Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mozart: Horn Concerto No. 4 (Dennis Brain)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
Today I present one of the earliest solo recordings by the tragically short-lived horn virtuoso Dennis Brain (1921-1957), which may not be particularly rare, perhaps (most of his recordings have been widely reissued over the years), but it is wonderful, and putting it on this blog is an excuse to put another delightful Steinweiss album cover into the public eye! This is, for all intents and purposes, the recording that introduced Dennis Brain to the American record-buying public (as a soloist, that is - the Léner Quartet's version of a Mozart divertimento, in which he and his father Aubrey had augmented the ensemble by two horns, had been issued here in 1940). It was the first to be made available as domestically-pressed discs obtainable through regular channels, some four years after it was released in England:

Mozart: Horn Concerto No. 4 in E-Flat, K. 495
Dennis Brain, with the Hallé Orchestra
conducted by Malcolm Sargent and Laurence Turner
Recorded June 21, 1943
Columbia Masterworks set MX-285, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 51.45 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 32.16 MB)

The double conductor attribution requires some explanation. The story is that Sargent was late for the recording session, so Turner, the orchestra's first violinist, took over and conducted the recording while waiting for him to arrive. English Columbia solved the problem of wording the record labels in a most frustrating manner for record collectors, by leaving off the conductor's name(s) entirely. At least they were honest, I suppose. Victor, when issuing Stokowski's 1939 recording of Saint-Saëns' "Carnival of the Animals" with the Philadelphia Orchestra, credited everything to Stoki, even though one of the sides was a retake conducted by Saul Caston.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

William Boyce: 8 Symphonies (Max Goberman)

Max Goberman
The Philadelphia-born violinist and conductor Max Goberman (1911-1962) was a true recording pioneer. He will probably always best be remembered for being the first to attempt to record all the Haydn symphonies, a project cut short less than halfway through by his untimely death from a heart attack, a month shy of his 52nd birthday. (My first-ever exposure to the Toy Symphony that we used to believe was by Haydn was through Goberman's recording of the piece for Young Peoples Records, a company for which he made important contributions in the late 1940s.) Goberman's first major recording project was undertaken with a chamber orchestra he helped found, the New York Simfonietta, and comprised the first-ever recording of the eight symphonies by William Boyce:

William Boyce: The Eight Symphonies
(edited by Constant Lambert)
The New York Simfonietta conducted by Max Goberman
Recorded c. 1937
Timely set 1-K, nine 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 156.17 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 94.87 MB)

Max Goberman was the musical director for Timely Records, a small New York-based company founded around 1935 and originally specializing in political material, which in 1937 was sold to an insurance executive named Leo Waldman. Waldman changed the focus of the label to esoteric classical material, and this Boyce set was the first issue under his aegis. Within two or three years the label was defunct, its assets sold to General Records' owner Hazard Reeves, the famed sound engineer.

The Boyce symphonies were available in those days only in an error-ridden edition by Constant Lambert, who himself would record extracts from them in 1940 as part of a ballet, "The Prospect Before Us." At the time of his death, Goberman was working on a new edition of the symphonies, which has since become the standard.

Incidentally, the 52nd birthday that Max Goberman didn't get to celebrate is a landmark I expect to reach this May. Furthermore, Goberman died a mere five months before I was born. Eerie, isn't it, that Fate should place these records in my hands at this time of my life!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Two More by the Coolidge Quartet

Robert McBride
I recently acquired two more recordings by the Coolidge Quartet (William Kroll and Nicolai Berezowsky, violins; Nicholas Moldavan, viola; Victor Gottlieb, cello), and with them, I am about halfway to having a complete collection of the issued commercial recordings of this unjustly neglected ensemble. For the first one, which is the only single-record issue in the Coolidges' discography that I can trace, they are joined by Arizona-born composer-oboist Robert McBride (1911-2007), who gained some fame as a young man for writing pieces with catchy, evocative titles such as "Jingle Jangle", "Swing Stuff", etc. Arthur Fiedler promoted him on records with the Boston Pops before discovering Leroy Anderson (Youtube has his recording of "Fugato on a Well-Known Theme" here). His Oboe Quintet, despite its academic title, inhabits the same lighthearted world; it's in a single jazzy movement marked With kick:

Robert McBride: Quintet for Oboe and Strings (1937)
Robert McBride, oboist, with the Coolidge Quartet
Recorded October 27, 1939
Victor 2159, one 10-inch 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 13.52 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 8.70 MB)

The other Coolidge item here is more self-explanatory; it's the third installment of their ill-fated Beethoven quartet cycle:

Beethoven: Quartet No. 3 in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3
The Coolidge Quartet
Recorded October 27, 1939
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-650, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 45.64 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 30.68 MB)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Brahms: Symphony No. 2 (Barbirolli)

John Barbirolli, c. 1940
Surely one of the hardest acts to follow in the history of orchestras and their conductors was Toscanini and his ten years as music director of the New York Philharmonic (1926-36). 37-year-old John Barbirolli was chosen for the job, and achieved fine results in the seven years he was there. When he arrived, the orchestra still had a recording contract with Victor, but the company seems to have done little to promote the Philharmonic - perhaps understandably, when they also had Boston, Philadelphia and Toscanini's new orchestra at NBC on the books. When the contract lapsed in 1940 Columbia eagerly signed the orchestra and its young music director, no doubt with an eye to recording it with other conductors in their stable, especially Stravinsky and Bruno Walter. But to Barbirolli, rightfully, went the honor of conducting the Philharmonic's first recording for Columbia, and here it is:

Brahms: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
conducted by John Barbirolli
Recorded March 27, 1940
Columbia Masterworks set MM-412, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 93.74 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 63.90 MB)

At just over 33 minutes long, this may well be the fastest Brahms Second on record, yet it never sounds rushed.