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)
and
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)