A Concert of English Music
George Frederick HANDEL Water Music Suite (arr. Harty) [11:45]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Concerto for Oboe and Strings in A minor [20:44]
Edward ELGAR Falstaff, Op. 68 [32:40]
Announcements [7:41]
Mitchell "Mitch" Miller (oboe)
The Columbia Broadcasting Symphony/Bernard Herrmann
rec. CBS live radio broadcast, 9 September 1945, introduced by Sidney Berry, from the archive of Edward Johnson. mono
Transfers and XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, November 2009
A Concert of American Music
Charles IVES Symphony No. 2 (1897-1901) [37:50]
rec. BBC studio broadcast, 25 April 1956. UK première
Robert RUSSELL BENNETT Violin Concerto in A (in the Popular Style) (1941) [22:33]
Louis Kaufman (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/Bernard Herrmann
rec. BBC studio recording, 20 May 1956. UK broadcast première
Bernard HERRMANN Welles Raises Kane (Orchestral suite from his music for 'Citizen Kane' & 'The Magnificent Ambersons') (1943) [14:23]
Columbia Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra/Bernard Herrmann
rec. CBS radio broadcast, 3 July 1949
Transfers by Andrew Rose from Edward Johnson's private collection. XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, June 2010
Bernard Herrmann was a renowned Anglophile but also had held a far from unexpected torch for the music of his own country. These two discs - separately available - reflect these twin sympathies. The recordings are all mono.
The Concert of American Music launches with two BBC studio broadcasts made with the LSO during the conductor's visit to London in 1956; between film scores as it were. The Ives Second Symphony here receives its UK premiere. Herrmann is flexible and responsive to the surging and stormy Brahmsian aspects of the work as well as its many tender moments. It's a very fine reading which will hold irresistible appeal for Brahms and Ives specialists. The sound is however too treble-raw to command attention beyond specialists. The music fairly flies along in the finale which also glances affectionately towards Dvořák. You need to brace yourself for some disorientating bombast as well but it's magnificent stuff with flavour added by a tangy 1950s announcer. The Robert Russell Bennett Violin Concerto - here also receiving its UK premiere - has been recorded before under Herrmann (see review). This recording is in much better heart than the Ives. It has a tumultuous power and only the slightest hint of overload. Kaufman powers this exacting and exciting tonal work forward. It's alive with the virtuoso's vade mecum of sensational yet musical tricks, hooks and turns. All very entertaining - casual, tuneful, jazzy; a touch of Broadway here, a slice of Walton there. There are some fleeting tape flaws in the sweetly haunting Andante moderato but things romp along like populist greased lightning in the oh so short Vivace. Blink and it's gone. The final Allegro reeks of the Russian delights of the 1940s: well the Khachaturian anyway. Sparks and smithereens fly everywhere. It's a splendid piece even if it does owe a bit to other voices - the then recently deceased Gershwin included. Lots of fun! As a recording it is far easier to enjoy than the Ives. Kaufman also deserves Hall of Fame elbow-room as does Rosand for his VAI disc of Norwegian Radio concerts.
Welles Raises Kane: "A divertissement of the 1890s" - is a five part suite magpied from his two classic film scores: Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. The music majors on the flouncy over-wheening confidence of the pre-Great War era. Those whooping horns suggest Arnold but much else hints at Copland. It’s another lost world of conspicuous consumption: grand hotels, potted palms, feathered hats, spats and brushed velvet top hats. There's an affinity with the world of Barber's Souvenirs. Even in a piece such as Ragtime the music is laden with lavish affluence. The Meditation presents the touchingly romantic Herrmann with a violin silvering that tests the recording to the edge and beyond. The finale flashes and erupts in a mass of swirling petticoats - Offenbach meets Prokofiev's Classical on steroids. The recording is from a CBS broadcast - older than the other two items but generally pretty good though not quite up to the standard on the English music collection.
Speaking of which that CD (each is separately available) features all CBS network 1940s recordings; nothing from London this time.
Even the East Coast announcer accents are nostalgic. The delivery for the introduction to the Handel is in measured tones. The gruff marcato of the suite barks with precise rhythmic discipline and works up a joyous bounce.
The Vaughan Williams Concerto comes armed with the dignified and forthright tone of Mitch Miller's oboe. It's all very closely miked as is typical of these recordings. That said the strings do preserve a certain silkiness. Miller's clarity and perky muscularity is a delight but it is at the expense of a little feeling being leached out. The soloist enjoys a high prominence in the audio picture throughout - not quite a Heifetz balance but leaning that way. Even so the care-free insouciance of the finale strikes the mot juste.
The Herrmann I expected least from on this disc actually delivered the most. I have always had a soft spot for Elgar's Falstaff - ever since I had the EMI LP that included the Barbirolli version with Enigma. Then again my attention has tended to drift off in the middle even with the Barbirolli. Be warned: my tastes in Elgar may be suspect. I have little if any time for the big choral works, less still for the 1970s Boult in the symphonies and a preference for the passionate Solti and Sinopoli. With that as the backdrop this Falstaff is excellent. Moods, episodes and interludes are vividly painted and character leaps out at the listener. It's consistently most enjoyable down to the young King's betrayal, the tender reminiscences in the orchard and the final Froissart-style chivalric surge with lances at high port. Elgarians must hear this. The announcer reads through the superscriptions for each segment of the work before it begins. Falstaff plays as it should - without interruption.
Herrmann was very active and extremely enterprising in his choice of repertoire for CBS so it would be welcome indeed if there were further Pristine issues from that source. He gave US premieres of works by Finzi, Rubbra and RVW and there's plenty more, I am sure. Whether other recordings survive is another matter altogether.
These two discs of archive mono Herrmann recordings open up a world thought lost. The English collection is to be preferred. The sound of the American one can be testing though the rapturously showy Bennett concerto will have you forgiving everything else.
Rob Barnett
Mono Herrmann recordings open up a lost world. The English collection is to be preferred. The sound of the American one can be testing though the Bennett concerto will have you forgiving everything else.