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Tony Duggan 1954-2012

 

We are all deeply saddened by the sudden and unexpected loss of Tony Duggan at the age of only 58. Very few of us ever met him and then only once. He lived with his mother, Joan, who was also a contributor to MusicWeb International and Tony really never got over her death a few years ago. Tony's great achievment for MusicWeb was his series on the Mahler symphonies. He was beginning to update these but got distracted by his love of Wagner. In tribute to both of them we reprint some of their writings.

Len Mullenger

......................................

Tony Duggan

I was born in 1954 in the English Midlands, the son of a comedian and singer who toured the variety theatres of England between the 1920s and the late 1950s. This accounts for my interest in variety and music hall in addition to classical music. After a convent and prep school education I took an honours degree at the Open University with majors in Drama, Art History and Theology where I also extended my interests in musical history. I also studied Modern Philosophy and Music as an extra-mural student with Keele University. My first memory of music came before I could walk listening to my father composing and playing songs on the piano. So my earliest musical influences were the old stars of the English music hall. Classical interests came in my teens and these now extend to special regard for Wagner, Elgar, Bruckner, Sibelius, the Second Viennese School, as well as the general European musical landscape that the end of the 19th century mapped into the early years of the 20th. I have also been known to write about Gustav Mahler whose life, times and music I have studied for nearly forty years. I have a special concern for the phenomena of “live” performance and how it affects interpretation. A never-ending fascination with “the concert hall as theatre“ drives my philosophy of how music should be played, enjoyed and appreciated, as well as how the music and its performance relate to the times around it. This aspect has led to my enthusiasm for archive recordings. The only musical instrument I play is the gramophone and if I were to burst into song I would clear three blocks. In never having learned any other instrument I believe there is positive virtue to be derived from this in communicating enthusiasm to those who may be newcomers, as well as to those who are not-so-newcomers, in classical music. In reviewing recordings I believe something of the experience of listening ought to be communicated to the reader by writing that should be enjoyable of itself. Whether I have ever succeeded in this laudable aim I leave others to judge.

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Sept 2009

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
The Complete Symphonies
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein (1-7; 9-10)
London Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein (8)
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein (DLVDE)
rec.1960-68. ADD
full listing at end of review
SONY CLASSICAL 88697-45369-2 [12 CDs]


 

 

When a company announces a re-mastered reissue of an old favourite the temptation is to dismiss it as a marketing ploy just to sell the same back catalogue all over again. When it's a second reissue and a second re-mastering the feeling is even stronger.

There will be new buyers of the works on the discs to be considered, of course. But how are the people who own a previous incarnation to react to what is trumpeted as improved sonics? Should they throw out - or sell on e-bay, if they can - their old version and invest in the new? Or should they console themselves in the belief that the differences between the version they have and the version now being offered are so minimal that they needn’t give the matter another thought? For most of the time I’m of the latter persuasion because for most of the time such differences are minimal even on high end equipment. Occasionally, however, there are exceptions and I will tell you now that this reissue of Bernstein’s first Mahler cycle is one of those exceptions. By going back to the original multi-track masters and remixing them on a custom built analogue desk the team at Sony have rendered a real service to admirers of Mahler and Bernstein. The improvement in sound is striking right through and so if you already have this cycle then I really do advise you seriously to consider replacing it. If you do not have any of these recordings then now is the time to change that. Bernstein is always an absorbing, informed and entertaining guide to Mahler. He seemed to have absorbed the scores into his very being. In fact I am sure he wished he had written them himself. He certainly conducts them as if he thinks he did. Whilst it is the case that there are individual recordings of these symphonies that I prefer over those by Bernstein, as a complete set this is a wonderful achievement and should be on the shelf of every serious Mahlerite. 

You cannot underestimate the influence of this first complete recorded Mahler cycle, but it would be inappropriate to overestimate it too. It had its greatest effect in the USA where it was recorded by CBS and released between 1960 and 1968. At that time Mahler’s music was going through a renaissance assisted by the widespread acceptance of LP and stereo recording. The advocacy of Mahler by such a high profile conductor was potent to its success and his recordings carried his name with Mahler’s far and wide. However, in some cases these were not the first recordings of these works to appear outside the United States. Mahler’s music was forging paths under other conductors anyway, some of whom were recording and broadcasting, and in some countries Mahler had always been in vogue. Had Bernstein never recorded this set Mahler’s music would still have made it to its present level of popularity. Though it may have taken just a little longer, particularly in the USA. Some of these recordings had to wait years before they were even issued in Europe; in one case as late as 1971. When the later released ones did appear in Europe it was alongside other new recordings by conductors such as Kubelik, Solti, Haitink and Klemperer, so their impact was not quite as great as it had been back at home when they first came out. There are two exceptions to this. Bernstein’s recordings of the, then neglected, Third and Seventh Symphonies were real trailblazers, released almost simultaneously in Europe and the USA and their importance can still be felt.

The First Symphony was recorded in late 1966 but was not released in Europe until 1968 when it faced competition from new versions by Solti and Kubelik. Hearing it again I am more convinced than ever that Bernstein’s later DG recording has unfairly eclipsed this one which I much prefer. As with the Third and the Seventh in this set there is that wonderful air of discovery and surprise here that cannot ever be repeated by a conductor in a remake. The exuberance is not forced and the tension, when it is needed, is genuine. Comparing Bernstein’s two recordings is like looking at two TV sets showing the same movie but with one having all the colour and brightness controls turned up too high. Everything Bernstein does well here in the earlier recording is accentuated in the second to no good effect. In the first movement in this earlier version listen to the lovely violin slides in this passage with no suggestion whatsoever of forcing an effect into the music [CD 1 track 1 07.40-7.59]. Then hear the beautiful balancing of parts by Bernstein and his engineers in this passage [CD 1 track 1 11.47-12.22]. In the later remake, passages like these were all too contrived sounding. The tempi for the middle movements are a further case in point in favour of this version. In 1966 both tempi are distinctive and add interest: rugged and trenchant in the second movement, moving forward in the third. In the second movement you can hear how he takes the tempo down further in the Trio to wonderful effect [CD 1 track 2 04.24-04.51]. In the third movement the double-bass solo is as creepy as you could wish for [CD 1 track 3 00.00-00.30] and Bernstein does not force the cafe band music just to ram home points he later makes about its “Jewishness” in his TV film about Mahler. In 1966 he just lets it all emerge quite naturally and it is so much the better for that [CD 1 track 3 02.09-02.52 There are other examples weighing in favour of this earlier recording. The opening of the last movement carries a legitimate amount of dramatic licence in 1966 within the bounds of taste. By 1989 these same effects have become hammy mannerisms. Bernstein’s treatment of the transition from the stormy opening into the big theme is well-nigh perfect, keeping the movement together [CD 1 track 4 02.56-03.40] and notice the dabs from the violins in the next passage as evidence of how good is the recorded sound [CD 1 track 4 06.30-06.53]. There are passages that I have always felt Bernstein drives just too quickly but there is no denying the sheer thrill that this performance can bring. Later the final note in the whole work has Bernstein, possibly using a change in the NYPO score made by Mahler in his time with them, adding a bass drum thwack at the end of a stadium finish [CD 1 track 4 18.17-end]. In 1966 this extra drum-stroke underpins the close effectively but discreetly. In 1989 it sounds like a gratuitous effect designed to bring a cheer from the crowd. So this 1966 version is a fine performance that is lyrical, exciting, dramatic and filled with the ardour of youth. It is also excellently played and recorded and the new re-mastering only adds to its lustre. This re-mastering gives us a wide stereo spread and, as you have heard, great detailing. I suppose it is still just a touch bass-shy but nothing to worry about and nothing that you would not find today.

The recording of the Second Symphony in this set is, as it should be, Bernstein’s first one from 1963. I mention this because when CBS or Sony have reissued Bernstein’s Mahler in the past they have often used a 1970s performance with the LSO in Ely Cathedral made for TV. Sony is right to go back to this earlier studio version as the later one is ruled out principally because of the problems of recording in a cathedral. With this first recording Bernstein again competed in the CBS catalogue with Bruno Walter. On that occasion it was with a fine stereo version that should be in all Mahler collections now and probably was then. Once again Bernstein’s interpretation must have struck collectors as a real contrast over Walter’s. Though Bernstein is not as extreme as Scherchen, for example, in the explorations of contrasts of tempo and dynamics possible in this work, he certainly makes the most of his chances where Walter was much less volatile. This does make the first movement something of a “stop-go” affair. In fact Bernstein’s first movement reminds me in parts of Solti’s 1964 version in its fierce, razor-sharp opening skirl and driving allegros. Since I believe that the first movement should press forward I enjoyed the performance very much. Listen here especially to the careful articulation of the cellos and double-basses. Every note tells in a passage too often rushed but here is real weight and movement [CD 2 track 3 00.00-01.00]. You can hear the great contrasts Bernstein can bring in the next two passages. First in the way he floats the glorious ascending second subject theme [CD 2 track 3 06.45-07.31] and then the sheer frantic power of the great crashing climax chords at the close of the development, clean and overwhelming in this recording with superb brass playing from the NYPO [CD 2 track 3 13.43-15.56]. Before turning to the great last movement I cannot resist including the wonderful solo trumpet in the central section of the third movement and ask how often do you wish that other versions sounded like this with so much character and nostalgia [CD 3 track 2 04.12-04.50]. In the end I do suspect, though, that Bernstein himself became dissatisfied with this recording since, in his later recordings, he would again carry his interpretative mannerisms to greater limits, especially in the last movement, nearly compromising the structural integrity of the piece by striving for greater effect. In 1963 the whole massive parade hangs together extremely well from the vivid opening [CD 3 track 4 00.00-01.33] and the mounting fanfares [CD 3 track 4 07.00-08.17] through the march of the dead. This is paced beautifully, neither too fast nor too slow [CD 3 track 4 10.00-10.38] building to a climax that leaves you shattered, just as it should. The “Grosser Appell” is beautifully recorded too [CD 3 track 4 16.46-17.47] and the end is genuinely liberating whereas later Bernstein would pile on the emotion with a shovel. [CD 3 track 4 30.48-end]. The Second challenges even the most modern of digital recordings. But this one started out as a very good recording even in its time. John McClure had again had the experience of recording this work once before as producer with Bruno Walter and so the new re-mastering is a real improvement on what we have had before. There is a feeling of slightly greater security in the sound, especially when full out in the climaxes and you will have heard the wide dynamic range. Even the choral peroration at the close shows only minimal signs of overload. 

This first Bernstein recording of the Third Symphony, the second work in the set to be recorded, has always been the one that I preferred of Bernstein's. It’s broadly the same interpretation as his later recording for DG but the playing of the NYPO in 1961 has far more of a sense of discovery, wonderment, drama and bright-eyed eloquence as was the case with the First. This was still relatively new music to these players so they seem to be making extra effort to get it right. In the later recording I always sense a touch of complacency. I also think the sound recording here, though analogue, is a better sonic picture. Bernstein is so much alive to every nuance of the score but largely lets the music speak for itself and doesn't force or impose himself; something you do not hear said of his conducting often. Don’t misunderstand me, though. This performance is replete with distinctive and memorable qualities, not least in the first movement. At the beginning there’s a definite feeling of the outset of a long journey. The unison roar of the horns has an extraordinary atmosphere of latent energy beneath [CD 4 track 1 00.00-02.08]. This is an impression that will persist right through and suffuses the great up-rushes from the lower strings in the opening pages projected with superb attack. Following the big trombone solo Bernstein slips into the main exposition material with ease, reinforcing the feeling that this is a one-take recording, as good as anything “live”. The march of summer finds Bernstein in exuberant mood: Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick’s Day to the life, and good on Bernstein for that [CD 4 track 1 12.21-13.00]. The forward projection of the march means the central episode comes off splendidly, almost frenziedly, with a definite sense of danger. But listen to the wonderful poetry in repose Bernstein can bring to the movement too [CD 4 track 1 27.46-28.20]. The coda then has grandeur and excitement. Some could think Bernstein’s exuberance over the top. But this music is “over the top” and I think Mahler knew it too [CD 4 track 1 32.32-end]. More attention to detail can be heard in the second movement. A real sense of flight in the quicker passages also. Structurally Bernstein realises that this movement is a prelude to what follows and so there is no sense of relaxation. The same can be said of the third movement that finds a more relaxed tempo than usual. Woodwind especially convey great charm by articulating every note and a real swing to the more animated passages [CD 5 track 2 00.00-00.50]. The rollicking brass should also bring a smile. All this and still there is the post-horn solo where Bernstein does not let us down. The solo is sweet and mellow, proving Bernstein can relax [CD 5 track 2 06.18 -07.00]. Around the second appearance of the post-horn the strings bring a magical aura. Then when nature rears up the effect is as big-boned and sexy as anyone could wish. In the fourth movement there is rapt playing and a Brangane-like Jennie Tourel. The fifth movement with the boys and the women comes over remarkably restrained for what we might expect from Bernstein after which he takes the last movement slowly and with dedication. But he can deliver the broad tempi approach in this movement without flagging because he never overloads it with too much pulling about. This music has plenty of emotion built in and, at this stage in his career he was able to leave it at that [CD 5 track 5 00.59-02.00]. The attention is held from first bar to last and a crowns a performance in a triumph that is natural and solid and one to return to again and again [CD 5 track 5 23.19-end]. The fact that this recording has been such a favourite in the catalogue for so long should tell you that it does so much right. You would never know from this re-mastering that this was the second earliest of all the recordings in this set. The slight recession of the balance allows for all details to be heard beautifully and I can recommend it warmly.

The Fourth Symphony from 1960 is the earliest recording here, though it would be as late as 1971 before it was released in Europe. As a statement of Mahlerian intent, if that is the way it was perceived at the time, this must have struck American collectors as quite a style-change from this orchestra’s previous recording of the work, also for CBS, under Bruno Walter in 1946. The first movement under Bernstein is certainly sassy and sharp in its pointing up of every small detail, woodwinds especially cheeky, and is a sparky realisation of Mahler’s happiest music. You really do have the impression that Bernstein and his players were having a great time that day. Though I think the development section is a shade too fast I can compliment the NYPO for holding on so well [CD 6 track 1 09.22-10.18]. This does betray what sounds like impatience on Bernstein’s part, though I’m sure that is not what he meant. Is this the right mood for this music, though? I don’t think so. The second movement is equally colourful and helped by a sound balance that is exemplary for home listening with only the top edge betraying age and this new re-mastering must be the best that this recording has ever sounded. The woodwind players of the NYPO are really given every opportunity to show how good they are as soloists and a section and I did enjoy this movement very much [CD 6 track 2 00.00-00.48]. The third movement starts serene and becomes volatile at all the right points and only occasionally strays beyond the tasteful, though I am always left with a feeling of surfaces skated over here. It’s a delicate balance that has to be achieved and, this early in his career, Bernstein seems a little unsure where to pitch things. But full marks to Bernstein and the orchestra for the snappy tempo they adopt in the last movement. That must have sounded more controversial then than it does now. Reri Grist has a distinctive enough timbre as soloist in the work, but I cannot escape the impression that she doesn’t really know what she is singing about or why. I think she hadn’t really entered into the Mahler spirit [CD 6 track 4 1.44-02.34]. When Bernstein recorded the work many years later for DG he used the services of a boy treble and that didn’t work either. Casting a soloist in the Fourth is always difficult and it must be a real challenge for the singer herself. Such apparently simple music and yet so deep in its profundity for all that. The glowing acoustic of this recording is well brought out by the new re-mastering.

The Fifth Symphony was the first to be recorded in the new Lincoln Centre in 1963 and this may have something to do with it being always such a disappointment. The hall’s acoustics were problematic and it is as if the engineers really struggle to cope with them. This never really sounded like the New York Philharmonic with a sharp, brittle sound making their contribution a genuine trial. But the new re-mastering does improve things quite a lot with more air around the orchestra but nowhere near enough to these ears. There remains an innate artificiality about the sound which I don’t think a whole rack of the latest technology will cure. It falls short of the range and spread that you can hear on other performances in the set. But that cannot be the whole story as a great performance will surmount the worst sound. The Fifth must surely be Mahler’s most difficult work for a conductor and I don’t think Bernstein was anywhere near penetrating it at this point in his career on this evidence. The orchestra probably took their cue from him adding to the feeling of unease in their general ensemble. Reconciling the extremes contained within the work’s 75 minutes makes this surely Mahler’s most difficult work to bring off and only the greatest can do it. The first movement is poorly executed with the funeral march rhythm seeming to stutter and the trumpet solo sounding odd [CD 7 track 1 00.00-01.08]. Even the great leap forward at the centre of the movement is more of a startled jump [CD 7 track 1 05.05-06.02]. The second and third movements contain some coarse playing in the louder passages and a general feeling that the conductor isn’t really yet sure where everything else fits. The feeling is of “run-through” too many times. The start of the second movement needs more trenchancy than this [CD 7 track 2 00.00-00.35] and the chorale climax is rather an empty vessel [CD 7 track 2 11.26-12.38]. The third movement starts well enough with nice solo detail [CD 7 track 3 00.00-00.44] but I could have done with a little more repose in the horn solo [CD 7 track 3 05.13-05.55]. The Adagietto fourth movement is a slow and treacly eleven minutes and then the last movement is far too fast, sounding even faster after such a slow Adagietto and not seeming to mean anything at the end of such a long and complex work [CD 7 track 5 08.39-09.25]. It makes no real effect other than a shot at a cheap thrill or two and any hope of illustrating the important thematic link between the last two movements is lost [CD 7 track 5 12.24-end]. This recording is the one clear case in Bernstein’s Mahler discography where his later recording for DG is to be preferred. There the playing of the Vienna Philharmonic is assured right through. Also, whilst Bernstein remains as interventionist as ever, in his later Mahler Fifth all of this comes off triumphantly with no impression of forcing a view top down. The New York recording is a work-in-progress in comparison then. I regret being somewhat negative over this recording but it remains, even in this re-mastering, a relative disappointment. Anyone owning the set would do well to add the Bernstein DG recording of the Fifth to it.

The 1967 Sixth Symphony in this set is a favourite of many and the first one I ever owned. In spite of that I have always had doubts as to the conclusions Bernstein reaches, even though I can admire the way he reaches them. This is indeed a formidable, searing performance that comes out spitting fire with a quick-march opening movement that sets the tone for the most “hyper” version of the Sixth ever recorded this side of Hermann Scherchen [CD 8 track 1 00.00-01.44]. But this first movement is surely too quick for it to make the necessary impact and returning to it after a long time I am even more convinced of this. More weight, more down force, really is needed which Mahler’s subsidiary marking actually demands and which Bernstein seems to ignore completely. Alma’s theme takes off with great “schwung” but not even she can escape giving the impression of having inhaled something rather potent [CD 8 track 1 02.23-03.00]. This hyperactivity carries into the Scherzo too, placed second here, where again I really feel that weight is being sacrificed for energy no matter how well the orchestra plays [CD 8 track 2 00.00-00.42]. The balance between them is wrong again. Bernstein is very good in the “old fatherish” sections, though [CD 8 track 2 02.01-02.34]. I certainly admire the passionate questing nature of the third movement even though a slight lack of base in the sound recording brings a rather brash quality that even this new re-mastering cannot quite take away, though it is better than before with the new sound. Here at the climax of the movement is a good illustration of this [CD 8 track 3 11.08-12.12]. The last movement is certainly an experience to be reckoned with also but surely provides final evidence of what I have often suspected lies behind the ultimate honourable failure of the whole of Bernstein’s first traversal of the Sixth. It is that Bernstein was too greatly influenced in his interpretation of the Sixth by that of his mentor Dimitri Mitropoulos. The recordings of the Sixth left by Mitropoulos seem to be the Mahler Sixth template towards which Bernstein is working at this point in his career - fast, driving, searing, dramatic. By the time he came to record the work again for DG Bernstein had decided on a much more personal interpretation, a little more crucial weight, a little less drive, more periods of repose in episodes and the result is more telling and more persuasive and represents him better in this work. So in the last movement again there needs to be more reflection in some of the valleys if only as a pause for breath before the next assault on the peaks takes place. The build-up to the first hammer-blow is always a good example to use when illustrating a recording of Mahler’s Sixth. You should hear the horns slicing through the texture and the violins riding the brass. That is certainly the case here, though perhaps there is still some bass lightness. But under Bernstein here the moment does not quite make the soul-destroying impact it can make [CD 8 track 4 10.16-11.50]. But if you think the Sixth should be the place where Mahler is “in your face” for the entire time, then Bernstein in 1967 is certainly for you. Here also is an opportunity to hear the third hammer-blow, left out by Mahler but included by Bernstein without shame [CD 8 track 4 25.19 -26.23]. The re-mastering has improved the brashness of this recording from previous versions greatly. It is still very sharp in the high frequencies but a little more air does not lessen the punch of the sound or the stereo spread, so much better straight after the Fifth. 

Bernstein was always a great exponent of the Seventh Symphony. This recording, genuinely the first of the modern era of sound recording and, like the Third, never out of the catalogue, is a real classic of Mahler recordings. Though he recorded it again with the New York Philharmonic for DG it’s this first recording from 1966 that I prefer. As with the earlier Third there’s a sense of discovery about the playing here that is missing in the remake. Bernstein negotiates Mahler’s tempo changes in the first movement particularly well. Notice the clear-sighted vision during the first return of the march with its reprise of oar-strokes that unlocked Mahler’s creative block [CD 9 track 1 02.19-03.07]. Here, and at the very start, the tenor horn has a real al fresco quality which is surely right also. It’s refreshing to hear Bernstein holding back a little in the second subject, allowing the idea to develop a bit before he allows release, indicative of Bernstein’s care for Mahler’s detailed markings which he doesn’t cover up with his own. The development section is one of Mahler’s greatest imaginative creations, and Bernstein unfolds the huge vistas with unforgettable style [CD 9 track 1 11.27-12.59]. The recapitulation finds Bernstein striking the right contrast with what has gone as if to say we are back to earthly things. He mixes the elements with the most superb sense of structure married to imagination. The open quality of the recording and the close balances help delineate the colours of the opening of the second movement with its horns calling each other [CD 9 track 2 00.00-01.06]. Then I like the porky gait Bernstein adopts to another march. The first Trio has warmth and lightness of touch, the second a close balance to the harp. All in all, this is a great recording to follow with a score, so sharply is each detail recorded, ideal for domestic listening. This very much applies to the third movement scherzo with its shrieks and bumps and I do especially like the way Bernstein suggests dance is never far away in every bar. Though there are some porky blasts from his tuba to unsettle us [CD 9 track 3 07.28-08.18]. Throughout the whole symphony the playing of the NYPO is a model of poise and virtuosity, not least in the fourth movement where Bernstein relaxes and maybe indulges himself just a little more. He certainly maps every section superbly with the guitar and mandolin beautifully balanced [CD 9 track 4 11.34 - 12.18]. In the last movement Bernstein pulls together the threads of the piece with a sure touch, especially in the recall of the main theme from the first movement and takes us into the light as well as any conductor has done and better than most [CD 9 track 5 16.38-end]. The main complaint you used to hear about this recording, especially in the LP era, was that it was balanced far too closely and so was robbed of atmosphere. Now it sounds perfect. In fact if I had been played it blind I do believe I would have concluded it was made this year. The orchestral sound-picture in front of you has spread, detail, substance and weight. Perspectives are ideal. This is now a top recommendation for this symphony.

The Eighth Symphony was recorded at Walthamstow Town Hall in London following "live" performances at the Royal Albert Hall in 1966. The LSO are the orchestra, along with a host of British choirs. Firstly it has to be said that the sound is showing its age even in this re-mastering. There's still a tendency for it to become pinched and crowded when compared with more recent digital versions and there is an air of artificiality about it. The organ especially sounds constricted. I suspect that this will be the best that we will ever hear this recording, however. A really great performance could override all this but Bernstein's is some way short of that. He seems to be trying to recapture the excitement of the "live" experience which I praise him for even though the results vary. What he does in Part I is take the music by the scruff of its neck and shake it vigorously. The opening is marked Allegro impetuoso and Bernstein projects that but his subsequent changes of tempi come over as too extreme making a "stop-go" affair [CD 10 track 1 00.00-0.41]. The first passage for soloists, "Imple superna gratia", is too slow, as is the early short orchestral passage [CD 10 track 1 01.27-2.04]. This gear-shift feeling persists through Part I and spoils any momentum that must be built up as the piece progresses. The central double fugue is far too rushed to hear everything clearly. In fact, "hysterical" is more the word that comes to mind in Bernstein's superficially exciting, but unsatisfying, account. The reprise of the opening "Veni creator spiritus" certainly needs to be broadened, as Bernstein does, but the effect is just bombastic here [CD 10 track 1 15.13-17.04]. Not the grandeur this passage can deliver, and the coda is rushed again, but an experience all the same and, I suppose, that is what Mahler wanted. Part II suits Bernstein far better. There's something of the operatic about the way he interprets Mahler's setting of Goethe. The LSO is on great form in the Prelude, though there are times where I find Bernstein's warmth innocuous for the landscape being depicted. The first choral entry has the right degree of raptness, especially at the end prior to the entry of Pater Ecstaticus and Pater Profundis [CD 10 track 2 09.48-10.30]. There's a fine team of soloists too, though I feel the women sound too much alike. They are balanced realistically for the concert hall, which is not always the case, which I like very much. The choruses have their sticky moments and more rehearsal or retakes might have helped. Doctor Marianus is John Mitchinson and he's the best of the singers. His entry praising the Queen of Heaven is prepared for by some very childlike voices in the choir but I don't believe Bernstein does any more than skate over the surface. The arrival of the Mater Gloriosa, the lovely passage for strings, harp and harmonium, finds Bernstein at his most syrupy [CD 10 track 2 29.57-30.38]. There are some who will love this, I do realise. But no complaints from me about John Mitchinson's central role in this section where he brings every ounce of his experience and is very moving. As he is also later in his other great solo "Blicket auf", parts of which he even manages to darken [CD 10 track 2 43.38-44.28]. Bernstein closes with a "Chorus Mysticus" and coda that sums up his approach overall in the work well. The recording lets him down in that the volume of sound threatens to overload, but Bernstein maintains a fine sharpness of focus [CD 10 track 2 52.30-end]. This recording is a good example of the inspirational approach to the Eighth, so some parts come off, some don't. I think something more consistent will satisfy over the longer period but this is Bernstein at his most Bernstein.

Bernstein recorded the Ninth Symphony in the same week as the Seventh but it would be 1968 before a European release was made when collectors by then had available recordings by Barbirolli, Klemperer and Solti, as well as Walter’s CBS recording from 1961. One of the reasons why the recorded sound on this Bernstein recording is so good must be because the producer John McClure was also responsible for Walter’s. Working intensively with the old man must have prepared him well and Bernstein is the beneficiary. The sound for the Ninth is now, along with the Seventh, the best in the whole cycle, rich in detail and immediacy and the re-mastering only enhances it further. Listen to the bows of the cellos grinding into the strings and you feel you are there with them. Once again, however, it was a case of Bernstein and Walter appearing in Mahler on the same label and emerging very differently. In the first movement Bernstein has a much greater sense of the Andante comodo tempo than Walter does by his old age. This allows Bernstein to keep up a sense of movement even through the passages between the great climaxes which themselves emerge clean and clear against a good stereo spread [CD 11 track 1 17.23-19.03]. He also stresses the darker colours, darker than Walter’s, and the more forward-looking aspects of the work. Though he misses somewhat the sense of an elegy that is so important and which Walter had in spades. The middle two movements are superbly played and recorded by the NYPO, a touch brash perhaps, not really delving into their implications as much as Bernstein would in later recordings where he would significantly toughen up these movements to greater advantage [CD 11 track 3 11.34-end]; still formidable, still challenging, though. The last movement gets an absolutely searing account that gains from being quite simply presented with no imposed emotion. Though, again, perhaps the elegiac quality that other conductors find, Walter notably, is absent, there is still a huge eloquence that is so persuasive and adds distinction to this set [CD 11 track 4 06.03-07.40]. This recording remained out of the catalogue for too long and it is good to have it back now, especially as the re-mastering, in fact quite discreet on a recording that always good, keeps it sounding current.

Bernstein never gave Deryck Cooke’s performing version of the material left behind by Mahler of his Tenth Symphony. A number of times he even declared that Mahler would not have been able to complete the symphony even if he had lived and so he rejected such scores. What he would have done if Alma Mahler had asked him rather than Eugene Ormandy to conduct the first USA performance of the Cooke version we will never know. Surprisingly, when you consider his views, he did perform and record the Adagio first movement of the Tenth in what was his last Mahler for CBS in 1975. He certainly has the measure of the mixture of passionate yearning and spiky modernism and the NYPO give the impression that they would have been more than happy to go on and record the whole Deryck Cooke version even if Bernstein wasn’t. That would have been worth hearing on the evidence of this single movement. The recording here is rich in depth and detail reflecting Bernstein’s apparent complete identification with this music in spite of his feelings and is one of the best single movement recordings available [CD 1 track 5 18.04-19.15]. It is interesting to compare the recording in this Tenth with that on the Fourth since they are separated by fifteen years. It is a testament to their original engineers and to the re-mastering engineers that they sound so similar. 

The set is completed by Bernstein’s 1972 recording of Das Lied Von Der Erde made in Tel Aviv with the Israel Philharmonic. This was never a real contender for main recommendation among the many great recordings of this work. Bernstein himself had already made a superb one in Vienna for Decca. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this one. It is just that for a recording of this work to be outstanding everything has to work, nothing must be under par. For me the orchestra here struggles to convey the amazing colours of Mahler’s scoring, especially those passages of chamber-like concision. The sheer beauties of this score seem beyond them. There is also the question of the soloists. René Kollo is a real fish out of water here as he was for Karajan and hearing his opening salvo [CD 12 track 1 00.00-01.03] made me long for Wunderlich or King to bring some character. Christa Ludwig also sounds ill at ease as she was also with Karajan. Listen to her in this passage from the fourth song where she has great difficulty in even keeping up. More rehearsal might have helped [CD 12 track 4 03.08-04.02]. I regret having to end on a negative note. It is a pity that Sony could not have come to an arrangement with Universal to include the Decca recording of the work under Bernstein as that would have been the best of all possible Mahlerian worlds. However, this version completes the musical story presented in this remarkable box and you may like the recording more than I do.

The set also includes the welcome return to the catalogue of the full 71 minute version of the remarkable radio documentary “Gustav Mahler Remembered” in which men who played under Mahler’s baton and who knew him in his late New York years give us their memories of him. They were recorded in California at one of the old Mahlerthons staged by the Mahler Society there. The late Bill Malloch is an excellent interviewer knowing when to just stay silent and listen. At the end of the feature, Anna Mahler’s recollections of her father are unforgettable too. Her description of his face is haunting.

I remain convinced that the best way to acquire a set of Mahler symphonies is to buy individual versions by a number of conductors. However, there are still valid reasons to own one-conductor cycles and Bernstein is certainly one of those conductors whose complete view is worth considering. Along with Rafael Kubelik on DG (463 738-2) reviewed elsewhere he reaches an impressive level of consistency even though there are aspects I disagree with. In contrast with Kubelik, Bernstein is much more emotionally engaged and there is frequently a “life or death” struggle that can be compelling when appropriate, if rather irritating when not. Bernstein’s love and knowledge of these scores was always unrivalled.

Is this earlier Mahler set by Bernstein to be preferred to his later complete cycle made for DG in the 1980s and now also available as a single boxed set (DG 459080)? You will not be surprised to read that I believe it is but with my caveat regarding the Fifth Symphony. How broadly alike Bernstein’s individual interpretations are after twenty or so years is proof of his consistency in Mahler, but I do find the younger Bernstein’s energy, sense of wonder and discovery, as well as that of his orchestra, more compelling and rewarding, even if at times exasperating. There are also times in the later DG recordings where his infatuation with the music gets the better of him and leads him to exaggerate interpretative points and tip over into mannerism.

In spite of reservations, hearing this music played by this orchestra under this conductor at this time is thrilling and, as I said at the outset of this review, the newly restored sound for this issue is the real clincher. Do not miss this even if you already own previous versions. This new re-mastering is truly something special.

Tony Duggan



Mahler: Complete Symphonies, Song Cycles
New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein 
Disc 1
Symphony No. 1 in D major ("Titan") [52:48]
Symphony No. 10 in F sharp minor (adagio) [26:22]

Disc 2&3
Mahler Remembered
Symphony No. 2 in C minor ("Resurrection") [84:41]
Collegiate Chorale, Jennie Tourel and Lee Venora

Disc 4&5
Symphony No. 3 in D minor [99:49]
Martha Lipton, Schola Cantorum, Stuart Gardner, John Ware and Boys Choir from the Church of the Transfiguration

Disc 6
Symphony No. 4 in G major [55:00]
Reri Grist

Disc 7
Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor [69:20]
James Chambers

Disc 8
Symphony No. 6 in A minor ("Tragic") [77:55]

Disc 9
Symphony No. 7 in E minor ("Song of the Night") [79:47]

Disc 10
Symphony No. 8 in E flat major ("Symphony of a Thousand") [78:53]
Finchley Children's Music Group, Highgate School Choir, Donald Hunt, Gwyneth Jones, Leeds Festival Chorus, London Symphony Chorus, Donald McIntyre, John Mitchinson, Norma Procter, Anna Reynolds, Erna Spoorenberg, Hans Vollenweider, Gwenyth Annear, Sheila Mossman, Vladimir Ruzdjak and Orpington Junior Singers

Disc 11
Symphony No. 9 in D major [79:45] 

Disc 12

see also Tony Duggan's synoptic survey of the Mahler Symphonies

...................................................................

July 2001

"A LITTLE OF WHAT YOU FANCY"
The Golden Age of the British Music Hall: Recordings from 1901-1931

Marie Lloyd, Harry Lauder, George Robey, Charles Coborn, Harry Champion, George Formby Snr., Billy Williams, Vesta Victoria, Florrie Forde, Billy Merson.Will Fyffe, Dan Leno, Little Tich, Albert Whelan, Gus Elen, Norah Blaney, Lily Morris, Vesta Tilley, Albert Chevalier, Billy Williams.
 ASV Living Era CD AJA 5363 [74.56]
Crotchet
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"Lost Empires" was the title J.B. Priestley gave to the second of his two novels set in the world of the Edwardian music hall. It was written in old age when nostalgia had had the chance to throw what he could remember into some kind of context and give it meaning beyond that which he had first perceived and written about in "The Good Companions". Many great theatres of the Victorian and Edwardian Music Hall had the word Empire in their titles and Priestley clearly played on the fact that with the theatrical empires the larger world of the British Empire that surrounded them went too. For him these theatres represented a microcosm of social life, particularly in the years leading up to the Great War in 1914. All classes came to be entertained under the same roofs and yet a fierce segregation based on money took place inside - in order of precedence: gods, stalls, gallery, circle and boxes - though it was one that the great performers of the time were able to play on, maybe unconsciously, and which, with benefit of hindsight ,Priestley recognised. We too can also observe it a little by the pinhole glimpses the recordings that have survived of the artistes give us, some of which are contained on this disc. I would quibble a little with the idea that this was the golden age, though. The real golden age was probably in the 1870s when in London there were around three hundred music halls, most of them part of taverns and pubs and which, for a short time, co-existed with the larger palaces of variety which would eventually win out. After 1878 profound changes in various licensing laws led to a rapid decline in the numbers of the smaller, genuine music halls where you could drink and watch the acts at the same time. Gradually the talent then moved over to the variety theatres which came to be owned by large management companies and families - Stoll, Moss, Thornton, Gibbons etc. Though this probably enlarged their audience to take in the new urban middle classes and also legitimatise the presence of the upper classes who until then had had to go "slumming" if they were to see the kind of entertainment they really should have stayed away from. After the Great War the Music Hall came more under the influence of American Vaudeville and early cinema so real Variety was born. But many of the manners and mores of the old music halls were carried forward in the singers and comedians of the 1920s and 1930s along with some of the variety theatres that themselves would last until after the Second World War. If Hitler's bombs didn't flatten them they were later turned into Bingo halls or cinemas or car parks. But the original Music Hall, the one that came out of the rooms with the pubs to conquer the West End of London and many of the larger cities around the nation too, was gone and the world it represented went with it, as Priestley later recognised.

There is perhaps another reason why this period retains a special nostalgic appeal even to those who were never there. These long golden and silver ages were over before technology could catch up and truly record it for us so recordings like the ones on this CD were all made in unatmospheric studios with no audience present. For performers to whom the thrill of a full house was essential this must have been torture. So we are never really hearing them at their best, playing to the gallery. This alongside the fact that the three or four minutes allowed by early acoustic recordings places further restriction on them. So there is much that has to be filled in by the imagination and imagination is the most potent element of all in nostalgia. This should awaken a small note of caution to be on our guard not to read too much into what we hear, though. These are still entertainers pure and simple and would have been perceived as such by their audiences. Many of the recordings contained on this disc certainly date from the relevant time before the Great War but a handful are made later in careers when the artistes concerned were past their best. However, I think there is still more than enough for us to glimpse and imagine what it might have been like to sit in the stalls or gods (or the gallery if we could afford it) and be entertained. For there is no denying the thrill of hearing a performer singing his or her hit song on an afternoon or morning in 1905 or 1910 prior to going onstage in the evening and doing it again. There are some films of old performers but these were mostly made in the 1930s in film studios for inclusion in cinema programmes between the main movie and the Newsreel. By then the performers - Gus Elen, Lily Morris, George Robey and Charles Coborn among them - were old and grey and again had no audience they could see. It only remains to say that Marten Haskell's remastering of these precious documents is exemplary with sound from, in some cases, a century ago sounding clearer than we have any rights to hope. There are times when the voices of those distant shadows down in the smoky limelight seem to be in the room with us.

The best known and loved performer of the Victorian and Edwardian Music Hall was Marie Lloyd. A genuine East End Cockney born in Hoxton, like a number of music hall artistes, her stock-in-trade was a cheeky double meaning and a frowzy glamour aimed at both the working classes in the stalls and the toffs in the circle. The former could see her aping and sending up the latter, the latter could get a cheap thrill from seeing one the former aspiring to "better" things and alluding to matters no lady of their acquaintance would ever do. Many of the men might encounter ladies of the night who came close, but that was not to be admitted. When Marie was onstage both sets of customers could chuckle at matters that publicly neither was meant to know anything about at all, but since it was Marie it was permitted to do so. Rather like Max Miller's blue and white joke books thirty years later, where he would give the audience the choice of clean or smutty material, they were licensed to laugh at bodily functions and carnal urges. In fact she had the kind of gentle British vulgarity that would endure into our own time in Benny Hill and the "Carry On" films. There were problems over the years, of course. Marie's once had a song about gardening called "I Sits Among My Cabbages and Peas" but when the Lord Chamberlain, effectively the theatre censor, saw the words he was outraged. Such vulgarity would not be allowed, she was told by his office. Quick as a flash, Marie changed the words and the song became "I Sits Among My Cabbages and Leaks". The Lord Chamberlain's blushes were spared, the crowd roared and Marie Lloyd marched on. Soon she reverted to the original, of course. There are two songs from Marie Lloyd on this disc. From 1912 in "When I Take My Morning Promenade" she is in "lady of quality" mode. But this is a lady of quality with enough Edwardian equivalent "trailer park trash" to know the cut of the new dress is there to turn the boys on and to admit the fact in public. How shocking, how alluring and how it must have tickled the stage door Johnnies in the gallery as well as giving the factory girls in the gods some hope. "I don't mind nice boys staring hard if it satisfies their desires" she sings shamelessly. How they loved it when she talked dirty. Then from 1916 we have one of her best known songs and this CD's title track, "A Little of What You Fancy Does You Good." Here she's Marie Lloyd the Hoxton working girl (in more ways than one) and also, it must be said, one who has by then seen better days. She was only forty-two when she recorded this, but the years, and her last husband, were not treating her well by then. Within ten years she would collapse in the wings and die soon after. So her life was a short but gay one, "a candle in the wind" burned at both ends and up the sides as well. For all her background, notice her impeccable diction, every word clear, every stress and emphasis the product of years of practice onstage and in the last verse where she sings "A little of what you fancy doos you good" there is even an echo of her cockney origins. On this disc is also another of Marie's best-known songs but, for some reason, it's sung here by Norah Blaney in 1931. It's "Oh Mr. Porter" which also fell foul of the censor with the original line "I've never 'ad me ticket punched before" proving too much for Edwardian sensibilities. One of the greatest of all Edwardians, though Marie was excluded from two Royal Command Performances owing to her domestic arrangements, she was beloved of Royalty and, in spite of contemporary hypocrisy preventing their showing it publicly, probably had friends in high places that saved her from more serious trouble.

Marie Lloyd once said there were only two acts she would willingly watch from the wings and they were Dan Leno and George Formby. But this, of course, was George Formby Senior. Because the biggest British male star of the 1940s had a father, also called George, who before the Great War was just as famous as his son and so earns his place on this disc. The old man's stock in trade often sounds like an older version of the son, but it was more than that. Formby Senior was perhaps the first of the northern comics who confirmed the stereotype that everyone north of Watford was a slow-witted idiot. One of his first manifestations in the halls down south was "John Willie", up in London for the cup, with tales of Wigan Pier which Formby, let it be remembered, invented. In the eyes of Londoners it's doubtful the reputations of the citizens of Lancashire and Yorkshire have ever recovered from what he started, in fact. Formby was never a well man either. His lungs bore the marks of consumption from breathing in sulphur when as a boy he worked in a Manchester steel foundry and his trademark cough was as famous in its day as his son's ukulele would become thirty years later. Indeed George would often break off in the middle of a song to have a good hearty cough ("coughing better tonight - coughing summat champion") and have the customers rolling in the aisles. So on stage he was both simple and always ailing, and frequently complaining. There is one song here from Formby Senior and it's a cracker recorded in 1916. He rewrites the words to the old favourite "My Grandfather's Clock" and turns in a classic Lancashire monologue with references to coal holes, grandparents refusing to die when they are supposed to and excess children wheeled around in makeshift prams. A rich slice of pre-Great War working class life served up with a dollop of whinge (and a stick-on star for those who can spot the reference to the game of Dominoes). As with Marie Lloyd taking on the persona of the "lady of quality", here was a window into a world many of the audiences in the stalls and boxes in London would never have seen before. That was when Formby chose to come south, of course. The Lost Empires of the north were really all he ever needed and stayed in them a lot of the time. Just as with Marie Lloyd every word is clear, every inflection perfect and there is also comic timing "to die for". "Them that doesn't want to listen, get out 't room, please, because it's only an annoyance to me," George complains wheezily. Poor George. It was only being so cheerful that kept him going, as another northern comedian was fond of maintaining. The cough got to him in the end, of course. One night in 1921, on stage at the Newcastle Empire, he coughed too hard, burst a blood vessel and expired. A fellow northern comedian of Formby's was Billy Merson. Though born in Nottingham, that was Northern enough for those down in London. Merson sings that old favourite "The Spaniard That Blighted My Life" recorded in 1911. And why shouldn't he? He wrote the song after all and so tapped into the native suspicion of his audiences in all parts of the theatre that foreigners were "dirty dogs" not to be trusted. If you have ever heard the version by Bing Crosby and Al Jolson then you need to hear the original, believe me. Especially with the yodelling at the end. Yodelling at a bullfight? Why not?

Time to bring in some more ladies. Lily Morris gives us "Only A Working Man" from 1927. Better known would have been "Why Am I Always The Bridesmaid?" or "Don't Have Any More Mrs. Moore", but there is black humour in the story of the woman who goes out to work to support her layabout husband and still loves him for all that. Marriage is also on the mind of Vesta Victoria in her best-known song "Waiting At The Church" recorded late again in a long career in 1931 and so losing some of the magic it must have had when first performed. Then there's Florrie Forde who they sometimes called "The Australian Marie Lloyd", though never in the hearing of the great lady herself, of course. Here we have Florrie from 1905 singing one of her greatest hits "Down At The Old Bull and Bush". You may know this song from the close of every edition of "The Good Old Days" on BBC TV. However, that splendid old series bore little relationship to the genuine Victorian and Edwardian music hall and the same can be said of how the show perpetuated the way this song should be sung. Florrie Forde reminds us it's a much more lyrical song that a slightly slower delivery brings. Listening straight after to her in "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?" also on this disc and recorded in 1909 reminds us again what great singers so many of these artistes were. Not just the clarity of her diction, but the phrasing and breathing is the product of a singer for whom the microphone was unnecessary and who knew the only way to make herself heard at the back was to sing as well as she could. The song also contains a reference back to one of her other well-loved songs "Oh Oh Antonio" which those in her audience would already be familiar and her many fans would nod in sympathetic recognition. They knew the poor girl had already been dumped by a sweet-talking Italian with hot blood and a cold iced cream van. Now a bounder from the Isle of Man had done the dirty. In the Great War Florrie would belt out "Pack Up Your Troubles", "Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty" and many more for the troops, beating time with a jewelled cane as she strutted her stuff. A buxom lady, given to feathers, she must have been worth a battleship or two to the war effort.

There are two other Australians represented here, Albert Wheelan and Billy Williams. Billy Williams delivers a really irritating version of "When Father Papered The Parlour" from 1911 with forced laughter trying to project the "hail fellow well met" image he tried to make his own. He also used to sing a song called "John, John, Go and Put Your Trousers On". (No, don't ask.) With Albert Wheelan the influence of American Vaudeville can be heard in "The Preacher and The Bear" where he takes a shot at an American accent and misses by miles. But this was one of the later electric recordings from 1931 so by then the Golden Age had passed. But it's still fun to hear Albert working as much as he can into the four minutes he gets - cod American preacher, animal impersonator, whistler, and a bit of drama. Because Albert started life as an actor and you have the feeling he never quite got over the shame of having to leave it all behind him, reflected in the image of the debonair man-about-town he took on. Mentioning American influence also brings me to the delicate issue of performers who would "black up" to mimic the American Minstrel shows that came to England from time to time. Politically incorrect to even speak of now, but it has to be remembered there were such acts as G.H. Elliot "The Chocolate-Coloured Coon" and even one troop of singers who actually went on the bill as "The Gay White Coons". Here we have the New York born Eugene Stratton who was often styled "The Dandy Coon" or "The Whistling Coon" when he blacked his face. His stylish rendition of "The Lily of Laguna" from 1911 brings one of the most loved songs of the day in an impeccable performance, reminding us that the Music Halls weren't all laughs, jokes, men with black faces, men dressed up as women and women dressed up as men. To whom we now must turn.

The best known of the male impersonators was Vesta Tilley whose performances before and during the Great War earned her the nickname, as Peter Dempsey points out in his notes, of "England's Greatest Recruiting Sergeant". "Jolly Good Luck To The Girl Who Loves A Soldier" represents her here and it was recorded in 1915, with Albert Ketelbey conducting, whilst the men were going "over the top" in France and Vesta was doing much the same in the halls, as you can hear. It has about it the same air of gentle pressure that "We Don't Want To Lose You But We think You Ought to Go" would have brought on a generation about to go to hell. You can only speculate the real effect it had on the young men and girls who heard it. Social document again, you see. It is a pity Peter Dempsey's notes do make the same mistake a lot of people make regarding the greatest of all male impersonator's songs, however. The one I mean, of course, is "Burlington Bertie From Bow." Dempsey tells us in his notes that Vesta Tilley sang it, but that on this CD Ella Shields sings it instead. In fact the song about Burlington Bertie that Vesta Tilley used to sing was an altogether different one ("Burlington Bertie - the boy with the Hyde Park drawl") and, though similar in tone, is now largely forgotten. The more famous song, always sung by Ella Shields, was actually written especially for her by her husband William Hargreaves (who also wrote "My Grandfather's Clock") and she made it her own, probably to Vesta's dismay. However, Vesta was the pre-eminent male impersonator perhaps challenged only by Hetty King.

Ella Shields was American by birth and recorded "Burlington Bertie From Bow" a number of times. The version here dates from 1916 and contains one verse not included in her first recording from 1915. However, that contains a verse not included here, as all the verses would never fit on to one 78rpm side. This wonderful song, in my view one of the finest popular songs ever written in England, still retains its ability to evoke the past and open another window on a world now gone with specific references to personalities known to everyone then. Tom Lipton the grocer and tea importer, Lord Roseberry the Foreign Secretary, F.E. Smith who was Lord Birkenhead, Lord Derby of equestrian fame, Rothschild the banker, The Prince of Wales. Most famous of all there is the experience of having "had a banana with Lady Diana" which brings in Lady Diana Manners, the most beautiful girl in pre-Great War London. In time this original "It" girl would marry a young politician called Duff Cooper and go down in history as Lady Diana Cooper. More than all that, though, Ella's portrayal of the working class boy putting on the airs and graces of the toffs and convincing them he was what he claimed cocked the kind of snook the inhabitants of the stalls would have loved, which is why such songs were popular. There were other songs with the same theme, but this was the best. What the toffs upstairs thought we can only speculate, but we certainly have here another document of social history. It's a curious coincidence that Vesta Tilley and Ella Shields both died in the same year, 1952. Vesta hadn't appeared on stage since 1920 after marrying one of the large theatre owners, but Ella played to audiences up to her death, breathing her last in a dressing room in Morecambe at the age of seventy-three. Legend has it that in her last rendition of her most famous song, instead of opening with "I'm Bert," she told her audience "I was Bert". Nice thought, probably not true, but I think it should be. Much more to the taste of the men in the top hats upstairs would be Charles Coborn's "The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo", based on the true story of Charles de Ville Wells, which Coborn performed as early as 1891. Here he recorded it when he was an old man in 1929, but you can still get a whiff of the cigar smoke from himself and his admirers, I think. The song made Coborn's fortune as he had bought it from its author for twenty pounds early in his career.

One star who was perhaps the male equivalent in terms of fame as Marie Lloyd was the comedian George Robey, "The Prime Minister of Mirth", who also had the distinction of being the first music hall star to be knighted. Today his humour seems a little too fey and whimsical, but in his day George would pack theatres out with his various characters that included a matchless pantomime dame. In 1916 he starred at the Alhambra Theatre with Violet Lorraine in the revue "The Bing Boys Are Here" where he played Lucifer Bing and entertained, night after night through that long hot Summer, the men about to cross to France to be ground through the mincer of the Battle of the Somme that began in the July. It is said that after the shows the young subalterns would walk into Trafalgar Square at midnight where, in the silence, they could hear the guns of the initial bombardment all the way across the channel. The hit song from that show was "If You Were The Only Girl In The World" which he and Violet Lorraine recorded in the run. Alas, that evocative recording is not on this disc, but we have instead the less well-known "Quite Alright" which is still a good illustration of Robey's slightly school-masterish, rather "hammy" manner. A little like the better known "I Stopped and I Looked and I Listened", which he filmed in the 1930s leaving the best known image of him in bowler hat, clerical coat and large eyebrows.

There are other comedians on this disc. Three Londoners, distinctive cockney "Coster Comedians" who would charm the nobs upstairs with another portal into what they thought was the world of the poor and make the proles in the stalls feel at home. The best known was Gus Elen. He was born in Pimlico, not Ramsgate as Peter Dempsey maintains in his notes, and began as a street busker with a barrel organ in the Strand in the 1880s. Gus became one of the biggest stars of the Victorian and Edwardian Music Halls who made a lot of money and retired just before the Great War when he was fifty-two and so came out of the true Golden Age. But he was lured from retirement in 1931 for a Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium where he received a standing ovation and it's from this time all his sound recordings date, as well as a couple of filmed renditions. On this record we have "If It Wasn't For The 'Ouses In Between" bemoaning the lot of those who endured crowded housing as the urban classes expanded. Listen to his particular pronunciation too. Here is the real, original Victorian cockney dialect, now long gone and replaced with Estuary English. But perhaps the greatest of all the "Costers" was "The Kipling of The Music Hall", Albert Chevalier. Albert wrote his own material and left us "Knocked 'Em In The Old Kent Road" among many. On this disc we have perhaps his best known song, the sentimental "My Old Dutch" recorded in 1911. What the people in the halls would know and which we today might not was that this song has a vein of real tragedy buried in it. What might seem simply a tribute from an old man to his much loved wife for forty years was inspired by the fact that when the old could care for themselves no longer it meant the workhouse where, you've guessed, they are separated. Listen to the song again with that in your mind and it takes on a completely different complexion. Perhaps Albert was more mawkish than his great rival Elen whose view of life retained more irony, but there is no doubt he was a man of enormous talent. For the last of the three "Costers" we come to Harry Champion, an almost exact contemporary of Gus Elen's. Like both Elen and Chevalier he went through a phase early in his career "blacked up" as a "Coon" comedian. In his prime Harry sang in what might best be described as a controlled apoplexy. The feeling that at the end of each number the stage hands had to dash on from the wings, throw a tarpaulin over him and peg him down. In "Any Old Iron" recorded in 1911 the orchestra manages to hang on, but it's a toss-up who gets to the end first: Harry, the orchestra, or the demon trumpeter who doesn't so much as blow into his instrument as bite on it. By the time Harry recorded "I'm Henery The Eighth I Am" twenty years have passed, electric recording has come in and a few thousand Woodbines have clinkered up the Champion vocal chords. But he still manages to belt out the old favourite shorn of a verse or two, probably to save his blood pressure. There is in existence an earlier recording by him of the whole song, by the way. Another of the "past their best" recordings here but a gem, even though it's slightly unrepresentative in that most of Harry's songs were about food - "Boiled Beef and Carrots" and "I Like Pickled Onions" etc.

There are two other comedians from an earlier era on this disc - Dan Leno and Little Tich. Dan Leno is a legendary figure in show business history. Perhaps because he died young in 1901. But there is no denying he was a massive star in the later 19th century, on a par with Marie Lloyd who was a great admirer. He was also more of a character comedian than the "Costers" and a pantomime dame too who played the Theatre Royal Drury Lane for fifteen seasons starting in 1888. Often appearing there with Marie Lloyd and Little Tich. Alas there is little left of Dan Leno on record. I do know of "The Tower of London" where he played a Beefeater, but here we have "The May Day Fireman". Time has not been kind to what has survived of Dan Leno's humour, it must be admitted. It was mainly monologues with a surreal propensity to go off at tangents. You clearly had to "be there" and it's said he could bring the house down with a look. But to hear him recorded here in 1901 (the oldest recording on this disc) is still special. There is also a side interest in Leno's piano accompanist here. It's none other than the young Fred Gaisberg who would later go on to be the top classical record producer of the 1930s working with, among others, Bruno Walter with whom he made the first gramophone recordings of Mahler's last completed works. A year or so after playing the piano for Dan Leno, Gaisberg would go to Rome and make records with the last genuine castrato in the Vatican Choir as well as record the voice of Pope Leo XIII, a man born before the Battle of Waterloo. Gaisberg was a man who clearly saw some history and put it on record for us. Almost as famous as Dan Leno, Little Tich was the diminutive entertainer who you may have seen in a very grainy contemporary French film performing his famous giant shoe routine. However, Little Tich was also a comedian of the same stature as Dan Leno and here we can hear him in his "droll" Gas Inspector routine recorded in 1911. As with Dan Leno there is a verse or two of song to introduce himself, then the monologue, then another verse to finish. Notice how he fluffs his lines halfway through and has to carry on. No retakes, you see. Wax discs were expensive and he was probably warned to keep going.

The two great Scots comedians Harry Lauder and Will Fyffe graduated from that graveyard of English comics, The Glasgow Empire. It's said they had more intervals in the shows in Glasgow so that the audiences could reload. Many were the comedians from south of the border, sick with nerves, who would retreat to the wings with shouts of "Away hame and bile yer heed" from the stalls. However, it must be the case that when they came south Harry and Will accentuated the Englishman's idea of the Scotsman to the extent that today few Scottish comedians would claim ancestry from them. Harry Lauder wrote "Keep Right On To The End Of The Road" as therapy after his only son was killed on the Somme, but here he's represented by "I Love a Lassie" recorded in 1905. I always think that he and Will Fyffe are acquired tastes that fall between the genuine and the fake, but there is no denying the fascination of Fyffe's "drunken" diatribe against the rich half way through "I Belong to Glasgow". He delivers that with real hatred behind the stage intoxication. Look at the date on the recording. It's 1929, Wall Street is crashing, and the divide between rich and poor which, as I have said, was always at the heart of the Music Hall in the house and on the stage was never further apart. But by then the Golden Age was over and the loss of the Empires was nigh.

This is an indispensable record for those who love the world of the old Music Hall.

Tony Duggan

..................................

A joint effort from Tony and Joan April 2002

Ivor NOVELLO (1893-1951)

"Shine Through My Dreams"

Original recordings 1917-1950

NAXOS NOSTALGIA 8.120600 [67.00]


Crotchet Superbudget

 

Ivor Novello had it all. Drop dead gorgeous, actor, singer, composer, a man who may well have saved his own life in the First World War by being able to write a song that would comfort and inspire a nation in that war and the next one too. The West End, Broadway and Hollywood all exhibited his many talents in a life lasting fifty-eight years and the cream of show business would have walked over hot coals to be in one of his musicals in the years before and just after World War Two. He held West End long run records in a career that spanned decades to such an extent that the premier British popular song award is still the one named after him and won most recently my Robbie Williams. How redolent, how evocative his music now sounds, of a lost time of drawing rooms, flats in town, white pianos, cigarette holders, elegant couples in country house weekends, chic little restaurants and ever-so-slightly-naughty west end clubs. Yet perhaps that was the appeal of Novello’s music all along. That even when it was brand new it still seemed old, still seemed to have come from a time the day before yesterday: a chance to escape from the dull routine that, in the 1930s and 1940s when much of his best work came, needed an escape hatch.

His well springs were surely in operetta, his nearest foreign cousin Franz Lehár with just a touch of British reserve. So to his contemporary audiences there was a patina of elegance but less cream on the schnitzel. This is still love in a cold climate, as his contemporaries the Mitfords might have put it. But it is a peerless gift for melody that few British popular composers have ever approached. Most important of all melodies with "hooks", as the songwriters have it, that will stay in the mind for days and so set the cash registers jangling. His was also the era before the detonation in London of the great Broadway musicals of Rogers and Hammerstein that would lay waste the landscapes occupied by Novello, Vivian Ellis, Noel Gay and Noel Coward. Though Jerome Kern’s "Showboat" should have told them all where the wind was blowing from. I think it no coincidence that Novello’s last great West End success (and at 1,022 performances his longest run of all) "Perchance To Dream" appeared at Drury Lane in 1945 two years before "Oklahoma" arrived in the same theatre, kicking like a Texan steer on rodeo day. After which nothing in London theatre land was the same again and Novello’s world was gone forever before his own death six years after, when the angry young men of the British theatre were still hurling teddy bears out of their play pens. Though a decade later Lennon and McCartney would win Ivor Novello Awards I’m rather glad Ivor himself never lived to hear The Beatles, not to mention The Rolling Stones. Nice boys, my dears, but oh heavens that hair! A time past then and heard to best advantage by the singers of the day who knew the nuances and styles that Novello himself counted as second nature. A time when a gay dog was a chap who liked a good time, not a Jack Russell with an earring, and when a royal flush was a hand at poker, not the expression on the face of the monarch when she picked up a tabloid newspaper.

From "Glamorous Night", Novello’s landmark Drury Lane show of 1935, we have six songs, five recorded by original cast members and orchestra in the studio during in the run. Mary Ellis, a genuine New York Met soprano who has only just died at the age of 104, sings the solo "Deep In My Heart" and the exotic duet "Fold Your Wings" with Trefor Jones as though she were really on stage, which is no mean feat in a cold studio. Jones himself is a touch "plummy" for today, but that was the style of the time. The wonderful Elizabeth Welch also sings "The Girl I Knew" and even outshines Ellis’s sense of being in the theatre. Notice also Welch’s care for Christopher Hassall’s words as much for Ivor Novello’s music and listen carefully also for the gay xylophone in the orchestra adding to that natural bounce in Novello’s melody. This song also demonstrates one of his great melodic fingerprints. Just as you think the tune has reached its natural rest he makes it go on for just a little longer. This show also gave us the title song for this CD "Shine Through My Dreams" with which Trefor Jones must have brought the house down every night.

There is nothing from "Careless Rapture" which came in 1936, but there is one song from the lesser known "Crest Of The Wave" which filled Drury Lane in 1937. Dorothy Dickson, like Mary Ellis another American recorded during the original run, sings "If You Only Knew" with a frightfully correct chorus in support. Listening to her rather under par in this song I can’t help but feel Novello must have missed Mary Ellis madly. So her return to Drury Lane in 1937 for "The Dancing Years" must have pleased him greatly. I think you can tell that from "My Dearest Dear" where Novello accompanies her at the piano in 1939 after a brief exchange between them. There are two more songs from "The Dancing Years"; both recorded later in 1950 by Giselle Préville. It’s hard to decide whether her accent adds or detracts from these most quintessentially English songs but as they are two of Novello’s greatest a collection like this couldn’t be without them. Préville starred in the film version of this show made in 1949 and "I Can Give You the Starlight" has another of those long-breathed Novello melodies with a cadence that Lehár would have killed for. Whilst "The Dancing Years" danced on at the Adelphi during the war, Novello’s actual wartime show "Arc de Triomphe" played at the Phoenix Theatre and again matched Mary Ellis and Elizabeth Welch on stage. Welch here sings the exotic "Dark Music" in another "during the run" recording and the microphone again catches that remarkable voice in a song that whilst it doesn’t perhaps represent Novello at his best shows just what a great artist can do with material not out of the top drawer.

The first post-war show for Novello was "Perchance to Dream" at the Hippodrome Theatre in 1945 when he had parted company with Christopher Hassall. Ivor wrote his own book and lyrics this time and this is the show that contains the all-conquering "We’ll Gather Lilacs". Again we have an original cast recording with Muriel Barron and Olive Gilbert. A real sense too of what the audience must have felt in 1945 since it has about it a tone of relief that the war is over and there can be few songs that manage to be both romantic and patriotic at the same time. This song stopped the show every night and with Ivor himself in the cast he must have enjoyed that.

I mentioned at the start that at the very outset of his career Novello wrote a song that may well have saved his life. This was "Keep The Home Fires Burning" which in 1915 made his name and must have marked him out to those who had the power of life and death that he was worth more to the war effort writing songs like this than getting killed in a trench in Belgium. This recording of the great old song was made a month after the outbreak of the Second World War. It was supervised by Novello himself and begins with what sounds so suspiciously like a Welsh male voice choir you must conclude this Cardiff boy was going back to his roots to inspire a nation again. You would need a stone where your heart should be not to feel a missed beat when Olive Gilbert with the chorus and orchestra really hit their stride with this one.

Peter Dempsey has made the transfers with minimum intervention and a real care for the atmosphere these songs convey and his excellent notes tell you all you need to know about the background to them.

This is a superb selection of Ivor Novello’s music by the original performers.

Tony Duggan

Tony’s mother Joan Duggan, now eighty-four years old, would like to add:

When first I saw the face of Ivor Novello on the cover of this new CD I was immediately taken back into the past. I could never resist Ivor’s dark, brooding eyes, that sensual half smile, and his hair falling slightly forward. Seeing him again I knew at once he was compelling me to take a trip with him into the past and listen again.

Sitting back I closed my eyes and heard first that lovely song "Deep In My Heart" sung so beautifully by Mary Ellis, and then "Fold Your Wings" with Mary Ellis and Trefor Jones, followed by "The Radiance in Your Eyes" sung with such great feeling by Reginald Werrenrath in the year of my own birth 1917. With what gusto "The Thought Never Entered My Head" is sung by Winnie Melville and Derek Oldham too. I was also fascinated by the short semi-musical dialogue from the play "Murder In Mayfair" with Edna Best (so lovely, a true actress and remembered by my generation as the wife of Herbert Marshall) and Ivor Novello himself softly playing the piano with his usual skill. I could imagine the dreamy look in those eyes as he lightly touched the keys.

By now I was completely away in the past and I stayed there as I heard the dulcet voice of Trefor Jones once again, this time bringing to life that masterpiece of Novello’s "Shine Through My Dreams" from "Glamorous Night". I even felt myself wishing I could get up and join in with "The Leap Year Waltz" from "Glamorous Night". The spirit was willing but … well, you know the rest. I was also reminded what a superb artist was Elizabeth Welch, excelling here in the sadly neglected song "Dark Music". The greatest nostalgia of all for me, however, was Muriel Barron and Olive Gilbery singing "We’ll Gather Lilacs". You see, in 1945 I had sat in the audience at Drury Lane for the original production of the show that it came from, the unforgettable "Perchance to Dream". I wish they would revive it and I could go.

The last track on the disc brought tears to my eyes. This, of course, is "Keep The Home Fires Burning" recorded one month after the outbreak of World War II. I wasn’t ashamed of my tears. I had been on a nostalgic journey back in the past with the handsome Ivor who with his imagination and his gift of knowing how to tear at the heartstrings had written all these wonderful songs and yet how many people not of my generation are aware of him now? This CD should change that, I hope.

This new collection is a must for any generation but for mine especially. A welcome addition to anyone who enjoys not only soft romantic music with singers who can sing with feeling but music that can start you tapping your feet to as well. I recommend it.

Joan Duggan


and Joan in January 2004
JOHN McCORMACK VOLUME 2: "COME BACK TO ERIN"
Twenty-One original recordings 1910-1921
Transfers and Production by David Lennick and Graham Newton
NAXOS NOSTALGIA 8.120748
[59.34]

 

 

Crotchet Budget price

1) Killarney
2) Come Back To Erin
3) The Minstrel Boy
4) My Lagan Love
5) Dear Little Shamrock
6) Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms
7) Mother Machree
8) The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls
9) Where The River Shannon Flows
10) Molly Brannigan
11) The Foggy Dew
12) The Low Backed Car
13) My Wild Irish Rose
14) It’s a Long Way To Tipperary
15) Ireland, My Sireland
16) That Tubledown Shack in Athlone
17) Sweet Peggy O’Neill
18) The Barefoot Trail
19) The Next Market Day
20) A Ballynure Ballad
21) Little Town in The Old County Down

 

There are certain songs many people never forget and Irish Ballads are some of the most unforgettable. John McCormack reminds us on this disc of how at the beginning of the 20th century they were really sung. John Francis McCormack was of Scots-Irish extraction, born in 1884 in Athlone, his father a wool-mill worker. John was a bright child and in 1902, despite parental opposition, had a burning ambition to become a singer. Through friends he was introduced to his mentor Vincent O’Brian, the conductor of Dublin’s Palestrina Choir. He coached the raw McCormack and in May 1903 he won a Gold Medal at the Feis Ceoil Irish Music Festival.

By 1905 funds were raised for this now handsome, dark-haired young man with the heartbreaking eyes to undertake further study in Milan with Vincenzo Sabatini. First in London in September 1904 he had made his first recordings. These were cylinders for Edison followed a week later by discs for Fred Gaisbergs’s Gramophone Company. He recorded Irish songs, of course. His first forays into opera were in Italy in 1906 but they offered the young tenor no sure way to stardom. It was in London at Convent Garden that he made his debut and final recognition of his talent came in October 1907 where he was partnered in many shows with famous names of the day. His reputation as an operatic singer tenor was high but his acting was indifferent and his career in opera was virtually over by 1914. He had made his American debut in 1909 and acclimatised quickly to life in the USA having already perceived the concert platform as a more lucrative medium. There was, after all, a vast resident Irish audience wanting to hear songs of the Old Country. From his first recording session for the Victor Company in 1910 John was hailed as a master balladeer.

"Killarney" like so many of these recordings, was made with the ubiquitous "studio orchestra" in Camden in London in 1910. It took me a few minutes before I realised I was going to hear Irish Ballads sang as they have never been since that time and needed to adjust my idea of hearing a familiar song in what is now an unfamiliar way. Once I had done so I started to enjoy the experience and I hope you will too. So many people know "Killarney" and McCormack’s voice is a real delight. He appears to sing in the same measured tone throughout, and yet the distinction is there as he sings of the beautiful Killarney . You will at once appreciate hearing his elegant phrasing, and outstanding diction with remarkable breath support in all the other recordings. No wonder he made his mark so young. What could be more appropriate to follow than the delightful "Come Back To Erin" recorded in February 1910 also in Camden. McCormack sings in the same easy, lazy way but never are you unaware of a lush quality in his delivery, of how he is appealing and yearning for his darling to come back to Erin. I was impressed by the studio orchestra here especially the fine short introduction and then all through this lovely Irish air how they appear to be in complete accord with McCormack, who never time fails to sing in that soothing and velvety voice. Next from these 1910 sessions is "The Minstrel Boy". It was said that McCormack’s secret of his hold on the public was his sincerity. On listening to this I can believe it. Not an easy recording to hear all the words, but that doesn’t matter too much as it is pure joy to hear how McCormack lovingly embraces every note by using every one with a slightly different inflection so making this very lovely Irish ballad sound as it was meant to be. I am sure you will agree this song will never be sung again with such tenderness and feeling.

In March the same year we find McCormack in New York where he records for Victor "My Lagan Love" . This is an old Irish Air from a 1909 cycle of three Ulster Folk songs and arranged by Sir Hamilton Harty. This is one of the few Irish songs I have heard McCormack sing where I found nothing to impress me. I listened several times but I think it lacks some spark that most Irish Ballads have. What a difference his next recording proved to be, though. Back in London in April 1910 he recorded the much-loved "Dear Little Shamrock". I was certainly conscious of a slight lump in my throat as I listened to words so clearly and eloquently sung from the heart. The studio orchestra play admirably and this is one of the gems on the disc.

Back in New York March 1911 he recorded for Victor another sentimental Irish song "Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms". Such a lovely old song and as McCormack sings it you know he is passionately asking you to believe in those endearing charms, and you do. His pure clear voice rises and falls and while you listen you wonder how he manages to control his breathing. But he does and every word is pure gold. This is a number that should never be hurried, meant to be sweet and soft, and that’s what you have here. Next from this session is "Mother Machree". He sings of the memory of a Mother who has silvery hair, brown marks and wrinkles of age, and with real emotion in his voice sings "God Bless You and Keep You Mother Machree." He sings this age old song in a voice that never loses its fluency.

Back in London in April 1912 we have "The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls" a delightful old song of ancient Ireland. I loved it and McCormack sings it in a jovial manner as you could imagine a crowd of children would sing it. You know he loves what he is singing, and you hear how he can adjust his voice to whatever type of music it is. Maybe you will have some difficulty making out the words again but McCormack’s voice will be enough. What better to follow than "Where the River Shannon Flows" , another sentimental love song McCormack recorded in London January 1913. He sings of how his heart is breaking as he leaves his little Irish rose down by the River Shannon. He sings a tender, romantic story without effort in the way we have become accustomed to hearing. It never matters if you ignore all the words, because the pleasure is listening to McCormack’s unique voice which will persuade you into thinking he means every word and his voice will tell you how he feels in his heart.

The following three songs are traditional ones recorded in London in January 1913, with Spencer Clay accompanying on the piano and the studio orchestra in the background. The first is "Molly Brannigan " followed by "The Foggy Dew" and "The Low Backed Car". All of these show how versatile and gifted a singer McCormack could be. They are typical Irish comic songs with all the usual humorous lyrics sung as only the true Irish can with style and enjoyment and yet in a subtle way. At times you even feel he is tempting you to stand up and do a jig.

The last recording John McCormack recorded in London before he left for New York in 1914 was "My Wild Irish Rose" and he sings as only he can of the sweetest flower that grows and how nothing could compare. In New York that same year he recorded "It’s A Long Way To Tipperary" to back the war effort and although now aspiring to American citizenship he was still fond of the old country that had given him his first break.

He recorded "Ireland, My Sireland" in New York in April 1917 but this is a song I cannot really decide whether I like or not. McCormack sings as beautifully as ever, but the question for me is what is the song really about? The rest of the songs on the disc were recorded in London at intervals over three years. They are all traditional Irish sung from the heart and you are left in no doubt he means every word and relishes and loves to be singing about Ireland whether it be a sentimental tone, or a humorous one, with every intention of making you want to dance too. It’s a case of listening to a man whose intention is to make you happy.

I do recommend this disc. The voice of John MacCormack is always worth listening to even at this early stage in his career. The pre-electrical 78s have been transferred beautifully.

Joan Duggan

 

They just don't write them like that anymore!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 


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Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

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Reviews from previous months
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