Monday, 5 March 2018

Pini Aroma

HMV CLP 1861 front [small]
Mozart Divertimento in E flat K.563
Jean Pougnet (violin)
Frederick Riddle (viola)
Anthony Pini (cello)
rec. 12 to 18 September 1952, Konzerthaus(?), Vienna
by Westminster (USA)
transfer from 1965 UK issue on HMV CLP 1861   

Sorry about the dreadful pun – but LPs, and old electronics, do give off distinctive whiffs. Whenever I open the turntable on which I transferred this LP, I get a pleasing rubbery smell, which I think comes from the thick platter mat, trapped under the lid. It does a Proust, taking me back to my late father’s hi-fi and record cabinets (not to mention long, boring childhood journeys in hot cars with plastic upholstery), though I can’t honestly claim to remember the exact aroma of his various setups. Nor does this LP, from his shelves, smell of much: for one thing, HMV used translucent paper to line the inner sleeve, not the later polythene which has all too often degraded and left gunk on precious grooves.

No, this disc was and is in excellent condition, and hardly needed cleaning up. I imagine few surviving copies of the original Westminster issues (on WL 5191 and XWN 18551), not to mention the first UK issue of late 1954 (on Nixa WLP 5191), would sound better – those pressings were never too good. Maybe the French Véga issue was better (sample a commercial transfer here, or even buy it here). The recording is close (which I like) and vivid, and I just love this performance. Love the work, too, which always seems to bring out the best in players, and I never tire of hearing new versions, but I’m esepecially fond of this one. I hope you enjoy it too!

I haven’t got the time and energy to do a full bio-/discographical job on the musicians – and I don’t need to, as all three are well known. What may not be so well known is that Jean Pougnet (1907-68) made his first documented recordings in early 1926 for the National Gramophonic Society – playing second viola alongside André Mangeot’s Music Society String Quartet in Purcell’s Fantasia ‘upon one note’ and Vaughan Williams’ Phantasy String Quintet. Transfers of both may be downloaded from the CHARM website: the Purcell consists of just one sound file, plus label, while the Vaughan Williams is on four sides – 1, 2, 3, 4 – plus label 1, etc. (The Vaughan Williams is also the worst-sounding recording issued by the N.G.S.)

HMV CLP 1861 sleeve back

Frederick Riddle (1912-95) was the only one of these three musicians born in England: Pougnet was born in Mauritius, and Anthony Pini (1902-89) in Argentina, as Carlos Antonio. All became stalwarts of Britain’s orchestral, chamber music and teaching worlds. I’m indebted to Tully Potter, the leading historian of string players and chamber music, whose obituary of Riddle (The Strad, May 1995) relates that, before the war, Pougnet and Pini played and broadcast together with William Primrose as the London String Trio. After the war, Riddle replaced Primrose, although the name was taken up by a different trio of players. Our three had also played together in the Philharmonia String Quartet, which Walter Legge formed from his Philharmonia Orchestra, and, before that, in the BBC Salon Orchestra.

Tully also told me that the ad hoc trio made its first batch of recordings for Westminster in Vienna, in one week – this Mozart, and string trios by Beethoven, Lennox Berkeley, Haydn, and Charles Henry Wilton. This explains why Michael Gray’s discography site gives a range of dates – it also names the Konzerthaus as venue for some of the week’s work (I’m guessing it was used for all). The second batch, recorded in autumn 1954, consisted of trios by Dohnányi, Françaix and Hindemith. I believe none of this legacy has been reissued on CD (from tape – the Beethoven, Dohnányi & Françaix and Wilton trios have been transferred from discs by Forgotten Records), a grievous omission, though not surprising. I do have more dubs, which I may share if they’re good enough, and if I have time…

Meanwhile, you can download this transfer of K.563, as six fully-tagged mono FLACs plus sleeve scans, in a Zip file, from here.

As for the work, I reckon this was its fifth complete recording. The Pasquier Trio of France made the first, in June 1935, for Pathé (transferred to CD by Green Door of Japan); also issued in Britain and the USA on Columbia (transferred by The Shellackophile). They re-recorded it after the war for Les Discophiles Français (again transferred from disc by Green Door); issued in the US initially on Vox, and then by the Haydn Society (the latter remastered from tape by Music and Arts). Meanwhile, Heifetz, Primrose and Feuermann had recorded it for Victor in September 1941; a well-known set, transferred by Biddulph, Opus Kura and probably others.
Less well known are one of the Menuetti (but which?), recorded by members of the Budapest Quartet for American Columbia in February 1945, but not issued until 1950 as a filler for the (obsolescent) 78 rpm set of Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet with Mieczysław Horszowski and Georges Moleux; and a complete recording, made in April and May 1951 by the Bel Arte Trio (Ruth Posselt, Joseph dePasquale and Samuel Mayes) for US Decca, issued in the UK on Brunswick, and never, to my knowledge, reissued (as if…) or transferred.

The biggest rarity and oddity, though, must be a Tilophan ‘Spiel mit’ set of extracts, seemingly one or both Menuetti, with the violin, viola and cello parts not played (by unnamed players) on successive sides. This was available by January 1938, when it was listed in a French magazine. If anyone owns or has ever seen any of these, do let me know!


  1. Thank you Nick, what a treat! Somewhere around here I have their coupling of two Hindemith trios on an early 60s Westminster "collectors'" reissue; I'll have to transfer it sometime. They made at least one recording as a trio before the Westminster series - the Moeran trio for Columbia in '41, which is on my blog.

  2. Dear Bryan, my pleasure! Tully Potter is a huge fan of those Hindemith recordings, so he would be thrilled. Of course, I should have mentioned the Moeran - thanks for reminding me, I remember you kindly sharing that. All the best, Nick