Sunday, June 27, 2010

Shostakovich, Oistrakh, Sádlo play E minor Trio, Op. 67

Having just posted the Ravel Trio in an exemplary performance by Menuhin, Kenter, and Cassado, the logical next step was to post what many consider the other of the two great trios of the twentieth century. Those who so rate the Shostakovich and Ravel will get no argument from me, just a plea not to forget the Ives when listing the rest of the great works in this genre.

This recording with the composer at piano, from 1946, may suffer noticeable sonic deficits from the recording technology of the era, and, undoubtedly, from my attempts to digitize an LP of it with lots of wear and scratches. One would be hard pressed to challenge its musical authority, though, given the players involved.

In contrast to the somber and sardonic musings of Shostakovich, the Prokofiev quartet is notably uncomplicated. It is played here convincingly by the sometimes underrated Fine Arts Quartet. It has been suggested to me that its early association with a broadcast company (ABC) may account for the Fine Arts being rated less highly than it merits. With the virtually beatified Toscanini leading the NBC Orchestra, though, it seems unlikely that a broadcast association would cause significant difficulty to a reputation. In any event, they were never anything less than first rate.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Menuhin, Kenter, Cassado play Ravel Trio / Mozart Trio

For me, this is THE recording of the Ravel trio. It is played with a refinement and palette of tonal color that one rarely encounters in any music, and is a pure pleasure to hear. The instrumentalist's understanding of each other results in a performance that is profoundly controlled, in spite of an overarching sense of improvisational abandon, and beautifully phrased throughout. It is an effort between musical peers with deep sympathy for each other, for the score, and for the arts of instrumental color. After all these years, nothing has replaced it in my affections.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Maureen Forrester July 25, 1930 – June 16, 2010


Richard Wilbur, translation

Jorge Luis Borges: Ewigkeit


One thing does not exist: Oblivion.

God saves the metal and he saves the dross.

And his prophetic memory guards from loss

The moons to come, and those of evenings gone.

Everything is: the shadows in the glass

Which, in between the day’s two twilights, you

Have scattered by the thousands, or shall strew

Henceforward in the mirrors that you pass.

And everything is part of that diverse

Crystalline memory, the universe;

Whoever through its endless mazes wanders

Hears door on door click shut behind his stride,

And only from the sunset’s farther side

Shall view at last the Archetypes and the Splendors.

Maureen Forrester (1930-2010) J.S. Bach & Domenico Scarlatti

This is the record that introduced me to the great Canadian contralto, Maureen Forrester, who died yesterday at the age of 79 from complications of Alzheimer's disease, from which she had suffered for a number of years. She was a humane, funny, down-to-earth person, and over the top hilarious as the witch in Hansel and Gretel in a television version of that opera. And she possessed a voice of enviable focus and beauty, surely one of the very greatest contraltos of the twentieth century. She it was who once stated that contraltos were consigned to play "witches and bitches" in the operatic repertory.

Her death, more than most, saddens me. Through the years the sheer, velvety beauty of her voice had the capacity to console me in hard times and to help me rejoice in good ones. Her recordings of Bach cantatas, especially, are hard to beat. As I said, this record introduced me to this great singer. I do not know if it is available on CD; I'm posting it today as a heart-felt, musical tribute to an artist of deep musical integrity and a woman of vast good humor and expansive humanity, whose loss I feel personally.

One does not hear Bach sung like this these days. More's the pity.

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ADDENDUM: The Amadeus label apparently made this record available on CD, though the prices it is selling for on Amazon indicate it must be out of print.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mitropoulos: Fall River Legend/ Ormandy: Cakewalk Suite

This record has been reissued in its entirety by Naxos, for MP3 download only, and even that is not available to anyone connecting to the site from the U.S. So, although there is one nasty skip toward the end of Cakewalk, I thought I would post it anyway, as it is not a record I have seen a lot. I even pulled out the DJ scratch arm that came with the turntable and a heavy tracking stylus/cartridge combination thinking it might track with that. No luck.

I am offering it anyway because I suspect it might be rather hard to find and the music and performances are well worth the effort of digitizing. Gottschalk’s music, as arranged for orchestra by Hershey Kay, is unadulterated fun. There’s no other way to put it. When I play the piece it is hard not to get up and dance about, admittedly looking a bit foolish, but with a kind of “who cares” “devil may care” delight.

Fall River Legend is an altogether different matter. The sad, bloody story of Lizzy Borden is hardly a subject to elicit a happy-go-lucky score, though there are lighter moments of remembered happier times in the music. Morton Gould’s music is filled with deep feeling and a humane if not altogether forgiving sense of Lizzy’s predicament, which, in this historically inaccurate version of the story, sees her facing the gallows at the end – alone, accepting her fate with "bitter resignation", as the notes say.

Mitropoulos and Ormandy conduct their respective works admirably, with special kudos going to Mitropoulos. Kudos to all involved, even Columbia's engineers, who gave Mitropoulos a technically decent recording this time round.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

E.Power Biggs plays Poulenc Organ Concerto

This is a very nice recording, despite the drubbing Biggs took from the Gramophone reviewer of the time, who apparently had a horror of interestingly registered color and anything that, as he writes, might "ipater (sic) les bourgeois." I assume he means "épater" (amaze or impress) , but he in any event ends up revealing a good deal about his own shabby snobbery.

I guess I am one of that horrid bourgeois (without, however, enjoying the pedestrian, creature comforts that implies), because Biggs has always been my favorite organist. I do not find most organ playing very interesting; Biggs makes it very interesting, undoubtedly by appealing to my philistine musical sensibilities. So be it. I will add to my musical boorishness by recommending highly this wonderful piece by Poulenc, and the glorious recording of it made by Biggs and Burgin on the Aeolian Skinner organ in Boston's Symphony Hall.

The Franck recordings presented here are among the most satisfying performances I have heard of the works, and the sound is very good for the era, which was capable of producing quite wonderful recordings.

The Poulenc was recorded in 1948 and issued on a Columbia 78 set; Biggs and Burgin performed the symphony at that time in Symphony Hall, Boston, which makes me suspect that the Columbia Symphony, in this instance, is in fact the BSO, which was under contract with RCA. The Franck was first issued in 1950 on this LP, Columbia ML 4329

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Ibert conducts Ibert: Escales and Les Amours de Jupiter

In all my years of scouring thrift stores, I do not recall ever having seen this record until yesterday afternoon in a local Goodwill store. However I do recall having dismissed Escales as a piece of Gallic fluff of no particular interest to me. In my desuetude, however -- which I like to think of as my maturity -- I find I quite like the piece. I'm posting it here both because it is not a work often performed now and for the inherent interest of hearing the composer conduct his own work. It is a charming, beautifully constructed score, well worth listening to in its own right, despite my supercilious, youthful dismissal of it.

I had never heard Les Amours de Jupiter, and while in general I am neither a balletomane nor a frequent listener of ballet music, the piece is lovely and rewards sympathetic listening.

Ibert conducts the Orchestra of the Paris Opera (Orchestre de l'Opéra national de Paris), the oldest of French orchestras, founded in 1669, which plays these scores with idiomatic flair, and the recording is a great sounding monaural effort by Capitol Records that gives the lie to the notion that beautifully recorded sound only became available with the advent of stereo.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I have done.

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