Sunday, 6 October 2013

'A capital performance.'


Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90 'Italian'

Allegro vivace (A major)
Andante con moto (D minor)
Con moto moderato (A major)
Presto and Finale: Saltarello (A minor)



Aeolian Orchestra cond. by Stanley Chapple

Aeolian Vocalion K-05148, K-05149 & K-05150
(03781xx, 03782X, 03783, 03788X, 03789, 03790)
(recorded January/February 1925)



Link (FLAC files, 70 MB)

Prior to Chapple’s recording with the Aeolian Orchestra only two movements had otherwise been issued of this, or indeed any, Mendelssohn symphony. The Victor Concert Orchestra under Walter Rogers recorded the 2nd & 3rd movements in March 1915 and at about the same time as Chapple's complete recording the New York Philharmonic under Henry Hadley issued a 2nd movement on the Ginn & Co. label in April 1925.

Ink drawing by Mendelssohn of the Amalfi coast
The performance is almost complete, bar repeats, with only a small section in the first movement omitted. Discus in Musical Times for May 1925  had room for only a very brief review in a general ‘catch-up’ article but thought the record ‘a capital performance.’  Seemingly Compton Mackenzie was a bit more hesitant on the qualities of the recording and the music. In his April 1925 review for The Gramophone he begins with an analytical discussion of the work leaving the merits of the recording until the end. 

‘The orchestration, as I have suggested, is full of interest and novelty. The only weakness is the brass. Mendelssohn was writing for the natural instruments that we find in Beethoven's symphonies and earlier. It was not until later that the invention of the valve horn and valve trumpet enabled composers to feel at home with this part of the orchestra. Mendelssohn's treatment of his trumpets in particular is rather clumsy; it seems a pity that he didn't leave them out altogether; they are not really necessary here. The playing, too, has aggravated rather than minimised this defect, and the rest of the orchestra is occasionally swamped by a blatant and pointless blare. In this set of records, too, there is once or twice a miscalculation with the drum, which is sometimes too loud and at others quite inaudible. Apart from these minor drawbacks I have nothing but praise for a notable achievement that will, I fancy, be welcomed with acclamation by many.’ [The full review included with the recording]

Mendelssohn at 24
Mackenzie retracted his statement on the quality of the recording the next month as having tried a new gizmo attached to his soundbox he set about re-evaluating 600 or so records in one fairly extend listening session. He decided that after all the recording was fine.

As with all acoustic recordings a certain amount of substitution and contraction of forces is practised, here the bass line has some excellent tuba playing particularly in the second movement, I don't think there are any cellos or basses present and would guess the 1st and 2nd violins total about eight players. The line up for the recording would be 21 players that included 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and 8 strings with a tuba. 

Odd as it may seem to us today Mendelssohn started to go out of fashion at the end of the nineteenth century and probably hit his lowest point in popularity in the early 1920s. So unfashionable indeed that no one thought it worthwhile to make another complete recording of the ‘Italian’ symphony until HMV issued a performance of La Scala Orchestra under Panizza in October 1931. Why Chapple and Aeolian Vocalion thought it was worth recording is not known to me  but one wonders if the coincidence of Chapple having recently been made music director of the company together with the further coincidence of Mendelssohn composing the symphony when he was 24 and Chapple recording it when he was 24 had anything to do with it. 


Stanley Chapple is a bit of a forgotten conductor, I have pulled stuff from various reference books and the web to give some sort of idea of his career.

Stanley Chapple was born in 1900. He studied at the London Academy of Music where he was successively student, professor, Vice-principle and until 1936 principle. In 1920, at the age of nineteen, he was hired as director of the City of London School's opera, but more importantly for us he was also hired by the Aeolian Vocalion Company as and piano accompanist. By 1924 he became music director, a position he held about 1929. [A fascinating article by Chapple was published in the Gramophone in 1929 which I have included with the zipped up file of the recording].

By 1922 he had been invited to appear as a guest conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra; and shortly after he was made head director, although I can find no mention of this in the history of the LSO publish a few years back. In 1930 the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra invited Chapple to appear as guest conductor, and by the end of the decade he had become one of the most coveted guest conductors on the European Philharmonic circuit, travelling to Vienna, the Hague, and Warsaw.

Chapple also frequently travelled to the USA making his first voyage I believe in August 1931. Chapple’s dream of going to Russia was ruined when war broke out in 1939. He was in Boston at the time when the tour to Russia had to be cancelled. Philip Kerr, Lord Lothian then British ambassador in Washington D.C. asked him to stay in America to ‘promote good will’. During the war, Chapple conducted the National Symphony in the Watergate concerts.  In 1940, the director of the Boston Symphony opened a school for conductors and orchestra musicians in Massachusetts; and made Chapple its director. Thus was born Tanglewood, a music academy that is still going strong today. Leonard Bernstein was Chapple's first student there. Chapple was invited to teach at the University of Washington and to be its director of the University of Washington School of Music in 1948, when the active dean of the department heard him at Tanglewood. When the Seattle Symphony lost its conductor in 1950, Chapple took over and virtually remodelled Seattle's culture. He used the Symphony as a means of introducing Seattle to the opera, ballet, and the theatre. During his tenure as conductor, he greatly enhanced the professional level of symphony players In 1962, Chapple became director of symphony and opera at the University of Washington, and when he retired in 1971, Mayor Wes Uhlman asked him to direct the Seattle Senior Symphony (Musicians Emeritus) a program providing ‘encouragment and help to former music-makers wishing to resume their participation in music-making’. For the next fourteen years Stanley Chapple was the much beloved conductor of Musicians Enmeritus Symphony Orchestra and Thalia Symphony Orchestra. Chapple died in on 21st  June 1987 at Seattle, King, Washington.
Clipping showing the first performance on 15th May 1833

Lots on the symphony itself on the web however I thought tocould include with the recording a clipping of the first performance review from The Morning Post 15th May, 1833 from which the above pic is taken.


11 comments:

  1. Very good to put Stanley Chapple in the spotlights and to hear this symphony. I didn't know he had such a long succesful carreer. Thanks a lot, Jolyon! Greetz, Satyr

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    1. Thanks as always Satyr - difficult to judge what happened to his career, it seemed to be doing quite well then cooled off. Still he was a good conductor, better than i could have done aged 24!

      Jols

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  2. Thanks for the info on Stanley Chapple - I have heard the name, but had never read about him.

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    1. Ta Buster - don't think much has been said of him and reissues have been mainly limited to concerto recordings etc with other artist - certainly no single disc devoted to him as far as know.

      Jols

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  3. And a capital transfer, thanks, Jolyon! It has been done before but not with such extraordinarily revealing results. (Great side-joins, too). The forces used, playing, swiftness of the central movements and your amazing work make it an ideal case study of acoustical orchestral recording! Can't wait for more (greedily). Thanks again, Nick

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    1. Thanks Nick

      Did not know this had already been issued - in fact who issued it? Glad you like my side joins, a bit fiddly but worth it

      Jols

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  4. What a rare treat. Thanks a lot.

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  5. Thank you for your kind words - glad you liked it

    Jols

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  6. The community orchestra created as Musicians Emeritus in Seattle is still alive and well, though named now th Seattle Festival Orchestra. I played in it from 1994 until 2011. During those years we were always reminded that this had been "Stanley's" group. His impact on Seattle community music was immense and lasting.

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    1. Dear Ronald

      This is good to know - I'm not quite sure why his international career foundered but I think there were just too many good conductors around especially when so many were forced out by the Nazi in the 1930s - Stanley may also have preferred not to take the limelight. He is unjustly neglected probably because most of his work was made in the acoustic era – I have several more of his recordings and hope to make others available.

      Best wishes

      Jolyon

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  7. Thanks for posting this brief biography as well as the recording. If I may ask a favor, could you create a Stanley Chapple Wikipedia article with this as the basis?

    I remember Chapple fondly. I sang the role of Figaro in his UW production of the Marriage of Figaro. And I know he was hugely important to tenor John Duykers--started him on his career.

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