A Collector's Item by W. D.
Early Development of the LP by Ron Penndorf
The Records in the Picasso Covers by Ron Penndorf
Columbia Masterworks Demonstration Kits by Ron Penndorf
For every collector, there is a record that stands for everything totally insane about record collecting. This is the one for which nothing less will do than owning every copy, all the copies in the world, if that were possible; the one for which the idea of the perfect copy is reserved: not just unplayed and unblemished, not merely clean and unworn, but a child of the right matrix, stamped on a day the ingenious craftsman knew the joy of creation and every move was true. We never give up hope that the next one we find will be the very one we know must be out there: the perfect copy of the most superb recording of the greatest performance of the most wonderful music, just waiting to be found.
For some time now my own hopes have been focused on a slightly odd, perhaps throwaway production of the pre-stereo fifties, LM1913, Delibes' Sylvia andCoppélia, played by 'members' of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Pierre Monteux. I found my first copy in an unlikely used record shop in Albuquerque devoted mainly to country music, but with a box of dollar apiece 'as is' disqs tucked under the counter. It did not look promising, a battered and scarred old campaigner, with its jacket in tatters and worn, gray, dirty grooves. But it was Monteux, and we do not leave Monteux in 'as is' bins.
Listening to this record was not pleasurable in the obvious ways. Its condition prevented a clear projection of the performance as recorded, while the underlying sound betrayed an irritating harshness and a cramped acoustic space, rather like looking at the orchestra through the wrong end of a telescope. And yet, in spite of these obstacles, or maybe because of them, I could not escape the feeling that what I was hearing was a musical performance of the greatest distinction, with qualities perfectly suited to the nature of the music being played, and with an energy so apt and concentrated that even this overfamiliar music took on an aura of freshness and revelatory power. If only it were a perfect copy.
I began to buy every copy of this mysteriously fetching record that came to my attention, and I managed to acquire four good copies before long and, incidentally, before the supply seemed inexplicably to run out. I had even begun to think that this was a rather common item: it had gone through two versions of the shaded dog label, been reissued in a three- record catch-all ballet box (LM6113), and even in dreadful fake stereo as RCA Camden CCV 5030. Were I more than usually paranoid for a record collector, I would have thought someone else was chasing along the same track, getting to the bins or the phone one step ahead of me. I calmed myself with the sweet thought that perhaps I had found the last four good copies in the world, and maybe one of them was the perfect copy. At least I could now stop and listen at leisure to my four precious records perhaps to find that the sound was not so poor as I had first feared. I could even hope that my four records would provide a basis for an extended technical consideration of the relative merits of different stampers, earlier and later pressings, and the like.
Alas, it was not to be so. After many long bouts of hard listening and determined attempts at systematic comparison, what became clear was that I could not tell E4 RP8108-13S A1 from E4 RP8108 3S B2, or anything in between (My copies are E4 RP8108-13S A1/E4 RP8109-5S A5; -5S A1/ -1S A2; -15S A1/-9S A2 and -3S B2/-6S A1). Although it is true that at times one sounded better than, or at least different from another, the harder I tried to keep these perceptions sharp in my mind, the less steady did they hold. In fact, the differences came to seem as easily attributable to the temperature of my power conditioner or the effect of humidity on my cantilever bushings as to differences in the grooves. But this is not the end of the story. For whatever reason, be it the condition of my four "good" copies, or my cantilever bushings, on a good night this was, unmistakably, a DEVASTATING record. So much so, in fact, that, at times, everything patently imperfect about whichever copy I was listening to just fell away, and the recording became . . . perfect. Huge setting, silken string sound, brilliant brass, and all the rest. The kind of mono that makes stereo seem presumptuous and irrelevant.
Consider the music. The selections are from Delibes' two great ballets: Coppélia, based on a typically creepy story by E.T.A. Hoffmann about living dolls, and Sylvia, a mythological story with nymphs, lovestruck shepherds and wild bacchantes. To give an idea of the pop status these ballets have achieved, I need only mention that the immortal "Waltz of the Hours" is featured in Coppélia, while Sylvia is the source of the never-to-be-forgotten "Pizzicato Polka." Both were composed for the Paris Opera, as Delibes moved up from the disreputable milieu of the Bouffes Parisiens (Offenbach's theater) and the Théâtre-Lyrique, where, as a young man, he had established himself as a composer of theater music. These are big ballets with lots of numbers for the corps de ballet, pas de deux, character dances, pageants, marches, czardas, mazurkas, and in Coppélia, a lead role danced en travestie. Indeed, Tchaikovsky is said to have made rueful remarks about them.
And consider the historical context. The two works are separated by five years, the Franco-Prussian War, the four-month seige of Paris, the end of the Second Empire, the suppression of the Paris Commune with 33,000 dead, mainly killed by the French army. The successful opening run of Coppélia was actually cut short by the war, during which the choreographer St. Leon died of a heart attack, and the original Swanhilda succumbed to malnutrition. And, perhaps not incidentally, the birth of Pierre Monteux in 1875.
Monteux, although he might not have liked to admit it, turns out to have been the arguably preeminent conductor of ballet in the first half of the twentieth century, on more evidence than the records. I need not rehearse the usual litany of Monteux premieres to support that notion. But even if we were confined to the evidence of the records, a persuasive case could be made. Others have recorded more complete versions of the great classical ballets, but Monteux' excerpts seem to me to be worth more than all the complete versions I have heard. Why should this be so?
Well, the answer to that question lies at the heart of my obsession with perfect copies of LM1913. The bald technical facts are revealed in the notes for LM6113: "Sylvia was recorded on December 30, and 31, 1953 in Symphony Hall, Boston and Coppélia on December 2 and 4, 1953 in RCA Victor's studio in the Manhattan Center, New York. A single condenser microphone was used in both recordings, placed approximately 17 feet above and behind the conductor's podium." Here is a glimpse, through a few selections from two quintessentially French ballets, of Monteux' way with music we do not normally expect to hear in great performances. But this is exactly what we are given here: great performances by an apparently reduced contingent of the Boston Symphony, led by the Master, and recorded in such a way that the greatness of the performances is self-evident. This should be enough, I suppose, to satisfy the criteria for collectibility, but it is not enough to put off the devils of obsession. It is as if all the associations brought to mind by this conductor and this music as they are revealed through this record, images of Degas, Manet and Pissarro, all the improbabilities of ballet, the divine nuttiness of the dance (and of record collecting), combine in a demonic, laughing pursuit of the hapless collector's soul. Just listen (if you can find a copy) to the mock march, the Cortège de Bacchus, with which Monteux closes his suite from Sylvia: hear the impossibly cocky trumpet fanfares, the delicious shimmers of cymbals, the incomparable sense of holiday and circus, as the strutting bacchantes toss garlands and wave their thyrses at you.
Maybe there are differences among my four pressings after all. I will keep trying to hear them. Maybe these are my four desert island records. Simplifies the choice, doesn't it?
2001 by WD, RECOLLECTIONS
of the Long Playing record are too obvious to require extended
comment. They minimize interruption and inconvenience: permit
more logical and complete presentation of the music idea, reduce
space requirements and represent an economy in expense that is
decidedly worth considering."1
Thus, the 1930 RCA Victor Catalogue introduced their LP record, the 'Program Transcription.' This new kind of record was RCA's hope for restoring their market. By 1930, radio and the depression had reduced RCA's and all record companies' sales. The 'Program Transcription' was 12" in diameter, revolved at 33-1/3 RPM, had fine grooves (.0045 inch) that were closely spaced, and was made of a flexible plastic called 'Victrolac.' It carried up to 'three times' the playing time of a 12" 78, had quiet surfaces, and was to be played with a 1.5 mil RCA Chromium Orange Needle.
"Yet when these revolutionary discs appeared in record stores, they failed miserably to rejuvenate the doddering record industry. The fact that the new discs, in the beginning, were all dubbed from standard Victor records and did not have as much volume as the regular ones proved an immediate draw back. Complaints of consistent pitch wavers, probably caused by slow speed motors not running steadily, were voiced on all sides. Deterioration in tone quality was particularly marked in the last half of these records."2
With more development the records improved. Grooves were spaced wider, at the expense of playing time, and direct recording was done. Still the disqs did not sell and they were dis- continued in 1934. However, RCA's experiments with long-playing records continued, and it was rumored that they would reintroduce the disqs in 1941. "Victor in conjunction with the National Broadcasting Company had developed fine grooved transcriptions, the recording techniques of which, according to one sound engineer, laid the basis for fine grooved, or 'microgrooved' records as Columbia has chosen to call them."3 The lack of proper reproduction equipment was probably why the disqs were not produced.
"Principal among the new interlocking developments that have been successfully demonstrated by technicians but have not become available to purchasers of reproduction equipment are the following: 1. a smooth material disc, which is not used to grind the point of the needle to fit the groove, but designed for an absolute minimum of friction; 2. a practical dynamic pick up of greatly refined moving parts, with lowered pressure and a permanent jeweled point of considerably smaller diameter than in use; 3. recording with a very fine groove which will give positive 'side wall' drive to the stylus point mentioned above; recording at a lower overall volume level made possible by the quietness of a really smooth record surface."4 Before these advances could be marketed, World War II stopped all further development at RCA.
Meanwhile, by December 1939, Columbia records had been "recording all its sessions on standard groove 33 1/3 rpm master 'safeties' sixteen inches in diameter. During the first year, the 'safeties' were simply filed away after the session and used only when repair work was necessary on the 78s. By the end of 1940 all takes were incised on 33 1/3 sixteen inch disqs and then transferred later to 78 rpm records."5 By playing around with these safeties, Dr. Peter Goldmark and Columbia engineers, before World War II, were able to get fifteen minutes of music to a side of a 33-1/3 RPM record. Work slowed, but continued through the war, and at the war's end in 1945, Goldmark and his staff were hard at work on the LP.
"Goldmark assigned individual researchers to individual problems-cutting motor and stylus design, pickup design, turntable design, amplifier, radius equalization. The 33 1/3 speed had been established before work began and it already had become clear that a very narrow groove, something like the .003 inch groove finally adopted would be necessary to record twenty two minutes of music to a side."6 Goldmark decided on twenty-two minutes a side after an analysis of major musical compositions showed that 95 percent of the symphonic works considered would take less than forty-five minutes playing time. "The need for narrow grooves dictated a highly resilient material for the record itself, because the effective tracking pressure of a small stylus on a narrow groove is far greater than the effective tracking pressure of a large stylus on a wide groove. Research had already demonstrated that the laminated composition disc used by Columbia for standard records was not tough enough for Lp duty, but vinylite compounds and modifications of existing cutting lathes, and with a cutting motor and stylus of their own devising, Goldmark's crew within three months had produced a serviceable microgroove record that would play up to sixteen minutes a side and then inched up minute by minute."7
By 1947 they had a record containing twenty-two minutes of roughly the same quality sound from beginning to end. However, Columbia, like RCA in the 1930s, had the problem "of increasing the playing time of the disc while retaining the high frequencies."8 The problem was solved largely by William Bachman who, while previously working for General Electric, had designed the G.E. VR cartridge.
"It was more difficult to cut high frequencies onto an Lp than a 78 for the simple reason that the record turned more slowly. Half way through a 78 rpm record, about thirty one inches of groove pass under the stylus each second; half way through a 33 1/3 rpm record, roughly fourteen inches of groove pass before the stylus each second. If the same response was to be attained, high frequency groove modulations would have to be two and a quarter times finer in an Lp recording than a 78 rpm recording. In 1949 Bachman came up with a record cutting process employing an incandescent stylus which cut vaporization of the disc material. The stylus also eliminated one of the nuisance problems in record cutting; the 'horn,' a ridge thrown up along the outside edge of the groove when a 'cold' stylus chisels its way through an acetate disc."9
Through changes in cutting stylus geometry and cutting lathe design, and through improvements in vinylite composition which permitted recordings at lesser amplitudes, Goldmark had brought the LP to twenty-two minutes. But in 1948 Columbia had decided to record Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, 'Eroica' and this required a side of twenty- nine minutes. Bachman solved the problem by what was to become the 'Variable Groove.'
"The Variable Groove was based on the fact that, at constant pitch, grooves must be spaced to accommodate the loudest signals, leaving more space than needed for quiet passages. The carriage which holds the cutting head and stylus, runs radially above the acetate disc to be cut, and an independent motor drives it toward the center of the record. To assure the carriage's smooth motion, its driving motor is synchronous, with speed governed by the frequency and alternating current on which it runs. Before Bachman came up with Variable Groove, progress had been at an even rate, leaving enough land between the grooves to assure separation of the horns and guarantee against echo in the loudest passages. Thus considerable unnecessary land was left between the grooves carrying softer music. Bachman decided to increase the Lps' playing time by eliminating the unnecessary land and using this precious space for more grooves. At first, variable groove was a hand operation. Bachman used a manually controlled oscillator for insertion between the current and the motor that drives the carriage. Then he stationed an engineer who could read a score at the controls of the frequency oscillator. Whenever the engineer saw a loud passage ahead, he turned the knob to increase the current going to the motor, allowing more space between the grooves; whenever he saw a soft passage in the works, he slowed the carriage to save space."10 It took Bachman another three years to successfully design a machine to do this automatically, but Columbia was now equipped to cut more than half an hour of music with an accuracy never before achieved.
Though most of the serious engineering problems had been solved by 1947, musical and production ones had yet to be resolved. "Lps had to be spliced together from short play masters and safety transcriptions in a way that the customers heard no record breaks and the factory had to turn out high quality discs in large quantity."11 Goldmark had designed a splicing machine, but it was not sufficiently accurate. Howard Scott, a musician hired to insure musical accuracy, solved the problem. "Scott's job was difficult because the recorded takes on the master safeties had not been calculated for splicing. Scott's task involved tying together separate 78 rpm records often at musically awkward movements. Moreover, Scott had a problem nobody ever anticipated: to keep the surface noise at a steady level, so that listeners would not be conscious of the different levels of the original disc. Together, Bachman and Scott worked out a cuing system for the engineers. Twelve sections were marked on the circumference of the turntable and numbered to guide the engineers in setting down the stylus. Scott would listen to the ends and beginnings of the sections to be spliced and make appropriate notations on the score. When the time came to set the second turntable in motion, he would call, 'Cue point.' When the time came to set down the stylus, he would call, 'Go!' and snap his fingers. Manual controls faded in the new record and faded out the old one to guarantee a smooth splice and steady surface noise without any switching sound."12
On listening today, these splices are as good as those that use tape.
Other problems remained. "Production engineers were wrestling with the masses of dirty white vinylite and lamp black to color it, and plasticizer to bind the lamp black. Other engineers were testing matrix material to see what made the best stamper. Nickel was used for one year, but iron plates were settled on. Still other engineers were experimenting with different pressure and temperature in the pressing machine."13 Quality control presented difficulties. The reject rate in early 1948 was 98 percent.
Finally, Columbia had to design, produce, and market a machine on which to play their records. "By 1947 Goldmark and his staff had designed a special turntable, a piezo electric pick-up which would compensate for bass de-emphasis and treble pre emphasis on the record, a special sapphire stylus, and a tone arm with a tracking pressure of only six grams."14
For manufacture, and marketing Columbia went to Philco and they produced 'the clam,' a turntable, pick up, and tone arm combination in a bakelite case with a lid that, in fact, closed like a 'clamshell.' The new player was to be offered at $29.95, ready to be plugged into existing radios, television sets, or phonographs. Later, in 1950-51 the price was reduced to $9.95, and included some free records.
Though the Columbia record was introduced on June 21, 1948, at the Chicago Radio Convention, it wasn't until 1950 that most of its problems were solved. It succeeded not so much because it was revolutionary but because it worked and was wisely marketed with an 'inexpensive' and widely available player.
1. RCA Victor
1930 Record Catalog, (Camden, 1929), 4.
2. Ulysses Walsh, "The Development of the Long-Playing Record," The American Record Guide, (September1948): 6.
3. Ibid., 7.
4. Robert S. Lanier, "Discs Versus Films," The American Record Guide, (October 1941).
5. Martin Mayer, "Fifty Thousand Sides Ago: The first days of the LP," High Fidelity Magazine, (January 1958): 37.
6. Ibid., 37.
7. Ibid., 38.
11. Ibid., 127.
12. Ibid., 128.
13. Ibid., 129.
Fagan, Ted. "Notes
and Comments on the Listing of 1931 to 1934 RCA
33-1/3 rpm Recordings." Unpublished notes for history of RCA records.
Lanier, Robert S. "Discs Versus Films." The American Record Guide (October 1941).
Mayer, Martin. "Fifty Thousand Sides Ago: The first days of the Lp." High Fidelity Magazine (January 1958).
RCA Victor 1930 Record Catalog. Camden, 1929.
Reed, Peter H. "Supremacy of the Lp Disc." Schwann Long Playing Record Catalogue (April 1958).
"The Development of the Long Playing Record." The
American Record Guide (September 1948).
RCA Victor 1930 Record Catalogue, (Camden, 1929), 4.
Ulysses Walsh, "The Development of the Long-Playing Record," The American Record Guide, (September1948): 6.
Op. cit.: 7.
Robert S. Lanier, "Discs Versus Films," The American Record Guide, October 1941.
Martin Mayer, "Fifty Thousand Sides Ago: The first days of the LP," High Fidelity Magazine, (January 1958): 37.
Op. cit.: 37.
Op. cit.: 38.
Op. cit.: 38.
Op. cit.: 38.
Op. cit.: 38.
Op. cit.: 127.
Op. cit.: 128.
Op. cit.: 129.
Op. cit.: 130.
copyright 2001 by Ron Penndorf, RECOLLECTIONS
In the 1950s Eleanore and Daniel Saidenberg owned The Saidenberg Gallery on East 77th Street in New York City, were trusted friends of Pablo Picasso, leading collectors of his work and in 1954 became his American representatives. In 1955 they held the exhibition A Selection of 55 Drawings by Pablo Picasso. In 1959, Daniel's The Saidenberg Little Orchestra made classical recordings sleeved in jackets of full-size prints of Picasso drawings.
1. Geminiani, Francesco. Concerto Grosso in c, Op. 2 No. 2. Handel, Georg Frederick. Concerto for Two Wind Choirs and Strings in F. Vivaldi, Antonio. Concerto for Flute and Strings in D "Il Gardellino." Samuel Baron, flute. Saidenberg Little Symphony. Daniel Saidenberg, conductor. Arthur Shimkin, producer. Bourée Enterprise, recording. John Johnson, tape-to-disc transfer. F. Richard Dunn, liner notes. Bell Records American Society Concerts-in-the-Home AS 1001 (c1959). Monaural. Wide-range recording made in the Carnegie Recital Hall, New York City. Pablo Picasso cover drawing courtesy of The Saidenberg Gallery. ( This is cover number-one on the Picasso Covers page).
It is important to remember that these performances of Baroque music were innovative. In 1959 there was relatively little of this music available on record and not much being played in concert. On record, groups devoted exclusively to the music were few. I Musici was the foremost. The Baroque Authenticist Movement was decades away and full-scale Baroque Revival of the '60s was yet to happen. The idea of playing this music "authentically" as written and with few musicians was relatively new. In fact, in 1958 Charles Munch still recorded the Brandenburg Concertos with the Boston Symphony; albeit a smallish one. And these new Baroque performances were still much influenced by the Romantic performance tradition where melody reigned supreme. So in the 1950s to hear Samuel Baron rip through the tuneful Vivaldi Flute Concerto accompanied by only a few musicians was a treat for the open-minded. But almost a half-Century later it is a joy for all to hear this then-new-way of playing a then-new music. Now the listener can hear the excitement of discovery. The recording of the Vivaldi Concerto is a warm, yet crystal clear, wide range tube production. The record is a typical early '60s deep-groove, slightly flexible platter with a raised lead-in and sharp edge.
2. Handel, Georg Frederick. Concerto for Oboe and Strings in g. Harry Shulman, oboe. Largo for Two Horns and Strings. James Buffington and Richard Dunn, French horns. Arias for Winds Nos.1 and 2. Telemann, Georg. Don Quixote Suite. Saidenberg Little Symphony. Daniel Saidenberg, conductor. Arthur Shimkin, producer. Bourée Enterprise, recording. John Johnson, tape-to-disc transfer. Max von Bülow, liner notes. Bell Records American Society Concerts-in-the-Home AS 1002 (c1959). Monaural. Wide-range recording made in the Carnegie Recital Hall, New York City. Pablo Picasso cover drawing courtesy of The Saidenberg Gallery. ( This is cover number-two on the Picasso Covers page).
This album cover's simple Picasso sketch is of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza-the two main characters of the record's Georg Telemann program piece. This composition, the Don Quixote Suite, is Telemann's music portrait of Cervantes' novel and is made up of eight movements, each one depicting an incident from the novel. As Max von Bülow observes "Telemann took particular delight in musical tone-painting . . . . Don Quixote awakens to a sleepy andantino and attacks the windmills with a furious rush of uninterrupted 16th notes. Telemann interprets the Don's sighs of love quite literally, as heaving gasps of passion. The noble steed, Rosinante, gallops with a realistic gait and Sancho Panza's mule can hardly keep up. In such picturesque episodes, Telemann comments mischievously on the rhythms and sensations of the epoch . . . ." In this recorded performance the music is brought to life by Daniel Saidenberg and his musicians as they accent the score's rhythm and melody. They also seem to be having fun performing it. This wide range recording is stamped on to a typical early '60s deep-groove, slightly flexible platter with a raised lead-in and a sharp edge.
3. Bach, J. S. Trio Sonata No. 1 in C.. Handel, Georg Frederick. Concerto a Quatre No. 1 in d. Claude Monteux, flute. Harry Schulman, oboe. George Ricci, 'cello. Robert Conant, harpsichord. Beethoven, Ludwig van. Quintet for Piano and Winds in E Flat, Op. 16. Theodore Saidenberg, piano. Joseph Singer, French horn. Arthur Weixberg, bassoon. Charles Russo, clarinet. Harry Schulman, oboe. Arthur Shimkin, producer. Bourée Enterprise, recording. John Johnson, tape-to-disc transfer. Leonard Marcus, liner notes. Bell Records American Society Concerts-in-the-Home AS 1004 (c1959). Monaural. Wide-range recording made in the Carnegie Recital Hall, New York City. Pablo Picasso cover drawing courtesy of The Saidenberg Gallery. ( This is cover number-three on the Picasso Covers page).
What is most memorable about this record is the enthusiasm and respect shown by flutist Claude Monteux and oboist Harry Schulman for the Bach and Handel works and for each other. Whether racing through the fast movements with ease or resting in the song of the slow movements, Monteux and Schulman seem to truly understand and enjoy the pieces and each other-they display remarkable rapport . . . and considerable technique. Particularly revealing is the Fourth Movement of the Handel-the Allegro-here the soloists display a playful, almost child-like energy and excitement. But the touching, emotive moment comes from 'cellist Georg Ricci's accompaniment in the Largo-where a simple continuo line is delivered with the care of a soulful, solo melody. These are altogether remarkable performances for both their complete musicianship and their professional technique. The Beethoven, on the other hand, seems like a performance among gifted amateurs, often refreshing in this time of flawless, note-perfect recorded productions. The Bach and Handel recordings are warm yet crystal clear, wide range tube productions with all the instrumental timbre subtly rendered. The record is a typical late '50s deep-groove, heavy platter with a raised lead-in and sharp edge.
4. Boyce, William. Symphony No. 8 in d. Purcell, Henry. Gordian Knot Untied Incidental Music Suites Nos. 1 and 2. Saidenberg Little Symphony. Daniel Saidenberg, conductor. Pergolesi, Giovanni. Trio Sonata in G. Telemann, Georg. Trio Sonata in C. The Gotham Baroque Ensemble. Arthur Shimkin, producer. Bourée Enterprise, recording. John Johnson, tape-to-disc transfer. Leonard Marcus, liner notes. Bell Records American Society Concerts-in-the-Home AS 1003 (c1959). Monaural. Wide-range recording made in the Carnegie Recital Hall, New York City. Pablo Picasso cover drawing courtesy of The Saidenberg Gallery. (This Picasso cover is not illustrated on the Picasso Covers page).
This record is notable as the recording premiere of the Gotham Baroque Ensemble and the Giovanni Pergolesi Trio Sonata in G-the first movement of which is immediately identifiable as a theme of Stravinsky's Pulcinella. Both Pergolesi and Telemann trio sonatas are clear, wide range tube productions with a particularly warm 'cello. The record is a typical early '60s deep-groove, slightly flexible platter with a raised lead-in and sharp edge.
5. Haydn, Franz Josef. String Quartet in D, Op. 76 No. 5. Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. String Quartet No. 17 in B Flat, K. 458 "The Hunt." Claremont Quartet. Arthur Shimkin, producer. Bourée Enterprise, recording. John Johnson, tape-to-disc transfer. Fred Grunfeld, liner notes. Bell Records American Society Concerts-in-the-Home AS 1005 (c1959). Monaural. Wide-range recording made in the Carnegie Recital Hall, New York City. Pablo Picasso cover drawing courtesy of The Saidenberg Gallery. (This Picasso cover is not illustrated on the Picasso Covers page).
The unexpected surprise of this series is the Claremont String Quartet's Haydn Op., 76 No. 5 and Mozart K. 458 "Hunt." Playing with rhythmic precision, superb technique, flawless ensemble and a fine sense of texture, the Claremont shows itself to be a great American recording quartet. With a performance that can best be described as fully "New World" the four players give us balanced, open and clear readings with just the proper touch of melodic spice. The quartet displays a style so ahead of its time that these performances seem fresh today some forty years after they were recorded..The "call and answer" sections of both quartets are a particular revelation. This is a great record. The recordings are exceptionally warm, crystal clear, tube produced and wide ranged. The record itself is a typical early '60s deep-groove, slightly flexible platter with a raised lead-in.
6. Keyboard Music of the French Court. Paul Maynard, Hubbard and Dowd harpsichord or General Theological Seminary Holtkamp organ. Arthur Shimkin, producer. Bourée Enterprise, recording. John Johnson, tape-to-disc transfer. Leonard Marcus, liner notes. Bell Records American Society Concerts-in-the-Home AS 1006 (c1959). Monaural. Wide-range recording organ recording made in the General Theological Seminary, New York City. Pablo Picasso cover drawing courtesy of The Saidenberg Gallery. (This Picasso cover is not illustrated on the Picasso Covers page).
Paul Maynard, an original member of the New York Pro Musica Antiqua, was one of the early praticioners of "authentic performing." Yet, on this record Maynard gives what by modern standards are embellishment-free and unauthentic performances-we hear simple, uncluttered melody. Though a listener accustom to modern Baroque practice may find this uninformed, I find it refreshing. The recordings are exceptionally warm, crystal clear, tube produced and wide ranged. The record itself is a typical early '60s deep-groove, slightly flexible platter with a raised lead-in.
Bell Records was a '50s pop label
best known for cover versions of pop hits.
copyright 2001 by Ron Penndorf, RECOLLECTIONS
In 1967 Don de Graf was a prime source of Polish Jokes. He was also the Columbia Records salesman for Campus Records on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. Making an appearance once every Monday morning to take our order from Albert or Jim Harper, he was well-dressed and tasteful in matching shirt, tie, slacks and sports coat. But even with dark-rimmed glasses and a Van Dyke beard he was out of place in '60s Berkeley. Equipped with a case containing an order book, loose 13" x 13" facsimiles of the new-release-albums' fronts and backs and a book with pictures of all the currently available Columbia records, Don was certainly ready for business. And "the business" is often what Albert gave him. Though abused by Albert in a manner worthy of an old New York City deli waiter, the good natured Don honestly seemed to enjoy taking our order.
But the Columbia salesman of the '50s had a special Demonstration Kit containing bound 13" x 13" facsimiles of current-release albums' fronts and backs (slicks) and a demonstration record of music-excerpts from these releases-with recorded commentary by David Randolph.1 These slicks were carefully bound in an album resembling the deluxe Masterworks sets. The album measured 14" long x 12 1/4 " high x 3/4" thick and also contained a sleeve for the demonstration record. Many of these '50s covers were the arresting, poster-like designs of Alex Steinweiss-the inventor the the graphic-art record jacket.
In early 1952 Columbia salesmen appeared at music stores, appliance stores and the occasional just-record store with the March 1952 Columbia Masterworks Demonstration Kit. Along with eight slicks, the kit contained this demonstration record of excerpts from the new Masterworks releases:
Demonstration Record Side 1-in order of appearance on disc.
Gershwin, George. Cuban Overture. "Love Walked In." "Mine." Porgy and Bess; highlights. André Kostelanetz and His Orchestra. Columbia Masterworks ML 4481.
Beethoven Ludwig van. Piano Sonata No. 29 in B Flat, Op. 106. Egon Petri, piano. Columbia Masterworks ML 4479.
Soirée Française: Songs of Poulenc, Debussy, Chabrier and Satie. Pierre Bernac, baritone. Francais Poulenc, piano. Columbia Masterworks ML 4484.
Night in Venice. Esther
Rethy. Karl Friedrich. Kurt Preger. Hugo Mayer-Gansbacher. Vienna
State Opera Chorus and Orchestra. Anton Paulik, conductor. Columbia
Masterworks Set SL 119.
Demonstration Record Side 2-in order of appearance on disc.
Brahms, Johannes. Symphony No. 1 in c, Op. 68. Philadelphia Orchestra. Eugene Ormandy, conductor. Columbia Masterworks ML 44 77.
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A, K. 581. Benny Goodman, clarinet. American Art Quartet. Columbia Masterworks ML 4483.
Strauss, Richard. Salomé; Dance of the Seven Veils, Op. 54. Weinberger, Jaromir. Schwanda; Polka and Fugue. Philadelphia Orchestra. Eugene Ormandy, conductor. Columbia Masterworks AAL 12 10."
Beethoven Ludwig van. Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3 in E Flat, Op. 12. Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 4 in a, Op. 23. Zino Franchescatti, violin. Robert Casadesus, piano. Columbia Masterworks ML 4478.
Notice that the records were not released in numerical order-ML 4480 and ML 4482 are missing.
What strikes me when listening to this record is how it is clearly of another time. Recorded a while ago in the 1950s, its sensibility is that of the even earlier and Romantic 1800s. Refreshingly, it's performances, whether of Gershwin, Strauss, Brahms or Mozart, are overwhelmingly melodic. And though this style often reduces all else to simple accompaniment, the simplicity is comforting. It is also respectful.
The March 1952 release-record begins with George Gershwin's Cuban Overture as performed by André Kostelanetz and His Orchestra. The Kostelanetz Orchestra's zest combined with Gershwin's Cuban rhythms and opening castanets make me uncomfortable to just sit and listen. This music, here played with the exuberance of a night-club band, makes one want to dance. It also provides an effective beginning for the record.
But the surprise of the disc is the first selection of side-two-Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra's Brahms Symphony No. 1. Where now-a-days we have become used to Ormandy's blue-hot, sometimes calculated stereo productions, here we have red-hot, passionate and soaring Brahms-rendered in superb monaural Philadelphia sound. What a refreshing difference.
In the second selection of side-two Benny Goodman delivers the clarinet part of the Mozart Quintet with the color and variety of a jazz vocalist, and with superb technique. However, the announcer's observation that "There's something childlike, something almost pathetic in its simplicity, something poignantly moving about Mozart's chamber music . . ." is intrusive though informative, like much of the record's commentary by Mr. Randolph.2 But commentary was necessary, because explaining the Masterworks' releases required a musical sophistication possessed by few of Columbia's salesmen. Columbia Masterworks ML 4483-the disc from which the excerpt is taken-is one I've loved since its release. It is an absolutely beautiful recorded-performance.
The record ends with the Zino Francescatti and Robert Casadesus' excerpt from a Beethoven violin-piano sonata. The excerpt is brief. Yet in their few minutes these performers give us a Beethoven sonata that pulsates and breathes. Francescatti and Casadesus make the music live.
In fact, all the music on this disc seems alive.
1, 2. www.stceciliachorus.org/profiles/music-director.html From 1943 to 1947 David Randolph was a Music Specialist for the United States Office of War Information. In 1947 he became the Music Annotator for the Columbia Broadcasting System, writing the broadcast scripts for concerts by The New York Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and all other classical music presentations on the network. In 1946, he began a series of weekly broadcasts called "Music for the Connoisseur," later known as "The David Randolph Concerts," on New York City's radio station WNYC. For his fourth broadcast, on July 23, 1946, he surveyed the subject of "Humor in Music," thus "inventing" the type of radio broadcast devoted to a single musical subject with commentary. The broadcasts were later heard nationwide on the 72-station network of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters. These broadcasts ... continued for 33 years.
copyright 2001 by Ron Penndorf, RECOLLECTIONS
I'd like to thank Tony Almeida for his help and for the loan of his 1952 Columbia Masterworks Demonstration Kit and James Harper for his contriibution to this story.
Much of this material originally appeared in "RECOLLECTIONS Journal of Recorded Music." Back issues of the journal are available for US$15.00 at RECOLLECTIONS-by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
can also be found and browsed in the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archive
of the New York Public Library, the Stanford Archive of Recorded
Sound and the Music Department of theChicago Public Library.