I'll confess at the outset that Rudolph Serkin is my favorite pianist in the repertory he recorded. He has been accused of having been indifferent to tonal beauty, of pounding the keys, of using the pedal too sparingly. None of that seems very significant to me: What Serkin does, perhaps better than any other pianist I know, at least to my ears, is to reveal with uncompromising musical intelligence and integrity, the architecture and formal logic of a piece of music. No one, for my money, does it better. It matches perfectly how I listen to music. Where others hear a too severe and sparing use of the pedal, I hear inner voices enunciated with deeply satisfying clarity; where others hear pounding I hear fire and passion. I simply, and unequivically, like the way Serkin plays. I was lucky enough to hear him in Boston during his last world tour, when he played the last three Beethoven sonatas. Yes, already an ill man, he missed some notes and dropped some others. But the performance was so illuminating, penetrated so deeply into the human soul through the music, that only a hardened heart would have thought it mattered.
I recently ran across an online post about Louis Kentner indicating approval of one of his recordings in spite of what the author believed was his "barely adequate technique". I'd always thought of Kentner as a pianist with technical prowess to spare, who produced a beautiful palette of sound from the percussive colossus he played and -- to my mind at least -- fully mastered. Baffled by the statement, I took down this LP, which I acquired only several months ago, to see if my initial impressions were wrong. Far from it. This recording of the Waldstein rivals in my affections the very different Serkin recording from 1952 that has been my gold standard for years, and there is nothing "barely adequate" in the technique of this heaven-storming, romantic virtuoso in the Appassionata either, nor in other records he made. Stay tuned for postings of his recordings of the Chopin Etudes and some Liszt. His pianism on the recordings of the Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano with Menuhin is colorful and sympathetic, and the recording is well worth looking up. He never reached super-star status, but it was not for lack of musical or pianistic skills, and he recorded enough that it should be clear that he was a very accomplished musician and a brilliant instrumentalist .Link to all files
There is the promised addition to the post of the Poulenc sonata, with the same two artists. Like that, this is a first recording of the indicated work, although in this instance the piece dates back to 1918 and the recording was made in 1949. This along with the Poulenc, which can be found on the blog, were issued on one LP; I have two 45 rpm sets from which I made these digital files. Although I confess to finding a fair portion of Hindemith's music less than compellingly interesting, the string sonatas are uniformly wonderful.
I would have edited the previous post, but I couldn't get the art where I wanted it.
I'll be doing the art work and CD inserts for this and for the Op. 20 post over the next several days, posting them by the weekend. I wanted to make this set of quartets available in the meantime, though. Their wit and good humor can't help by raise one's spirits during the endless winter. I cannot keep from giggling at the pizzicato chords in No. 4 that announce the end of the rollicking good time that the last movement of that quartet presents. Then there is, famously, the joke at the end of No. 2 for which the quartet got its nickname. All and all a group with perhaps less deep emotional engagement than the previous Op. 20, but impeccably crafted employing Haydn's new techniques of thematic development, every one of them thoroughly engaging and shot through with enviable wit.
The above picture of the 78 set notwithstanding, the present offering comes from an LP I have of the recording (ML 4239), where it is coupled with the Miakowsky 21st symphony, which I have chosen not to post. I did own the 78 set at one point, and still have a tape from it, but the discs were in very bad shape. The pristine later LP transfer that I own is "electronically re-recorded to simulate stereo", and while not bad for that sort of thing, I preferred to use the earlier monaural record which simply sounded -- well -- less fake.
Sandor was a lifetime champion of Bartok's music, as was Ormandy, who recorded convincing performances of the Miraculous Mandarin, Dance Suite, and other works. This is the first recording of the 3rd Piano Concerto, and while it has a sense of being "read" rather than interpreted, that may well be a good thing: There is much to recommend it. If the slow movement lacks some of the shimmering mysticism of many subsequent performances, it seems to me earthier, closer to the insect calls and other night sounds that inspired this classic Bartokian nocturne. Sandor, who studied with Bartok and was his friend, knows this music in his bones, and Ormandy (also Hungarian, we must remember) is, as always, superb in concerto work (and not just). The Philadelphia orchestra plays no less magically than it usually does, not just the always praised strings, but the winds too; there is not a section in the ensemble that is not superb. And the performance can be strongly recommended for much more than its historical significance as the first recording of the work.
Like some other things posted here this record has not been entirely forgotten, and is available on CD from Pearl. I have not sought the cd it out or heard it, but the label usually does an acceptable job with little or no sonic manipulation. The files linked to below have been lightly restored, not to change the basic sound but to rid them of obvious LP noise.
This is apparently a relatively rare LP, a fact I discovered only when I searched online to gather information on it for this post. Having bought it in a Boston thrift store eons ago and then learned the Bartok piece from it, I have always had a great fondness for it. I developed quite early a deep and enduring love for Bartok and with that I discovered the special properties Dorati brought to the performance of his music. If there are later recordings by the same maestro with more polished orchestras and better recorded sound, nonetheless, this performance retains a visceral excitement that warrants its being better known. And the Minneapolis Symphony, graced by a series of brilliant conductors -- Ormandy, Mitropoulos, Dorati -- was an accomplished ensemble that communicated a sense of the committment of those masters to the many modern works it recorded under them.
The Mozart is stylish and beautifully performed, albeit with less than ideal recorded sound. It is apparently a performance much sought after, though.
The Bartok was apparently recorded in 1950 and was an original LP release (RCA LM 1750), coupled with Kodaly's Háry János Suite. This later release, LM 1185, sees it coupled with the Mozart, a recording about which I still have almost no information. Link to folder with all FLAC and MP3 files
I am pleased to be able to offer these incredible live performances. The Mitropoulos/Szigeti reading of the concerto from December 30, 1945, in particular, has long been my favorite recording of the work. But I confess that I adore both performers. And the Kleiber recording, which I listened to after a long time of not hearing anything from Wozzeck, makes me want to listen to the opera again. It's about as gorgeous as German expressionism gets. Link to all MP3 and FLAC files
I'm behind on scanning and photographing jacket covers and making CD inserts, so I am posting the link to the main Op. 20 folder without anything except the music files, in order to make the performances available without accessory material.
The post will be revised, and all the other goodies included at some point, including a consideration of where Op. 20 stands in Haydn's output. In the meantime, download and enjoy the music and these great performances:
Here is the first recording of this work, with revisions to the score made by the composer in preparation for it. My copy is a two record 45rpm boxed Capital set in pretty decent condition, and I apologize for less than seamless joining of breaks between the sides. On the LP version the work was coupled with the Hindemith Sonata Op. 11 No. 2 , played by the same two performers. I have that in a 45rpm box, too, and will be adding it to this post shortly.
The performance emphasizes the angularities of the piece without losing credibility in the more lyrical passages, which are many. The Suk/Panenka, by comparison, the only other recording I am really familiar with, is slower (the first mvt. coming in at 6'30" as opposed to Kaufman/Balsam at 5'41") and generally more romantic. If you are like me, it is hard to resist Suk's silky tone and lush vibrato, and Suk/Panenka together are so musically attuned to each other that it's almost uncanny. But Kaufman and Balsam give this music a refreshing edge to which Poulenc, who apparently worked with them on the project, may have given his approval. All that aside, it is a very nice performance for its own sake, avoiding sentimentality, but not without feeling. The guitars simulation in the slow movement has a real Spanish flair lacking in the Suk reading, an especially affecting touch once one understands how well known as a balladeer Garcia Lorca was. A Gramaphone reviewer in 1950 was unduly harsh on poor Poulenc, apparently expecting a more hysterical, grief stricken tribute, but the review is an interesting document. It should be pointed out that the dedication "to the memory of Garcia Lorca", a victim of Franco fascists allied to the Nazis,was not entirely without risk in occupied France, where Poulenc spent the war.
I grew up listening to records -- shellac and vinyl -- and the sound of a needle tracking the grooves of an old LP is still deeply comforting to me -- a sound from childhood, like the fan of the hot air furnace coming on. However turntables are now relatively scarce, and we are becoming less tolerant of noise from the medium the music is stored on, so putting up renovated files of what I consider choice, but neglected performances, seemed a good way to spend some time. There are several thousand LPs in the house, a lot of them not re-issued on CD, some of them performances of real importance. If you like something, post a comment. I'd love to hear from you.
Everything posted here is in my personal collection on LPs or 78rpm records, and any restoration to the file is done by me. I do not post anything from CDs.