Sunday, July 16, 2017

Festive Ormandy

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
Of Ottorino Respighi's three orchestral suites celebrating his adopted home city of Rome (Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome, and Roman Festivals), I confess my favorite has always been the last one, mainly because it is the most fun. Respighi, like Liszt, seems to be most authentically himself when he can cut loose and play, and nowhere did he do so more than in this piece (unless it was in the kid-in-a-candy-store orchestrations of Antiche Arie e Danze). This is its first American recording to be released (since Toscanini's, with the same orchestra, from five years earlier, did not see the light of day until 1976):

Respighi: Feste Romane (1928)
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded April 18, 1946
Columbia Masterworks set MM-707, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 60.69 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 39.78 MB)

About five years ago, I uploaded Ormandy's first Philadelphia recording of Sibelius' First Symphony, along with his Minneapolis recording of Kodály's Háry János Suite. I noted the existence of an earlier recording of the same symphony from Minneapolis, and have now located a copy of that, and here it is:

Sibelius: Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded January 16, 1935
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-290, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 110.30 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 66.42 MB)

Originally issued with a generic cover, by the time of my pressing, c. 1940, the set was sporting this simple but evocative cover design:


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Herman D. Koppel

Herman D. Koppel
Nineteen years ago this month, the world of Danish music lost one of its last living links with Carl Nielsen in the passing of pianist and composer Herman David Koppel (1908-1998). (His brother was the violinist Julius Koppel.) Of Jewish heritage, Koppel, who had to flee Denmark in 1943 when the Nazis placed the country under direct military occupation, had considered Nielsen a mentor and had played the composer's piano works in his presence. Koppel made multiple recordings of Nielsen's piano music, of which these appear to be among the first:

Nielsen: Theme and Variations, Op. 40 and Chaconne, Op. 32
Herman D. Koppel, piano
Recorded December 13, 1940
HMV DB 5252 through DB 5254, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 65.99 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 40.48 MB)

Koppel died on Bastille Day, and here he is playing French music - only the second recording ever made of Poulenc's delightful Trio (after the composer's own, for Columbia, in 1928):

Poulenc: Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano (1926)
Waldemar Wolsing, oboe; Carl Bloch, bassoon; Herman D. Koppel, piano
Recorded c. 1950
Metronome CL 3000 and CL 3001, two 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 32.22 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 18.71 MB)

Metrnonome Records was an independent Swedish label founded in 1949 by two jazz enthusiasts, brothers Anders and Lars Burman. This was one of their few classical issues.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Florent Schmitt: String Trio (Pasquier Trio)

Florent Schmitt
Best remembered today for his ballet "La Tragédie de Salome" and his choral-orchestral setting of Psalm 47, French composer Florent Schmitt (1870-1958) actually established his reputation as much with chamber music as with those two works, through his massive, hour-long Piano Quintet of 1908. He returned to chamber music towards the end of his life, writing, among other things, a string quartet, a saxophone quartet, a flute quartet, and this string trio written for, and dedicated to, the Pasquier brothers:

Florent Schmitt: String Trio in E Minor, Op. 105
The Pasquier Trio (Jean, Pierre and Étienne Pasquier)
Recorded May 21 and December 3, 1946
Pathé PDT 103 through 106, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 81.26 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 46.96 MB)

This is a big, satisfying work in four movements, thickly scored (often, because of double-stopping, it sounds more like a sextet), and of immense technical difficulty. Perhaps this explains its comparative neglect, even among Schmitt's works. I believe it has been recorded only once since, in the early 1980s, on an obscure French label, Cybelia - a valiant attempt, but not equal to the one played by the dedicatees. The Gramophone Shop Supplement of October, 1948, reviewed this set (which sold for $10.48), calling it "music of savage power, strange harmonies, and relentless drive. One is hard-pressed to find what may be called 'beauty'..." The anonymous reviewer was certainly right about the power and drive, but there is nothing in the harmonies that would be out of place in, say, Fauré's late chamber music. For me the piece is a real find, as much so as the Loeffler violin partita that I posted last year.