Sunday, 9 September 2012

Le retour de Madame Guerre… plus Grumpy

L'Oiseau-Lyre OL 50183 cover [small]

Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre
(Not) Complete Harpsichord Works
Louis-Nicolas Clérambault
Premier livre de pièces de clavecin, 1704
Thurston Dart (harpsichord by Thomas Goff)
L’Oiseau-Lyre  OL 50183 (p. 1959)

Once again, apologies for the long silence. Good news: I’ve more or less finished the thesis! It means I can at last bring you some of the many intriguing LPs I’ve bought recently. I’m also itching to transfer several rare and fascinating 78s. But they’ll have to wait until I hook up the varispeed turntable, buy some suitable styli and a proper pre-amp and, most importantly, a record-washing machine. A couple of LPs have proved too grubby even for Grumpy and will need the kind of treatment Matron used to mete out to us after games.

But I knew very quickly this’d be a good ’un – and so it is, except for one very odd fault and another not so odd. As the Gramophone reviewer put it: ‘The record is unfortunately marred by a persistent technical fault—a kind of rumbling or roaring noise which is only too audible through the delicate sounds of the harpsichord. I am inclined to think that this is caused not by some external nuisance such as traffic, but by some mechanical or electronic failing in the recording equipment used.’

Actually, it only mars about 4 minutes of one suite; but another is afflicted with a different and deliberate defect. More on both problems below. Otherwise, the recording is close but not oppressive, crisp and clear. In fact it mirrors the playing of Thurston Dart and admirably suits his instrument. Mind you, good though Dart is, there’s a slight feeling of him translating a foreign idiom, although he manages some lilting notes inégales. He does a of lot of colouring-in with stops; and he betrays a hint of the 1950s ‘sewing-machine’ aesthetic in the often unrelenting way he zips through phrases and paragraphs.

I was a bit unfair in my title listing: this LP was issued in 1959, well before Mme Jacquet de la Guerre’s first keyboard book, of four suites, was rediscovered in the 1980s. The fifth and sixth suites here make up her Pièces de clavecin qui peuvent se jouer sur le viollon (1707). The first is in d minor and was recorded by Dart in this order: La Flamande (with Double)—Courante (with Double)—Rigaudons I & II—Gigues I (with Double) & II—Chaconne. The second suite, in G major, is more conventionally laid out: Allemande—Courante—Sarabande—Menuet—Rondeau. It’s inventive, striking, instantly memorable music, which I’ve enjoyed several times while getting this transfer ready.

At first, I thought Clérambault was prettier and slighter but he’s grown on me, with some notably expressive moments.  The grave, unmeasured preludes of each suite are especially fine, and well handled by Dart, though one minuet gets too jaunty for Grumpy. The first suite is in C major: Prélude—Allemande (with Double)—Courante—Sarabandes I & II—Gavotte (with Double)—Gigue—Menuets I & II (en rondeau). The second suite is in c minor: Prélude—Allemande—Courante—Sarabande—Gigue. The Allemande is superb, gruffly eloquent in Dart’s well-chosen registration, if a little stiff, but just what this repertoire is all about.

How remarkable that the long tradition of the clavecinistes, which I can imagine at first seems either arid, desiccated, formal, hermetic and frenchified, or pretty, precious, repetitious, inconsequential and … frenchified, is in fact so varied, personal and rewarding.  (I use ‘frenchified’ as an imaginary term of chauvinistic abuse, uttered by an 18th Century British philistine. But there are plenty of 21st Century British philistines.)

But be prepared for a rude shock in the Allemande of Jacquet de la Guerre’s suite in G. To simulate a piano repeat of the opening section, the engineer cranked the level back, a cheat they were wont to use in the 1950s. Something similar but less extreme seems to happen in the Sarabande, too. That’s nothing compared to what afflicts Clérambault’s first suite: from 3:25, some sort of electronic induction sets off a low, wandering buzz, which maunders on, like a dyspeptic theremin at Dart’s elbow, for 4 minutes and 8 seconds. It’s less noticeable on speakers than on headphones. My good friend Jolyon gallantly removed as much of it as he could but, being the ingrate that I am, I present it here untreated – except for the usual light Daviesification (o, bless his name!) (and Jolyon’s).

Download Jacquet de la Guerre’s suites as two mono, fully tagged FLACs in a .rar here.

Download Clérambault’s suites as two mono, fully tagged FLACs in a .rar here.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Cape with Good Hope (8 Down, 1 To Go!)

EMS 213 cover

Josquin 14 secular chansons
Pro Musica Antiqua, dir. Safford Cape
EMS 213 (rec. autumn 1950, Brussels)

On Thursday 26th April, I finished the penultimate chapter of my PhD thesis, which is the main thing that’s been keeping me from posting more coprolites from the Cave. Chapter 8 is three times longer than it should be and has taken me months to write, rather than the mere weeks I’d projected. Oh well, I’ve learned a lot in the process. Now I just need to re-read it plus the preceding seven, all 320 pages, before I tackle what I’ve been dreading – the final chapter, with my supposed ‘conclusions’. My main conclusion is, I don’t know what to conclude!

As a tiny celebration (and distraction), here is one of the too many LPs I’ve bought recently. In fact, I already had two copies of this lovely disc but they looked too beaten up to dub – it’s hard to tell, as they’re pressed on red vinyl, which is pretty but doesn’t show scratches or dirt. I’m trying to collect as many records of this great group as I can. I’ve just bought a couple more good uns, so we could be in for a Cape bonanza.

This record is remarkable in several ways. First, remember that in 1950 devoting an entire LP to one prehistoric composer was seriously avant-garde. Second, the sleeve carries detailed information on the music and performances, texts and translations, although not, oddly, the group’s line-up (singers of solo items are credited). Third, and most important, these are really fine performances, which present the wonderful music simply, seriously, and with complete conviction. The famous and glorious Deploration on the death of Ockeghem is here - I’ve never enjoyed it as much. Also deeply moving are Malheur me bat (which spawned several parody masses) and Incessamment mon povre cueur lamente, the latter sung with noble dolour by the great Jeanne Deroubaix. I really like the instrumentals, too – the close miking brings the gently raspy, gutty, hairy sounds into sharp focus and creates an atmosphere of intimacy and concentration – no hey-nonny-nonsense here.

The recording struggles a bit with some of the vocal numbers, though that could also be wear on my copy. Or my arm, which I never rebalance, as I should. Still, it’s come up pretty well. I see that in 1961 Archiv issued an LP devoted to Josquin, with a mass and some of the same chansons, performed by Pro Musica – but they must be re-recordings, as it was also issued in stereo (APM 14171, SAPM 198171) and I don’t believe Archiv went in for fake stereo (does anyone have it or know?). By the way, I’ve not checked if modern musicology still thinks all this is by Josquin.

Download the 14, fully tagged mono FLAC files, plus my not very good but legible scan of the back of the sleeve (my stupid A3 scanner has a chamfered border round the platen which just prevents LP covers from lying flat!), in a .rar file, here.

Tomorrow, Sunday 29th April, Jolyon and I are off to sell some 78s and LPs at the Croydon Record Fair – and probably buy far too many as well! See you there?

ADDENDUM: Listening again, I’ve remembered that the levels as originally mastered are a bit all over the place: the first  item, an instrumental, is too high compared to the vocal number which follows; several vocals sound a bit low. But I haven’t altered any levels. Also, if it had been up to me I would have ended the disc with the Deploration rather than Basiez-moi. But there you go, I’m sure Ockeghem would have agreed that life must go on, eh?

CORRIGENDUMDIDUMDIDUM: Doltishly, I included earlier versions of two files in the .rar; these both have ‘OLD’ in the file-name. The only difference from the newer versions is that I hadn’t faded out the residual surface noise at the end of one, which closes side 1, or faded it in at the start of the next, which opens side 2 with rather more noise. Sic errat Grumpius.

Friday, 6 April 2012

No sewing-machine here!

Sewing shop, Lumix LC1, 6-Apr-12

Domenico Scarlatti 8 Essercizi per gravicembalo
Eliza Hansen
(‘Christophori’ model harpsichord by Neupert)
Archiv 13 001 (rec. 22 & 23 October 1953)

Apologies, I’ve had this on the stocks for some time, but I’ve been grumpier than usual. Also, I’ve become self-defeatingly perfectionist about my transfers; I’ve done several interesting LPs that I just don’t feel are good enough to inflict on you. What I’d have been quite happy with, some months ago, now sounds hummy, crackly, distorted or dull.

No danger of that here, though – what a sparkling gem of a disc! I was walking to our little Lidl this morning (their trout fillets smoked with juniper berries are the best) when I passed one of our other locals – the sewing supplies shop, where I buy embroidering wool for Ma Grumpy. A wonderful time-warp.

It reminded me to post this disc – as a counter-example. All right, the Neupert. A little metronomic rigidity, perhaps, yes. I see Lionel Salter called it stolid; I think that’s going too far. It’s not auto-pilot, sewing-machine playing. I get the strong feeling Hansen is seeing through the notes to the gestures – and relishing the fabulous, free-wheeling writing.

I’d never heard Hansen before – do read the short biog on (link above), she’s obviously an important and interesting figure. I’m on the hunt for her other Archiv disc – annoyingly, I bought a copy recently but on receiving it found it was mono. That’s the trouble with those ARC-prefixed US pressings – you can’t tell from the number which mode it’s in (or have I missed something?). Though the dealer should have said, frankly.

8 mono, fully-tagged FLACs, in a .rar file, here.

P.S.: Please all visit Jolyon’s new blog, Fluff on the Needle!


Monday, 20 February 2012

By the ungracious condescension of His Grouch the Archgrump

WRC T[P] 36 cover

Beethoven Piano Trio in Bb Op.97 ‘Archduke’
Loveridge-Martin-Hooton Trio
rec. 1958/59?
World Record Club T[P] 36

Grumble. Mumble. Wumble! Mutter. Splutter. Whinge. Grizzle. Grouse. Kvetch. Rouspète. Râle.

On the other hand, what a nice chap who sold me this via eBay. Very happy. Thank you.

The sleeve says ‘T 36’ but the labels say ‘TP 36’ – anyone know why? The labels also say, rather charmingly, ‘First issued 1939’! As it happens, I have seen the WRC supplement for June-July 1959 which lists this LP. I don’t know of a stereo issue; the Club was already putting out stereo records but only of orchestral music, as far as I can make out.

Iris Loveridge is quite well represented on CD, by a 3-CD set of Bax’s piano music and a mixed recital of Moeran and Gordon Jacob, all on Lyrita. There’s an excellent article about her by Rob Barnett on Musicweb International. Loveridge also made other LPs and 78s.

Florence Hooton currently has just one CD to her name, also on Lyrita, of ’cello music by Bax and Jacob. She appears on many 78s, in different trios (one with Frederick Grinke) and duos (one with Gerald Moore). On CHARM, you can hear her playing Sammartini and – wait for it – Webern’s String Trio! (Unfortunately, she has been spelled ‘Hooteon’ in CHARM’s metadata for the Webern.) I found a short obituary in a music journal, which told me that she died aged 75 in 1988, a highly respected teacher, and had studied with Emanuel Feuermann.

In 1938 Hooton married the Canadian-born violinist David Martin, who is written up by Giles Bryant in the wonderfully useful Canadian Encyclopedia. From that, I learn that Martin studied with Kathleen Parlow, led the Philharmonic String Trio and after the War founded his own String Quartet and Piano Trio. Martin made 78s and LPs with all groups, as well as with the Boyd Neel String Orchestra; a fair number have been reissued on CD.

I really like this record. The sound is a little iffy: at the start the piano is too recessed and almost sounds like a Graf or Beethoven’s own Broadwood. But I love the sound Loveridge gets from it: it has a gentle, plummy quality which makes me suspect it’s an old-fashioned, less famous make, possibly British? The recorded balance is not ideal (not easy, recording piano trios, I know) and, on my otherwise nice copy of this LP, there is distortion on some peaks at the end.

This is excellent music-making of the second rank, the kind of thing the self-appointed arbiters (arbiter?) of taste at RMCR don’t want you to hear, still less enjoy. By ‘second rank’, I only mean in comparison to international stars. The performance really comes into its own in the slow movement, where Loveridge achieves a serene, generous calm. After a well managed transition, the finale is unruffled but purposeful, rather than hectic. Yet there is power in reserve.

It’s also the kind of performance, I imagine, one might have heard at, say, the South Place Sunday Concerts in the 1950s. I recently went to the Concerts’ home for many decades, the Conway Hall, for the first time, I’m ashamed to say, to hear Beethoven’s ‘Ghost’ and two other piano trios played with passionate commitment by a young ensemble led by a friend, the gifted and versatile Australian violinist Madeleine Easton.

The ‘Ghost’ slightly showed up its neighbours, even Mendelssohn’s Op.66. And with the ‘Archduke’, we’re in yet another league. What a work. This is what it’s all about, eh? In a sense, I’m only here because of the ‘Archduke’. In 1982, helping to decorate my parents’ house during the university summer holidays, I listened non-stop to BBC Radio Three and, one day, while I was blow-torching paint from a door frame or a skirting board (or was I sand-papering stair balusters?), someone put on the Cortot-Thibaud-Casals version.

Bingo. Damascus. That was the single experience which opened my ears to the pleasure – not only the value and the interest, the sheer pleasure – of historical recordings. Soon after, I went to the Music Discount Centre, newly opened in Dean Street, and bought the Opal LP transfer. And the rest is grumpiness.

Because I didn’t want to separate the last two movements, only three mono, fully tagged FLACs, in a .rar file, here.

Snarl. Gnash. Fume. Grind. Introspect! Curse. Blast. Seethe…

Thursday, 2 February 2012

De la grotte de Grumpy… à Versailles

Philips L1L 0011 cover [reduced]

Fastes et divertissements de Versailles
Volume V: l’instrument soliste
Louis Marchand, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault
Pièces de clavecin
Marcelle Charbonnier (harpsichord)
rec. March 1955, Paris
Philips L1L 0011

Yes, I’ve been grumpier than usual. I’m grumpy pretty much all day, every day. What with the mess in the Cave, the hoohah about internet file-sharing, the crass criminality of some sharers, the bullying obstructionism of some record companies who seem hell-bent on scuppering this wonderful distribution channel, the poisonous pettiness of certain posters on RMCR, the sudden surge of cowboy sellers (I’ve recently bought several shamefully mis-described second-hand CDs), I’m just GRUMPY!

And I’m barely progressing with my work.

Never mind, here’s a lovely divertissement from what I should be doing. This LP contains all the published harpsichord music of these composers. (A big manuscript with more Marchand has since turned up.) It’s the last in a lovely series of luxuriously presented gatefold albums surveying the pomp and pleasures of Versailles, issued ‘under the patronage of the Secretariat of State for Arts and Letters’. Isn’t the cover handsome, illegible colour scheme and all? I just found this very good copy; now I’m missing only Vol.IV, ‘La musique et l’Eglise’.

Vol.I, ‘La musique et les salons’, with a violin concerto by Leclair and sonatas by Francoeur and Blavet, played by Charles Cyroulnik with Charbonnier and Maurice Hewitt and his Chamber Orchestra, has been transferred to CD by the excellent French label Forgotten Records. Otherwise I’d have done it. You can never have too much of all of these three composers.

Unfortunately, I know nothing about Marcelle Charbonnier, except that I like her playing very much. In her hands, the Chacone [sic] of Marchand’s first book is especially majestic and moving. Please feel free to point me to a biography or obituary. And to tell me what she was playing on – the LP doesn’t say but, again, I like it. I’ve no idea why the first book was mastered louder than the second; I’ve left the relative levels as they were.

Here are the LP’s title listings and English sleeve notes:


Prélude • Allemande • Premiere Courante • Deuxième Courante • Sarabande • Gigue • Chacone • Gavotte en rondeau • Menuet

Prélude • Allemande • Courante • Sarabande • Gigue • Gavotte • Menuet • Menuet en rondeau

‘The most illustrious keyboard virtuoso of his day, Louis Marchand was born in Lyons, France in 1669. At the age of fourteen, he was already a more accomplished musician than his father, a famous organist in Lyons. After working in Nevers and Auxerre, he came to Paris in 1689 and was appointed organist at the College des Jésuites (now the Lycée Louis-le-Grand) on the Rue Saint-Jacques. His reputation was so great that he was asked to become the organist at three others [sic, bless] churches. Finally, in 1706 he was called to the Royal Chapel at Versailles.

‘In 1714, after some unpleasantness with his wife, who had his salary confiscated [so unlike Madame Grumpy!], he left France for a concert-tour in Germany. He met Bach in Dresden, but did not dare compete with him. Bach, however, esteemed Marchand highly and made copies of some of his works.

‘He returned to Paris in 1716 and became organist at the Chapelle des Cordeliers. He remained at this post until his death in 1732 although he never accepted pay for his work there, living entirely on the proceeds of his concerts and his teaching activities.

‘In 1702 and 1703 he had published his harpsichord pieces, which show some influence of Chambonnières. They are brilliantly and elegantly written, but perhaps Marchand used them merely as frameworks for his remarkable improvisations.’

(Each book consists of a single suite; the LP’s German text says the first is in D, the second in C. Modern reference works seem to date them both to 1702.)


Prélude • Allemande • Courante • Première sarabande •
Deuxième sarabande • Gavotte • Gigue • Premier menuet• Deuxième menuet

Prélude • Allemande • Courante • Sarabande • Gigue

“The famous Clérambault found melodies and expressions which were completely new and which cause him to be considered the one, true model.” Thus one of Clérambault's contemporaries judged this composer, while another made these comments: “Clérambault's health was not strong, but he was lively and playful in character. His talent was not obscured by caprice. He was a good father, a good husband, a good friend.”

‘Clérambault, whose father was one of the King's Twenty-Four Violins, had an early start in music. He was made organist first at Saint Jacques in Paris and, later, simultaneously at Saint-Louis de Saint-Cyr and Saint-Sulpice, as well “Surintendant” for Madame de Maintenon.

‘Besides a book of pieces for harpsichord, he left one for organ, some French cantatas, and some sonatas which show the influence of Corelli, whose music was so fashionable in the last decades of the seventeenth century.

‘The two Harpsichord Suites recorded here are subtly charming and show the great mastery attained by their composer. The Preludes are still in the style of notation used by Louis Couperin (that is, the[re] are no definite time-values assigned to the notes). It is interesting that in those pieces showing the most advanced stylization of the original dance-forms, Clérambault made frequent use of odd-numbered, unsymmetrical periods, as for example in the two Allemandes, the Courantes, and the Gigue of the Second Suite.’

(Again, modern sources date Clérambault’s Premier livre de pièces de clavecin to 1704 – no idea why Philips put 1710, which is the date of his Livre d’orgue. You can download the original 1704 edition from IMSLP. The second suite is oddly laid out.)

Each Suite is a single, fully-tagged mono FLAC file. All four are wrapped up in a single .rar archive, which you can download here.

I’ve also been grumpy because I bought some interesting old baroque LPs from a dealer in the US, some of which turned out to be fake stereo and others to be too dirty even for Grumpy, so I won’t foist them on you. I’m on the hunt for the mono originals. But there is other good stuff lying around here, which I hope to share with you (I even know where it is, since I had a bit of a tidy).

This is partly for a harpsichordist friend. No idea if he’ll like it.