Saturday, May 30, 2015

Mendelssohn: "Italian" Symphony (Harty)

This week, I present one of the last major recordings made by the Hallé Orchestra under the man who guided its musical fortunes for 13 years (from 1920 to 1933), the great Sir Hamilton Harty (1879-1941). This is their 1931 recording of Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony, an endearing reading full of vivacity and authentic string portamenti, in a splendid early Columbia "Vivatonal" pressing I was lucky enough to find recently:

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90 ("Italian")
The Hallé Orchestra conducted by Sir Hamilton Harty
Recorded April 10, 1931
Columbia Masterworks Set No. 167, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 90.41 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 62.77 MB)

Included with the download is the original 16-page booklet of program notes, which even includes a listing of all Columbia Masterworks sets available up through the time of this release at the end of 1931. It reveals that even at this late date, no less than fourteen of Columbia's earliest acoustical sets were still available for sale.

Friday, May 22, 2015

First Recordings by the First Piano Quartet

I'm revisiting the reclaimed record pile this week, with the first three issued recordings by the First Piano Quartet (Vladimir Padwa, Frank Mittler, Adam Garner, Edward Edson). Initially all three were issued in Victor's "Double Feature" series, a semi-classical line priced 25 cents lower than the Red Seal series. The 1948 RCA Victor Catalog describes these as having teal labels; however, as can be clearly seen, my copy of one of them has an ordinary black label. My guess is that they replaced the teal labels with black ones as being cheaper to produce. In any event, all three issues were subsequently upgraded to Red Seal status a year later, the form in which I have the other two (in somewhat battered copies, I'm afraid):

Chopin: Polonaise in A-Flat, Op. 53
RCA Victor 46-0005, one 78-rpm record
Paganini: Variations in A minor (composed by the ensemble's members)
Chopin: Etudes, Op. 25, Nos. 6, 1 and 9
RCA Victor 12-0250, one 78-rpm record
Liszt: Second Hungarian Rhapsody
RCA Victor 12-0251, one 78-rpm record
The First Piano Quartet
Recorded c. early 1947
Link (FLAC files, 57.89 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.69 MB)

The Paganini Variations were the group's radio theme signature, according to the label, which also bears the cryptic composer credit "Paganini-Garner-Edson-Mittler-Padwa" - it is of course the same theme that also inspired Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Lutoslawski and so many others for variations.

Friday, May 15, 2015

MacDowell: "Indian" Suite (Howard Barlow)

Cover image restored by Peter Joelson
This week, an album by that indefatigable purveyor of unusual and little-known music on record, Howard Barlow (1892-1972), who, with his Columbia Broadcasting Symphony, was responsible for a number of recorded premières, including this one.  Actually, four-fifths of one, because another Howard - Hanson - beat Barlow to the punch by four days in recording the fourth of the five movements of this MacDowell Suite (the "Dirge") as part of his first Victor album of American music, which didn't actually hit the stores until after the present recording did:

MacDowell: Suite No. 2 in E minor, Op. 48 ("Indian")
Columbia Broadcasting Symphony conducted by Howard Barlow
Recorded May 15, 1939
Columbia Masterworks set M-373, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 78.16 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 62.05 MB)

The simple but appealing cover design shown above is original to the set, which is a nice early pressing.  I'm pretty sure it predates Alex Steinweiss' design work for Columbia, and there were a few other sets from the same time period (middle to late 1939) that featured a composer's silhouette, as this one does.  Later copies of this MacDowell set that I've seen use an ordinary generic cover.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Andor Földes)

Andor Földes, 1956
The Hungarian pianist Andor Földes (1913-1992) studied under the two towering musical figures of his time and place - Ernst von Dohnányi and Béla Bartók, and in fact became best known for his performances of the latter composer's works. He came to America around 1940, and would first have become known to American record-buyers through his role as accompanist to another compatriot, violinist Joseph Szigeti, in a series of prewar Columbia recordings, most notably sonatas by Schubert and Debussy. In 1947, Földes gave the New York première of Bartók's Second Concerto, and made the first recording of it two years later, in France:

Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2 (1931)
Andor Földes, piano
Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux conducted by Eugène Bigot
Recorded June 27 and 29, 1949
Polydor (France) A6.320 through A6.322, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 65.70 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 43.66 MB)

These French Polydor pressings, though looking lovely, turned out to be quite noisy. I did what I could with them with several different styli, but some sides still have an audible swish and in fact the right channel turned out to be unusable. Despite this, I still think it sounds better than the Vox LP which was the recording's only issue in the USA.