Saturday, December 27, 2014

Tristan Love Duet (Traubel-Ralf, 1947)

Helen Traubel and Torsten Ralf
(as pictured in the liner notes for the present set)
For the end of 2014, a little Wagnerian treat featuring that great exponent of the master's soprano roles, St. Louis-born Helen Traubel (1899-1972), along with the Swedish tenor Torsten Ralf (1901-1954), whose birthday, incidentally, is next Friday (Jan. 2).  This is the duet from Act II, Scene 2 of "Tristan und Isolde" - actually a trio, because it's interrupted at two points by Brangäne, Isolde's maid, offstage, but her music is often either omitted from concert performances of the duet, or sung by the soprano taking Isolde's role (as Kirsten Flagstad did in her 1939 studio recording with Lauritz Melchior).  This recording appears to be the only one made during the 78-rpm era with a third singer taking her rightful lines - the Vienna-born Herta Glaz (1910-2006):

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde - Love Duet
Helen Traubel, soprano (Isolde)
Torsten Ralf, tenor (Tristan)
Herta Glaz, contralto (Brangäne)
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra conducted by Fritz Busch
Recorded March 16, 1947, in the Metropolitan Opera House, New York
Columbia Masterworks MX-286, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 49.90 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 33.00 MB)

My thanks to Adam Schweigert for sending me this set and several others as a result of discussions originating in the comments section to this post.  And my thanks to Peter Joelson for his restoration work on the cover image, another beautiful Steinweiss design:


My best wishes to everyone for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sir Thomas' Only Issued Commercial Bach Recording

The great Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) was renowned for his interpretations of older music, especially his unique Handel arrangements, but he seems to have had a blind spot when it came to Bach. It's unclear why. Maybe the heaviness with which Bach was usually interpreted in those days turned him off; maybe it was rivalry with Sir Henry Wood, who was famous for his renditions of the Brandenburg Concertos. Whatever the reason, the fact that he could, when he was so moved, turn out a perfect gem of a Bach performance is amply demonstrated by this record, which also contains one of his inimitable Handel transcriptions:

Bach: Christmas Oratorio - Sinfonia
and
Handel-Beecham: Il Pastor Fido - Gavotte
Sir Thomas Beecham conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded May 12, 1947
RCA Victor 12-0583, one 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 22.45 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 14.76 MB)

This record was only issued in the USA, never by HMV in Europe.

As I may have mentioned here before, in my heyday as a 78 collector I had a collection of over 8,000 discs, which I was forced to sell in 2003-04 for financial reasons. Some of these I had had since childhood. Among them were several by the First Piano Quartet, and when in my recent post devoted to this ensemble, a commenter mentioned a recording of the Paganini Variations, I thought to myself, ruefully, "yes, I used to have that record, and wish I still did."

Well, a few days later, I was at my parents' house for Thanksgiving dinner, and my mother mentioned that there were still several boxes of my records in the basement. This was news to me; I had thought they threw out all the unsold stuff years ago. I went to investigate and found lots of junk, of course - many sets with broken or missing records which I had never tried to sell, but also several dozen single records, some of which I was genuinely surprised to see hadn't sold. Among the latter was this Beecham Bach record. And yes, I did get my First Piano Quartet records back - it was like an early Christmas present! The reclaimed records were somewhat the worse for having been stored in a damp basement for 10 years, perhaps, but still quite playable, and now I share the first of these with you all.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Roll Over "Holly Jolly Christmas"!

Burl Ives, c. 1949
The commercialization of Christmas that has taken place over the last hundred years or so gave rise, during the 1940s through the 1960s, to a cottage industry in secular Christmas songs to supplement the traditional carols of yore.  These have ranged from inspired ("Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" - especially as sung by Judy Garland in "Meet Me In St. Louis") to great fun ("All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth") to insipid drivel ("Have a Holly Jolly Christmas").  For me, it is one of the tragedies of the age that Burl Ives (1909-1995), with all his talents as a folk singer and actor, seems destined to be remembered by younger generations only for his hammy rendition of that stupid song, a rendition that has always sounded to me like he hated it, too.  With this week's offering I attempt to redress the balance, by presenting the second Columbia album featuring his inimitable and beautifully sung stylings of folk-song material:

The Return of the Wayfaring Stranger:
1. On Sourwood Mountain
2. Little Mohee
3. Troubadour Song
4. Lord Randall
5. Bonnie Wee Lassie
6. Colorado Trail
7. Roving Gambler
8. John Hardy
9. The Divil and the Farmer
Burl Ives, vocal with own guitar accompaniment
Recorded February, 1949
Columbia set C-186, four 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 60.43 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 39.79 MB)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Brahms: Symphony No. 1 (Ormandy)

The Extended Play (EP) record, a 45-rpm record capable of carrying up to eight minutes per side of music, was introduced by RCA Victor in 1952, and other companies quickly jumped on the bandwagon, reissuing material in the new format.  Among these, strangely enough, was Columbia, who initially showed antipathy to the 45-rpm record - perhaps not surprisingly, since the company began marketing a 7-inch 33-rpm record for single issues at the same time as it put LPs on the market, and only began replacing these with 45s at the end of 1950.  Columbia's first EPs were all single-record issues of pops and short classical works, but during 1953 the company quietly reissued several dozen sets of the most popular symphonic, concerto and operatic recordings in its back catalogue on EP, including this one:

Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68
Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra
Recorded November 5, 1950
Columbia Masterworks A-1089, three 45-rpm Extended Play records
Link (FLAC files, 113.01 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 77.32 MB)

This was the first of three recordings that Ormandy and his Philadelphians were to make of this symphony; both of the others were also for Columbia, and in stereo.  This EP set may not be the optimal way to hear it - Columbia's 45-rpm records were manufactured from polystyrene rather than vinyl for almost their entire existence - and it didn't last long in the catalogue, but these classical EP sets are fun, and I've included the inner leaves of the triple gatefold cover, containing 4 pages of Columbia's EP advertising, as JPG files.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Encores - The First Piano Quartet

Founded in 1941 as a radio ensemble, the First Piano Quartet, consisting of four pianists - Vladimir Padwa, Frank Mittler, Adam Garner and Edward Edson - enjoyed great popularity during its first decade or so of existence. It's easy to understand why. Their arrangements, made by the players themselves, were great fun, were usually quite brilliant and were performed with a tightness of ensemble that made the four pianos sound almost like one super-piano. The music chosen, popular classics and semi-classics, made few demands on listeners' ears; the pieces never exceeded two 78-rpm record sides in length. When the "FPQ" began recording for Victor in 1946, the company initially didn't consider them Red Seal material, putting their first three single releases and their first album (a set of Lecuona favorites) in the black-label 46-0000 "Double Feature" series. By 1948 these had all been reissued with red labels, and all their subsequent releases appeared as Red Seals, including this, their third album:

First Piano Quartet Encores:
Liszt: Liebestraum No. 3
Grieg: In the Hall of the Mountain King
Rimsky-Korsakov: Flight of the Bumblebee
Mendelssohn: Scherzo in E minor
Villa-Lobos: Polichinelle
Brahms: Lullaby
Rachmaninoff: Italian Polka
Schubert: Moment Musicale No. 3
Liadov: The Music Box
Shostakovich: Polka (from "The Golden Age")
Virgil Thomson: Ragtime Bass
Recorded Dec. 22-23, 1947
RCA Victor WMO-1263, three 45-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 57.85 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.70 MB)

The group's last RCA release was 1952's "FPQ on the Air" (LM-1227/WDM-1624), by which time Padwa had been replaced with Glauco d'Attili - the first of numerous personnel changes to the ensemble. A few EP reissues followed, but their recordings had all but vanished from the Schwann catalog by 1959, though the group continued to exist until 1972.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 5 (Adolf Busch)

Adolf Busch
This recording represents my first-ever exposure to the music-making of the great German violinist and quartet leader, Adolf Busch (1891-1952). I was thirteen when I obtained my first copy of this set at Clark Music in Decatur, Ga. (It wasn't part of the inventory when I discovered the store three years before, but as I gradually depleted the supply of classical 78 sets kept in the back of the store, Mrs. Clark would replace them with other goodies she had been keeping in her "warehouse," and this was one of those items.) I had heard of Busch and his Busch Chamber Players from old Columbia ads for their famous set of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, but this was my first opportunity to actually hear them (it happened to be my introduction to this wonderful concerto as well), and I was hooked:

Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219
and
Tartini: Adagio ("Air") from Violin Sonata in G, Op. 2, No. 12
Adolf Busch (violin) with the Busch Chamber Players
Recorded April 30, 1945 (Mozart) and May 3, 1945 (Tartini)
Columbia Masterworks set MM-609, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 77.62 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 55.76 MB)

Tully Potter, who has written the definitive work on Adolf Busch (published in 2010 by Toccata Press), tells us that this recording followed the Busch Chamber Players' first American tour in the spring of 1945, which took them to 54 towns in 20 states (and Ontario). Many of the towns were out West, and many had never heard a live orchestra before. The orchestra numbered 27 players (including the 19-year-old Eugene Istomin as pianist in several concertos and for continuo work), of which 14 were women, including both horn players. The touring repertoire included this Mozart concerto as well as the following works which the orchestra subsequently recorded: the Bach Double Concerto (which Busch played with Frances Magnes as second fiddle), the Bach D minor clavier concerto (with Istomin), Dvořák's Notturno for strings, Busch's own arrangements of several African-American spirituals, Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" and the 3rd Concert by Rameau. The last two works were, alas, never issued.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Schumann: Second Symphony (Mitropoulos)

The Second Symphony of Robert Schumann has always been my favorite of his four, as it was, apparently, for Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein's "passionate identification" with the work (the quote is from Richard Burton's 1994 biography of Lenny) dated from the time he was an 18-year old student at Harvard, where, in January, 1937, he was part of a reception welcoming Dimitri Mitropoulos, who was in town to conduct two concerts with the Boston Symphony. Mitropoulos would became Bernstein's first mentor, in fact the first person to encourage him to become a conductor. The Greek maestro straightaway invited the young undergraduate to attend not only his concerts but all rehearsals as well, which Bernstein did, despite imminent mid-term exams. The second of these 1937 Boston programs featured a Mitropoulos specialty, Schumann's Second Symphony:

Schumann: Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos
Recorded December 3, 1940
Columbia Masterworks set M-503, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 90.88 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 64.19 MB)

Mitropoulos' recording of this symphony was only the second to be made in America, and only the fourth worldwide - after acoustic and electric versions by Hans Pfitzner (both for Polydor), and this 1936 version by Ormandy (for Victor) which was its chief competitor during the 1940s.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge!

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (center) surrounded by the members of the Coolidge Quartet:
(L to R) Victor Gottlieb, Nicolai Berezowsky, Nicholas Moldavan, William Kroll
Thursday, October 30, will see the 150th anniversary of the birth of that great patron of 20th-century music, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (1864-1953). Her influence on music was incalculable. Her commissions include a number of works that became mainstream repertory, such as Bartók's Fifth String Quartet, Copland's Appalachian Spring, and Poulenc's Flute Sonata, as well as such important works as the first string quartets by Britten and Prokofiev, the last two by Schoenberg, and Stravinsky's Apollon Musagète. Less well-remembered is the fact that she was a pianist and composer in her own right. Her String Quartet in E minor, performed by the group that bears her name, is evidence of her gifts in the latter capacity:

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge: Quartet in E minor
The Coolidge Quartet (Kroll-Berezowsky-Moldavan-Gottlieb)
Recorded January 22, 1940
Victor Musical Masterpiece set M-719, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 70.75 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 46.42 MB)

I don't believe this piece has ever been recorded otherwise, nor does it seem to have been published. I don't even know when it was written; Victor's booklet of program notes (included as a PDF file, and from which the picture above is lifted) omit that seemingly important bit of information. The piece may not be an earth-shattering masterpiece, but it is well-crafted and pleasing to the ear, in a solidly post-romantic idiom. There are three movements: a sonata allegro, a "Funeral Lament" as a slow movement, and a finale called "Divertimenti" - variations and a fugue on the Quartet's opening melody.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Worst Gilbert & Sullivan Record Ever Made?

In his amazing online Gilbert & Sullivan Discography, Marc Shepherd makes available his and others' reviews of just about every recording of the Savoy operas ever made. Marc didn't review this one himself, but one of his readers did, and indignantly called it "the worst G & S recording ever" and that it "must be heard to be believed!" Well, here's your chance:

Gilbert & Sullivan: The Mikado (abridged)
Frank Luther with the "Broadway Players"
Issued in 1963
United Artists UAC-11027, one mono LP record
Link (FLAC file, 82.69 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 39.26 MB)

About the only part of Gilbert & Sullivan's original conception that survives in this treatment is the story itself, which is mostly intact. Sullivan's tunes are rewritten (in two cases almost completely) and his orchestra replaced with a jazz combo of Hammond organ, guitar, bass and drums with xylophone, and Gilbert's song lyrics are almost all dumbed down, one imagines in an attempt to make them more comprehensible to the children at which this record was aimed. One imagines that, but, on the other hand, some of the rewritten dialogue contains jokes that were surely over the heads of kids in the 60s. Here's an example:

Nanki-Poo: "I'm a poor musician, my lord."
Ko-Ko: "A poor musician? You're a terrible musician! How'd you ever get in the union?"

Rather adult humor, if you ask me. Then again, Frank Luther (1899-1980) was at one time the most respected purveyor of children's records in the English-speaking world, even serving as a Decca executive in charge of their children's department during the 1940s and 1950s. So this "Mikado" probably represents a sincere attempt to introduce the glories of Gilbert & Sullivan to children, but it falls a bit flat on that score simply because there's so little of Gilbert or Sullivan left in the end product. And yet, it has its endearing qualities, too, if you approach it in the right spirit and don't expect too much. I'm strongly reminded of the Rankin/Bass holiday TV specials - it has the same cartoonish kind of energy.

I should say a word or two about the series in which this recording was issued, since it's obvious that the reviewer I referenced above assumed that the United Artists "Tale Spinners for Children" was a junk series. Hardly! They were cheaply made (I remember them being sold at Kresge's department store for 99 cents per LP) but the material was of high quality. Most of them originated from England as "Atlas Tale-Spinners." They told familiar children's stories against a background of classical music, probably culled from existing recordings, and there were even stories of composers added into the mix. To this day I have battered copies of "The Story of Beethoven," "The Story of Chopin," and "The Story of Mozart" that I had as a lad of five. Many of these can be heard online; see under my list of "Some Favorite Record Links" at the right for a Tale Spinners site that features these.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Kodály: Dances from Galanta (Fiedler, Boston Pops)

Zoltán Kodály
If the most popular work by Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) is the Suite from the opera "Háry János", then perhaps the second most popular is his brilliant answer to Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies, the Dances from Galanta, written, as the Victor labels for its first American recording proclaim, "for the 80th Anniversary of the Budapest Philharmonic Society, 1934". Here is that recording:

Kodály: Dances from Galanta (1934)
Boston "Pops" Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler
Recorded June 28, 1939
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-834, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 36.15 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 26.29 MB)

Fiedler's excellent recording missed being the very first of this work by less than three months; Victor de Sabata beat him to the punch by recording it for Polydor with the Berlin Philharmonic in April, 1939. For all practical purposes, Fiedler's set would be the only way Americans would be able to experience this piece on record during the 1940s. (Fritz Reiner recorded it for Columbia in Pittsburgh in 1945, but that version was unreleased until Sony tapped it for a Masterworks Heritage CD in 1996.)

The first side of my copy is a bit noisy, I'm sorry to say - especially at the beginning and end of the side. It was a wartime pressing, after all.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Mozart: Piano Concerto, K. 491 (Casadesus)

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
I grew up on Robert Casadesus' recordings of the Mozart piano concertos, in his incomparable collaborations with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra from the 1950s and 1960s.  These were my introduction to these magical works, when I was a teenager, and ever since, this has seemed to me the right way to play Mozart.  So I was delighted to find recently the very first Mozart concerto recording made by the great French pianist (and although the pressing is not ideal, perhaps, being a postwar one, it does at least boast a Steinweiss album cover I hadn't encountered before):

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491
Robert Casadesus, pianist
Orchestre Symphonique de Paris conducted by Eugène Bigot
Recorded December 20 and 21, 1937

and

Mozart: Rondo in D Major, K. 485
Robert Casadesus, pianist
Recorded December 8, 1937

Columbia Masterworks set MM-356, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 86.04 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 58.56 MB)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Buxtehude: Sonata in C Major (Mogens Wöldike)

Dietrich Buxtehude in his only authenticated portrait
My exploration into Danish music continues with a magnificent piece of chamber music by Dietrich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707). Actually, Buxtehude spent most of his career in what is now Germany - in the town of Lübeck, where, towards the end of his life, the 20-year-old J. S. Bach walked 250 miles from Arnstadt in order to be able to learn from him. So his music is squarely in the German Baroque tradition, but the Danes have always claimed him as their own, and rightfully so, for all of his training was in Denmark. And in the dark early days of the Nazi occupation of Denmark, four Danish musicians committed to disc this sonata by their compatriot, one of 22 that survive:

Buxtehude: Sonata in C Major, BuxWV 266
Else Marie Bruun and Julius Koppel, violins;
Alberto Medici, cello; Mogens Wöldike, harpsichord
Recorded November 19, 1940
HMV DB 5249, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 26.47 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 14.81 MB)

Wöldike is by far the best-known of these musicians, and I'm sure his was the guiding spirit behind this performance, with his well-known qualities as a Baroque scholar. Koppel and Bruun were husband and wife, and Medici, despite his Italian-sounding name, appears to have spent his entire career in Denmark; he was principal cellist for the Danish Radio Orchestra for several decades. (Satyr has another recording featuring Elsa Marie Bruun, with Wöldike conducting - the Bach Concerto for violin and oboe.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Peer Gynt and L'Arlesienne Suites (Ormandy)

Cover photo by Adrian Siegal
Another one by Ormandy and his "Fabulous Philadelphians" is the offering this week, and it doesn't feature offbeat repertoire or even anything particularly exciting, perhaps - just enjoyable music superbly played. Except for the first Peer Gynt Suite, which he had recorded in 1947, these recordings represent Ormandy's first of these works, which make an odd but satisfying coupling:

Grieg: Peer Gynt Suites Nos. 1 and 2
Bizet: L'Arlesienne Suites Nos. 1 and 2
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded May 14, 1955
Columbia ML-5035, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 144.59 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 96.47 MB)

On a personal note, this was my introduction to Bizet's L'Arlesienne music; when I was 11, I obtained the EP version of this recording of Suite No. 1, which, incidentally, had the same cover photo. I haven't had that 45 for at least thirty years, but I remember that the turnover occurred in the middle of the Minuetto - even though neither the cover nor labels for A-2038 bothered to identify the movements!

This was another of Columbia's 1950s LPs to be reissued with a different cover; around 1958-59 this nature scene replaced Ormandy's visage above (photo borrowed from discogs.com):


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Boris Tishchenko

About a year ago, when Berkshire Record Outlet put on sale a number of Albany Records CDs on sale at ridiculously low prices ($0.99-1.99 per disc) I bought a handful of them. Among these were three discs of piano sonatas by Boris Tishchenko (1939-2010) performed by Sedmara Zakarian Rutstein. I knew of Tishchenko as a composition pupil of Shostakovich, whom the master thought very highly of, but I had never heard his music before. Well, Shosty was right - I was blown away by the quality of the music I heard. It is bold, direct, displays a firm grip of musical architecture, and enough variety to sustain interest over works lasting nearly an hour. I was moved to obtain the scores of the sonatas represented on the Albany CDs (Nos. 5, 7 and 9), and to seek out the composer's own performance of No. 7 on a Melodiya LP made shortly after the work was written:

Tishchenko: Piano Sonata No. 7 (with bells), Op. 85 (1982)
Boris Tishchenko, piano
Alexander Mikhailov, bells
Recorded in 1983
Melodiya C10 20091 004, one stereo LP record
Link (FLAC files, 155.12 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 66.90 MB)

The bells, which are of a different type in each of the sonata's three movements, are not heard continuously, but appear at strategic points - in the slow movement's climax, for example, and at the opening and closing of the first movement.

Berkshire, when last I checked, still has their Tishchenko CDs in stock, and if this music has intrigued you I would urge you to acquire them. And the scores, published by Compozitor Publishing House in St. Petersburg, can be obtained outside Russia via the Ruslania website.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Suk: Serenade (Boyd Neel)

Cover restored by Peter Joelsen
Perhaps no musician in the 20th century was more responsible for generating interest in the vast repertoire of music for chamber orchestra than London-born Boyd Neel (1905-1981). Trained as a doctor, he yearned to conduct, and to this end formed the Boyd Neel String Orchestra in 1933 by recruiting seventeen string players - 11 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos and 2 basses - from various London music schools. From 1934 the orchestra recorded copiously for English Decca, including the complete Handel Op. 6 concerti grossi, and gave a boost to young Benjamin Britten's career by commissioning (and recording) his first recognized masterpiece, the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. The war years curtailed their activities a bit, but not completely. One of their first recordings after Decca's introduction of the "ffrr" recording technique was this charming 1892 Serenade by the eighteen-year-old Josef Suk, composed under the influence of his mentor Dvořák:

Suk: Serenade in E-Flat, Op. 6
Boyd Neel String Orchestra conducted by Boyd Neel
Recorded July 6 and September 25, 1944
Decca set EDA-66 (AK 1209 through AK 1211), three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 60.30 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 41.40 MB)

This is one of about 120 sets imported into the USA and issued in an album series (the records made in England, the albums manufactured in America) between early 1947 and mid-1949 by American Decca, Late in 1947, British Decca began importing its popular series directly to the USA on the London label, then by May of 1948 was importing semi-classical (Léhar, Eric Coates, and the like) 12-inch issues here on London even as American Decca was importing the heavier classics! A May 1, 1948, article in Billboard magazine states that "according to a London spokesman, the [new semi-classical] series will in no way conflict with the deal between London's parent firm (English Decca) and American Decca for the latter to distribute English Decca classical wax here exclusively." But American Decca must have seen the handwriting on the wall, for the beautifully designed covers they had been using for the EDA series (samples of which can be seen here and here) soon gave way to more generic ones like the one pictured above. By the summer of 1949 London Gramophone Corp. (as it was then called) was importing all English Decca product, including the new LPs.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Copland by the Dorian String Quartet

Aaron Copland wrote precious little chamber music, but what he did write is of high quality, and this extends back to works he wrote as a young man in the 1920s. For string quartet there are only three extant pieces, all dating from the 20s, a Movement written while he was studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris (between 1921 and 1924), which was shelved and forgotten until it was rediscovered in the 1980s, a Rondino from the same period, and a Lento molto from 1928. The latter two pieces (in reverse order) form a satisfying slow-fast grouping, and Copland decided to publish them that way. This is the pair's first recording:

Copland: Two Pieces for String Quartet (1923-28)
Dorian String Quartet
Recorded February 8, 1940
Columbia 70092-D, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 19.69 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 13.63 MB)

I can't find out much about the Dorian String Quartet, other than that they seem to have been active between about 1939 and 1942, and their membership consisted of Alexander Cores and Harry Friedman, violins; David Mankovitz, viola, and a very young Bernard Greenhouse, who went on to later fame with the Beaux Arts Trio, as cellist. They made only a handful of recordings: the Piston String Quartet No. 1 in 1939, and Arthur Foote's Night Piece with flutist John Wummer, made on the same day as the Copland pieces. Cores and Greenhouse went on to make sets of violin and cello literature, respectively, for Columbia's educational series.

I got this Copland record from an eBay seller, and in the same package was John Kirkpatrick's pioneering set of Ives' "Concord" Sonata on five Columbia 78s. It was only after I ordered it that I realized that Buster had given us this same recording as transferred from its LP reissue, which is the preferable way to hear it, because the quality of Columbia's shellac from this time (1948) was simply awful. The "Concord", however, takes nine sides, making a filler necessary, and this - a part of the second movement of Ives' First Piano Sonata, recorded the same day as the larger work - didn't make it onto the LP. So I offer it here, as a sort of appendix to Buster's upload:

Ives: "In the Inn" (from Piano Sonata No. 1)
John Kirkpatrick, piano
Recorded April 9, 1945
Side 10 of Columbia set MM-749, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 14.05 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 10.33 MB)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Nielsen: Early Chamber Music Recordings

The Royal Danish Orchestra Wind Quintet:
Gilbert Jespersen, Aage Oxenvad, Hans Sørensen,
Knud Lassen, Svend Christian Felumb
The year 1922 saw the composition of two towering masterpieces of the wind quintet genre, utterly dissimilar from each other: Hindemith's Kleine Kammermusik, and Carl Nielsen's Quintet, Op. 43, written for four of the five players pictured above. The exception, Gilbert Jespersen, didn't join the group until 1929; in the meantime, Nielsen had written his Flute Concerto for him. Nielsen actually intended to write a concerto for each wind instrument, but only the ones for flute and clarinet had been written before he died in 1931 - surely one of the most tantalizing projects in music history, along with Debussy's set of six sonatas for diverse instruments, to be cut short by its composer's death. To return to the Quintet, however, this recording of it by the work's dedicatees became the major vehicle for Nielsen's fame outside Denmark, long before his symphonies were known:

Nielsen: Quintet for winds, Op. 43
The Royal Danish Orchestra Wind Quintet
Recorded January 24, 1936
and
Nielsen: Taagen letter (The Fog is Lifting)
(from the incidental music for "Moderen", Op. 41)
Gilbert Jespersen (flute) & Mrs. Valborg Paulsen (harp)
Recorded January 31, 1936
HMV DB 5200 through DB 5203, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 75.51 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 45.33 MB)

This recording was the first entry in HMV's Scandinavian Red Label series; the next was another Nielsen recording, featuring three of the same players, of this amusing piece depicting a group of strolling musicians who, after two fruitless attempts to serenade a lady, give it up as a lost cause:

Nielsen: Serenata in Vano (1914)
Aage Oxenvad (clarinet), Knud Lassen (bassoon), Hans Sørensen (horn),
Louis Jensen (cello), Louis Hegner (bass)
Recorded February 2, 1937
HMV DB 5204, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 22.23 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 13.59 MB)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ravel: Sonatine (Casadesus)

The greatest interpreter of the piano music of Ravel, for my money, was Robert Casadesus. He had met the composer in 1923, after giving a performance of Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit, and, according to his wife Gaby (also a fine musician with whom he often partnered in piano duo repertory), "had the pleasure to be congratulated by the composer for his interpretation, for his performance of Le Gibet in the slow and nostalgic manner which Ravel had intended, all the time emphasizing the harmonic relationships." It is this sensitivity to the harmonic relationships in Ravel's music that gives Casadesus' performances their unique power. Take, for instance, a work like Le Tombeau de Couperin - Ravel's tribute both to the Baroque dance suite and to fallen friends in World War I, its surface placidity concealing deep grief, which Casadesus is able to draw out fully but, paradoxically, without calling our attention to it.

Casadesus' fame as a Ravel interpreter rests on his 1951 Columbia recordings of the complete solo piano music, but his earlier recordings of the composer have not received such wide circulation.  His very first session in the USA, in 1940 (although he had been a Columbia artist for many years, all his recordings prior to this were made in France), was entirely devoted to Ravel:

Ravel: Sonatine and
Menuet from "Le Tombeau de Couperin"
Robert Casadesus, piano
Recorded February 23, 1940
Columbia Masterworks set X-179, two 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 27.94 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 19.90 MB)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Telemann: Suite in A Minor (Kincaid, Ormandy)

William Kincaid
The great Philadelphia Orchestra, which no less a perfectionist than Sergei Rachmaninoff preferred to any other (as both pianist and conductor) would not have been what it was without its great players. A prime example of this is its first-chair flutist from 1921 to 1960, William Kincaid (1895-1967). Here is one of several recordings that showcased him as a soloist:

Telemann: Suite in A minor, TWV 55:a2
William Kincaid, flute
The Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded March 15, 1941
Victor set DM-890, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 60.06 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 41.15 MB)

I am indebted to Christopher Steward, who maintains this wonderful page devoted to early flute recordings, not only for making the transfer but for sending it to me with permission to use it on this blog.

Telemann was an almost unknown composer at the time this recording was made; in fact this Suite was, I believe, the first work of his to be offered in the Victor catalogue - the Fiedler Sinfonietta's recording of the Don Quichotte Suite was the second (actually the first to be recorded, but the second to be released), and for most of the decade of the 1940s these two sets constituted all the music of Telemann available to the American record buyer.

The playing by Kincaid and by Ormandy's string section is stylish and delightful, but be prepared to be shocked about 4 minutes into the recording by the sound of a piano, with its action altered so sound like a harpsichord, playing in the continuo passages! This was the best the Philadelphia Orchestra could do in 1941. Mengelberg had a similar instrument in Amsterdam when the Concertgebouw Orchestra recorded Vivaldi for Telefunken, and Mahler is said to have used a similar hybrid when presenting his arrangement of a Bach orchestral suite in New York in 1910. By the time Ormandy recorded Telemann again, in 1968 when four concertos were recorded by various Philadelphia first-chair soloists, the orchestra had acquired a real harpsichord.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Larry Adler and His Harmonica

Cover by Al Hirschfeld
(restored by Peter Joelson)
The greatest harmonica player of them all, Larry Adler, would have been 100 years old last February had he lived.  (He died in August, 2001, aged 87.)  Around the time that anniversary would have been celebrated, I was lucky enough to find this Decca set in a used record shop.  Adler recorded copiously, but the vast majority of his recordings were British, for it was in Britain that he achieved his greatest fame.  There were sixteen issued American Decca sides made during the 1940s, the last two of them on the very day before the 1948 Petrillo recording ban took effect.  After that ban was over, he had been blacklisted for alleged Communist sympathies, and he moved to England permanently.  Here are one-half of those sixteen sides:

Larry Adler and His Harmonica, Vol. 2:
Katscher: When Day is Done
Olshanetzky: My Little Town Belz
Londonderry Air
Adler: Beguine
Debussy: Clair de Lune
Dinicu-Heifetz: Hora Staccato
Enesco: Roumanian Rhapsody No. 1
Recorded 1945-47
Decca set DA-653, 4 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 81.97 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 46.53 MB)

Strictly speaking, the Debussy/Dinicu record doesn't belong to DA-653; the previous owner had substituted it, but I was glad to get it anyway.  The Hora Staccato is a tour de force, as is the Enesco Roumanian Rhapsody.  The latter was featured in the 1948 MGM musical "Three Daring Daughters" starring Jeannette MacDonald, José Iturbi and Jane Powell.  In his entertaining 1984 memoirs, "It Ain't Necessarily So," Adler recounts how Iturbi almost cheated him out of the chance to work on the film:

"[In the film] I was to play Enesco's Roumanian Rhapsody in a Carnegie Hall setting, with Iturbi conducting a symphony orchestra. Before shooting I flew to Chicago for an engagement at the Chicago Theatre. When I returned I had a call from Abe Lastfogel [Adler's agent]. He told me that due to a set-designer's strike, they couldn't get the Carnegie Hall set built. Would I let [the film's producer Joe] Pasternak out of our deal? He'd put me in another film some other time. I could have insisted that I be paid - I had held the time free and signed a contract - but it didn't seem important enough to make it an issue, creating bad feeling and certainly ensuring that I'd never work at MGM again. So I agreed, the deal was off.
"That night Johnny Green rang me. Johnny, an old friend, was most famous as the composer of Body and Soul. He was in charge of music at MGM.
"'Larry', he said, it means my job if word of this gets out.' I promised secrecy.
"He told me that the set-designer story was phony. The set was up, they were shooting the number but without me. Instead of conducting the orchestra while I played, Iturbi would conduct from the piano while he played. And what would he be playing? Enesco's Roumanian Rhapsody. What a coincidence!
"'And Larry', said Johnny, 'he's using your arrangement!'
"Even for Hollywood this seemed to be carrying chutzpah to extremes. I phoned Lastfogel and, keeping Johnny's name out of it, told him what I'd learned. I said find out if the set is up; if it is, then is Iturbi doing a number and, if so, what number?
"Lastfogel called back.
"'You're back on the picture', he said. 'You don't know anything, you keep schtumm.'
"Next day Pasternak phoned. He was delighted, he said, that all the difficulties were ironed out, that I would be in the film after all.
"'Larry', he said, 'I've got a script problem and I need your advice. Could you come out to the studio today?
"I'm in the picture as a mouth-organist and suddenly I'm advising the producer on script problems. I drove out to the MGM studio.
"'Larry', said Pasternak, 'I've got to establish that José and Jeannette MacDonald are in love; there's only one logical place to establish it and that's during your number. Jeannette will be sitting in the audience and I want to show, with one look between them, that they're in love.'
"I had an idea what was coming.
"'Now, Larry', said Pasternak, and this time I could have written the script, 'if José is conducting the orchestra, his back is to the audience, right? And if his back is to the audience, he can't look at Jeannette. Ya with me?'
"Joe, I was way ahead of you.
"'And if he can't look at her, she can't look at him, right?'
"Right.
"'So, the way I worked it out, if José is at the piano, see, like he's playing a duet with you and conducting the orchestra at the same time, this way I can establish the look, the audience knows they love each other, you got it?'
"I got it. I also know I'm screwed.
"That's what we did, except that José had one more trick; he worked his sister, for God's sake, into the act. José Iturbi, Amparo Iturbi, and Friend. I was the friend. The number was lousy."

I've never seen the movie, so I can't agree or disagree with Adler's opinion, but the record certainly isn't lousy.  Of course the Iturbis were Victor artists so they aren't on it - fortunately!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Beethoven and Hindemith by the Amar Quartet

The Amar Quartet:
(L to R) Licco Amar, Walter Caspar, Paul Hindemith, Rudolf Hindemith
What do you do if you're a young composer hoping to make a splash with a new string quartet you've submitted to a music festival, only to find that the group assigned to perform it refuses to do so? Why, start your own quartet, of course. The composer was Paul Hindemith, the quartet his Op. 16, the festival the one for new music at Donaueschingen, in its inaugural year of 1921, and the recalcitrant musicians the Havemann Quartet. So the viola-playing Hindemith and his cello-playing brother Rudolf set about finding two violinists to give the performance with, and the Amar Quartet (often known informally as the Amar-Hindemith Quartet) was born. The group had such a success with Hindemith's quartet that they decided to become a permanent ensemble, and began giving regular concerts in 1922. And Hindemith wrote another new quartet specifically for the group, which turned out to be his finest work in the genre:

Hindemith: String Quartet, Op. 22
The Amar Quartet (Amar-Caspar-P. Hindemith-R. Hindemith)
Recorded c. 1926
Polydor 66422 through 66424, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 60.58 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 37.03 MB)

This is actually the second recording of the work they made; the first was acoustical, and is so rare that I don't expect to actually hear it in this lifetime. Their electrical recordings are rare enough, though more numerous, and include two Mozart quartets, the Verdi E minor, the first recording anywhere of music by Bartók (the Second Quartet - available from Satyr), and this one by Beethoven:

Beethoven: Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95
The Amar Quartet (Amar-Caspar-P. Hindemith-R. Hindemith)
Recorded c. 1927
Polydor 66571 through 66573, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 56.97 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 33.49 MB)

This occupies five sides of the three records; the set is completed by three more sides devoted to part of another Hindemith opus, to produce an oddly mismatched four-record set:

Hindemith: String Trio No. 1, Op. 34 - First and second movements
The Amar Trio (Caspar-P. Hindemith-R. Hindemith)
Recorded c. 1927
Polydor 66573 and 66574, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 31.61 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 19.73 MB)

It isn't known whether more of the work (there are two additional movements) was recorded, but my hunch is that it was, and not passed for issue due to technical deficiencies, as pitch instability is evident on the last side actually issued.

Enjoy - and before anyone asks, these are all the Amar-Hindemith 78s I possess, for which I consider myself very fortunate indeed!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Honegger: Symphony No. 2 (Munch, 1942-44)

In time for Bastille Day this year, I present an artifact from one of the darkest periods in French history - the Nazi occupation of 1940-44.  This is Arthur Honegger's war-haunted Symphonie pour orchestre à cordes of 1941, in the first of three studio recordings made by his friend and champion Charles Munch (1891-1968).  This appears, in fact, to be the 51-year-old conductor's first recording of any symphony; his great recording career as music director of the Boston Symphony was still years in the future.  This recording, made only a year after the work's composition, with retakes of the middle two sides made a year and a half later, sizzles with intensity:

Honegger: Symphony No. 2 for string orchestra
Paris Conservatory Orchestra conducted by Charles Munch
Recorded October 15-16, 1942, and March 1, 1944
French HMV W 1600 through W 1602, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 63.29 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 36.83 MB)

UPDATE (July 11): My beloved old HP 7410, which I had thought finished a month ago, managed to scan some record labels for me this afternoon, among them more legible scans of W 1600 through W 1602 than I had been able to obtain with its cheap Canon replacement.  (Mind you, those French HMV red labels are hard to read under the best of circumstances!)  Anyone interested can download them in a zip file here.  (I've also replaced the original download files with new ones incorporating the new scans.)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Columbia LP Covers, 1957-62

This is part 3 of a series devoted to branding changes at Columbia Records in the first fifteen years or so after their successful launch of the long-playing record in 1948.  See also part 1 and part 2.

At the end of Part 2 I showed that the cover branding arrived at by Columbia, around the spring of 1957, looked like this:


This very attractive branding was usually placed at the top right corner of the album cover. By the time stereophonic LPs were introduced by Columbia in September 1958, the arrangement had been modified slightly, with the "LP" component moved up and to the right of the Eye:


...a modification which enabled the trademarks to be displayed flush with the "stereo" indicator at the top of the cover:


(For monaural releases with a stereo counterpart, the trademarks were displayed at the bottom of the cover.)

This basic setup remained unchanged until about the summer of 1960, at which point, the trademarks lost their top-of-the-cover status on stereo issues, and they were reduced markedly in size:


The next major change to the trademarks occurred in the summer of 1961 - the "Lp" portion, presumably by then considered redundant, was dropped, and the Eye transformed into its final form with three concentric rings:


This branding lasted only a few months. By the end of 1961, new albums were featuring this greatly simplified configuration in the upper left part of the cover:


This basic design remained in use, with minor changes in typography and placement, through the late 1970s on Masterworks releases (the entire classical division of Columbia was rebranded "CBS Masterworks" around 1980), and continues in use to this day for Sony's Columbia popular releases. (Incidentally, ML 5746, a recital of French piano music by André Previn, was one of the last releases to be issued with the old "6-eyes" label - in the summer of 1962.)

So why did Columbia, having found a seemingly satisfactory formula for displaying its trademarks on album covers from 1957-60, feel the need for another change? A possible answer is hinted at in an article in the August 29, 1960, issue of Billboard Magazine headlined "Columbia, Philips in New Long-Term Pact Talks." It seems that Columbia had become dissatisfied with having Philips issue its product in Europe, and wanted its own label presence there, as RCA and Capitol already had. Since the Columbia name could not be used there, as EMI owned it, the proposed new label was to be known as "CBS Records." (Philips, for its part, did not relish the idea of giving up popular American product on its label, which is why Philips purchased Mercury Records in 1962.) My guess is that Columbia wanted to update its Eye trademark to fit a new international image. Certainly by the time CBS Records was launched in Europe in 1962, the Eye logo had assumed its new look and was being used to identify the new label.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Stenhammar: Serenade (Kubelik)

Wilhelm Stenhammar
My exploration of Scandinavian music continues with a charming Serenade for orchestra by Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927), the Swedish composer, conductor and pianist who cultivated friendships with his contemporaries Sibelius and Carl Nielsen. (The latter, in fact, found something of a haven at Gothenburg, where Stenhammar was artistic director of the orchestra, at a time when the Danish master was having certain troubles in his native country, and Stenhammar invited him over to conduct concerts.) Stenhammar, who wrote two symphonies, two piano concerti, and six string quartets, composed in a style more conservative than his more famous contemporaries, but nevertheless he was influenced strongly by them. This five-movement Serenade of 1913 breathes much of the same atmosphere as Sibelius, especially in its Valse triste-like second movement:

Stenhammar: Serenade in F Major for orchestra, Op. 31
Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Rafael Kubelik
Recorded Sept. 22-24, 1964
Heliodor HS-25086, one stereo LP record
Link (FLAC files, 178.77 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 61.02 MB)

Heliodor Records was the budget arm of Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft, and had a much stronger presence in Europe than in the USA, where they were on sale, manufactured by MGM Records, for only two years, from 1967 until 1969. Many of their releases were culled from old MGM classical issues of the 1950s (and were, unfortunately, given the fake stereo treatment), but some, like this one, were from Deutsche Grammophon recordings not in the then-current classical series, which MGM had been distributing as direct imports since 1962 (having taken over from American Decca). This all stopped in 1969 when Polydor established an office in the USA to handle imports.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Leonardo Vinci: Sonata in D

René LeRoy
Today I offer some of the most delectable flute playing you shall ever hear, by the great French flutist René LeRoy (1898-1985), a student of Adolphe Hennebains at the Paris Conservatoire (he subsequently studied with Philippe Gaubert).  Here he plays a charming Baroque sonata by Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730), a Neapolitan composer of operas apparently unrelated to the great painter and inventor with whom he shared a name:

Leonardo Vinci: Sonata in D Major
René LeRoy, flute; Yella Pessl, harpsichord
Recorded February 22, 1939
Victor 18086, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 30.58 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 18.91 MB)

I apologize in advance for the noisiness of this record - its previous owner must have shared my opinion of LeRoy's playing, for it is obviously a much-played copy.

UPDATE (July 26): Christopher Steward, a flutist and collector who maintains a wonderful page of early flute recordings, has very kindly sent me his own transfer from a much superior copy of Victor 18086, with permission to disseminate it, so I have substituted his transfer for mine in the links above.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Columbia LP Covers, 1954-57: A Study in Branding Changes

Earliest Columbia LP cover design, 1948
(image borrowed from Collecting Record Covers)
This is the second part of a series devoted to branding changes for Columbia Records in the wake of the introduction of the LP; the first part is "Birth and Evolution of a Trademark" about the introduction of the "walking eye" in 1954.

From the earliest days of the long-playing record as introduced by Columbia in 1948, three elements were present on all cover designs of the new records: the brand name "Columbia" (with "Masterworks" added for classical releases), the company's Magic Notes logo (introduced in 1908, and modified with the addition of a CBS microphone in 1939), and the new "Lp"-in-a-circle logo to identify the new records.  The placement of these elements may have varied from year to year but the presence of them was constant over the next six years.  Here is a cross-section of a typical example from 1954, with the Notes appearing to the left of the catalog number:


But by then, the Eye had been introduced in Columbia's advertising; in fact, it appears at the bottom of the back cover of this album:


By the beginning of 1955, the Notes have disappeared from the cover, as on this cross-section of an LP reviewed in the Feb. 5, 1955, issue of Billboard:


Beginning with issues reviewed in the March 12, 1955, issue of Billboard, a curious symbol appears underneath the "Lp" logo, resembling nothing so much as a tape reel:


This seems to be designed to assure the buyer that this is a "high fidelity" recording, a catchphrase that was all the rage in the 1950s.  Columbia must have decided that this assurance could be granted much less wordily by the summer of 1955, for by then the tape reel and its associated verbiage had been deleted, and the "Lp" logo reconfigured like this (snipped from the upper right corner of ML 5035):


(Incidentally, this branding coincides with the introduction of the "6-eyes" label. I've seen copies of issues having "tape reel" covers with the old Magic Notes blue labels, but I've never seen the above branding with old labels, at least on American pressings.  Canadian pressings are another story.)

This simple, elegant branding lasted for almost a year.  With the releases of May, 1956, or thereabouts, the Eye finally appears on Columbia front covers, albeit in this curious configuration with the "Lp" logo forming its "pupil" and used in tandem with a similar eye-like device advertising "360 Sound" (a phrase first used in 1952 in connection with Columbia's phonograph line):


By the fall of 1956, the "360 Sound" part of this logo had morphed into this circles-within-squares arrangement:


...which is a bit confusing to behold, but at least has the virtue of contrast with the Eye portion of the logo.

The third version of this vertical logo, which first appeared around the beginning of 1957, is the simplest, for it dispenses with the "360 Sound" component and restores the "Lp" to its rightful place as a separate entity (I've included the fine-print portion underneath because it shows that the Eye has finally reached the status of Marcas Reg., i. e., a registered trademark):


This didn't last long either.  By the spring of 1957, the information contained in this last vertical version - the label name, the Eye, the "Lp" and Guaranteed High Fidelity - had been reworked into this easier-to-manage, (mostly) horizontal arrangement:


This was the definitive version, and would remain in place for the next four to five years, with minor variations.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Violinist Who Vanished

Patricia Travers
There have always been creative artists who reach a point in their careers and say, "Enough."  One thinks of Sibelius, who effectively quit composing 25 years before his long life ended, or of Glenn Gould, who at age 31 gave up public performances to concentrate on recording.  But the case of Patricia Travers (1927-2010) is perhaps the strangest of all.  (The catchy, alliterative title I have given this post didn't originate with me; it was borrowed from the New York Times obituary of Ms. Travers.)  Raised as a child prodigy, she concertized actively until the age of 23, when she decided to give it all up, shortly after making this recording:

Ives: Violin Sonata No. 2* and
Sessions: Duo for Violin and Piano**
Patricia Travers, violin; Otto Herz, piano
Recorded *April 17 and **September 19, 1950
Columbia Masterworks ML-2169, one ten-inch LP record
Link (FLAC files, 82.37 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 47.15 MB)

That her retirement from public life was an incalculable loss to music is obvious from this recording, for both works receive passionate, committed performances - and it's ironic that one of the composers represented should be Ives, who, though still alive at the time, had not himself composed anything new for over twenty years.

Patricia Travers did make one more recording, in 1952, when she teamed with Norman Dello Joio, accompanying her at the piano for his "Variations and Capriccio" on one side of another Columbia LP (the other side featured works by Paul Bowles).  I am sorry to say I don't have that one.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Nelson Eddy the Operatic Whale

Walt Disney's 8th animated feature film was (by the company's own count) the 1946 collection "Make Mine Music." This hodgepodge of ten short musical films is sometimes referred to as "the poor man's 'Fantasia'" because it featured mostly popular music, rather than the Stokowski-led classical selections in the earlier feature, and did so most entertainingly with the likes of Dinah Shore, the Andrews Sisters, and (in two of the film's best sequences) Benny Goodman.  There were two exceptions to this: an abridged version of Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" in which story elements were rearranged - a segment that would have nothing going for it if it weren't for the delightful narration of Sterling Holloway, better known as the voice of Winnie-the-Pooh, and this touching finale of the film, a vehicle for the multi-tracked talents of Nelson Eddy:

"The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met"
Nelson Eddy, with orchestra conducted by Robert Armbruster
Recorded c. 1946
Columbia Masterworks set MM-640, three 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 47.77 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 31.30 MB)

This recording is taken directly from the soundtrack of the picture, with the exception of about two minutes' worth of introductory material in which Eddy demonstrates the "Willie-the-Whale Method" of multi-voiced singing by performing "Three Blind Mice" as a round.  The package is an object lesson in how material from films were marketed for home use in those days long before videocassettes or DVDs.  The inside front and back covers (included as JPG files with this download) are illustrated with line drawings of the story, so that the listener who hadn't seen the movie could get some idea of what was occurring.  I won't give the story away here, but will say that there is plenty of good music in the telling of it, from "Shortening Bread" to excerpts from Rossini, Donizetti and Wagner, with Eddy providing the narration and all the voices - even the soprano in a fragment of a duet from "Tristan und Isolde"!

There is a DVD available of "Make Mine Music" which is well worth owning (and quite reasonably priced, too), but it unfortunately omits the first segment of the film, "The Martins and the Coys," because it contains "graphic gunplay not suitable for children."

Monday, May 26, 2014

Birth and Evolution of a Trademark

The discussions that took place in the comments section of this post spurred me to do a little thinking about and research into this famous Columbia trademark, the so-called "walking eye."

When I was a kid of four or five, I was always a bit spooked out by the logo, at least in its redesigned form as shown above, which was new at the time.  Those concentric circles, drawn more thickly on the sides than on the top and bottom, and surrounding that staring pupil, seemed so sinister to me!  I realized, even then, that it was a variant of the symbols lining the edges of the "6-eyes" label, several hand-me-down specimens of which I possessed:


...but those symbols looked so much "friendlier" to me, and the variant seemed like a corruption.

So where did that symbol come from?  Well, according to Gary Marmorstein's readable but inaccuracy-laden history of Columbia, "The Label" (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2007), it was the brainchild of Neil Fujita, who was brought in as Columbia's art director in 1954.  "Early in his tenure there," writes Marmorstein, "Fujita took a good long look at [CBS art director] Bill Golden's CBS Eye and reworked it so that it looked like a cartoon version of a decibel, a bug regurgitated in hi-fi.  With two legs added, it also looked like a TV antenna turned upside down; the lines that stood out showed a C and an R, mashed together, that stood for Columbia Records."

Sounds plausible enough, but lately I've been digging around in old Billboard magazines online, scouring Columbia ads from the middle 1950s, and the first appearance I can find of the "eye" logo is this one, where it forms the "O" in "COLUMBIA" (February 13, 1954):


(In case you're wondering, the snappy new musical in question is "Red Garters," the soundtrack of which was on CL 6282.) Yes, the C and the R do stand out (they're even inked more darkly in "COLUMBIA" and "Rosemary" so that you don't miss the point), but what also stands out is that without the "legs" the new logo looks like a record, not like an eye at all! So I'm a little suspicious of Marmorstein's (or Fujita's) story; the only part of it that really seems accurate is the "CR" origin of the logo.  Besides, the dates don't add up.  If Fujita came to Columbia in 1954, and this ad appeared in February, it seems highly unlikely the logo originated with him, whatever hand he may have had in developing it later.

It seems more likely that it was a happy accident, one that the folks at Columbia seized on eagerly.  By this time, the trusty old notes-and-microphone logo


may have seemed like a relic, one associated with a 78-rpm past rather than an LP future.  (After all, the "Magic Notes" in the left circle had been around since 1908!)   By the end of 1953 Columbia's Billboard ads were no longer showing the Notes prominently, instead relegating them to the fine print, as if setting the stage for something new to take their place.  (The picture above is from the Oct. 3, 1953, issue of Billboard, and represents the last occurrence I can find of so large a display of the Notes.)

The next time we encounter the Eye in Billboard advertising is in April 1954, when an ad appears encouraging dealers to obtain the 1954 catalog of 45-rpm Extended Play records, a small picture of which appeared in the ad.  I managed to find an Ebay listing for the catalog with a nice picture (but alas, not in time to actually buy it!), since the picture in the Billboard ad doesn't do it justice:


The "CR" origins of the new logo stand out really nicely here.  Appropriately, the Eye is combined here with the logo Columbia was using for EPs:


By May 22, the Eye is being displayed at the bottom of Billboard ads, and without the division down the middle that characterized its first appearances:


Meanwhile, on the back covers of Columbia's LP albums, we begin to find the following gracing the bottom (image taken from ML 4853, a Gold & Fizdale two-piano recital probably released in April 1954):


Finally, the Eye's first appearance on an actual record label:  In October, 1954, Columbia announced a new series in a Billboard ad, the "Hall of Fame" series, dedicated to reissues of pop material on 45s and 78s.  The 78 labels looked like this (image borrowed from "Note the Notes," Mike Sherman and Kurt Nauck's book about Columbia's 78 labels):


Notice that by now, Columbia has declared the Eye to be a trademark.  Notice, also, the subordinate position of the Notes.  They would be dropped altogether from the next label design, namely the "6-eyes" label pictured at the beginning of this article, developed for LPs and introduced in the summer of 1955, though they would continue appear on pop 78s until the end of their run in 1958, and on 45s until about the same time.

Part 2 of this series can be found here, with a survey of album cover branding from 1954-57.