Monday, March 8, 2010

Mozart Concerti with A. Schneider and R. Kirkpatrick

Another great Haydn Society project from the 1950s, this one from 1951, formed around "authentique performance" notions of its time. The music-making itself, however, was informed more by musical than by questionable historical ideas, unlike so much contemporary output, and the performances are quite lovely. Ralph Kirkpatrick plays "a John Challis reproduction of the small late 18th century piano, which gives us an authentic idea lof how this music must have sounded in the composer's time." The string section is comprised of 4 first violins, 3 second violins, 3 violas, 2 cellos, and on bass.

I confess that, authentic or not, the piano here, though nicely played, makes me long for a modern instrument, and later developments in the early music trend, which eventually became a cult, leave me cold. With the exception of Makerras and some few others, contemporary "authentic" performance makes me glad the modern concert grand was developed, that string players replaced gut strings with steel ones, and that women took over treble lines from creepy counter-tenors.

In this record, though, the period piano notwithstanding, the music making is of a very high caliber. It should stand as a rebuke to those who seem to think that playing the notes in reasonable facsimiles of instruments of the time is enough.

Link to all files


  1. Hi,
    Is there a link to the download ? Just found you, very interesting...

  2. OOPS, sorry. I just posted the link. Thanks for calling my attention to the fact it was missing.

  3. Whether to attain the better balance between piano and string instruments, especially in chamber music or in duos in which the piano partners or provides accompaniment, or to provide a sonority that is less inappropriately lush and overshwelming, it seems far preferable to me to use a modern grand piano smaller than a full size, nine-footer concert model, rather than to resort to a jangly, dry-sounding "period piano" (fortepiano, Hammerfluegel, whatever you want to call it). A parlour grand, even a particularly fine baby grand, can provide the desired intimacy without having to resort to an antique instrument with glaring differences in registral timbre, noisy mechanism, and insufficient volume when required.

    There is a didactic place for "period" instruments, to illustrate how instruments change and how they sounded in the past, but to apply these sonic antiques to what should be living recreations for modern listeners can give poor and rebarbative results. Our ears are modern, even if the repertory to which we listen is old and classic!

    Gerald Parker

  4. Jerry: Thanks for your comment. After forty years of friendship, across miles and borders, I know most your views (we've certainly spent hours griping about early music performance practice), but I'm happy when you choose to share them on my new blog. I should point out to those readers not fortunate to know you that you are a very fine pianist who once delighted me playing Brahms on a Chickering. Once of my fondest memories.

  5. Larry,

    Just got around to this one. I'm glad you posted it. I will be posting a Mercury of Schneider conducting Vivaldi and Mozart with the DOCO in the near future. That lp says that the works were recorded in NYC however Dumbarton Oaks is located in suburban Washington, right? Do you know more about this?

    Thanks much,


  6. Thanks Fred, I'll look forward to your post. I've always liked Schneider, whether as a violinist or conductor; I just like the man's musical values. All I can think is that the Dumbarton Oaks orchestra was in NY for some other engagement and recorded the disc you mentioned while there. That is, however, just a supposition; I have no hard facts to back it up.

    1. Stravinsky recorded his own Dumbarton Oaks Concerto with the Dumbarton Oaks Festival Orchestra, a pickup group comprised of Alexander Schneider, violin; David Sackman, violin; Edwin Bachmann, violin; Bernard Milofsky, viola; Frank Brieff, viola; Conrad Held, viola; Bernard Greenhouse, cello; Anthony Saphos, cello; Harry Grossman, bass; Albert Whistler, bass; Samuel Baron, flute; Harold Freeman, clarinet; James Dickie, bassoon; Arthur Holmes, horn; and Ralph Brown, horn, at the Reeves Beaux Arts Studio in New York, on 28 April 1947. The recording was made for and released by the small Keynote label of John Hammond, absorbed a year later by Mercury. The Vivaldi Concerto and Mozart Divertimento recorded by the Dumbarton Oaks Chamber Festival Orchestra now under Alexander Schneider were also recorded in 1947 at the Reeves Beaux Arts Studio. I don't have proof but there is strong evidence that they were recorded at the same session as Stravinsky: first because it makes sense, second because personnel in Mozart is the shared: Alexander Schneider-1st Violin & cond., E.Bachmann-2nd Violin, B.Milofsky-Viola, B.Greenhouse-'Cell, M.Miller-Oboe, A.Holmes, Jr-1st French Horn, R.Brown-2nd French Horn.

  7. Sherman in AtlantaJuly 7, 2011 at 2:02 PM

    This was a surprising find. Many thanks for transferring it to digital. My best friend from high school went away to New Haven and studied with Kirkpatrick for at least 4 years.

    I'm a little different in my tastes regarding authentic instruments than some of the other respondees. For instance, I love the clean, crystalline sonic textures of the Mozart piano concerti that were released on Archiv back in the '80s and '90s.

    On this recording, the heavy vibrato and Casals-like heavy bowing style in the strings reflects the style of the era of the recording (even if it's only a few players per part) and makes the Challis fortepiano sound even more out of its element. However, Kirkpatrick's skill and musicality still shine through.

    It's odd that the tempi are so slow in both concerti.

    There are a few other transfers of Schneider/Kirkpatrick transfers floating around on the web: Mozart violin sonatas and Bach vn/hpschd sonatas. Somewhere in my collection, there's an LP copy of the Walter Piston sonatina for violin & harpsichord (which I had the good fortune to perform once with a harpsichordist friend.)

  8. Sherman: thanks for your comments. The Piston Sonatina would be a very nice thing to find. When my schedule allows it, I'll look for it. Thanks again for sharing your brush with Kirkpatrick's greatness.