Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
Two early Ormandy recordings with a nautical theme this week.  The first one is, perhaps, the more obvious - Ormandy's "arrangement" of a suite from Handel's "Water Music."  Actually, the orchestration sounds to me identical with the more famous arrangement by Sir Hamilton Harty; however, Ormandy has rearranged the order of the movements to more closely align with Handel's original.  In any case, here's the first of three recordings Ormandy was to conduct of the arrangement:

Handel (arr. Ormandy): Water Music Suite
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded January 12, 1946
Columbia Masterworks set MX-279, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 47.08 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 23.6 MB)

The second recording here spotlights Edna Phillips (1907-2003), harpist of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1930 to 1946, and the first female member of the orchestra.  She commissioned a number of important works for the harp, the best-known of which is Alberto Ginastera's Concerto.  Paul White (1895-1973) wrote this gem of a miniature harp concerto, based on sea shanties, for her in 1942.  It can be played either with string orchestra or solo strings, as here:

Paul White: Sea Chanty, for harp and strings
Edna Phillips, harp, with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra
under the direction of Eugene Ormandy
Recorded October 24, 1945
Columbia Masterworks set MX-259, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 38.96 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 22.12 MB)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss

My thanks again to Ken Halperin of Collecting Record Covers for these two sets.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
(restored by Peter Joelson)
The spotlight this week is on the great Greek conductor and pianist, Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960), who, at the time of these recordings, was the principal conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony.  Here, however, he is leading the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia (essentially the Philadelphia Orchestra) in a couple of their earliest recordings under that name.  To simultaneously play and conduct Prokofiev's extremely demanding Third Piano Concerto was a Mitropoulos specialty (he first carried out the feat in Berlin in 1930), and, in fact, I'm unaware of anyone who has done the dual role with this piece since.  (Since writing the above, I've learned that Van Cliburn actually did so, at a 1961 concert in New York that was a memorial for Mitropoulos! Stokowski was supposed to conduct, but was laid up from an accident, so Cliburn, who had taken conducting lessons from Bruno Walter, assumed conducting duties as well.)  And even if there are quite a few wrong notes in this performance, one can't help admiring Mitropoulos' gumption not merely in pulling it off, but in posing the challenge to its only competition in the record catalogues at the time - the composer's own recording of 1932:

Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26
Dimitri Mitropoulos with the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia
Recorded July 26, 1946
Columbia Masterworks set MM-667, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 71.05 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 38.43 MB)

In the next recording presented here, Mitropoulos reverts to his more accustomed role as conductor only, since for even so prestigious a talent as his, it would have been impossible to play both piano parts as well as conduct in the Mozart two-piano concerto:

Mozart: Concerto for two pianos in E-Flat major, K. 365
Vitya Vronsky and Victor Babin, duo-pianists
Robin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos
Recorded September 21, 1945
Columbia Masterworks set MM-628, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 61.87 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 36.2 MB)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Shostakovich: Second and Third Symphonies

Cover design by Lorraine Fox
This is the first time that I have offered a stereophonic recording on this blog, one that I feel is deserving of wider circulation than it is currently receiving.  These, the two poor stepchildren of Shostakovich's symphonic oeuvre, which the composer himself essentially disowned, have never received more persuasive performances than on this 1968 release conducted by Morton Gould.  They have seldom been recorded at all, except in complete cycles of Shostakovich's symphonies (on the other hand, these are the only Shostakovich symphonies Gould recorded), and most of these recordings seem to take the attitude that, yes, this music is junk, but these symphonies are part of one of the most important 20th-century cycles and therefore can't be ignored, so let's make the music sound more important than it is and hope nobody notices.  A fatal approach, if you ask me.  Gould, a fine composer of much fun music himself, understood that the way to make this music come off was to have fun with it.  After all, Shostakovich was a young man in his early 20s when he wrote it, and in the relatively carefree days before Stalin put his stranglehold over all the arts, nose-thumbing was an essential part of Shostakovich's musical nature.  Even the ridiculous words are an object of fun for Gould's chorus - just listen to the way they belt out the final line of the Second Symphony - "October, Communism, and LEHHHHHHH-NIN!"

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 2, Op. 14 ("To October") and
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 3, Op. 20 ("May Day")
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Morton Gould
Issued in 1968
RCA Red Seal LSC-3044, one stereo LP record
Link (FLAC file [Symphony No. 2], 104.22 MB)
Link (FLAC file [Symphony No. 3], 156.68 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 73.41 MB)

If anyone knows recording details for this release, I would certainly like to hear about it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Boogie Woogie

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
(restored by Peter Joelson)

Some more vintage jazz this week, with a 1941 anthology by Columbia of boogie-woogie music, reissued from recordings made up to five years earlier for Vocalion and Brunswick.  I must confess that when I first heard this album, my first impression was of overwhelming monotony!  After all, during the course of this set we go through the same chord progression 83 times (yes, I counted them!), and, as if that weren't enough, all the pieces except the first one are in the key of C major.  Small wonder, I thought, that Fats Waller was so famously dismissive of boogie-woogie.  Still, this music does grow on you, and as you get past the limitations of the style, you become aware of the variety of shadings that the different artists bring to it.  Also, there's a nice variety of sounds here, from Harry James' trumpet and Lester Young's sax, to piano solos and ensembles.  Here are the contents:

1. Boo-Woo
Harry James, Pete Johnson, Johnny Williams, Eddie Dougherty
2. Woo-Woo
Harry James, Albert Ammons, Johnny Williams, Eddie Dougherty
3. Roll 'Em Pete
Joe Turner, Pete Johnson
4. Boogie Woogie (Pinetop Smith)
Count Basie's Blue Five with Lester Young and James Rushing
5-6. Boogie Woogie Prayer (two takes)
Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons
7. Shout For Joy
Albert Ammons
8. Bear Cat Crawl
Meade Lux Lewis
Recorded 1936-39
Columbia C-44, four ten-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 77.1 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 35.23 MB)

For me, the finest sides here are Meade Lux Lewis's solo, and Count Basie's ensemble record (which, on its original Vocalion issue, didn't even credit Basie!).  On a personal note, I had the great pleasure of hearing Basie's big band play at my high school, Druid Hills, when I was a senior, way back in 1980-81.  The Count was already quite an old man, and the truth is, I don't remember him doing very much.  But his band!  He had a bass player who was simply incredible.  I was sitting up pretty close to the front, on the side where he was, and I was able to observe at close hand not only how skilled he was - he could really get up to some high notes on that thing! - but how much energy and joy he put into his playing; he never stopped grinning.  Truly a memorable occasion.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Incomparable William Primrose

Today I offer two early recordings by the great viola virtuoso, the Scottish-born William Primrose (1904-1982).  Originally trained as a violinist (a few of his violin records can be sampled at the CHARM website), about 1930 he switched to the viola, and the rest, as they say, is history.  By 1934 he had made his first solo recordings as a violist, and by the end of the decade (at which time he was playing in Toscanini's NBC Symphony) he had committed several major works for the instrument to disc, including these two:

Brahms: Sonata in E-Flat Major, Op. 120, No. 2
William Primrose, viola; Gerald Moore, piano
Recorded September 16, 1937
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-422, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 47.32 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 22.24 MB)

Bloch: Suite for Viola and Piano (1919)
William Primrose, viola; Fritz Kitzinger, piano
Recorded April 22, 1938
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-575, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 83.96 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 39.12 MB)

Gerald Moore's achievements as an accompanist are well-known, but I can find out little about Fritz Kitzinger, who copes splendidly with the very demanding piano part in the Bloch Suite.  He seems to have been a vocal coach and conductor as well as a pianist; he married the noted piano pedagogue Adele Marcus in 1940.  On records he also appeared as an accompanist for Charles Kullman, Ezio Pinza, and Friedrich Schorr, but this is his only collaboration with William Primrose.