Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Danish Quartet

Gilbert Jespersen                  Erling Bloch                 Lund Christiansen
More Danish gems this time, played by an ensemble founded in 1935 by the three gentlemen pictured above plus one other - cellist Torben Svendsen, whose picture, regrettably, I cannot find. I present three recordings from the late 1930s, one by the full ensemble (flute, violin, cello, piano), and the others featuring two of the possible trio combinations within it:

Bach: Trio Sonata in C Minor (from "The Musical Offering", BWV 1079)
The Danish Quartet (Jespersen-Bloch-Svendsen-Christiansen)
Recorded November 22, 1937
HMV DB 5215 and DB 5216, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 44.85 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 24.88 MB)

Kuhlau: Trio in G Major, Op. 119 - Allegro moderato (first movement)
Members of the Danish Quartet (Jespersen-Bloch-Christiansen)
Recorded November 21, 1938
HMV DB 5226, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 20.16 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 11.83 MB)

Beethoven: Variations on "Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu", Op. 121a
Members of the Danish Quartet (Bloch-Svendsen-Christiansen)
Recorded January 16 and 21, 1939
HMV DB 5229 and DB 5230, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 40.31 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 26.74 MB)

The trio movement by Friedrich Kuhlau (1786-1832) is complete as issued; its composer was German-born but fled to Denmark as a young man to escape having to fight in the Napoleonic wars. During his lifetime he was famous as a pianist and composer of Danish operas, but he is best remembered now for his piano sonatinas and his works featuring the flute.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Corelli: Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 7 (Wöldike)

During the 78-rpm era, record buyers might well be forgiven for thinking that Arcangelo Corelli wrote only one concerto - the ever-popular "Christmas Concerto" - because, for all the attention paid to the other works in his Opus 6, he might as well have. There were, in fact, more recordings made of this eighth of the concerti through 1950 than of the others combined, and not until 1953 did an integral set of the twelve appear (in a Vox LP set) to mark the composer's tercentenary. Meanwhile, a few of the others did manage to make their way to records, including this first recording of No. 7 from Denmark:

Corelli: Concerto Grosso in D Major, Op. 6, No. 7
Chamber Orchestra of the Castle Church, Copenhagen
conducted by Mogens Wöldike
HMV DA 5256 and DA 5257, two 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 31.15 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 19.15 MB)

The concertino soloists are Else Marie Bruun and Julius Koppel, violins, and Torben Anton Svendsen, cello; the harpsichordist is unnamed, but I presume it to be Wöldike himself.

Regular followers of this blog will no doubt have noticed the preponderance lately of recordings from Denmark; this is due partly to relatively reasonable postage rates from that country to the USA of late, with the result that I have been buying a fair number of 78s from there in recent months. Stay tuned for more recordings by Danish artists and composers...

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.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Purcell: Harpsichord Suites (Sylvia Marlowe)

I have had occasion, in the recent past, to sing the praises of New York's Gramophone Shop, and to enumerate their album series called "Gramophone Shop Celebrities" - two of which, both organ recitals by Finn Viderø, I have posted already. Here is the first offering in that illustrious series, released in December, 1946, and featuring the first integral recording of Purcell's "Choice Collection of Lessons for the Harpsichord" comprising eight suites:

Purcell: Eight Suites for Harpsichord (Z. 660/3 and Z. 666/9)
Sylvia Marlowe, harpsichord
Recorded c. 1946
Gramophone Shop Celebrities Album GSC-2, five vinyl 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 122.19 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 77.73 MB)

This appears also to be one of the first recordings by Sylvia Marlowe to be circulated reasonably widely, although it is still far from common. Previous albums for General (1940 - containing boogie-woogie arrangements) and Bost (1942) do not appear to have survived wartime exigencies. 78 sets for Musicraft and American Decca would follow (one example of the latter, a jazzed-up version of Rameau's Tambourin, can be heard here), but her recording career would not truly blossom until the LP era, most notably for Capitol and, again, American Decca.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Reger: Serenade for Orchestra (Jochum)

Max Reger, 1906
I have had occasion to comment on the Reger Problem elsewhere (Irving Kolodin famously said that Reger's name sounds the same backwards and forwards, and his music often shows the same trait!). Today I present one of the few works of his which I can really enjoy, possibly because it is the first one I ever became familiar with, long ago, through this very recording, before I knew Reger was supposed to be "difficult":

Reger: Serenade for Orchestra in G Major, Op. 95
Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam conducted by Eugen Jochum
Recorded June 21 and 22, 1943
Capitol-Telefunken set KEM-8026, five 45-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 106.56 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 66.85 MB)

...but I'm also willing to consider the possibility that I enjoy it because it's a fine piece. Composed in 1905-06, this Serenade is symphonic in scope, its two large sonata-form movements flanking a wispy scherzo and a slow movement of almost Elgarian eloquence. Part of the piece's appeal is that it inhabits a unique sound world, for Reger or anyone else. It is scored for a moderate-sized orchestra, with harp and timpani but no trumpets or trombones, the string section being divided into two separate choirs, one with mutes and the other without. Eugen Jochum (1902-1987) seems to have made a specialty of it, for a recording he made two weeks after the Telefunken one, with the Berlin Philharmonic, surfaced on a Urania LP in the 1950s.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Danish Music for Winds

Jørgen Bentzon
Perhaps it was inevitable after the success of Carl Nielsen's great Wind Quintet of 1922, but Danish composers since then seem to have excelled at enriching the repertory of chamber music for woodwinds. I have already offered two examples of this at this post; now I offer two more:

Jørgen Bentzon: Racconto No. 3, Op. 31 (1937)
Waldemar Wolsing, oboe
P. Allin Erichsen, clarinet
Kjell Roikjer, bassoon
Recorded September 30, 1943
HMV DB 5285, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 24.42 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 14.09 MB)

Vagn Holmboe: Notturno, Op. 19, for wind quintet (1940)
Wind Quintet of 1932
Recorded October 17, 1947
HMV DA 5258 and DA 5259, two 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 34.08 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 20.84 MB)

These appear to be the first recordings of any work by either composer. Of Holmboe, I have spoken at the post referenced above; this delightful four-movement Notturno has remained one of his most popular works. The fame of Jørgen Bentzon (1897-1951) has been eclipsed by that of his younger cousin, Niels Viggo Bentzon. Jørgen, whose 120th birthday incidentally is approaching (Valentine's Day), was a student of Nielsen, whose influence on his work is strong. The piece recorded here is one of a series of six one-movement works he called Racconti (tales), each scored for a different chamber ensemble.

It should be noted that the members of the trio in the Bentzon work are also members of the "Wind Quintet of 1932" - whose flutist was Johan Bentzon, another cousin.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Boris Godunov - Symphonic Synthesis (Stokowski, 1941)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
This is something that I should really have saved for Stokowski's birthday in April, but I simply couldn't resist posting it on this eve of Inauguration Day. A posting containing Stokowski's theatrical "symphonic synthesis" of the best-known, and greatest, musical work about a political figure (and not only that, but a political figure whose legitimacy to rule was widely questioned), seemed only too apropos. And this is the closest you will find me coming to making political commentary on this blog, for, as Charles Schulz said, when asked why he wouldn't make his "Peanuts" comic strip a vehicle for politics, "why would I want to offend fifty percent of my readers right off the bat?" With that in mind, I hope you will enjoy the music:

Mussorgsky-Stokowski: Boris Godunov - A Symphonic Synthesis
The All-American Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Recorded July 4-5, 1941
Columbia Masterworks set MM-516, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 59.42 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 41.38 MB)

Speaking of Columbia, I have recently completed compiling a numerical listing of their records in American Columbia's celebrity "-M" suffixed series (1925-1954), which I am making available as a PDF file here:

Link (448.08 KB)

Also, I am making available a copy of the Music Lovers' Guide from March, 1934. This magazine, edited by Axel B. Johnson, is the successor publication to the Phonograph Monthly Review, and eventually morphed into the American Music Lover and then the American Record Guide, which still flourishes. Until that happy day when a complete run of the Music Lovers' Guide is available online, this single copy will give you an idea of what the magazine was like:

Link (28.16 MB)