Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

Bach Brandenburg Concerto No.2 in F BWV 1047
Ernest Hall (trumpet), Frank Almgill (flute), Leon Goossens (oboe),
Samuel Kutcher (violin), Rudolph Dolmetsch (harpsichord),
London Chamber Orchestra, Anthony Bernard
Brunswick 30137-38 (rec. 1928-29?)
property of Mr. Paul Steinson

A great reason not to be grumpy!

Paul Steinson, a music-lover and record-collector in England, read the article about downloads of historical recordings in Classic Record Collector (No.61, Summer 2010, pp.46-49) and noticed that the British Library's Archival Sound Recordings website has some of Anthony Bernard's legendary 'lost' cycle of Bach's 'Brandenburg' Concertos - but not No.2. This recording has previously been reissued but only in a set of cassettes which accompanied Ewald Junge's biography of the conductor, Anthony Bernard - A Life in Music, published as a limited edition in 1992.

This first-ever complete cycle of the Brandenburgs, recorded I should think some time in late 1928 and early 1929 (does anyone have more precise dates and/or a location?)*, was slated for release on twelve records, 30135-46, in March 1929. That month The Gramophone published a fascinating article by Bernard himself, recounting the difficulties posed by the recordings and revealing that the sessions, which he called a 'costly enterprise', had been completed only days before the time of writing. As he admitted, 'The Second Brandenburg Concerto with the very high trumpet part could not be given exactly as written by Bach; both microphone and wax would have rebelled.' Perhaps the second side, which was published from take 11(!), was one of the last to be redone? For a while, I thought Bernard had deployed a harp on continuo in the slow movement; but it must be a harpsichord stop, chosen by Rudolph Dolmetsch on the instrument, presumably from the family workshops, which he played in this Concerto as well as in Nos.3, 4 & 6 (and a Pleyel in No.1).

But the same month, the entire cycle was suddenly cancelled and almost completely destroyed; some copies must have got out, as there are survivors, seriously rare (no full set is known, I gather). The sad story has been told in detail by David Patmore in Classic Record Collector's 'Rarissima' column (No.44, Spring 2006, p.9). Dr. Patmore countered Junge's suggestion that the cycle was withdrawn because 'Bach was too risky commercially' with the more plausible explanation that, in 1929, Decca, which had just taken over Brunswick, was in dire straits and had to retrench and regroup drastically.

With extraordinary generosity, Mr. Steinson has transferred his own complete set of No.2, scanned the label of the first side (above), and agreed to allow the transfer to be further processed, if need be, and shared here by Grumpy. The entrance to the cave has been duly spruced up and all coprolites and mouse skellingtons swept to the back. The indefatigable and highly knowledgeable Jolyon has tweaked the difficult side-join in the first movement and sprinkled his fairy-dust on Brunswick's sound, which he calls 'nasty' and 'harsh' and which made him wonder if this was one of the company's 'Light-Ray Process' efforts: 'The original recording has been made in a rather boxy room. The last movement is transposed a semitone up but the trumpet plays an octave down anyway so I left the pitch alone. I have pushed all the instruments back a bit so they are not so in your face. I can't get rid of all the edginess but I hope it is a bit clearer.' I think it is an improvement but mainly I'm thrilled to be able to hear this at all!

Download Jolyon's version of Mr. Steinson's transfer as one fully-tagged, mono FLAC file, from here.

Can anyone explain the matrix numbers starting BA? Bernard's Brandenburgs begin at BA71, yet Ross Laird's great Brunswick book shows no such matrices originating in London, only in Buenos Aires! Any matrix numbers for the rest of the cycle gratefully received. And scour your attics: the keyboard part in Concerto No.5 was played on the piano by Walter Gieseking, no less - wouldn't it be grand to hear a complete set of that!

My eternal thanks to both Mr. Steinson and Jolyon - exactly the kind of generous, altruistic collectors (like so many of the bloggers over on the right-hand side of this page) who will be the subject of the next article about downloads of historical recordings, in the forthcoming (Autumn) issue of CRC.

*Postscript: Jolyon, who has a usefully forensic approach to discography, reckons from the matrix numbers that this Concerto may have been recorded between the 10th & 18th of October 1928. Nothing to do with Buenos Aires, he assures me; these BA-prefixed numbers were a London series not recorded in the documents available to Laird (and indeed none of Bernard's sessions have numbers in Laird's book).

And it turns out the BL does in fact have a copy of this set. It should have been included in the Archival Sound Recordings Bach survey but for some reason was omitted; I understand this may be rectified! At the moment the BL is busy hoovering up some rare and interesting early Beethoven quartet recordings which were also overlooked and should be posted on ASR fairly soon.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

What Lights Your Fire (I Use Dried Dung)

Hello all,

It's almost restored my faith in human nature: we all like Bach and Monteverdi!

Sorry, it's not very clear - Blogger doesn't seem to like my big tiffs - so here are some stats, as of a few days ago:

Top of the list is Reine Gianoli's Bach on Westminster (recently transferred from LP and issued on CD by Green Door in Japan), at 218 takers;
next is Roger Wagner's Monteverdi Primo libro de' Madrigali, with 196 downloads!
Just behind, at 192, are the Fuchses doing Mozart's K.364;
at No.4, the Quartetto Italiano's 17th C Italians with 143;
followed by Jeanne Behrend's all-Gottschalk LP at 142 (Side 2) and 133 (Side 1);
and, suprisingly, by Mildred Clary's little lute 45 at 134.

Very encouraging!

Of course, I can't share all sort of stuff I'd like to - contemporary music, mainly.

Anyway, this got me thinking about my Desert Island Discs. A few years ago these'd have gone something like this:

Monteverdi Vespro della Beata Vergine, 1610 / Taverner Consort, Choir & Players, Andrew Parrott / EMI Reflexe
Bach Well-Tempered Clavier BWV 846-893 (can I have the lot?) / Glenn Gould / CBS
Beethoven String Quartet in a Op.132 / Busch Quartet / EMI Références
Beethoven 33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli Op.120 / Alfred Brendel / Philips
Schubert Die Winterreise D.911 / Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gerald Moore / EMI
Brahms Symphony No.2 in D Op.73 / erm... can't remember now - Chailly?
Bartók String Quartet No.4 Sz.91/ Hungarian String Quartet / DG
Stravinsky Agon / SWF Baden-Baden SO, Hans Rosbaud / Adès

Bum, that just squeezes out:
Tippett Symphony No.3 / LSO, Sir Colin Davis / Philips
[or, possibly, Elgar Symphony No.2 in Eb Op.63 / LPO, Sir Georg Solti / Decca]

Yes, it's always a tough one - but I gotta change some things:

Machaut The Mirror of Narcissus / Gothic Voices, Christopher Page / Hyperion (or maybe the Messe de Nostre Dame, if there was an outright winner in that complicated field?)
Monteverdi Vespro - stays in! (though Parrott's Orfeo has always run it close)
Purcell Dido and Aeneas / Taverner Consort, Choir & Players, Andrew Parrott / OU-Chandos
Bach Art of Fugue BWV 1080 / (probably) Musica Antiqua Köln, Reinhard Goebel / Archiv Produktion
[but possibly Berlin Bach Academy, Heribert Breuer / Arte Nova]
Beethoven... yeah, keep both, though I rarely pull those off the shelf these days
Brahms No.2 - likewise (and happy to take whichever one comes along...)
Birtwistle Earth Dances / Cleveland Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi / Decca
(but there have been some stunning broadcasts, too - and if Yan Tan Tethera was commercially available I might have to go for that!)

Wot, no Schubert? Lord, this is hard.

No, feck it, I'm going to cheat:
Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending / Isolde Menges, orch., Malcolm Sargent / HMV (download from CHARM - side 1, side 2, side 3)

So - how about you?

Friday, 13 August 2010

Ffunky Ggibbons, Locke & Purcell

Here's another one you won't want!

But I love these recordings of 17th C consort music by string quartet. They bring it out of the music chest and the library and into the concert hall - especially peformances as confident as these, by the New Music String Quartet: Broadus Earle, Matthew Raimondi (violins), Walter Trampler (viola), Claus Adam (cello). Recorded by Peter Bartók in about 1952, I reckon, for his own label, on which this was first released as LP number 913, some time in the first half of 1953. The Quartet made quite a few interesting LPs of early music for Bartók, from Alessandro Scarlatti to F.X. Richter; some have been reissued on CD - but not this one. This World Record Club Recorded Music Circle issue must date from the late 1950s, no? I wish I knew more about this fascinating label: all info grumpily received.

The two Gibbons 4-part Fantasias (his only two) have been transposed up a fourth; at this pitch and in the NMSQ's hands they zing with high tension and rhythmic drive. Perhaps the Quartet should have upped Locke's sixth Consort of Ffowre Parts too; it comes across least well of the 5 pieces here. This was not its first recording; amazingly, that was made in 1929 by the National Gramophonic Society, with André Mangeot and his International String Quartet playing Mangeot's edition of a transcription by Warlock (I dunno what edition was used here - quite possibly the same?). The movements are Fantazia, Courante, Ayre, Saraband.

The famous Purcell Chacony, on the other hand, has a reticent delicacy that I really like - no Nymanesque chugging or overblown climax. Not on the disc, anyway.

Download the 5 fully tagged mono FLAC files in a .rar archive from here.