Thursday, March 15, 2018

More Hindemith Trios

This may well be the first time on this blog that I have offered the same work in consecutive posts, or even featured the same composer. But Nick's recent postings, at Grumpy's Classics Cave, of Mozart and Beethoven string trios played by the Pougnet-Riddle-Pini trio reminded me that I had their valuable coupling of the two Hindemith trios in its third Westminster incarnation, as part of their "Collectors' Series", a mid-60s reissue series derived from monaural chamber music recordings of a decade earlier (and, thankfully, not "updated" with fake stereo trickery):

Hindemith: Two String Trios (No. 1, Op. 34; No. 2, 1933)
Jean Pougnet, violin; Frederick Riddle, viola; Anthony Pini, cello
Recorded in the autumn of 1954
Westminster W-9067, one LP record
Link (FLAC files, 110.32 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 72.90 MB)

I am indebted to Nick, not only for inspiring this post, but also for rendering practical service in eliminating the results of an awful gouge in the vinyl on the first side, affecting the first minute or so of the Op. 34 trio.

While I was working on the above transfer, it occurred to me that if I transferred one more LP, I could have available on this blog all the recordings of Hindemith's string trios to be made before the advent of digital recording (including the ones the composer participated in). I am not aware of any other recording of No. 2 besides the one I posted last month, but of No. 1, besides the incomplete one by the Amar-Hindemith Trio, a stereo LP version was made in 1968 by three young German musicians, coupled with the first recording, by a different ensemble, of Hindemith's Op. 16 string quartet:

Hindemith: String Trio No. 1, Op. 34
Rainer Kussmaul, violin; Jürgen Kussmaul, viola; Jürgen Wolf, cello
Hindemith: String Quartet No. 3 (old No. 2) in C, Op. 16
Schäffer Quartet (Schäffer-Szabados-Pill-Racz)
Recorded in the summer of 1968
Musical Heritage Society OR-H-297, one stereo LP record
Link (FLAC files, 239.37 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 85.52 MB)

This recording was made by an independent German recording company, Da Camera, in Heidelberg, and was part of a 9-disc retrospective of Hindemith's chamber music. In Germany the series was published as a box set, whereas in the USA each record was obtainable separately. Of the three musicians playing the Op. 34 trio, only one is still with us: Jürgen Kussmaul, born in 1944, was two years older than brother Rainer, who departed this life only last year. The cellist, Jürgen Wolf, was born in 1938 and died in 2014. Their playing of Op. 34 contrasts markedly with that the Pougnet ensemble; the latter really dig into the music while the Germans are more careful and always beautiful-sounding. The Pougnet's approach is much closer to the Amar-Hindemith's in the two movements where direct comparisons are possible.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Hindemith: String Trio No. 2 (Goldberg, Hindemith, Feuermann)

Front of booklet for Columbia Set 209
This may not be a particularly rare recording, having been reissued numerous times on CD labels devoted to historical recordings (the current availability of these, however, may be another matter). But I have come across a nice early US pressing of the set, complete with its booklet of program notes containing an analysis of the piece (by Roy Harris, of all people), and so here it is:

Hindemith: String Trio No. 2 (1933)
The Hindemith Trio (Goldberg-Hindemith-Feuermann)
Recorded January 21, 1934
Columbia Masterworks Set No. 209, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 64.74 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 42.17 MB)

This set has the distinction of containing the first work of Hindemith to be issued on records in the USA on domestic pressings (April, 1935); hitherto, American record collectors interested in Hindemith had to rely on imported pressings (mostly from Polydor). The recording remained available until the end of Columbia's production and sale of classical 78s, about 1951 or so.

The week of this recording saw a flurry of activity in the studio for these three gentlemen. Also on January 21 (a Sunday), Goldberg and Hindemith recorded a Mozart duo (K. 424), then, the following day, the full trio recorded Beethoven's Serenade (Op. 8). On Tuesday, January 23, Goldberg had to leave for a concert tour; coming to the studio to bid his colleagues farewell, he found them listening to the playback of a Scherzo that Hindemith had written that morning for himself and Feuermann! This was intended as a filler for a recording Hindemith made the same day, on five 10-inch sides, of his solo viola sonata (Op. 25, No. 1), though in the end it was not used as such, being released instead in the Columbia History of Music, Vol. 5. On Saturday, January 27, Feuermann recorded Hindemith's solo cello sonata to complete this valuable little group of recordings. All of them were made available on American Columbia during the 1930s, though only the two trios and the Scherzo survived the purge of wartime deletions.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Howard Ferguson: Octet

Howard Ferguson
The work that put Belfast-born Howard Ferguson (1908-1999) on the musical map was his Octet, scored for the same forces as Schubert's, written when he was a young man of 24. Dedicated to his composition teacher at the Royal College of Music, R. O. Morris (whose other students included Gerald Finzi, Michael Tippett, Constant Lambert and Edmund Rubbra), the work began life as a clarinet quintet, then was expanded into an octet at Morris' suggestion.  Here is its first recording, made ten years later:

Howard Ferguson: Octet, Op. 4
The Griller String Quartet (Griller-O'Brien-Burton-Hampton)
augmented by
Pauline Juler, clarinet
Cecil James, bassoon
Dennis Brain, horn
James Merrett, double bass
Recorded April 7 and May 24, 1943
Decca AK 1095 through AK 1097, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 53.49 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 32.61 MB)

This is one of Dennis Brain's earliest recordings, and, of course, he would make many more before his untimely death in 1957 of an auto accident. It appears, however, that this is the only recording by Pauline Juler (1914-2003), a fact that seems doubly regrettable when one hears her fine account of the prominent clarinet part in Ferguson's Octet. But Juler, who had studied with Charles Draper, gave up performing publicly after her marriage to cellist Bernard Richards in 1948.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Beethoven: Sonata, Op. 109 (Denis Matthews)

Denis Matthews
Happy New Year! For my first post of 2018, I offer the first recording by Denis Matthews of a piano sonata by Beethoven, one of two composers with which he was most closely associated (the other being Mozart):

Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109
Purcell: Suite No. 2 in G Minor, Z. 661
Denis Matthews, piano
Recorded May 15 and 31, 1946
Columbia DX 1509 through DX 1511, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 57.34 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 37.02 MB)

As always, I didn't mean to be away from blogging quite so long! It's true that I haven't been acquiring records lately, certainly not at anything like my old rate, but I haven't been idle with respect to my record hobby - far from it! I was sidetracked, just before Christmas, with the exciting discovery (for me) that two vintage record magazines are now available online from the Internet Archive, both published by the H. Royer Smith Company of Philadelphia - Disques (1930-33) and The New Records (1933-56). (Granted, this is not a complete run of the latter, but it at least takes one well into the mono LP era.) So I have spent most of my free time perusing these. Particularly exciting is the chance to obtain issue dates for American Columbia releases of the early and middle 1930s, information about this period being rather hard to come by. I have updated my three Columbia discographical files to reflect what I have found:

Columbia Masterworks Sets
Columbia Blue Label -D Series
Columbia Celebrity -M Series

For the first two of these, only the information on issue dates has had to be updated, but for the Celebrity Series I have added a few actual titles of whose existence I was previously unaware.

Perhaps some day I will do a series on month-by-month issue dates of Columbia Masterworks sets in the USA.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Beethoven: Quartet No. 15 (Erling Bloch Quartet)

This year I have certainly managed to acquire a healthy batch of recordings by the Erling Bloch Quartet, and here is the latest installment, apparently the Danish ensemble's only recording of Beethoven:

Beethoven: Quartet No. 15 in A Minor, Op. 132
The Erling Bloch Quartet (Bloch-Friisholm-Kassow-Christiansen)
Recorded April 12 and 13, 1951
HMV DB 20143 through DB 20147, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 117.62 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 70.74 MB)

It's a good, honest performance, a little broader in tempo than was customary for 78-rpm recordings of this work, particularly in the finale. It may not have the searing intensity of the 1937 version by the Busch Quartet (which, incidentally, was slated for deletion in the HMV 1950-51 catalogue), but then, which other version did? I hate making comparisons like this, but in the case of this particular piece I can't help it, because of all the Beethoven quartets Op. 132 is the one I love most, and the Busch performance is my ideal...

Monday, November 20, 2017

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Britten!

Benjamin Britten, 1938
Wednesday marks the 104th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Britten (born November 22, 1913). As a young man in his early 20s he had achieved a certain celebrity, principally as a resourceful composer for documentary films, but it remained localized until this work, and this recording of it, brought him international fame:

Britten: Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op. 10
Boyd Neel String Orchestra conducted by Boyd Neel
Recorded July 15, 1938
Decca X 226 through X 228, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 65.91 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 38.41 MB)

This is Britten's first work to be generally recognized as a masterpiece, written to Boyd Neel's commission for a 1937 appearance at the International Society of Contemporary Music Festival in Salzburg. The ISCM requested that Neel bring a new work by an English composer, and Neel despaired of finding one on short notice until he thought of Britten's high-quality (and speedily written) film work, some of which he had conducted in the studios. Neel's hunch that the young man might quickly furnish a worthwhile score was amply repaid. Britten's initial draft of the Bridge Variations was sketched in ten days, and four weeks later the piece had been fully scored - "one of the most astonishing feats of composition in my experience," said Neel.

This set was reviewed in the November, 1938, Gramophone Shop Supplement (in which it was offered for sale at $7,25, including album). "The discs are the first example of [Britten's] work to reach this country," said the anonymous reviewer. "The principal shortcoming of the present work is the inclusion of genre pieces like the Aria Italiana and Wiener Walz, very cleverly turned out but definitely lessening the effect of the remarkable Funeral March, Chant and Fugue. There is some remarkably powerful and eloquent writing in these last sections, writing that on first hearing mark Britten as a man to be watched. The whole work is an unusually attractive and interesting example of contemporary music on discs, and its best pages are an indication that not only Britain but the world has a highly significant new force to reckon with." Quite a prescient review, although I can't agree with the assertion that the lighter sections constitute shortcomings!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Piano Works of Niels Viggo Bentzon

As my last post featured 20th-century Danish piano music, so does this one, but what a contrast in styles! I had really hoped to offer the two composers together, but with the demands being made on my time lately, it simply wasn't to be. In any event, if Jørgen Jersild's influences were primarily French, those of his contemporary, the somewhat better-known Niels Viggo Bentzon (1919-2000), were undeniably Teutonic. Here are three early examples played by the composer (and an extra, played by an associate):

Bentzon: Toccata, Op. 10 (1941)
Niels Viggo Bentzon, piano
Recorded November 26, 1948
HMV Z 276, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 17.44 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 11.33 MB)

Bentzon: Partita, Op. 38 (1945)
Niels Viggo Bentzon, piano
Recorded May 23, 1946
Concert Etude, Op. 40
Bengt Johnsson, piano
Recorded November 23, 1948
HMV Z 7013 through Z 7015, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 49.16 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 30.41 MB)

Bentzon: Sonata No. 3, Op. 44 (1946-47)
Niels Viggo Bentzon, piano
Recorded June 14, 1949
HMV Z 7030 and Z 7031, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 38.42 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 24.06 MB)

The craggy Toccata was Bentzon's calling card as a young composer; he achieved his first success with it. It is that singular anomaly, a toccata in adagio tempo. This is, in fact, its second recording, replacing one issued under the same number in 1942. The equally craggy five-movement Partita recalls Baroque models in its title only, for the work makes full use of modern piano techniques, with numerous passages written in four staves! The Third Sonata is somewhat more conventional, and bears a dedication to Georg Vásárhelyi, Bentzon's piano teacher and a co-soloist on the recording of Bentzon's Chamber Concerto that I posted three years ago. Bentzon ultimately composed an astonishing 31 piano sonatas (one has to wonder, was he trying to outdo Beethoven?), and the first one remained unfinished. All that was published of it is the Concert Etude that appears as a filler to the Partita.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Jørgen Jersild: Trois Pièces en Concert

Jørgen Jersild
More obscure Danish repertoire this time around, and, after you have heard this, perhaps you will agree with me that its obscurity is quite undeserved! Copenhagen-born Jørgen Jersild (1913-2004) was not even a name to me before I acquired this pair of records. The little bit of information about him I have been able to pull from online (primarily the Wikipedia article) reveals that he was a respected educator in Denmark, and that his music betrays a great deal of French influence (perhaps unsurprising, given that he studied with Albert Roussel). Certainly the French inspiration is very strong, even to the very title, in this masterly, virtuosic piano suite of 1945:

Jørgen Jersild: Trois Pièces en Concert
Folmer Jensen, piano
Recorded March 28, 1950
HMV Z 350 and Z 351, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 37.36 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 24.21 MB)

The "three pieces" are all derived from French dance forms (Tambourin, Romanesque, Farandole), and therefore resembles, externally, a Baroque keyboard suite - although only the Tambourin is commonly associated with the Baroque period. Most impressive is the middle movement, "avec dix Doubles" (with ten variations), on a Renaissance dance pattern related to the Galliard.

This is a rare solo recording by Folmer Jensen (1902-1966), whose forte appears to have been accompanying; tenor Aksel Schiøtz and clarinetist Louis Cahuzac are among the artists who secured his services for that purpose in the recording studios.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 3 (Beecham)

Early in 1949, to honor the upcoming 70th birthday of Sir Thomas Beecham, RCA Victor put on the American market some half-dozen albums of the conductor's latest HMV recordings with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, all sporting the above generic cover created for the occasion. This was the largest of these sets:

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 3 in D Major, Op. 29 ("Polish")
Sir Thomas Beecham conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded April, 1947
RCA Victor set DM-1279, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 113.12 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 73.55 MB)

Of the six Tchaikovsky symphonies, the Third seems to me the most ideal vehicle for Sir Thomas' talents. This is particularly true of the three middle movements, and how fortunate are we that these are played without cuts! The outer movements do have a few judicious cuts, but to be fair, I've never heard a 78-rpm version of this work that didn't have them. The pioneering version by Albert Coates, of 1932, hacked each of the middle movements down to one side, and Hans Kindler's of 1940 and Gregor Fitelberg's of 1946 each have cuts in the outer movements, the latter hacking the Finale to one side.