Classical CD Reissues, Part 2   Sept. 2003

American Orchestral Compositions, 1890-1916. Recordings of the Society for the Preservation of the American Musical Heritage = MacDOWELL: Suite No. 1 in D minor, Suite No. 2 “Indian;” HORATIO PARKER: Vathek - Symphony Poem; VICTOR HERBERT: Hero and Leander - Sym. Poem; ARTHUR FARWELL: The Gods of the Mountain Suite; HENRY HADLEY: Symphony No. 2 in F Minor, “The Four Seasons,” Salome - Sym. Poem - The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Karl Kreuger - Bridge 9124A/C (3 CDs) (Distr. By Albany):

These recordings are part of a major effort in the mid-60s to record mostly un-heard music by American composers active during the period when a distinct sort of American classical orchestral music was just coming into being. Conductor Karl Krueger, who had led the Seattle, Kansas City and Detroit Symphonies previously, founded the Society and conducted all the recordings. There are also disc reissues on Bridge devoted to symphonic poems of MacDowell, and another to symphonies by Wm. Grant Still and Amy Beach, with probably more to come. The performances are workmanlike at their worst and dynamic at their best. The original LP pressings (I have dubs of most on open reel) were not the best, but Bridge has done yoeman work in bringing out the utmost fidelity from the master tapes such that the sonics are not seriously dated-sounding. The project grew out of the label’s contract with the Library of Congress to reissue historic musical performances from their archives, and the entire collection of the Society for the Preservation of the American Musical Heritage is now in the national archive.

The two MacDowell suites have been done with more verve, snap and fidelity by Howard Hanson on Mercury, but the second and third CDs hold fascinating material which had not been recorded before or at least not as well, and probably not since either. Parker was Charles Ives’ teacher at Yale and was described later by his student as being staid and tradition bound. However, around 1900 he was one of the most famous composers in the U.S. Although he wrote prolifically, Parker never published Vathek, and it is thought it might have been due to the moral excesses in his inspiration for the piece - the novel The History of the Caliph Vathek. Parker created a very non-staid symphonic poem in the Lisztian style. Victor Herbert’s symphonic poem is double the length of Parker’s and almost operatic in style; its model is a Greek myth about ill-fated lovers. Farwell’s programmic suite was originally incidental music for a play of the same name, in an invented mythological world something like ancient Persia. The longest work in this set is the fine Second Symphony of Hadley. Beginning with Winter it depicts the four seasons in a colorful manner combining the Germanic tradition (in which all of these composers were imbued from study there) with that of the more inventive Russian nationalist composers. His Salome was composed at about the same time as Richard Strauss’s and the Dance of the Seven Veils is more G-rated but still provides a high point to a highly evocative bit of tone-painting.

- John Sunier

Welte-Mignon Piano Rolls Vol. 1 - Pieces by PADEREWSKI, STRAUSS, ST.-SAENS, CHOPIN, PAGANINI/LISZT, SCHUBERT, GRUNFELD, RAVEL, HAYDN, RAMEAU, BIZET, GLAZUMOV & VOGRICH - Performed on piano rolls by Horowitz, Paderewski, Lhevinne, St.-Saens, Jofmann, Petri, Telemaque Lambrino, Alfred Grunfeld, Walter Gieseking, Rudolph Ganz, Hans Haass & Yoland Mero - Played on a restored Steinway-Welte Reproducing Piano. Naxos Historical 8.110677:

The Welte-Mignon was the Rolls Royce of player pianos back in the period when early acoustic recordings of the piano just didn’t cut it with many discerning pianists, composers, and audiences. The run-of-the-mill player pianos were in their own way as primitive as the acoustic phonograph, but the German inventors of the Welte brought the preservation of performances by famous pianists and composers to an entirely new level of accuracy and realism. To do it required years of effort and an amazingly complex Rube Goldbergish mechanical system that was in a way the first digital recorder ever. To record the subtle differences in the piano action missed with simpler systems, the Welte used carbon rods attached to each of the 88 keys which dipped into a highly dangerous trough of mercury, completing an electrical circuit with different degrees of attack. The electrical signals controlled motors which pushed inked rollers against the recording paper roll with varying strength, encoding the player’s force and velocity as well as which notes were struck. The original rolls moved at three times the speed of the final rolls for playing on a home reproducing piano. The tempo, dynamics and use of all the pedals was also recorded and transferred to the final rolls. In addition to pianos with the playback mechanism built in, there were also Welte vorsetzer player mechanisms with 88 little felt-tipped wooden fingers which were rolled up to any grand piano to play back the rolls.

Starting about 1905 Welte convinced a number of famous composers and pianists to record for them, including Mahler, Ravel and Debussy. The rolls heard on this first volume in a Welte series were made from that date to 1927. It is possible that the piano was originally owned by Hitler - it was out for servicing late in WW II and thus escaped destruction. It was carefully restored by the CD’s engineer and producer Richard Simonton Jr. and doesn’t seem to exhibit the noisy mechanism heard in the background on some of the other CDs made from Welte rolls. The recordings were made in a private home and of course one of the advantages of this procedure is that now we can hear pianists and composers who died long before the high fidelity era performing in excellent modern stereo sound!

The recent set of two CDs on Telarc of Rachmaninoff’s Duo-Art piano rolls set a standard for believable playback. Using special computer programs the rolls were converted to digital signals operating a Bosendorfer digital reproducing piano. But the Welte approach was more complex and sophisticated than the Duo-Art, and using the mechanical approach of actually playing the piano rolls, Simonton has achieved less mechanical sounding results than most such efforts, almost on a par with the highly computerized Telarc effort. My personal favorite here was the amazing 1927 Horowitz roll of his Virtuoso Fantasy transcription of themes from Bizet’s Carmen. I think there is a version in one of the many Horowitz collections of a 78rpm of this piece from the 1930s; if I can find it that should be an interesting comparison! It’s a wonderful opportunity to hear the great Josef Hofmann in action playing a Chopin Polonaise, and another keyboard star of the past - Josef Lhevinne - is heard in an all-stops-out arrangement of the The Blue Danube. Only the Ravel and St.-Saens selections suffer seriously in relation to the others; the mechanical approach is just not quite up to communicating the subtle impressionistic timbres the composers sought. Fans of historic keyboard artists will surely be waiting with baited breath for future volumes in this valuable series.

- John Sunier

BACH: French Suite No. 6 in E Major, BWV 817/BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 6 in F, Op. 10, No. 2/SCHUMANN:Papillons, Op. 2; Traumerei/CHOPIN: Nocturne No. 2 in E-flat; Impromptu No. 2 in F-sharp; Waltz in C sharp Minor; Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor; Etude in F Minor, Op. 25, no. 2

Mieczyslaw Horszowski, piano
BBC Legends BBCL 4122 78:15 (Distrib. Koch):

Likely the most enduring, active musician in history, Mieczyslaw Horszowski (1892-1993) in every way embodies stylistic and professional nobility of the highest order. His omission from Philips' "Great Pianists of the 20th Century" is just another editorial screw-up. A master in solo recital and a frequent participant in chamber music, Horszowski's training under Leschetizky made him a subtle veteran in the music of Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Schubert and Szymanowski. I would relish his complete Brahms Violin Sonatas with Szigeti's being reissued; and their work with horn player John Barrows in the Brahms Op. 40 Trio was no mean feat, either.

The present recital from the BBC dates from June 21, 1991, but in no way reveals the age of its principal. The disc, by the way. forms a natural complement to Horszowski's 1983 Aldeburgh recital (courtesy of his pupil, Murray Perahia) captured on Originals SH 828. The opening Bach French Suite has all the Horszowski virtues: crystalline tone (try the music-box sonority of the Polonaise), arched phrasing, inflected rubato, and bold lines. There is no stinting on emotional energy, either: Horszowski plays repeats, and his Chopin B Minor Scherzo is voluptuous, big. The Beethoven paints a series of sturm und drang portraits, while the Schumann is tender innigkeit through and through, playful and wistful at once. Collectors will gravitate to the Chopin group, since Horszowski's pedagogy extends back through Mikuili, Chopin's personal assistant. No one has ever surpassed Horszowski's way with the Chopin Bolero, a piece he played in Britain for his 75th birthday, maybe a CD for another day. Here, meanwhile, is musical authenticity in the finest sense, a perpetual revelation.

--Gary Lemco

CHOPIN: Nocturne in B, Op. 62, No. 1; Scherzo in B Minor, Op. 20; Ballade in F Minor, Op. 52; Valse in F Minor, Op. 70, No. 2; Fantasie-Impromptu, Op. 66; Funeral March, Op. 72, No. 3;  2 Etudes, Op. 10; Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise, Op. 22; Mazurka in A Minor; Nocturne in C# Minor; Fantasie in F Minor, Op. 49

Leo Sirota, piano
Arbiter 137 76:47:

Russian piano virtuoso Leo Sirota (1885-1965) was a Busoni pupil and deeply interested in musical structure. The tapes of Chopin, 1952 1963, supplied by the pianist's daughter, derive from a complete presentation of Chopin's works given in St. Louis. Like Busoni, Sirota eschews the "romantic" approach to Chopin, preferring a controlled rubato and a secure left-hand pulsation. Sirota elides the "orchestral" buildup and pompous declamation between the Andante spianato and the Grande polonaise, but he provides a quicksilver intimacy that often points to Josef Hofmann's model. The big pieces, the Fantaise, the Ballade, the Scherzo, balance the rhetorical gestures and postures with lovely nuance of detail, again in a league shared by Solomon and Moiseiwitsch. The Nocturne in C# Minor tugs us in two directions, the dance and the F Minor Concerto, always reminding us that night-music is the clarion-call of Romanticism. The Valse in F Minor, the two etudes from Op. 10, reveal a highly fluent technique, virile in the wrists, and rhythmically sophisticated. Sirota's tonal palette makes the familiar Fantasie Impromptu a kaleidoscope of rhythmic color, the top line singing without sentimentality. Recorded sound is fair to good, the 1952-53 inscriptions having a rather dry acoustic. Chopinists will find deeply satisfying performances by an under-represented veteran of a caliber with Maryla Jonas and Agi Jambor, intrinsically refined.

--Gary Lemco

MOZART: Sinfonia concertante in E-flat for Violin and Viola, K. 364/NACHEZ: Passacaglia on a Theme of Sammartini/SCHUBERT: Entr'acte from Rosamunde/DVORAK: Humoresque/MASSENET: Meditation from Thais/SAMMONS: Bouree/TRAD: Londonderry Air/ELGAR: Violin Sonata in E Minor, Op. 82

Albert Sammons, violin/Lionel Tertis, viola/Gerald Moore, piano (Schubert, Dvorak, Massenet)/William Murdoch, piano
Sir Hamilton Harty conducts London Philharmonic
Naxos Historical 8.110957 76:41:

This is Nazos' second disc devoted to the artistry of Albert Sammons (1886-1957), whose repute in the music of Elgar was especially well deserved. The present performances, inscribed 1926-1935, possess the same flair and easy (albeit somewhat nasal) panache of his Elgar Violin Concerto recording. Certainly, the 1935 recording of the E Minor Sonata, given its obligations to Brahms, is stylish and gently sentimental. I am less convinced that even the most avid fans of this artist will return repeatedly to the 1932 Mozart recording, simply because it is too romantically excessive for modern tastes. Auditioning the performance with an active violinist, we found the rhetorical gestures, the sweeping portamenti and ritards, almost laughable. To be sure, there are moments when Sammons and Tertis (1876-1975) achieve some heartfelt sparks in Mozart's magical intertwinings, but the style is over the top.

Hellmesberger's awkward already cadenza is stretched even more away from Mozart's galant style by Tertis' emendations. The Schubert, Dvorak and Massenet arrangements, along with Danny Boy, are all tasteful and charming. The relatively unknown piece by Nachez (only Elman gave it any regard, besides Sammons) is a rococo set of variations recorded in France with an uncredited pianist. A musical curio - collectors may buy it; more likely, musicology students will point to its disregard of the performance practice of Mozart's own time. Restorations by Mark Obert-Thorn are exceptionally quiet given the antique sources.

--Gary Lemco

BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77/TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35

Bronislaw Huberman, violin/Artur Rodzinski conducts New York Philharmonic (Brahms)/Eugene Ormandy conducts Philadelphia Orchestra (Tchaikovsky)
Music&Arts CD-1122 64:00 (Distrib. Albany):

Bronislav Huberman (1882-1947) remains a maverick among the pantheon of golden age violinists, a highly individual player of the Romantic school whose use of portamento and seemingly gratuitous vibrato alienated some purists, while his adherents found him an emotionally exciting performer in repertory he knew well. Huberman was less renowned as a 'vehicle' for the classics as he was as a 'personality' who molded the music to suit his tastes. His work in Bach with Dobrowen and in Beethoven with Ignaz Friedman is still regarded as his most polished effort. Huberman's founding of the Israel Philharmonic, along with conductor William Steinberg, is his most enduring legacy, both a political and a cultural coup.

The Brahms Concerto with Rodzinski (January 23, 1944) is a new addition to Huberman's catalogue, a personal, molded performance of great sensitivity and intimacy. Huberman uses a first-movement cadenza by his teacher Hugo Herrmann, one that employs the rhythmic impetus Brahms uses as a transition device between melodic periods. Huberman's intonation is stable, but it is also high-strung in the manner of Szigeti, often wandering into harmonics and tip-of-the-bow accentuation of points that other artists play arco. Despite the occasional willfulness of the playing, there is an urgency and sincerity that shines through, Rodzinski following his soloist in every move. It seems the fourteen-year-old Hubermann made the composer an acolyte with thi same piece back in 1896.The Tchaikovsky (March 1946) had prior life on LP and CD. Though cut, the edition Huberman employs still has planty of juice, and the spitfire attacks in the first movement finale and the whole gypsy rondo finale get the audience fired up. Maggi Payne's technical restorations are reverberant without sacrificing the palpable ambience in each performance between artist and his most appreciative audience, especially in the Brahms.

--Gary Lemco

BACH: Six Solo Sonatas and Partitas

Emil Telmanyi, violin (Vega/Bach bow)
Testament SBT2 1257 56:55; 68:44 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)

Recorded 1953-1954, these Bach performances remain distinct, an attempt by Emil Telmanyi (1892-1988) to overcome several impediments to the modern violin bow to accomplish Bach's polyphonic effects without breaking the sustained line and chromatically rich chords by having to "snatch" notes between musical pulses. Telmanyi sought out two bow makers, Arne Hjorth and Knud Vestergaard, to invent a curved bow whose movable frog permitted Telmanyi to produce alternately tight bow hair and slack, opulent chords that did not require him to arpeggiate their execution. The latter inventor, Vestergaard, is he whose name produced the shorter anagram "Vega" for this special bow.

Telmanyi was a born a Hungarian, but he made his career in Denmark. His work with Victor Schiolor in the music of Nielsen and Schubert has yet to be restored to CD. The Bach inscriptions are hardly of the "authentic" school of thought: the block chords often suggest the sound of the harmonica. In the C Major Sonata is perhaps most effective, with its long drawn Adagio and following Fuga. While Telmanyi is clearly a veteran in pursuit of form as well as sonority, I found the patina at times distracting from the musical content, as in the G Minor Sonata. The E Major Partita seems to suffer least from Telmanyi's approach, sailing along with pointed attacks and dancing fervor. Telmanyi was 62 at the time of these performances, and his energies are strong and unmannered. But to claim as some do, that he replaced conventional Baroque music practice, is a going a bit far. Always musical, these recordings are worth hearing, but their endurance on your record shelf will depend on the acquired tastes of a few adventurous audiophiles.

--Gary Lemco

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