Saturday, 5 September 2015

A disc of two halves

HMV CLP 1737 front 5DII [auto]

Dvořák Piano Trio in e Op.90 ‘Dumky’; Trio in g Op.26
Jean Fournier (violin),
Antonio Janigro (cello),
Paul Badura-Skoda (piano)
rec. mid-(?) and late 1950s
first issued 1958(?), on Westminster XWN 18398
issued in Britain on HMV CLP 1737 (above)

I’ve recently managed to expel a good many boxes of LPs from the Cave, to the delight of La Grumpy. I sold 4 or 5, and gave away another 8. Before we took the latter to the charity / thrift / op shop, I had a last flip through – thank goodness, as I’d overlooked this lovely disc. My antennae told me it hasn’t been issued on CD (from the master tapes), which turned out to be correct – and a pity, as I really like it. Or, at least, the first half – the ‘Dumky’ Trio, which I’ve recently fallen in love with.

There’s something mysterious about this coupling. In the American journal Notes, Kurtz Myers used to publish a quarterly ‘Index of Record Reviews: With Symbols Indicating Opinions of Reviewers’ (later gathered into a series of books entitled Record Ratings). Most discs of mainstream repertoire such as this garnered a healthy crop of notices in several of the two dozen or so magazines surveyed by Myers. But in the December 1958 ‘Index’, Westminster XWN 18398 has the bare note, ‘No reviews’. Does anyone know why?

Another oddity is the noticeable difference in quality between the two sides. The first side, containing ‘Dumky’, sounds like a state of the art late mono recording, although it’s longer, so there’s more end-of-side distortion; and on my copy of this British H.M.V. pressing, it’s in less good condition – I suspect because the owner preferred ‘Dumky’, as I do, and so played it more often, with his heavy pick-up. The second side sounds earlier: congested, almost saturated in places – the signature, to my ears, of less refined equipment rather than poor microphone placement, as the balance itself is not bad. This leads me to suspect that Op.26 was recorded some time before Op.90, and/or in a different venue – again, does anyone know? Any clarification gratefully received.

‘Dumky’ – sorry to go on about it - is a much better piece than Op.26, don’t you think? The highlight of the g minor work, for me, is the charming, disarmingly ingénu trio, with its nothing tune, and those dotted ’cello kicks giving its relaxed dance rhythm a propulsive momentum which is unmistakably Czech. But, oh dear, the finale – another dance, interrupted by some academic note-spinning and muddy harmonies. A world away from the free-wheeling, rhapsodic, unpredictable, innovative ‘Dumky’. I’m looking forward to getting to know other classic recordings of the piece, some of which are pretty hard to find.

I gather ‘Dumky’ is in six sections, but the Simrock score I downloaded has five, so I went with that – sorry. If you prefer the canonical six sections, just divide the first of my files at 4:18 (fig. D, Poco adagio). The nine fully tagged, mono FLACs, plus my photos of the front and back of the HMV sleeve, including the extensive sleeve-note by Irving Kolodin, are in a .rar file which can be downloaded from here.