Sunday, July 23, 2017

More from Morton

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
For easy summer listening, this week I present two more albums of Morton Gould's popular song arrangements, made for Columbia after he had been promoted to green-label Masterworks status:

String Time
1. Body and Soul (Johnny Green)
2. Laura (David Raskin)
3. Holiday for Strings (David Rose)
4. Sophisticated Lady (Duke Ellington)
5. Solitude (Duke Ellington)
6. Over the Rainbow (Harold Arlen)
7. The Surrey With the Fringe On Top (Richard Rodgers)
8. Stormy Weather (Harold Arlen)
Morton Gould and His Orchestra
Recorded July 11 and 15, 1946
Columbia Masterworks set M-663, four 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 63.38 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 43.86 MB)

Music at Midnight
1. Caravan (Duke Ellington)
2. Moonglow (Will Hudson)
3. Song of the Bayou (Rube Bloom)
4. Deserted Ballroom (Morton Gould)
5. Mood Indigo (Duke Ellington)
6. Serenade in the Night (Cesare Andrea Bixio)
7. Deep Purple (Peter de Rose)
8. Swamp Fire (Harold Mooney)
Morton Gould and His Orchestra
Recorded November 14, 15 and 22, 1950
Columbia Masterworks set MM-992, four 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 70.52 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 46.93 MB)

It will be seen that each collection contains two Duke Ellington tunes, and that "Music at Midnight" also has one of Gould's own compositions, originally a piano piece that he had recorded a decade earlier. To the expected string orchestra of "String Time" Gould's orchestrations add a harp and celesta, and, in the case of "The Surrey With the Fringe On Top" - played entirely pizzicato - also such appurtenances as sleigh bells, wood block, whip and even a banjo. "Music at Midnight" has the distinction of being Columbia's last Masterworks 78-rpm set to be released on a regular schedule concurrent with LP releases, in April, 1951. With the May releases 78s were dropped, although five set numbers (993 to 997) had been assigned, and after that, only selected Masterworks releases appeared as 78s, usually semi-classical in nature.

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Festive Ormandy

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
Of Ottorino Respighi's three orchestral suites celebrating his adopted home city of Rome (Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome, and Roman Festivals), I confess my favorite has always been the last one, mainly because it is the most fun. Respighi, like Liszt, seems to be most authentically himself when he can cut loose and play, and nowhere did he do so more than in this piece (unless it was in the kid-in-a-candy-store orchestrations of Antiche Arie e Danze). This is its first American recording to be released (since Toscanini's, with the same orchestra, from five years earlier, did not see the light of day until 1976):

Respighi: Feste Romane (1928)
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded April 18, 1946
Columbia Masterworks set MM-707, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 60.69 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 39.78 MB)

About five years ago, I uploaded Ormandy's first Philadelphia recording of Sibelius' First Symphony, along with his Minneapolis recording of Kodály's Háry János Suite. I noted the existence of an earlier recording of the same symphony from Minneapolis, and have now located a copy of that, and here it is:

Sibelius: Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded January 16, 1935
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-290, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 110.30 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 66.42 MB)

Originally issued with a generic cover, by the time of my pressing, c. 1940, the set was sporting this simple but evocative cover design:

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Herman D. Koppel

Herman D. Koppel
Nineteen years ago this month, the world of Danish music lost one of its last living links with Carl Nielsen in the passing of pianist and composer Herman David Koppel (1908-1998). (His brother was the violinist Julius Koppel.) Of Jewish heritage, Koppel, who had to flee Denmark in 1943 when the Nazis placed the country under direct military occupation, had considered Nielsen a mentor and had played the composer's piano works in his presence. Koppel made multiple recordings of Nielsen's piano music, of which these appear to be among the first:

Nielsen: Theme and Variations, Op. 40 and Chaconne, Op. 32
Herman D. Koppel, piano
Recorded December 13, 1940
HMV DB 5252 through DB 5254, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 65.99 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 40.48 MB)

Koppel died on Bastille Day, and here he is playing French music - only the second recording ever made of Poulenc's delightful Trio (after the composer's own, for Columbia, in 1928):

Poulenc: Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano (1926)
Waldemar Wolsing, oboe; Carl Bloch, bassoon; Herman D. Koppel, piano
Recorded c. 1950
Metronome CL 3000 and CL 3001, two 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 32.22 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 18.71 MB)

Metrnonome Records was an independent Swedish label founded in 1949 by two jazz enthusiasts, brothers Anders and Lars Burman. This was one of their few classical issues.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Florent Schmitt: String Trio (Pasquier Trio)

Florent Schmitt
Best remembered today for his ballet "La Tragédie de Salome" and his choral-orchestral setting of Psalm 47, French composer Florent Schmitt (1870-1958) actually established his reputation as much with chamber music as with those two works, through his massive, hour-long Piano Quintet of 1908. He returned to chamber music towards the end of his life, writing, among other things, a string quartet, a saxophone quartet, a flute quartet, and this string trio written for, and dedicated to, the Pasquier brothers:

Florent Schmitt: String Trio in E Minor, Op. 105
The Pasquier Trio (Jean, Pierre and Étienne Pasquier)
Recorded May 21 and December 3, 1946
Pathé PDT 103 through 106, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 81.26 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 46.96 MB)

This is a big, satisfying work in four movements, thickly scored (often, because of double-stopping, it sounds more like a sextet), and of immense technical difficulty. Perhaps this explains its comparative neglect, even among Schmitt's works. I believe it has been recorded only once since, in the early 1980s, on an obscure French label, Cybelia - a valiant attempt, but not equal to the one played by the dedicatees. The Gramophone Shop Supplement of October, 1948, reviewed this set (which sold for $10.48), calling it "music of savage power, strange harmonies, and relentless drive. One is hard-pressed to find what may be called 'beauty'..." The anonymous reviewer was certainly right about the power and drive, but there is nothing in the harmonies that would be out of place in, say, Fauré's late chamber music. For me the piece is a real find, as much so as the Loeffler violin partita that I posted last year.

Friday, June 30, 2017

A Boston Pops Miscellany

Arthur Fiedler, c. 1935
Summer is here - traditionally the time when orchestras do their "pops" seasons, and none is more celebrated than those of Boston (though in latter days, rivaled by those in Cincinnati). The Boston "Pops" began making recordings 82 summers ago, and purveyed everything from standard repertoire to traditional and contemporary light music. All three are represented here in this batch:

Wagner: Rienzi - Overture and Tannhäuser - Fest-Marsch
Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler
Recorded June 28-29, 1937
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-569, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 45.17 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 29.84 MB)

Album of Strauss Waltzes
(Wein, Weib und Gesang; Wiener Blut; Künstlerleben; Kaiser; Frühlingsstimmen)
Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler
Recorded 1936-37
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-445, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 103.12 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 67.24 MB)

Piston: The Incredible Flutist - Ballet Suite
Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler
Recorded June 29, 1939
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-621, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 41.67 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 29.91 MB)

Not being a Viennese waltz aficionado, I can't say how authentic Fiedler's interpretations of Johann Strauss may be, but I certainly enjoyed them - he plays them with all the zest and gusto one could want. The Piston recording is wholly delightful, but the solo flutist is unfortunately not credited. On Fiedler's later (1953) recording, James Pappoutsakis did the honors, and since that gentleman became the BSO's assistant principal flute the year this recording was made, it's quite possible he did the honors on this occasion also.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Von Einem: Concerto for Orchestra

Gottfried von Einem, 1944
Born into a wealthy Austrian family (his mother was a baroness), Gottfried von Einem (1918-1996) spent his formative years in Germany. The young man did not have an easy time of it under the National Socialist regime. His interest in the Entartete Musik of Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Hindemith (with whom he wanted to study, but whose exile from Germany prevented that ambition) antagonized the Nazis, as did his love of jazz. Despite his problems with the authorities, von Einem managed to achieve some success as a composer in these years. Herbert von Karajan commissioned him to write a Concerto for Orchestra, which was premièred in April, 1944. With its syncopations and sly allusions to "Jeepers Creepers" in the fast outer movements, it quickly landed its composer in more hot water. Propaganda Minister Goebbels himself ordered that this recording be made for "study purposes":

Gottfried von Einem: Concerto for Orchestra, Op. 4
Saxon State Orchestra, Dresden, conducted by Karl Elmendorff
Recorded July 25, 1944
Deutsche Grammophon set DGS-10, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 50.59 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 33.30 MB)

It seems unlikely that this recording was intended for public consumption, but it did achieve limited circulation after the war, notably in the USA in London Gramophone Corporation's short-lived series of Deutsche Grammophon album sets. The Gramophone Shop Supplement of October, 1949, lists the set at $8.93 (a tidy sum in those days), and offers this in review: "It bears signs of nearly every well known composer of the 20th century, from Mahler, Strauss and Hindemith to Bartók, Stravinsky and even Morton Gould. The texture is essentially light, and occasionally sardonic, while the orchestration is extremely deft. Perhaps the best thing about this music is its very eclectic qualities, and he who has a sense of humor may find some quite enjoyable moments." Irving Kolodin, writing in the Saturday Review of August 27, 1949, was much less charitable, saying, "no tunes seem to occur to him. It is a hash of rather meaningless counterpoints and orchestral effects, without even the seasoning that sometimes makes hash a filling, if not palatable dish." Good old Irving - he never pulled punches!

The Concerto for Orchestra does not appear to have been commercially recorded since, though a live performance by Jeffrey Tate and the London Symphony is now available on YouTube, and makes for an interesting comparison with the present recording - for one thing, the last minute or so of the piece was apparently changed when published (in 1951).

Monday, June 12, 2017

Khatchaturian: Piano Concerto (Levant)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
There was a request for this recording at Buster's blog recently, after he posted some of Oscar Levant's incomparable Gershwin playing. I dug around and found this nice early LP copy, complete with one of Steinweiss' more zany cover designs. This is one of three early recordings listed of Khatchaturian's wild and wacky piano concerto - the others are by Moura Lympany with Fistoulari on English Decca (the first to be issued), and William Kapell with Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony (Victor). Of these, I find Levant's the most convincing, for he cuts loose more than the others do, playing it with all the zest and panache that he brought to everything he touched:

Khatchaturian: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1935)
Oscar Levant with the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos
Recorded January 3, 1950
Columbia ML-4288, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 88.45 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 58.03 MB)

This recording was also issued as a 78 set (Columbia MM-905), and I am sorry to say I don't have that, nor have I ever seen it anywhere. It contains, as a filler, Levant's rarest recording, apparently unissued in any other form - Rachmaninoff's Prelude in D Minor, Op. 23, No. 3. It is so rare that it is on the wants list of the International Piano Archives at the University of Maryland - although it would be easy to miss this, since they do not identify it as the filler for this Khatchaturian Concerto. If you have it, they would like to hear from you!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

More from the Erling Bloch Quartet

In time for Carl Nielsen's birthday this year (June 9), I present the first recording ever made of a string quartet by him, done during the early months of the Nazi occupation of Denmark by the Erling Bloch Quartet. This recording does not appear to have been reissued on CD; Danacord passed over it in favor of the Koppel Quartet's 1954 account (though their 1984 LP set of early Nielsen chamber recordings did contain a rather inept transfer). I also offer two single discs by the Erling Bloch ensemble to ride, as it were, the coattails of the Nielsen. The details:

Nielsen: Quartet No. 4 in F Major, Op. 44
The Erling Bloch Quartet (Bloch-Pedersen-Kassow-Svendsen)
Recorded October 26, 1940
HMV DB 1-3, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 71.21 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.42 MB)

Hakon Børresen: Scherzo (from Quartet No. 2 in C Minor, 1939)
Schubert: Quartettsatz in C Minor, D. 703
The Erling Bloch Quartet (Bloch-Friisholm-Kassow-Svendsen)
Recorded November 19, 1942
HMV DB 5282, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 23.70 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 14.98 MB)

Stravinsky: Concertino for String Quartet (1920)
The Erling Bloch Quartet (Bloch-Friisholm-Kassow-Christiansen)
Recorded August 26, 1952
HMV DA 5275, one 10-inch 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 13.81 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 9.16 MB)

The delightful scherzo by Hakon Børresen (1876-1954), a Dane of Norwegian heritage who studied with Johan Svendsen, reminds me of the Scherzo of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, with its pizzicato main section and arco middle section. Yes, the Schubert is complete on one side, thanks to a brisk tempo and the omission of the repeat. The Stravinsky is, I believe, the ensemble's last recording to be issued as a 78,

The issue series in which the Nielsen set found itself was HMV's first automatic set series in Denmark, most of whose numbers were recorded during the Second World War (except for one reissue). I am aware of the existence of the following issues in it:

DB 1-3  Nielsen: Quartet No. 4 (Erling Bloch Quartet)
DB 4-6  Schubert: Fantasia in C, Op. 159  (Erling Bloch, Lund Chistiansen)
DB 7-9  Schubert: "Unfinished" Symphony  (Stokowski, from 1927 Victors)
DB 10-13  Beethoven: "Kreutzer" Sonata  (Bloch, Christiansen)
DB 14-16  Beethoven: "Spring" Sonata  (Bloch, Christiansen)
DB 17-20  Nielsen: Symphony No. 2  (Jensen, earlier recording from 1944)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Mozart: Wind Divertimenti (Danish Radio members)

Resuming my uploads of records from Denmark (actually, the one pictured above is from the reclaimed record pile), I present two Mozart divertimenti for wind sextet. These were recorded five years apart, yet share three of the players between them, including the leader of the ensemble, oboist Waldemar Wolsing (1910-1993). Here are the details:

Mozart: Divertimento No. 12 in E-Flat Major, K. 252
Members of the Danish State Radio Orchestra:
Waldemar Wolsing and Erik Hovaldt, oboes
Ingbert Mikkelsen and Knud E. Olsen, horns
Carl Bloch and Leif Carlsen, bassoons
Recorded October 16, 1952
English Columbia DX 1872, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 19.57 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 12.48 MB)

Mozart: Divertimento No. 14 in B-Flat Major, K. 270
Waldemar Wolsing and Hans Woldbye, oboes
Ingbert Mikkelsen and Wang Breidahl, horns
Kjell Roikjer and Carl Bloch, bassoons
Recorded October 19, 1947
HMV DA 5260 and DA 5261, two 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 26.36 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 16.01 MB)

The HMV records do not identify the players as members of the Danish State Radio Orchestra, but I imagine they were. Two days prior to recording K. 270, Wolsing, Mikkelsen and Roikjer, as members of the Wind Quintet of 1932, participated in this recording of Vagn Holmboe's Notturno.