Friday, January 29, 2016

Handel: Cuckoo and the Nightingale (Biggs, Fiedler)

E. Power Biggs, 1937
As I was growing up, E. Power Biggs (1906-1977) was a one-man institution in organ-playing, at least in my awareness, through his many, many Columbia LPs spanning a wide range of repertoire, performed on historic organs all over the world. His career at Columbia spanned some thirty years, but before this, he had been at Victor from 1939 to 1946, where most of his work was done on the 1937 Aeolian-Skinner organ built to Baroque specifications (pictured above) and located in Harvard's Germanic Museum. His recordings included collaborations with Arthur Fiedler and his Sinfonietta composed of Boston Symphony players; in fact Biggs' first Victor release was of a Handel concerto with Fiedler, which Larry Austin has made available here. A year later, they recorded this most popular of the Handel concertos:

Handel: Concerto No. 13 in F Major ("The Cuckoo and the Nightingale")
E. Power Biggs, organ, with Arthur Fiedler's Sinfonietta
Recorded March 17, 1940
RCA Victor set M-733, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 40.36 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 28.11 MB)

Both Biggs and Fiedler would later make complete recordings of the Handel organ concertos in stereo - but not together: Biggs' set was with Boult and the London Philharmonic, for Columbia, and Fiedler's was with Carl Weinrich for RCA.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Hanson's "Romantic" - The First Recording

Howard Hanson
The most popular work by Nebraska-born Howard Hanson (1896-1981) is his Second Symphony of 1930, long a favorite with youth and amateur orchestras because it is apparently relatively easy to bring off a convincing performance by such ensembles. Perhaps this is fitting, given Hanson's status as a musical educator; after all, he transformed the Eastman School of Music into one of America's top music schools during his 40 years as its director. But his Second Symphony actually was commissioned by the Boston Symphony, for its 50th anniversary. Ten years later, in 1940, Victor's first two sets featuring American symphonies simultaneously hit the record shops. The BSO's contribution wasn't Hanson's - it was the Third Symphony by Roy Harris. Hanson himself led his Eastman-Rochester orchestra in the symphony he had written for Boston:

Hanson: Symphony No. 2, Op. 30 ("Romantic")
Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra conducted by Howard Hanson
Recorded May 11, 1939
Victor Musical Masterpiece set AM-648, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 86.64 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 55.94 MB)

Hanson was to record the "Romantic" Symphony twice more, in 1952 for Columbia, and in 1958 for Mercury. This Victor recording is not only his first recording of the work, but his first recording of anything. I've compiled a list, from Michael Gray's Classical Discography, of Hanson's Victor sessions from 1939-42, and the 58 issued sides they produced, in order by matrix number:

May 11, 1939:

CS-035859/66 Hanson: Symphony No. 2 "Romantic"  (15865/8 [M-648])
BS-035867 Charles Vardell: Joe Clark Steps Out  (2059-A)
BS-035868 Still: Afro-American Symphony - Scherzo  (2059-B)
CS-035869/70 MacDowell: "Indian" Suite - Dirge  (15567 [in M-608])
CS-035871/2 Chadwick: Symphonic Sketches - Jubilee  (15566 [in M-608])
BS-035873/4 Sowerby: Comes Autumn Time  (2058)
CS-035875/6 Paine: Oedipus Tyrannus - Prelude  (15568 [in M-608])
CS-035877 Griffes: The White Peacock  (15569-A [in M-608])
CS-035878 Kent Kennan: Night Soliloquy  (15569-B [in M-608])

April 29 & 30, 1940:

CS-048819/22 Hanson: Merry Mount Suite  (17795/6 [M-781])
BS-048823 Robert Braine: Pavane - El Greco  (2112-A)
BS-048824 Robert Braine: Habañera - Lazy Cigarette  (2112-B)
CS-048825 Wayne Barlow: Rhapsody - The Winter's Past  (18101-B [in M-802])
CS-048826 Bernard Rogers: Soliloquy  (18101-A [in M-802])
CS-048827/32 Copland: Music for the Theatre  (17688/90 [M-744])
CS-048833 Burrill Phillips: American Dance  (18102-A [in M-802])
CS-048834 Homer Keller: Serenade  (18102-B [in M-802])

May 9 & 10, 1941:

CS-065310/4 Hanson: The Lament for Beowulf  (11-8114/6-A [in M-889])
CS-065315 Spencer Norton: Dance Suite - Prologue  (11-8116-B [in M-889])
CS-065316/21 Loeffler: A Pagan Poem  (18479/81 [M-876])

May 7 & 8, 1942:

CS-075100/5 Hanson: Symphony No. 1 "Nordic"  (11-8623/5 [M-973])
CS-075109 Charles Skilton: Suite Primeval - War Dance  (11-8302-A)
CS-075113/4 Griffes: Poem for Flute and Orchestra  (11-8349)
CS-075115 Skilton: Suite Primeval - Sunrise Dance  (11-8302-B)

(All the 1941-42 recordings except the Skilton can be accessed here.)

Hanson had two sessions for Columbia, one in 1950, the other in 1952, producing a total of five works (among them, Wallingford Riegger's Third Symphony). Four days after the second Columbia session, he began the fruitful association with Mercury that would continue until 1965.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Bach by Adolf Busch

Cover design by Darrill Connelly (?)
Happy New Year, everyone! 2016 marks the 125th birth anniversary of one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, the German violinist, conductor and quartet leader Adolf Busch (1891-1952). Fortunately for us, Busch's recorded legacy was large, varied and has been readily available in the decades since his death. To commemorate the anniversary, Warner Music Group, which has fallen heir to EMI's catalog of classical recordings, has done right by Busch in issuing a 16-CD set containing his complete HMV/EMI output, which comprises a little over half his legacy. I urge everyone to obtain this set, especially as it quite modestly priced (one Amazon dealer has it for just over $30). A few of the transfers are not up to par; Warner (which, laughably, refers to this set as "The Complete Warner Recordings" - almost implying that Bugs Bunny and not Fred Gaisberg was in charge of producing them in the first place), merely re-uses old EMI transfers in most cases. The vast majority of these, fortunately, are still quite serviceable, and the few which Warner has had newly made are, invariably, very good.

Unfortunately, I don't see anything forthcoming from Sony, which controls most of the other half of the Busch legacy - the American Columbia recordings made from 1941 to 1951. So to plug the gap a little, I present one of the rarer of these. It's characteristic that Busch, although he only recorded two of the unaccompanied Bach violin works commercially - one Sonata and one Partita - would choose to do the ones with the most complex movements. And so, the Partita that he recorded in 1929 is No. 2 with the great Chaconne (this is in the Warner box), and the Sonata is the one with the grandest Fugue:

Bach: Unaccompanied Violin Sonata No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1005
Adolf Busch, violin
Recorded May 18, 1942
Columbia ML-4309, one side of one 12" LP record
Link (FLAC files, 62.75 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 39.15 MB)

Although made in 1942, this recording did not receive a release until 1950, simultaneously on LP and 78 (the latter was set MM-926), the LP being coupled with a Bach concerto played by the 19-year-old Eugene Istomin which had been released on 78s four years previously. I have chosen to transfer this from the 78s (since tracking these old Columbia LPs is, for me, always a bit dicey):

Bach: Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, BWV 1052
Eugene Istomin (piano) with the Busch Chamber Players
Recorded April 25 and May 3, 1945
Columbia Masterworks set MM-624, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 58.40 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.49 MB)