Saturday, 29 March 2014

Being topical

Well as topical as one can be about something made and played long ago:-

Landing through my letterbox today was the Spring 2014 edition of Classical Recordings Quarterly. An article on violinist Marie Hall (1884-1956) has prompted me to make a few transfers of her playing. Her late recordings are scarce and I don't think these discs have ever been made available except in their original format.

Marie Hall violin

SindingRomance, Op.9
Sinigaglia: Capriccio all'antica, Op.25 No.2
Goossens: Old Chinese Folk Song, Op.4, No.1
Holst: Valse-Etude, H.56

HMV E340  (Bb 4227-1; Bb 4238-3)
HMV E348  (Bb 4236-3; Bb 4237-1)

All recorded on 20 February 1924 with  Marguerite Tilleard, piano excepting the
Sinigaglia which was recorded on the 21st February 1924 with Charlton Reith, piano.

Zip of 4 Flac files , Here at Mediafire. [about 35Mb]

These four pieces must have been part of her repertoire in 1924, coincidentally a recent post on another blog Land of Lost Content transcribes a letter from Marie Hall in which she encourages British music. As is pointed out, the three pieces she played at a Wigmore Hall recital in 1922 have disappeared. The other correspondent, John Ireland no less, suggests several other piece that have subsequently stood the test of time. I wonder if Marie Hall career was leaning towards modern music but unfortunately for her the wrong sort of 'modern' music.

Marie Hall about 1904
What of the pieces, the Sinding and the Sinigaglia were both fairly standard repertoire in their day and do crop up from time to time on record and probably formed part of Hall's concert material. The Goossens was played by Marie Hall on the 19th September 1922 at a concert in Portsmouth, so this too was maybe also in her repertoire. Apparently Goossens researched authentic material from London’s Chinese quarter in Limehouse, I wonder what else he got up to in that quarter of London in his youth. Imogen Holst in her article on recordings of her father Gustav Holst for Recorded Sound (No. 59, 1975 p. 440) noted that ‘The early violin solo, Valse-Etude, was recorded by Marie Hall, the dedicatee, in 1924 (HMV E348), and as she had first performed it in 1903 she would have known his wishes.’ I might add that Marguerite Tilleard was apparently Marie Hall's accompanist from 1902 so would all likelihood have premiered the work with Hall.

Gustav Holst in 1923

These records come from what appear to be Hall’s last recording sessions. Fascinating for they show them juxtaposed with four remakes of La précieuse (Couperin-Kreisler); Humoreske (Dvořák); Minuet in G No. 2 (Beethoven) and Le cygne (Saint-Saëns) made in order to replace sides on HMV E16, E17 & E18. I think the deal may have been to re-record replacement masters and see if there was a market for her newish repertoire. Apparently the new records did not sell very well as E340, issued in May 1924, and E 348. issued in August 1924, were both deleted in December 1925. Only her Humoreske, survived any length of time until finally discarded in 1934. She was not asked back to make electric recording, maybe HMV just had too many already violinists on the books already.

Christian Sinding in 1890

There are only a few contemporary reviews of these discs:

For E340 only 'Discus' gave a review in The Musical Times for June 1924. 'A first-rate violin record is a 12-in. d.-s. of Thibaud in a couple of Granados's Spanish Dances, arranged by Kreisler and the player himself. Less good, because of the poorer quality of the music, is a 12-in. [sic] d.-s. of Marie Hall-Sinding's Romance and Sinigaglia's Catriccio all' antica.'

Leone Sinigaglia

For E348 there are two reviews  'Discus' again The Musical Times for September 1924 'The only violin record received is above the average of interest - Marie Hall playing Holst's 'Valse-Etude' and Goossens's 'Old Chinese Folk- Song' (10-in. d.-s.). The former gives us an unfamiliar aspect of Holst, and an engaging one.  The playing is delightful in freedom and delicacy.  I don't know whether the Goossens piece deals with a genuine Chinese folk-song, or whether it is just the composer's idea of what such a song might be; but  the result - especially in regard to some of the pianoforte harmonies - is excellent.' 

Also Alex Robertson in The Gramophone for August, 1924. 'The names of Goossens and Holst suggest an outburst of modernism, but you need have no fears. Holst's piece is just what its title tells us, and completely unambitious; and Goossens' nice “travelling" tune (pace Walford Davies) never originated in China and is cousin to some of Madame Butterfly. Both pieces are fastidiously and well played.'

Eugene Goossens in 1920
I have included a couple of scans from the HMV Supplements for May, 1924 and August, 1924 too. I just love the statement ‘It was daring of Marie Hall to choose for her records pieces of modern British music whose work is so widely and hotly discussed as is that of Goossens and Holst.’ That the pieces were inked in 1912 and 1903 respectively they may have been just  'daring' enough for the recording executives to take a risk, sales however were poor but at least they tried to extend the taste of a rather conservative record buying public. Also note the issues coincided with more expensive red-label issue of Jacques Thibaud

Three contemporary articles on Marie can be found at the blog Song of the Lark. Well down the page you have to search for it!

 Stradivarius 1709 ex “Viotti-Marie Hall”

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Music to sooth the ears of a treacherous commander

Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein (1583-1634) was a rather nasty sort who came to a sticky end. He caused mayhem during the Thirty Years War and had a pack of soldiers who could do anything they wanted as long as they took orders in battle. Schiller wrote trilogy of plays on Wallenstein's exploits and Smetana took one of these up as a symphonic poem. 

SmetanaSymphonic Poem  - Wallerstein's Camp,  Op. 14

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra 
conducted by Rafael Kubelík

Mercury 16000 & 16001
(Matrix Nos. KMC 044048 - KMC 044051 from Supraphon)

Prague? 1st December 1943

1 Flac , Here at Mediafire. [about 83Mb]

This recording has been released on CD but the sound is pretty poor. I think it took real skill to record this so badly; more probably the depredations of war took its toll on both the engineers, equipment and the venue in occupied Prague. The photograph below is in all likelihood taken at the session and shows the placement of the microphone, I can't identify where it is for I am sure that it is neither the Smetana Hall or the Dvořák Hall in the Rudolfinum. 

Kubelík recorded for Supraphon three tone poems in December 1943. He began with Wallenstein's Camp op. 14 on the 1st December, before setting down  Hakon Jarl op.16  on the 10th and Richard III op. 11 on the 13th.

The excellent site has all you need to know on Rafael Kubelík and his recordings so I won't repeat what has already been said.

The recording is problematic. When played at 78rpm the first side is some quarter of a tone higher than the following three, the microphone seems to have been moved or possibly the musicians too. There are number of wrong notes and also some rather odd sounds coming from the orchestra, in a couple of places the sound is either compressed or almost inaudible. Despite this it is just fantastic, Kubelík and the orchestra drive the music along and just about hold it all together. The work really needs to prevent it becoming either stodgy or boring, something I think afflicts many recordings of the piece. During the war Kubelík really had to struggle to keep the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra going and even had to defend Czech music in its programs; how he was allowed to set anything down is a wonder in itself.

I assume that the Mercury pressing were issued before Kubelík defected to the West in 1948. The recording was also issued  on an LP too - I wonder if  that sounds any better.

Mrs Smetana [No. 2] & Mr Smetana in 1862

I have included with the music an image of the record album together with the notes by David Hall that accompanied the records.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

'Complete' in just under sixteen minutes

TchaikovskySymphony No. 6 in B minor, 'Pathétique'
1. Allegro non troppo
2. Allegro non grazia
3. Allegro molto vivace
4. Finale, adagio lamentoso

The Imperial Symphony Orchestra 
conducted by [Lilian Bryant]

Pathé 2079 & 2089
(Matrix Nos.79629; 79630; 79659; 79660)

London: March & June, 1912

 1 Flac , Here at Mediafire. [about 48Mb]

There is everything to like about these records. It is the first Tchaikovsky Symphony to be recorded, it is conducted by a woman, it has not been heard much, the records are uncommon, difficult to play and equally hard to transfer and listen too in decent sound. What more could a record buff wish for!

The symphony is more than a bit curtailed for some two-thirds of music has been lopped out, but by some very clever arranging the essence of the work still somehow holds together. One wonders why Lilian's name did not appear on the records for Pathé in March 1912 mentioned that The Imperial Symphony Orchestra directed by Lilian Bryant was increased to 30 players. 

Anyway this is the first attempt at a complete recording of the Pathétique; indeed one of the earliest 'complete' anything symphonic from this period. Landon Ronald and the New Symphony Orchestra recorded the third movement, or at least 4 minutes of it in January 1912 and in 1913 recorded the second movement, maybe they where thinking to do more but nothing came of it. It was not until 1923 that all four movements were attempted again and this time the work was indeed complete running to 20 sides and once again conducted by Ronalds..  As the symphony was performed every year at the Proms from 1898 to 1974 excepting 1927 (three time in 1898, 1899 and 1904 and often twice in several other season) it was certainly then, as now, very popular.

Lilian Bryant

'Lilian Bryant might not be a household name to many music lovers and record collectors today, as it but rarely appears undisguised on the many thousand recordings she was heard on between the late 1890s and 1928. One of the pioneers of the British recording industry, she became "musical director" for the Edison-Bell cylinder recording studio shortly before the turn of the last century - a position that meant rehearsing with singers and instrumentalists, playing piano accompaniments for them, but also arranging and orchestrating music for recording purposes, and last not least conducting the in-house orchestra. As the early studio orchestras consisted mainly of wind instruments that registered well on the primitive recording equipment, they were mostly recruited from local military bands and led by military bandmasters. It is thus a particular exception to find a woman in this position, apart from the fact that woman conductors and composers were anyway considered an oddity in late-Victorian England. Despite these unfavourable circumstances, Mme. Bryant made her career, that had started at the very beginning of commercial record production in London, with various major companies over more than two decades: From 1905 to 1908 she was employed by Louis Sterling, in whose studios both Sterling cylinders and Odeon discs were recorded, to conduct for stars like John McCormack, and organize the first complete recordings of Gilbert & Sullivan operas ever. When Sterling had to sell his enterprise to Pathé Frères, that company promptly dismissed their former musical director in her favour. With the "Imperial Symphony Orchestra" under her direction, British Pathé produced pioneering recordings of symphonic and concert music. Beside all this studio work, Bryant found time to tour as piano accompanist (e.g. for Peter Dawson), compose, and conduct theatre orchestras in and around London. When the Great War put an end to Pathé's London studio, she worked as rehearsal pianist for HMV for several years (occasionally recording under her married name "Mrs. George Baker"), and in the 1920s, she resumed her career as musical director in the recording studio, this time for the newly-founded Crystalate company ("Imperial" and "Chantal de Luxe" labels). Her final recordings were made for Columbia in the mid-1920s.' This biography from taken from True Sound Transfers

Pathé records

14" records are difficult to play, the rumble on these records is appalling. Pathé recorded onto master cylinders and through a mechanical pantograph mechanism could transfer the master cylinder onto different sizes of disc. The unfortunate byproduct of this process was a lot of  rumble. I have alleviated it a lot but did not want to loose any more of the lower frequencies than I really had to. On the other hand because they used such a large master cylinder the sound that was captured was often very good even though quite faint. A short article on this method of recording can be found at The Mainspring Press Record Collectors' Blog

As was usual practise at this time the two records were announced at separate times with the first two movements issued in April 1912 and the last two movements in July 1912. The records were deleted, as were all 14" discs at the end of 1916.

Understanding Pathé numbering

The record  label, or rather etched lettering infilled with an ochre dye, at first looks a bit confusing. The record number is within the lozenge at 6'oclock [2079]; below this another number is the transfer number for the pantograph process [81098 - R.A.] and the matrix number is at 7'oclock [79629].

One other interesting facet of these records is a very, very faint date that can be discerned to the left of the transfer number. This mirror image scratched in gives us the day on which the stamper was made. Only the fourth side in this set has this complete reading '28/9/12' - side 3 just having 8/9 and side 2 with just  letter 'B' this may just equate to side 2. In any case it gives a date that the recording could not be after. I have flipped and and inverted the image above to make it a this a bit clearer.

Maybe not the best day to push something Russian onto 'my public' just one of those coincidences.