Popular sets; relatively few of the Masterworks sets numbered in the M-400's (roughly, 1940 to 1942) have his designs.  By the time the series hit M-500, however, a majority of the Masterworks sets were carrying his designs, and, from roughly M-550 to MM-700 (1945-47), almost all of them did.  Here are a couple from late 1942:

This cover for the 10-inch set of Schumann "Frauenliebe und Leben" isn't signed by Steinweiss, and therefore may not be his, but the Mendelssohn "Scotch" Symphony definitely is.  Both date from 1943:

And here are two from 1945 (the Lily Pons set is another 10-inch set):

To be continued....

Monday, February 21, 2011

Two More Symphonies from Philadelphia

Back in October, I posted two symphonies played by the Philadelphia Orchestra under its longtime music director, Eugene Ormandy, from their earliest recording period with RCA Victor (and I have now added FLAC files at that post, here).  Today, I present the first recordings made by the same forces after jumping ship from RCA Victor to Columbia during the Petrillo recording ban of 1942-44.  Here are the "Fabulous Philadelphians" under Eugene Ormandy in two standards of the orchestral repertoire, Beethoven's 7th and Brahms's 4th.  These are fine performances that can be enjoyed on their own merits today, but they faced stiff competition in the Victor catalogues at the time: Toscanini/New York in the Beethoven and Koussevitzky/Boston in the Brahms.  One thing the competition didn't have: those marvelous Steinweiss covers!  (One of these days, I'm going to do an upload of nothing but Steinweiss' Columbia covers - I have about 40 of these altogether.)

Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded November 19, 1944
Columbia Masterworks Set MM-557, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 82.83 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 40.16 MB)


Brahms: Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded November 19, 1944
Columbia Masterworks Set MM-567, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 93.91 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 44.39 MB)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The First Mrs. Casals?

The Portugese cellist Guilhermina Augusta Xavier de Medim Suggia Carteano Mena (1885-1950), or, to give the name by which she is generally remembered, Guilhermina Suggia, was generally believed to be the first wife of Pablo Casals, although there is no evidence that they were actually married.  Certainly she was his student and, from 1906 to 1912, his lover, and she even billed herself as "Mme. P. Casals-Suggia" for a time.  After they separated, Suggia retained her admiration for Casals.  In 1927, she married Jose Mena, an X-ray specialist.  Upon her death, her Stradivarius cello was bequeathed to the Royal Academy of Music in Britain, to be sold to fund a scholarship for young cellists.

Suggia made a handful of recordings, including two concertos that Casals never recorded - the Lalo D minor, and this one of the Haydn D major (which, incidentally, was one of John Barbirolli's first conducting assignments for HMV):

Haydn: Concerto in D, for cello and orchestra
Guilhermina Suggia, with orchestra conducted by John Barbirolli
Recorded July 12-13, 1928
HMV D 1518 through 1520, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 65.57 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 25.92 MB)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Through Deems' Looking Glass

If people today remember Deems Taylor (1885-1966) at all, it is as the master of ceremonies for the groundbreaking Disney motion picture "Fantasia" (1940), a role parodied by Elmer Fudd in the Warner Brothers cartoon "A Corny Concerto" (pictured above).  Here is what he really looked like (pictured in 1930 with his four-year-old daughter, Joan Kennedy Taylor, while working on his opera "Peter Ibbeston"):

Even in his lifetime, Deems Taylor's work as an advocate for classical music in various roles (broadcaster, journalist) overshadowed his composing.  He served as intermission commentator for the New York Philharmonic radio broadcasts, was music critic for the New York World, and was a best-selling author - "Of Men and Music" and "The Well-Tempered Listener" are written versions of his radio talks and remain witty and entertaining today.  Yet his work as a composer is not without merit.  Judge for yourself: I present the first recording of his Suite, "Through the Looking Glass," based, of course, on Lewis Carroll's immortal "Alice" books.  This delightful work was once quite popular, but has disappeared from the repertory; there is no recording currently available on CD, which is a great pity.  The second movement in particular ("Jabberwocky") is as fine a piece of tone-painting as I know.

Deems Taylor: Through the Looking Glass - Suite, Op. 12
Columbia Broadcasting Symphony conducted by Howard Barlow
Recorded November 9, 1938, under the supervision of the composer
Columbia Masterworks Set MM-350, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 67.58 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 35.69 MB)

This was the first recording by Howard Barlow and the Columbia Broadcasting Symphony; there would be quite a few more over the next two years before Columbia signed up major orchestras like the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony.  Among these was the recording of the Vaughan Williams English Folk Song Suite which I uploaded last October.  This is still available at the previous post here.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Robin Hood on Young Peoples Records

Well, this is a little bit of a change of pace.  I present today a pair of records that I had and loved as a kid, Young Peoples Records' 1950 presentation of the Robin Hood story.  Admittedly, the tale is a bit sugar-coated in this version, with the Sheriff of Nottingham presented as a cowardly buffoon (one can hardly imagine the real Sheriff submitting as meekly to his eventual fate as this one does) - but how well-characterized he is, by the Metropolitan Opera tenor George Rasely (1889-1965).  And how wonderful are the tunes!  I really repsonded, as a youngster (and still do), to the maddeningly memorable, ersatz-Elizabethan songs, and the Sportsman's Song on side 3 owes quite a bit to Gilbert & Sullivan with its choral repetitions of the soloist's words.  The music was written by Herbert Haufrecht (1909-1998), about whom I can find out little other than that contained in his New York Times obituary here.  The narration is by Alexander Scourby (1913-1985), best-known as the first person to record the entire Bible, on talking books for the blind in the early 1940s - click here to see the American Federation of the Blind's page about Scourby.  And the script and lyrics are by Raymond Abrashkin (1911-1960), a frequent collaborator on Young Peoples Records, as was the conductor, Max Goberman.

Abrashkin-Haufrecht: Robin Hood
Soloists, chorus and orchestra conducted by Max Goberman
Recorded c. 1950
Young Peoples Records 1010-11, two 10-inch vinyl 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 39.16 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 22.31 MB)

As I said, I had these records as a child, but I re-acquired the set about five years ago from an online dealer, and therefore obtained what I didn't have previously, namely, the original double sleeve (the front of which is pictured above).  The lyrics and text of the story are reproduced inside, and they are provided as JPG files with this download.

I had several dozen Young Peoples Records (and records on its affiliated label, Children's Record Guild), which, even in the early 1970s, were still available as 78s in specialized outlets.  Therefore I was fascinated by David Bonner's book about them which appeared in 2008.  (David's blog, named after his book, "Revolutionizing Children's Records," is among my blog links at right.  His first post of 2009 contains a bit written by yours truly.)  In the wake of the book's appearance, I transferred four Young Peoples Records on classical music subjects, all dating from the late 1940s, and posted them to the RMCR newsgroup.  These are still available, along with a new FLAC version; here are the details:

The Wonderful Violin (script and narration by Douglas Moore)
Mischa Mischakoff, violin
Young Peoples Records 311, one 10-inch vinyl 78-rpm record

Said the Piano to the Harpsichord (script by Douglas Moore)
David Allen, Gilbert Mack, Sylvia Marlowe
Young Peoples Records 411, one 10-inch vinyl 78-rpm record

Round and Round - Fun and Facts on the Fugue
David Allen, Gene Lowell Chorus, Horace Grenell (piano)
Young Peoples Records 431, one 10-inch vinyl 78-rpm record

Weber: Rondo for Bassoon and Orchestra
Eli Carmen (bassoon) with orchestra conducted by Max Goberman
Young Peoples Records 1009, one 10-inch vinyl 78-rpm record

All four records in one ZIP file with JPGs of the covers.
Link (FLAC files, 63.66 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 31.51 MB)

At the same time I uploaded a ridiculously abridged recording of Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf," from a Cricket 78 that has been in my possession since I was seven years old (and, I'm afraid, sounds like it!):

Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf (abridged)
"Reginald Carol" (narrator), with orchestra
Cricket C-11, one 7-inch vinyl 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 15.36 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 6.39 MB)

UPDATE (Aug. 25, 2015): I have just learned the actual provenance of the abridged "Peter and the Wolf" - it derives from a Royale LP, No. 1246, where the narration is credited to Bob Danvers-Walker (1906-1990), best known for his narration on British Pathé newsreels.  The anonymous orchestra is conducted by Reginald Leopold (1907-2003). Royale, of course, was an Eli Oberstein label, and "Obie" was known to license a bunch of children's material to Cy Leslie, founder of Pickwick Records, to jumpstart his Cricket Records line. This recording was one of those. The Royale issue was a full-length recording of "Peter and the Wolf" - which Cricket hacked down to a six-minute length, while cloaking Mr. Danvers-Walker in pseudonymity by borrowing the first name of his conductor!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Denis Matthews in Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven

The British pianist and musicologist Denis Matthews (1919-1988) was most closely associated with the music of the great Viennese Classical masters, especially Mozart and Beethoven.  Perhaps his most famous recording is that of the Beethoven Horn Sonata, made in 1944 with Dennis Brain, both Den(n)ises being in R.A.F. uniform at the session; this has been reissued on a Testament CD along with an equally fine Beethoven Clarinet Trio featuring Matthews, Reginald Kell and Anthony Pini.  But I present here a trio of single 78-rpm records, each featuring a solo piano work by a member of the First Viennese School:

Haydn: Sonata in E, Hob.XVI:31
Recorded April 25, 1949
English Columbia DX 1655, one 78-rpm record

Mozart: Fantasia and Fugue in C, K. 394
Recorded September 16, 1942
English Columbia DX 1095, one 78-rpm record

Beethoven: Rondo in G, Op. 51, No. 2
Recorded April 25, 1949
English Columbia DX 1595, one 78-rpm record

All played by Denis Matthews, pianist
Link (FLAC files, 65.28 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 28.78 MB)

Denis Matthews, along with Myra Hess, Louis Kentner and Frank Merrick, made pioneering recordings of the piano music of John Field.  Last summer, just before starting this blog, I transferred his record of two John Field nocturnes; this is still available, and I have just added FLAC files as well:

John Field: Nocturne in E minor and "Midi" Rondo in E
Denis Matthews, pianist
Recorded June 22, 1945
Columbia 72525-D, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 20.18 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 8.23 MB)

At the same time I made available a "John Field Suite" orchestrated by Sir Hamilton Harty, one of whose movements is the same "Midi" Rondo that Matthews recorded.  This is also still available, as are new FLAC files:

Harty: A John Field Suite and
Elgar: Serious Doll (from "Nursery Suite")
Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Sargent
Recorded March 15 and May 7, 1943
English Columbia DX 1118-20, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 54.25 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 22.89 MB)