Friday, April 29, 2016

Lord Berners: The Triumph of Neptune (Beecham)

Lord Berners, 1935
Today, April 29, is the birthday of no less than three famous conductors - Beecham, Sargent, and Zubin Mehta (who turns 80 this year).  I honor the first of these here, with one of his rarer items, the most famous work by Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson (1883-1950), usually referred to by the much shorter name "Lord Berners" after becoming the 14th Baron Berners in 1918.  This is a suite from the 1926 ballet he wrote for Diaghilev's "Ballet Russes" to a story by Sacheverell Sitwell, "The Triumph of Neptune":

Lord Berners: The Triumph of Neptune - Ballet Suite
London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham
Recorded December 20, 1937
Columbia Masterworks set X-92, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 35.56 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 24.30 MB)

This recording stayed in the American Columbia catalogue for only five years - unlike most of Beecham's London Philharmonic output, which remained available until all classical 78s were deleted, by which time Columbia was amassing a sizable LP catalogue of Beecham's Royal Philharmonic recordings to replace them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Happy 125th, Sergei Prokofiev!

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
Saturday, April 23, marks a significant composer anniversary - the 125th birthday of Prokofiev (1891-1953). I present the recording that was my introduction to his "neoclassical" style - or, to put it more accurately, the first work of his in an academic form that I came to know, since the first copy of this set which I owned (purchased from Clark Music in Decatur, Ga.) was a gift to me for my 11th birthday, and at that age, the name Prokofiev meant to me only "Peter and the Wolf", of course, as well as the March from "The Love for Three Oranges." This first recording of the D Major Sonata, originally for flute but recast for violin at David Oistrakh's suggestion, has never been surpassed:

Prokofiev: Sonata in D Major, Op. 94a (1943)
Joseph Szigeti, violin; Leonid Hambro, piano
Recorded December 8 and 10, 1944
Columbia Masterworks MM-620, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 59.42 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 42.86 MB)

Incredibly, the liner notes (written by Szigeti himself) make no mention of the work's origin as a flute sonata, and for years I had no idea that it had been anything other than a violin piece. Then in high school, a flute-playing friend asked me if I had this recording. He was dissatisfied with James Galway's version, and his flute teacher, Warren Little (first-chair flutist of the Atlanta Symphony back then) had insisted that this Szigeti 78 set was the one to hear, because he played it like a "big Russian bear" - never mind, I suppose, that Szigeti was Hungarian! But he certainly had an affinity for Prokofiev....

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Stokowski's All-American Youth Orchestra

Leopold Stokowski rehearsing with the
All-American Youth Orchestra, 1940
Leopold Stokowski's birthday is upon us again (he was born 134 years ago this Monday), and this year I've chosen some samples of his work with the All-American Youth Orchestra, essentially his own creation for the purposes of touring and recording. I will not go into the details, but instead direct you to this article at Larry Huffman's incredible site about the conductor, an article that contains a discography, orchestra roster, and several pictures (such as the one above). The orchestra existed for two years, in 1940 and 1941, and both years are represented here:

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 and
Bach-Stokowski: "Little" Fugue in G Minor, BWV 578
The All-American Youth Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Recorded November 14, 1940
Columbia Masterworks set MM-451, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 83.82 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 58.94 MB)

Liszt-Stokowski: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
The All-American Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Recorded July 8, 1941
Columbia Masterworks 11646-D, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 22.03 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 13.03 MB)

Mendelssohn: Scherzo (from "A Midsummer Night's Dream")
Bach-Stokowski: Preludio (from Partita in E Major, BWV 1006)
The All-American Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Recorded July 11 and 20, 1941
Columbia Masterworks 11983-D, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 21.38 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 13.07 MB)

The Beethoven set is a relatively recent acquisition for me; but for the two single discs I have revisited the reclaimed record pile. I'm particularly pleased to have reclaimed the Bach-Mendelssohn disc, for it was a gift from my first piano teacher, George A. Neely (1903-1990), with whom I began lessons at the age of 11. Mr. Neely was a kind man who traveled to our neighborhood once a week to give lessons to kids in their homes. When he learned of my interest in collecting classical 78s, he decided to give me his entire collection - accumulated 25-35 years previously and containing some 40 or 50 sets, among them all the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies! The Stokowski record I'm sharing here is all I have left of this largess. I took lessons from Mr. Neely until I was fourteen, at which point I wanted to learn to play Shostakovich and he declared he had nothing left to teach me, so another teacher was found. But I remember Mr. Neely with the greatest fondness, am grateful for his many gifts, and hope I give as much to my own students as he gave me.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ortenberg, Foss and the Budapest Quartet

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
For a dozen years, beginning in 1932, one half of the famed Budapest String Quartet consisted of the Schneider brothers - Alexander as second violinist and Mischa as cellist.  Then in 1944, Alexander decided to strike out on his own with other projects (for example, a fruitful partnership with harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick), and he was replaced in the Quartet by the Odessa-born Edgar Ortenberg (1900-1996).  One of the first recording projects with Ortenberg, and in fact the first Budapest Quartet recording with him to be released, was this Mozart quintet with another frequent Budapest collaborator, Milton Katims (1909-2006):

Mozart: String Quintet in C Major, K. 515
Budapest String Quartet (Roisman-Ortenberg-Kroyt-Schneider)
with Milton Katims, second viola
Recorded February 6 and April 23, 1945
Columbia Masterworks MM-586, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 80.06 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 54.29 MB)

At about the same time, Ortenberg made his only American recording as a violin soloist, this first recording of a Hindemith violin sonata:

Hindemith: Sonata in E (1935) and
Foss: Dedication (1944)
Edgar Ortenberg, violin; Lukas Foss, piano
Issued May, 1944
Hargail set MW-300, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 43.73 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 27.12 MB)

This would also appear to be Lukas Foss' first appearance on record as either pianist or composer.  He was in his early 20s at the time.