Friday, March 24, 2017

Happy Birthday, Béla Bartók!

Béla Bartók, 1939
Last year, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Bartók's birth (March 25, 1881), Decca Classics issued a box set of his complete works on 32 CDs. One of these days I suppose I will have to spring for that, but meanwhile, I have acquired and hereby present a somewhat more modest offering, although, I think, no less valuable. Remarkably, Bartók's Sixth Quartet received three recordings in the 78-rpm era, more than did any of his major works except the Concerto for Orchestra and the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (each of which also received three 78-rpm recordings). The first, by the Gertler Quartet for Decca, can be heard at the CHARM website; the second, by the Hungarian Quartet for HMV, I have myself uploaded previously. The third, also for HMV, followed the second by scarcely a month:

Bartók: Quartet No. 6, Sz. 114 (1939)
The Erling Bloch Quartet (Bloch-Friisholm-Kassow-Svendsen)
Recorded April 26, 1948
HMV DB 20104 through DB 20106, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 73.34 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 43.25 MB)

One imagines that the HMV office in Copenhagen was unaware of the existence of the Hungarians' recording (made while that ensemble was in London), or else this duplication of repertoire would probably not have been sanctioned. Then again, the Danish recording had the advantage of price, as it is the only one of the three versions that gets the piece onto three discs rather than four. David Hall, writing in Records: 1950 Edition, sums up the respective merits of the three recordings this way: "The Gertler Quartet recording for English Decca offers the most dramatic and colorful treatment of the music; the Danish Erling Bloch Quartet ensemble, the most lean and rhythmically supple; while the Hungarian Quartet has some of the best qualities of both." He then strongly suggests waiting for the forthcoming Juilliard Quartet recordings of all the Bartók quartets for Columbia...

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Rosario Bourdon

Rosario Bourdon
Like Victor Herbert before him, and like Hans Kindler after, Montreal-born Rosario Bourdon (1885-1961) began his musical career as a successful cellist before turning to the baton. Very likely his employment by the Victor Talking Machine Company for over twenty years provided the impetus for him to begin conducting. He was hired in 1909 as their in-house cellist (among the most famous recordings for which he served in this capacity is the Bach Double Concerto played by Kreisler and Zimbalist), but he seems to have been conducting regularly for the company by 1915, and beginning in 1920 he shared the post of music director at Victor with Josef Pasternack. Nearly a thousand of the acoustical recordings on which he participated can be heard at the Library of Congress' National Jukebox. After electrical recording was introduced he appears to have made no records as a cellist. Most of his conducting work was accompanying soloists, but he was also responsible for a good bit of light classical orchestral material, of which the following is a fairly representative sample:

Nevin: Narcissus, Op. 13, No. 4
Mendelssohn: Spring Song, Op. 62, No. 6
Victor Concert Orchestra
Recorded February 21, 1928
Victor 21449, one 10-inch 78-rpm record

Rubinstein: Melody in F, Op. 3, No. 1
Rubinstein: Romance, Op. 44, No. 1
Victor Concert Orchestra
Recorded September 4, 1929, and April 8, 1930
Victor 22508, one 10-inch 78-rpm record

Kreisler: Tambourin Chinois, Op. 3
Kreisler: Caprice Viennois, Op. 2
Victor Salon Orchestra
Recorded May 26, 1939
Victor 26306, one 10-inch 78-rpm record

All conducted by Rosario Bourdon
Link (FLAC files, 53.13 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 32.53 MB)

Bourdon left Victor in 1931 to concentrate on radio work, so the last of these 78s represents a rather mysterious guest re-appearance. It lasted barely a year in the catalogue.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Knudåge Riisager

Knudåge Riisager
Born in Estonia to Danish parents (his father managed a cement factory there), Knudåge Riisager (1897-1974) would emerge as the most internationally-minded of Danish composers, studying music in France with Albert Roussel and in Leipzig with Hermann Grabner. Certainly his music partakes of the neoclassicism then current in the Paris of "Les Six" and Stravinsky. He achieved fame through his ballet scores, but the work of his most likely to survive is the Trumpet Concertino, a delightfully witty piece (with unmistakable echoes of "Three Blind Mice" in the finale - is this tune known in Denmark also?) that augments the meager solo repertoire for that instrument:

Riisager: Concertino for trumpet and strings, Op. 29
George Eskdale, trumpet
Danish State Radio Orchestra conducted by Thomas Jensen
Riisager: Lille Ouverture, for string orchestra (1934)
Danish State Radio Orchestra conducted by Thomas Jensen
Both recorded January 27-28, 1949
Tono X-25145 and X-25146, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 40.80 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 23.74 MB)

Also by Riisager (whose birthday, incidentally, was yesterday, March 6) I present a ten-inch LP of two sonatas - both sturdy examples of Gebrauchsmusik:

Riisager: Sonata for Violin, Cello and Piano, Op. 55a
Wandy Tworek, Johan Hye-Knudsen, Esther Vagning
Riisager: Sonata for Two Violins, Op. 55b
Wandy Tworek and Charles Senderovitz
Recorded July 3, 1953
London LS-785, one ten-inch LP record
Link (FLAC files, 75.04 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 50.50 MB)

Just why Riisager elected to call the first of these a Sonata rather than a Trio is not explained in Robert Simpson's otherwise excellent liner notes for this LP, but my guess is that it is because the piano plays a mostly subservient role to the strings.