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.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Nielsen by E. T.

No, this post has nothing to do with extra-terrestrials! Several weeks ago, I had two different conductors with the same initials featured in one composer at this post. Just so, now I present two different conductors with the initials "E.T." performing Nielsen - more fruits of my recent splurgings on Danish 78s. The details:

Nielsen: En Sagadrøm (A Saga Dream), Op. 39
Copenhagen Royal Opera Orchestra conducted by Egisto Tango
Recorded February 27, 1942
HMV DB 5263, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 22.27 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 14.67 MB)

Nielsen: Little Suite for Strings, Op. 1
Danish State Broadcasting Orchestra conducted by Erik Tuxen
Recorded April 7, 1948
Columbia DDX 17 and 18, two 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 38.74 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 23.71 MB)

The Sagadrøm record is a real gem, and as for the Little Suite, has there ever been an Opus 1 as accomplished, and as fully characteristic of its composer?

I didn't mean to be gone quite so long, but on top of computer problems, which I'm still working on, I've had to deal with Hurricane Irma, which we in Atlanta didn't get the full brunt of, as Florida did, but we got quite enough - sustained winds of 40 miles per hour, sometimes gusting to 60, and over 3 inches of rain in a single day. The past weekend saw me frantically elevating hundreds of records from the floor of my basement, in anticipation of water from the storm coming in, which, thankfully, didn't happen, but it's always better to be safe than sorry!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Holmboe: Quartet No. 1 (Erling Bloch Quartet)

Vagn Holmboe
Twice in the past I have presented works by the most celebrated Danish composer since Nielsen, Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996): the Serenata, Opus 18 and the Notturno for Wind Quintet, Opus 19 - together constituting two-thirds of the total works of Holmboe recorded on 78-rpm discs. Here now is the third and last of these pioneering recordings:

Holmboe: String Quartet No. 1, Op. 46 (1949)
The Erling Bloch Quartet (Bloch-Friisholm-Kassow-Christiansen)
Recorded April 9, 1951
HMV DB 20137 through DB 21039, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 58.74 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 38.75 MB)

This fine three-movement quartet, the first of a remarkable series of twenty, was dedicated to, and premièred by, the Erling Bloch Quartet. Holmboe had, in fact, written no less than ten string quartets (not all of them actually completed) before the one he allowed to go out into the world as his First; at the time of its composition, he had already written six of his thirteen symphonies, and all but two of his series of thirteen chamber concertos. The first three of the numbered quartets were written in rapid succession, assigned consecutive opus numbers and recorded within five years - the Second by the Musica Vitalis Quartet for Decca, and the Third by the Koppel Quartet (the dedicatees), also for Decca. The latter was reissued on CD as part of the "Decca Sound - Mono Years" box set issued a couple of years ago.