Sunday, October 30, 2016

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 (Levant)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
This posting is in response to a request. I obtained this set of Oscar Levant playing "the" Tchaikovsky concerto, graced with one of Alex Steinweiss' most delightful cover designs, about five years ago from Ken Halperin of Collecting Record Covers. I duly made a transfer, then shelved it, not sure if it would be of interest to anybody. Then, two months ago, after I posted Levant's debut album, there was a request for it, and I am delighted to be able to oblige:

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 23
Oscar Levant, piano; Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded December 12, 1947
Rachmaninoff: Prelude in G Major, Op. 32, No. 5
Oscar Levant, piano
Recorded November 19, 1947
Columbia Masterworks set MM-785, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 86.99 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 60.07 MB)

This was Oscar Levant's first concerto recording other than of works by Gershwin, with whom he was so closely associated; on the very next day, however, he was in New York recording the Grieg concerto with Efrem Kurtz! With Ormandy, the Tchaikovsky was his second recording, after the best-selling "Rhapsody in Blue" of 1945. That, however, was not Levant's first phonographic outing with the Rhapsody; that honor belongs to a Brunswick issue of 1927, with Frank Black's Orchestra, which I recently discovered here on YouTube. Writing in his best-selling book, "A Smattering of Ignorance", Levant said of this recording that "contrary to the common impression that composers do not think highly of their own abilities as performers, Gershwin was quite firm in his preference for his own version on Victor. At this distance [twelve years] I can acknowledge that it is much superior."

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Oscar Seagle in Two Sacred Songs

Oscar Seagle
Born in Ooltewah, Tennessee (now a suburb of Chattanooga), baritone Oscar Seagle (1877-1945) enjoyed a successful career as a concert singer and teacher during the early 20th century. A student of Jean de Reszke, in 1915 he founded a music school. the Seagle Music Colony, which is still in existence, and which claims to be the oldest summer vocal training program in the USA. Seagle recorded prolifically for Columbia between 1914 and 1926, with 96 issued sides to his credit. A measure of his enduring popularity among record buyers can be gauged by the fact that of 11 acoustically recorded discs listed as still available in the 1937 Columbia Catalogue, one of them was Seagle's (a coupling of "Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms" and "When You And I Were Young, Maggie"). About a third of his recorded output was of hymns and sacred songs such as the two presented here:

Tillman: Life's Railway to Heaven*
Lorenz: The Name of Jesus Is So Sweet
Oscar Seagle, baritone, with orchestra and *male quartet
Recorded March 28-29, 1921
Columbia A-3420, one 10-inch 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 19.56 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 11.25 MB)

I find "The Name of Jesus" a rather saccharine song, though Seagle sings it well. "Life's Railway to Heaven", however, with its railroad allusions, is a song I've loved since childhood, when I knew it from a George Beverly Shea album my grandmother had. In later years the song has become a standard for country and bluegrass artists, perhaps most movingly in this performance by Johnny Cash with a large backup group including the Carter Family, Earl Scruggs and a young Mark O'Connor.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Mozart: Quintet in D, K. 593 (Budapest Quartet & Katims)

The Budapest Quartet with Milton Katims
This past spring, I uploaded a Mozart string quintet recording (C major, K. 515) by the Budapest String Quartet with their frequent collaborator, Milton Katims, as the second violist. At the same time as I acquired that set, I also obtained the one I present today; however, the other set gave me an excuse to add a nice Steinweiss cover to my online gallery, whereas this one's cover is generic. Moreover, I think this recording was slightly more widely circulated than the K. 515 one was. Be that as it may, I see no reason to withhold this transfer any longer:

Mozart: String Quintet in D Major, K. 593
The Budapest String Quartet (Roisman-Ortenberg-Kroyt-Schneider)
with Milton Katims, second viola
Recorded December 12-13, 1946
Columbia Masterworks set MM-708, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 64.49 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.88 MB)

I hadn't meant to be inactive quite so long - two weeks! But shortly after posting my last post, I stumbled across the Internet Archive's making available of the complete run of the Phonograph Monthly Review magazine from 1926 to 1932, and this has lured me away from other record-related pursuits fairly consistently since. PMR is one of those publications I've heard about but have never been able to read until now, and it chronicles a very exciting time in American recording history, the beginnings of the push to create a library of symphonic and chamber music masterworks in recorded form. As such, it fulfilled the same function that "The Gramophone" magazine did in England starting three years earlier. The latter magazine is still with us, of course, but PMR, alas, fell victim to the Great Depression.