Friday 10 February 2023

The firsts shall last

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Eine kleine Nachtmusik in G K.525
I. Allegro; II. Romance. Andante
Nicolas Lambinon String Quartet
matrices: XXBo 8016-2 / XXBo 8017-2
recorded: c. November 1923, Berlin
Odeon O-6068 = AA 79467

Just flagging a few ‘firsts’ recently added to the ‘collection’ at the Internet Archive. Above is a label from the first record of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik – strangely, only the first two movements were recorded. Wos zum Deifel!? In truth, that is of a piece with Lambinon’s other discs, which were all of ‘snippets’ from popular chamber works by Beethoven, Brahms, Gade, Haydn, Mozart (just this), Schubert and Schumann. Lambinon (1880-1958), born in Liège and a pupil of Joseph Joachim, was a sometime concert-master of the Blüthner Orchestra and, from 1930, a member of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. I have one other record of him, playing in a piano trio – must get that up, too.

This label seems to show Odeon transitioning from ‘face numbers’ to one catalogue number per disc, by then rapidly becoming the standard. The shy little Bestell-Nummer (‘order number’) is on this label only, up in the left-hand corner of the cartouche, whereas the face number (Platten-Nummer, ‘record number’) is prominently printed in the lower centre. That’s where Odeon would soon put the O-prefixed Bestell-Nummer, which we tend to call the catalogue number. But in the first catalogue in which this disc was listed, the Odeon Musikplatten Deutsches Haupt-Verzeichnis 1924/25 (p.192), the Bestell-Nummer is given the old way, as AA 79 467. Another oddity is that ‘1925’ in the top right-hand corner of the cartouche, again only on this side; yet the catalogue clearly states it lists discs issued up to and including July 1924. Whatever.

One of my favourite organ works by J.S. Bach has long been the Fantasia (or, as in early MSS, Pièce d’orgue) in G BWV 572. So I’m happy to report we’ve just put up the first recording, by the French organist Noëlie Pierront (1899-1988). In October 1936 she made three discs of Bach and one of Buxtehude for the Bedford schoolmaster and organ enthusiast Aubrey C. Delacour de Brisay (1896-1989), who devised, sponsored and marketed a series of 12-inch records of this music played by Pierront, Ralph Downes and, he hoped, George Thalben-Ball. Frank Andrews’ characteristically thorough account of the venture in the CLPGS’s Hillandale News is here (if you have access to the Gramophone archive, you can also read de Brisay’s own article about it and Alec Robertson’s reviews).

I’m rather proud that we have now rescued from oblivion all but two of the seven issued Private Organ Recordings, three played by Pierront and two by Downes. The fifth in the series had to be withdrawn for copyright reasons – I’ve never found out what was on it, so bravo to the unnamed publisher for erasing it more completely from the face of the earth than time or neglect could ever do. Trottel. Poor de Brisay’s series didn’t make it past eight; he hoped to have more Buxtehude recorded by Thalben-Ball, but failed to muster enough subscriptions. Now I just need to find the first and last.

A couple of other firsts and lasts: the first (and, for a long time, only) recording of the fine String Quartet by John Alden Carpenter, by the Gordon String Quartet for Schirmer; and the last recording of the wonderful and pioneering ensemble Ars Rediviva and its founder, the harpsichordist and musicologist Claude Crussard (1893-1947), a 1946 Swiss radio broadcast issued by La Boîte à Musique as a posthumous tribute after the whole group died in an air crash while touring Portugal in February 1947. It’s also a first: the debut on disc of François Couperin’s superb early trio sonata of 1692 ‘L’Astrée’ (so named after a romance, apparently), itself not that often recorded – usually, people have gone for the revised version incorporated into Les nations as the opening Sonade of La piémontoise. I’m especially proud to have tracked down a copy of this uncommon set, which took a long time; the sound of the Radio Lausanne lacquer, transcribed to shellac, is not great, but Andrew Hallifax has restored it so that we only hear what is a deeply intense performance and a fitting and moving memorial to an immortal band of women. (Do hear their unusual Bach passion aria too.)


François Couperin
Sonata for two violins & continuo in g ‘L’Astrée’
Ars Rediviva, Claude Crussard (harpsichord / director)
matrices: PARTX 6090-1/6091-1, 6092-1/6093-1
recorded: 7 April 1946, Lausanne
Boîte à Musique 58-59

Tuesday 12 July 2022

Delman and boys


Parlophone PMAJ 1023 sleeve front

Michael Haydn Missa Sancti Aloysii in Bb MH 257
J.S. Bach Weichet nur betrübte Schatten BWV 202
Jacqueline Delman, Emerentia Scheepers (sopranos)
Kathleen Joyce (contralto)
Hampstead Parish Church Boys’ Choir
Martindale Sidwell (chorus master, organ)
London Baroque Orchestra
Karl Haas (conductor)
Recorded 14 & 15 December 1953, issued late 1954
Parlophone PMA 1023

I’m happy to announce that since my last post I’ve uploaded four more LP transfers to my Internet Archive account, starting with the above four months ago (sorry). It’s a lovely record, which I originally transferred for the sakes of Bach’s beautiful ‘Wedding Cantata’, and of Karl Haas, whom I admire. The Bach side was in good condition and didn’t need too much work but the other, with Michael Haydn’s Mass, had endless little plops and scuffs and took ages. Still, as I restored it I came to enjoy both music and performance more and more, so that’s a win!

And it’s another black mark for EMI and its ‘successors’, who for the last half-century have sat on almost all of the many pioneering and enjoyable recordings of Karl Haas and his excellent London Baroque Ensemble, stuffed with top-flight British players of the 1950s and 1960s. Only the Phoenixa CD reissue series, short-lived as it was (and clearly unloved by EMI), and Testament have allowed us to hear how good these recordings are when remastered from master tapes and not from house clearance castoffs.

Talking of Testament, everyone who cares about historical recordings of classical music, as well as about intelligent A&R and marketing, will have mourned the recent and all too premature death of Testament’s founder and head, Stewart Brown. I knew Stewart a little and he was always friendly, helpful, positive, unpretentious and deeply savvy, with a winning touch of Trotter about him (which it seems you need, if you’re to succeed in that line of business). His label was and remains a leader in the field, with remastering from the best available sources (for commercial LPs, usually master tapes, doggedly licensed) and exemplary presentation. Long may it flourish.

So, if it’s not too impertinent from one unfit to unlatch his sandals, I dedicate this post to Stewart’s memory, in the hope that his taste, entrepreneurship, dedication to music, and knowledge of catalogues and his customers’ wants, will continue to show up the dog-in-the-mangerishness of multinational catalogue-hoarders.

Talking of dogs in mangers… watch out for another post on that subject!

For now, just a quick reminder that my Internet Archive account is here, and that the other new LP transfers now up are of Fela Sowande’s lilting African Suite for strings and harp, in Trevor Harvey’s 1951-ish Decca recording; four Handel trio sonatas, recorded around the same time for Urania by the husband-and-wife team of Mr. and Mrs. Willy Schweyda; and another Urania LP from a couple of years later, of quartets by Boccherini, de Giardini and Puccini, played by the Quartetto della Scala of Milan.

Friday 31 December 2021

Glut glums

Alessandro Stradella (1643-1682)    
6 sinfonie for stringed instruments and basso continuo
Arranged by Nunzio Montanari (1915-1993) as     
‘Six Trio Sonatas’ for piano trio (piano, violin, cello)
Trio di Bolzano:
Nunzio Montanari (piano)
Giannino Carpi (violin)
Antonio Valisi (’cello)
recorded 1953(?), Italy; issued 1954
Vox PL 8380

Just dashing this off at the last minute, so that I’ll have posted at least once this year. Like many, I suspect, I have slight post-Christmas surfeit blues – not that I’ve put away anything like as much as I used to be able to. Time was, marzipan and meringues, lebkuchen and stollen, pandoro, panettone and panforte, mince pies and Christmas puddings were wolfed down with no ill effect. Now, teeth, gut and the system in general can’t cope, so that even moderate gluttony leaves me heavy and listless.

Nothing like as heavy and listless as being old, but that’s another story!

The real glut, of course, is recordings. More CDs, more 78s and LPs, more downloads, more transfers, more, more, more! Sometimes it’s exciting and stimulating, sometimes, as now, rather overwhelming, befuddling and deadening to the taste buds. Still, let’s never forget we live in the very best of times for us collectors and all the compulsively curious.

Talking of the curious, recently a dear friend asked if I have the above record. I was ashamed to find that not only do I have it, I’d made a transfer of it in April 2010 which I’ve never finished or shared! A quick listen confirmed it’s well worth it, so I spent quite a bit of time tidying it up and then working out what these pieces actually are. (They’re all from unpublished MSS; the originals can be found on IMSLP.)

Slightly annoyed to find that the Bibliothèque nationale de France beat me to it, which I should have thought of: its commercial ‘BnF Collection’ series offers a transfer of the French Boîte à Musique issue (samples here), available dirt cheap from Qobuz and other sites. I’ve had a listen and it’s pretty good. Still, I flatter myself mine is slightly better – or, rather, the original copy I transferred was probably in better condition, and unlike the BnF I can afford to ‘hand valet’ it.

The music itself is varied, if a little less so than if it had been left in its original scorings. But perhaps because Montanari, the pianist, made these arrangements (not, I don’t think, published), the Trio really owns them and plays with lovely, old-world expression. The LP gives only the country of recording; as it came out in early 1954, I’ve hazarded 1953, but it might even be 1952, as Valisi left the Trio the following year, according to this useful Italian Wikipedia entry.

This post also marks a new departure for the Cave: rather than upload the sound files (mono FLACs, as usual) and images to a storage site, I’ve decided to go with what for me is quickly becoming the first port of call for historical audio: the Internet Archive. Also, I could never get the embedded player gizmo to work here, whereas on the Internet Archive you can relish the art work’s ‘glorious Schmecknicolor’ while listening to the music, without having to download either. Though, actually, I haven’t worked out how to get the front cover to be shown by default, or how to make all images accessible in the neat, scrollable ‘Liner Notes’ thingy other Internet Archive pages have. If anyone knows how to do that, please say!

Anyway, enough of all that: the page you need is here.


No, hang on, I nearly forgot: this summer we spent part of a walking holiday in a lovely valley just above Bolzano, in the Italian Südtirol. It’s an absolutely fascinating and beautiful part of the world, rich in food, wine, wild flowers, architecture, history, industry and wild rivers. Montanari worked in Bolzano for decades and there’s still a thriving musical culture there and all around. And did I mention the wine?

Happy New Year!

Oh, and expect more in 2022!

Wednesday 1 January 2020

Der Alte ja vergangen ist

‘Festival in Haiti’ 

Déclaration Paysanne (Meringue)
Pétro-Quita (Drum Rhythms)
Shango (Invocation)
Pennywhistle Fantasie
Solé Oh!
Macaya Gimbo (Work Song)
Dié, Dié, Dié
 Mascaron-Pignitte (Carnival Rhythms)
 Ayanman Ibo (Ibo Rhythm)

Jean Léon Destiné (vocals), Alphone Cimber (drums),
Ti-Roro (drums), Herblee (pennywhistle), ensemble
recorded c.1954, New York?
Elektra EKL-30, p.1955

Drat – I didn’t mean to let 2019 pass without a single post. Well, there you have it – yet more proof of terminal decline etc., blah, blah… Worse, I started this post in April 2018 (same transfer but a completely different subject, which I don’t have the energy or time to write up now, sadly). That ground to a halt, as did pretty much all my ‘projects’ last year.

Now, though, I have a good excuse: I’m employed! My first full-time office job in 21½ years started in late October 2019. It’s only for a year but it comes with full benefits, including a pension. My boss is adorable, my colleagues are kind and helpful, the work is fascinating and right up my street, and our office is calm and civilized. It’s strange to be commuting again, squished up against a lot of young things, some probably yet unborn when I last rode the Tube like this… and no one was glued to a phone, either! (Still don’t own a smart phone.) (Do own other digital gizmos, though.) And this year I get my OAP’s free pass!

Anyway, to show I’m still alive and sentient (just), here’s a quick and dirty post to usher out 2019, in which the old me was suddenly and unexpectedly rejuvenated, and to usher in 2020, when I resolve to do all sorts of things to stave off the big D… like start dancing! Highly apposite to this post, as it happens: this lovely 10” LP isn’t your humble grump’s usual cerebral, sedentary fare, but celebrates the work of a famous Haitian dance artist. I confess I’d never heard of Jean-Léon Destiné (1918-2013) when I found this disc amongst my late father’s LPs a couple of years ago and gave it a spin. I was instantly impressed by the music, economical to the point of austerity in places but curiously gripping; the performances, full of authority, verve and conviction; the intimate, involving recording (which has come up nicely in this transfer, though I say so meself); and the proper grown-up presentation.

Don’t worry if you can’t read that sleeve note – there’s a bigger version of the scan in both Zip archives below, plus a PDF of the 12-page illustrated insert I found inside the sleeve. Of course, it’s now more than 60 years out of date but, again, worry not: there are several articles about and tributes to Destiné on the Web, such as this one, which looks very interesting.

So, take your pick: there are 10 lossless audio files, in FLAC or ALAC (Mac) formats, plus scans, in each Zip, which you can download from here (FLAC) or here (ALAC).

Happy New Year and enjoy!

(P.S. Not sure when I’ll get round to writing another post this year… but I’ll try my best!)

Thursday 8 March 2018

Une poignée de Pougnet

HMV CLP 1765 sleeve front
Beethoven String Trio in E flat Op.3
Jean Pougnet (violin)
Frederick Riddle (viola)
Anthony Pini (cello)
rec. 12 to 18 September 1952, Konzerthaus(?), Vienna
by Westminster (USA)
transfer from 1964 UK issue on HMV CLP 1765

HMV CLP 1775 sleeve front
Beethoven String Trios in G Op.9 No.1 & D Op.9 No.2
Jean Pougnet (violin)
Frederick Riddle (viola)
Anthony Pini (cello)
rec. 12 to 18 September 1952, Konzerthaus(?), Vienna
by Westminster (USA)
transfer from 1964 UK issue on HMV CLP 1775

Westminster XWN 18412 sleeve front
Beethoven String Trios in c minor Op.9 No.3
& in D Op.8 ‘Serenade’
Jean Pougnet (violin)
Frederick Riddle (viola)
Anthony Pini (cello)
rec. 12 to 18 September 1952, Konzerthaus(?), Vienna
by Westminster (USA)
transfer from 1964 UK issue on HMV CLP 1785

While I was at it, I thought I should share these other recordings by Pougnet, Riddle and Pini. I really enjoy these works, in which Beethoven is clearly flexing his muscles as a composer of weighty but playful and varied chamber music for strings – before tackling the biggie… And I love these recordings, as I do this group’s Divertimento K.563 of Mozart, which I shared in my last post, and which must have been a stimulus for Beethoven’s Op.3 and the model for Op.8.

Not much more to say, except to say that I feel Westminster’s excellent 1952 recordings (complete with… Viennese tram rumble?) have again come up well in these transfers from 1964 HMV issues. I wonder why EMI licensed them that latet?) They were only available for a very short time – deleted by the end of 1966 – so they’re not that common. I don’t think the first two LPs come from my late father’s collection – I must have got them second-hand. The third, I borrowed from a library, but I couldn’t then scan or photograph the sleeve; I’ve since acquired one of the Westminster issues, so I’ve included images of its sleeve and labels:
Westminster XWN 18412 S2 label

I didn’t photograph the HMV labels, as the inner sleeves have opaque paper liners (good choice!), and I don’t have a clean horizontal surface to photograph disc labels on (you do know the Cave is more of a tip than ever, don’t you? I’m losing my grip – no, make that: I’ve  lost it…).

So, to download these LPs, as fully tagged mono FLACs plus images, in Zip files, follow these links:

There’s plenty of information about the works on the interwebs and in the sleeve notes which I’ve also included in the Zip files, such as this wonkily glued one:
HMV CLP 1775 sleeve back

A quick look at previous recordings of these still somewhat overlooked works:

no version on 78s
first recorded c.1951, Pasquier Trio, Allegro

first recorded 1934, Szymon Goldberg, Paul Hindemith & Emanuel Feuermann, Columbia UK, also issued in US & elsewhere
1936, Pasquier Trio, Pathé; issued in US and UK on Columbia
1950, Joseph & Lillian Fuchs, Leonard Rose, US Decca LP
1951, Erich Röhn, Reinhard Wolf, Arthur Troester, DGG, variable micrograde 78 + LP
c.1951(?), Trio à cordes de la Garde Républicaine, Saturne picture-disc 78
c.1951, Pasquier Trio, Allegro (with Op.9 No.1)

Op.9 No.1:
first recorded 1938, Pasquier Trio, Pathé; issued in US and UK on Columbia
c.1939?, Mara Sebriansky, Edward & George Neikrug, Musicraft
c.1951, Pasquier Trio, Allegro (with Op.8)
18 September 1952, Bel Arte Trio, US Decca LP (with Op.9 No.2)

Op.9 No.2:
first recorded 1949, Pasquier Trio, L’Anthologie Sonore 78 + LP
c.1951, Pasquier Trio, Allegro (with Op.9 No.3)
18 September 1952, Bel Arte Trio, US Decca LP (with Op.9 No.1)

Op.9 No.3:
first recorded March 1934, Trio de Bruxelles, Columbia France; also issued in UK
April 1934, Pasquier Trio, Pathé; issued in US and UK on Columbia
1950, Joseph, Lillian & Harry Fuchs, Decca US LP (with Joseph & Lillian Fuchs, Julius Baker, Serenade in D Op.25)
c.1951, Pasquier Trio, Allegro (with Op.9 No.2)

Let me know if I’ve missed any!

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!

Tuesday 3 October 2017

Dragon’s head, snake’s tail

Polydor 66425 [B 29114] label

Béla Bartók String Quartet No.2 Op.17 (Sz.67)
Amar Quartet (Licco Amar, Walter Caspar,
Paul Hindemith, Rudolf Hindemith)
rec. 1926, Berlin
commissioned and first issued privately by
[Dainippon Meikyoku Rekōdo Seisaku Hanpu Kwai
Great-Japan Society for Producing and Distributing
Records of Musical Masterpieces
label photo by Grumpy, transfer by
from commercial issue on Polydor 66425-87

Over the last year and more, I’ve been investigating and documenting the activities and publications of three small organizations of the 1920s and 1930s which modelled themselves on Britain’s National Gramophonic Society (the subject of my PhD research). Although based in the USA and Japan, the founders of these societies learned of the N.G.S. from articles, notices and advertisements published in its mouthpiece, The Gramophone. Emulating the N.G.S., they aimed to supplement the output of commercial gramophone companies, by arranging for uncommercial music to be recorded and pressed in limited editions for their members.

I hope to share online soon a detailed study of one of these societies. In the meantime, here’s a preliminary sketch of another. It’s the least known – yet its second issue was one of the milestones of the ‘78 rpm’ era: the premiere recording of any of Bartók’s string quartets. The set would not be ‘duplicated’ for a decade: Bartók No.2 was next recorded in April 1936, by the Budapest Quartet for H.M.V. The Amar Quartet’s pioneering version was soon made generally available, so it’s not particularly rare, unlike the original Japanese society issue, though it’s rightly prized by collectors. True, you sometimes read that it was commissioned by a group of Japanese enthusiasts, but no more than that.

The main reason is finding and reading original sources. I first learned of the Japanese society ten years ago, combing The Gramophone (by hand, from hard copies) for information about the National Gramophonic Society. In April 1926, the magazine’s more or less regular column of N.G.S. ‘Notes’ carried this item:

Tokio Meikyoku Records Seisaku Hampu Kai
‘The Western N.G.S. has now a sister in the East. Its name is as above and means “Tokio Good Record Recording and Distributing Society,” address, c/o M. Anan & Co., No.4, Awajicho 2-chome, Kanda, Tokio, Japan. It was established in 1925 and has 385 members.
‘The first issue was Scriabine’s IX. and X. Piano Sonatas, played by Alexander Sienkiewicz, on three 12in. records at 5 Y.’s each (presumably Yens).
‘Further information can, no doubt, be obtained from the secretary. We received a letter and two circulars, but the latter were printed entirely in Japanese characters.’

Someone in Tokyo took pity, and in August 1926 The Gramophone printed an English translation of one of the circulars, sent in by the Japanese society’s secretary. It was headed ‘Declamation’, exemplifying the language barrier which then divided music-lovers and record-buyers East and West, and still does. I don’t know of a comprehensive English-language study of Japan’s early record culture. The standard Japanese-language history of recording has apparently not been translated, so I haven’t been able to consult that or any primary Japanese sources. (I’m hoping to convince a kindly speaker or scholar of Japanese to translate or at least précis the bits I need.) Everything in this post I’ve gleaned from English-language sources, and from invaluable information kindly provided by a contact in Japan.

Luckily, the circular published by The Gramophone was very detailed, setting out the Society’s constitution, terms and conditions and projected recording programme. These were very like those of its acknowledged model, the N.G.S. – whose issues the Society regretted were too expensive to import (although some Japanese joined the N.G.S. on their own account, and had the discs posted to them). One not insignificant omission in the circular is a blank next to the entry ‘4. Advisers and Managers’ (I wonder if it was the Japanese or The Gramophone who hid the names?). I’m guessing that one of the Society’s prime movers and/or founders was Nomura Osakazu (1882-1963), better known under his pen names of Araebisu (as a music and record critic) and Nomura Kodō (as a novelist). Araebisu wrote extensively about records; I gather his verdicts on recorded interpretations were followed almost religiously. None of his gramophone criticism has been translated into English.

Again like the N.G.S., the Society needed a manufacturing partner. In Britain and the USA, record companies and dealers supported gramophone and phonograph societies by throwing open their premises to meetings, lending equipment and donating discs (or, originally, cylinders). Most such societies were gatherings of hobbyists who met to hear lectures, listen to music convivially, and compare and share technical tips about playback, record storage and so on. Only a tiny handful issued records for their members – for which, in the days of wax and shellac, they needed a record manufacturer (the N.G.S. used three at different times: Columbia, Vocalion and Parlophone).

For the Japanese Society, access to a manufacturer was provided by Anan & Co. Based in Kanda, Tokyo’s bookselling district, Anan & Co. was a leading importer of foreign records, notably Polydor, the export label of Germany’s Deutsche Grammophon. All the Society’s known issues were recorded in Germany by Grammophon and, initially, pressed there, until the Japanese government imposed a swingeing tariff on imported luxury goods, to aid domestic production and reconstruction after the devastating earthquake of 1923. In 1927, some two years after the Society was formed, like several other local firms, Anan formed a joint venture with its German partner and formed Nippon Polydor; the Society’s later issues may have been pressed in Japan but I’m not sure about that.

At the moment, I know nothing about Anan’s ownership or staff, but it clearly catered to a highly discerning clientele: the Society’s first two issues were extraordinarily adventurous for the mid-1920s. The first consisted of three twelve-inch discs containing the two last piano sonatas of Alexander Scriabin: No.9 Op.68 and No.10 Op.70, each on three sides. These were recorded electrically in 1926, in the studios of Grammophon, by Aleksander Sienkiewicz (1903-1982), a Polish pianist then based in Berlin (Sienkiewicz later emigrated to Brazil and became a respected teacher there). The discs were pressed in limited numbers and are now extremely rare, but remarkably they have been transferred by the Japanese label DiwClassics, in the second of its two surveys of historical recordings of Scriabin, both still commercially available.

DiwClassics DCL-1002 booklet front   obi

DiwClassics DCL-1002 (CD)
Hounds of Ecstasy: Historical Recordings of Scriabin Vol.2

Once again, as with the N.G.S., the Japanese Society’s recording programme was apparently proposed by a committee and voted on by the members. It’s fascinating that this should have resulted in an inaugural issue as adventurous as Scriabin’s last two sonatas – as N.G.S. committee member and Gramophone critic W.R. Anderson wrote of a set which was sent to the magazine,

‘The choice of music seems bold. These later Scriabin works are not altogether easy hearing, in some ways. In him a fresh wind blew through music. Our Japanese friends are taking a pretty big breath of this wind, and we hope they will enjoy the records.’

Sonata No.9 would not be recorded again for some 15 years, next appearing on Paraclete Music in a performance by Samuel Yaffe (1929-1980). No.10 was re-recorded at almost exactly the same time for another of the ‘society’ labels I’m studying, The Friends Of Recorded Music; the pianist was ‘the high priestess of Scriabin in America’, Katherine Ruth Heyman (1872-1944), about whom I now know quite a lot, and will write about soon if I can just get on top of the avalanche of information I’m finding on these fascinating figures.

The Society’s second issue was the Bartók Quartet, also recorded electrically in Berlin. The Scriabin set was never made available outside Japan, although my Japanese contact has unconfirmed information that it was later reissued on Nippon Polydor. The Bartók, on the other hand, was soon issued commercially both in Germany, on Grammophon, and, for export, on Polydor, and I imagine it must have stayed in the catalogues for quite some time. As far as I know, the Japanese issue has never been transferred; it probably survives in very few copies. I’ve never seen one, but I knew the discs were branded ‘Polydor’ and numbered 4 to 7 (the Scriabin discs were numbered 1 to 3). Now, thanks to the kindness of two eminent collectors, I also know what the labels looked like. The more common Western issue has previously been transferred by Arbiter:

Arbiter 139 (CD and download)
‘Hindemith as Interpreter:
The Amar Hindemith String Quartet’

For information on the Amar Quartet itself, see the characteristically excellent note by Tully Potter, which Arbiter has laudably posted on the above page in its online catalogue. I see the only member of this line-up for whom no one seems to have dates is the second violin, Walter Caspar, so I’m going to stick my neck out and say he was born in Breslau (now Wrocław) in 1881, was concertmaster of the South West German Radio orchestra in Frankfurt for many years, and died in 1953. Corrections gratefully received.

In 1927, a Japanese gramophone enthusiast named Hajime Fukaya wrote one of many letters to western record magazines (he was the first Japanese to be published in The Gramophone, in March 1925, and in 1926 wrote to the Manager of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra expressing his admiration for the Orchestra, its conductor Henri Verbrugghen, and their recordings, and requesting a photograph of the Orchestra). Addressed to the Boston-based Phonograph Monthly Review, his letter was published in its April 1927 issue:

No society movement in Japan
’I think the society movement very necessary at present situation, for to hear the novelty records each other, to know the new records, to held the gramophone concert for who could not buy the good record, and to appreciate the best music of the best performer. [...] Alas! I have heard “Good record distributing Society” of Tokyo, surely they have issued two kinds of records as you mentioned, but the Scriabin’s sonatas are not good from the point of the player, (unknown Polish pianist) and better Bartok’s String Quartet records now easily obtain from Polydor dealer, so the society’s peculiarity is very feeble, it is far below to the National Gramophonic Society of England, I am afraid the vanish of this Japanese Society in future, as our proverb says “Dragon’s head, snake’s tail.”’

Mr. Fukaya was possibly right to be afraid: with no further issue for almost three years, the Society did seem to fizzle out into a snake’s tail, as had the contemporary Chicago Gramophone Society, for instance. According to my Japanese contact, the Society was in fact merged with Nippon Polydor on the latter’s foundation in April 1927. But in April 1929 the Review relayed some good news from Mr. Fukaya:

‘Here is wonderful phenomenon that the Polydor version of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis will sell in near future as the subscription records to the members of the private recording society, but the set is not so privileged one like their first distributed two Scriabin’s sonatas, for we can possess the set easily from your record importers or many other foreign shops earlier than before our home distribution of it, moreover this monopolized policy shall meet keen competition when our Victor releases their Spanish recorded version of the same set in future.’

It is unclear from Mr. Fukaya’s letter whether the Society was responsible for commissioning Polydor’s recording of the Missa solemnis or simply secured it for its members. But an online listing of a Japanese CD transfer states, in machine translation, ‘This recording was a recording of a Japanese project realized with the plan of “Dainippon Nominated Song Record Distribution Committee”.’ So it seems we do have the Society to thank for the second complete recording of the Missa solemnis, made in Berlin in 1928 by the Bruno Kittel Choir and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bruno Kittel. (The ‘keen competition’ was from the first complete recording, made live in June 1927 by the Spanish branch of the Gramophone Co., with the Orfeó Català choir conducted by Lluis Millet; in October 1928, the Gramophone Co. recorded two twelve-inch discs of excerpts in Leeds, for domestic issue on its H.M.V. plum ‘C’ label.)

Polydor 95155 (face B 25154, matrix 1213 bm I)
Beethoven Missa solemnis in D Op.123 –
Agnus Dei, part II (side 19 of 21)
soloists, Bruno Kittel Choir,
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Bruno Kittel

This long work, requiring twenty-one twelve-inch sides, took Grammophon some time to record, and it was apparently not possible to engage the same quartet of soloists for all the sessions. The final line-up was:

  • Lotte Leonard and Emmy Land, sopranos
  • Eleanor Schlosshauer-Reynolds, alto
  • Anton Maria Topitz and Eugen Transky, tenors
  • Wilhelm Guttmann and Hermann Schey, basses
  • Wilfried Hanke [concertmaster], violin (Sanctus)

I haven’t yet investigated this set in great discographical detail but I’ve seen no evidence that it was issued in a special pressing for the Japanese Society; possibly members received the standard commercial pressing. The filler was a choral version of Beethoven’s setting of Gellert, Die Ehre Gottes aus der Natur Op.48 No.4, performed by the choir of St. Hedwig’s Basilica in Berlin, conducted by Pius Kalt. There have been various transfers of the set, most recently on CD by Saint-Laurent Studio of Canada, and by Universal Music Japan (the latter omits the filler), and as a download (gratis) by Dutch blogger Satyr (see above).

Universal Music [Japan] UCCG-90308 (2 SHM-CDs)Beethoven Missa solemnis in D Op.123
soloists, Bruno Kittel Choir,
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Bruno Kittel

After Hajime Fukaya’s letter, quoted above, I have found no further notice of the Society’s activities in the Western press. Yet my Japanese contact informed me that it was disbanded only in June 1935, so there may have been other issues which I know nothing about. By then Fukaya had co-founded a Japanese record magazine, The Gramophile, whose first issue appeared in February 1930, and which numbered Araebisu among its contributors. How long it stayed in print, I don’t yet know either.

So, to the Bartók quartet. My copy of the Polydor issue was transferred and remastered by Jolyon, to whom very many thanks. There are still occasional bursts of distortion, from damage to the grooves caused by playing the discs with steel needles instead of fibre, but they’re few and don’t detract from Jolyon’s fine work. You can download his transfer in an archive file containing three fully tagged digital files, one for each movement, in either FLAC or AAC lossless formats, via these links:

FLAC (for Windows)

AAC (for Mac)


4 October 2017:

I am extremely grateful to the collectors Peter Adamson and Raymond Glaspole for this scan of the handsome label on the first disc from the Japanese Society edition of this set. I’m interested to see that it carries no face number, unlike all Grammophon and Polydor issues of this period.

Polydor 4-A [415 bg] label [Glaspole ed Adamson]

Polydor 4-A (matrix 415 bg) label
[Photo: Raymond Glaspole / Peter Adamson]

The Gramophone (subscription required)

Phonograph Monthly Review (open access)

Mitsui, Toru ‘Interactions of Imported and Indigenous Musics in Japan: A Historical Overview of the Music Industry’, in Ewbank, Alison J. & Papageorgiou, Fouli T. [eds.] Whose Master’s Voice? The Development of Popular Music in Thirteen Cultures, Westport, CT / London: Greenwood Press, 1997, pp.152-74

Peter Adamson, Scotland
Raymond Glaspole, Oxford
Shuichiro Kawai, Japan
Akiko Kimura, British Library, London
Dr. Margaret Mehl, Denmark
Hisao Natsume, Japan
Jonathan Summers, British Library, London