Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Henri Sauguet: Piano Concerto No. 1

Henri Sauguet
Henri-Pierre Poupard, better known as Henri Sauguet (he took his mother's maiden name for his professional career), was born in Bordeaux 116 years ago tomorrow (May 18, 1901). He is one of those composers on the periphery of 20th-century European music who, like Vittorio Rieti, first came to my attention through Sylvia Marlowe's championing his work - in Sauguet's case, a Suite Royale for solo harpsichord, a skillful modern evocation of Couperin and Rameau which Marlowe recorded for American Decca in the early 1960s (tacked on at the end of an LP whose main attraction was Falla's Harpsichord Concerto). Sauguet's essentially conservative style made him one of the few Western composers acceptable to the Soviet musical establishment; he wrote a cello concerto for Rostropovich, and Vasso Devetzi had a success there with this piano concerto, the first of three, of which this is the first recording:

Henri Sauguet: Piano Concerto No. 1 in A Minor (1934)
Arnaud de Gontaut-Biron (Gaveau piano) with the
Paris Conservatory Orchestra conducted by Roger Désormière
Recorded June 29, 1943
French Columbia LFX 911 and 912, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 40.57 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 28.29 MB)

The pianist on this recording, Arnaud de Gontaut-Biron (1897-1985), was a French nobleman, a member of a family that in earlier generations had produced several famous soldiers; one of these served in the American Revolutionary War. This appears to be Arnaud's only recording.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The London String Quartet in America

From the 1924 American Columbia catalogue
The London String Quartet, founded in 1908, first came to the USA twelve years later, and, in the words of Tully Potter, "the Americas were the LSQ's Nirvana." They found great success here, so much so that its members eventually settled here. In Britain the ensemble had begun a series of recordings for Columbia in 1914, which included a number of first recordings of "complete" quartets by Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann (complete in the sense that entire works were recorded, but with some movements abridged to fit one side). None of these sets had been issued in the USA at the time of their first tours here, so the American record buyer's introduction to the ensemble was through this disc:

Bridge: Two Old English Songs (1916)
(Sally in Our Alley; Cherry Ripe)
The London String Quartet (Levey-Petre-Warner-Evans)
Recorded March 13, 1922
Columbia A-3677, one 10-inch 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 18.03 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 9.85 MB)

During the spring of 1922 and the fall of 1923, the London String Quartet made a series of recordings in New York's Columbia studios, quite separate from their British series (which had, in any case, by this time been taking place for Vocalion). This produced twelve issued sides, mostly of isolated movements from the string quartet repertory. (No complete quartets for the Americans - yet! That would have to wait for the Masterworks series two years later.) Of these, this Bridge coupling is one of the most valuable, for the arrangements were actually given their concert première by the LSQ in 1916, with Bridge himself taking the viola part.

My thanks to Nick Morgan, not only for spotting this record, but for sending it to me.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Happy Birthday, Claudio Monteverdi!

Claudio Monteverdi. c. 1630
We have a very important composer anniversary this month - the 450th anniversary of the birth of Claudio Monteverdi (May 9. 1567), and so I present the first complete recording of his first opera, "L'Orfeo" (1607). This may not be the first opera ever written - that honor goes to "Dafne" by Jacopo Peri (now lost) - but it is the first acknowledged masterpiece in the new genre.  It is also the earliest opera to be in the standard repertoire, although that was probably not the case in 1939, the year this recording was made:

Monteverdi: L'Orfeo - Favola in Musica
Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra under the direction of Ferruccio Calusio
Recorded December, 1939
Musiche Italiane Antiche 014 through 025, twelve 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 282.17 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 174.67 MB)

And how does this recording stack up today, in the wake of over three-quarters of a century of a performance tradition of this music? Quite well, in my opinion. The producers of this set took pains to ensure that the sound of Monteverdi's orchestra was reproduced faithfully, within the confines of what was possible at the time. True, most of the instruments are modern, and the singers are all of the Verdi-Puccini operatic tradition. But the singing - led by Enrico de Franceschi in the title role - is never less than beautiful, and, in the case of Albino Marone (singing the dual parts of Caronte and Plutone), full of character. The string playing is a little lackluster, perhaps, but the continuo work is all excellent, particularly that of Corradina Mora on her Pleyel harpsichord. The whole performance was obviously a labor of love for all involved. One can imagine them glorying in the positive aspects of their Italian heritage at a time when the world was falling apart around them.

Incidentally, at the Library of Congress' "National Jukebox", it is possible to sample what are probably the earliest recordings ever made of Monteverdi's music - two excerpts from "L'Orfeo" as sung by Reinald Werrenrath and accompanied by the usual Victor studio orchestra, recorded in 1914 for the company's educational series.