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Decca Sound - The Mono Years 1944-1956 FFRR: Part 6 - Discs 42-53
by Jonathan Woolf

CD42 [81:39]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Cello Sonata in G minor, Op.19 [34:46]
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Sonata for solo cello, Op.8 [26:04]
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Suite No.2 for solo cello, Op.131c [17:25]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cello Suite No.3 in C major, BWV1009: Bourées [3:00]
Zara Nelsova (cello)
Artur Balsam (piano)
rec. 1955-56

Nelsova admirers will probably already have invested in the Original Masters box that celebrates her Decca recordings, and I was convinced that I’d already reviewed the box for MWI but my mind was clearly playing tricks. I bought it for myself. The compilers have selected sonatas and solo works, avoiding the big concertos, not least her famous recording of Barber’s concerto with the composer conducting in 1950. What we have here is a precious example of her Bach, of which little else remains, her outstanding Rachmaninov and those pieces that had a surprisingly short catalogue life on LP; the Reger and Kodály, both of which she plays memorably. Her sonata partner is Artur Balsam, one of the best.

CD43 [64:21]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Quintet, Op.57 [41:33]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Piano Quintet No.1 [32:31]
Quintetto Chigiano

Decca had a number of string quartets on its books and was to add to its roster over the years but it also took the opportunity to record other visiting groups when they made British tours. One such was the Quintetto Chigiano (sometimes ‘Chigi’), founded in 1939, which allowed the company to explore the piano quintet repertoire. They made seven LPs for Decca between 1950 and 1952 and the two works presented here are Decca CD premiere releases. Despite the accustomed West Hampstead location the Shostakovich is rather a trebly recording, and a little tiring to listen to without a treble cut. The disc had the misfortune to compete in the market with that of the Hollywood String Quartet and Victor Aller on Capitol, which is its superior in all ways. The coupling, however, Bloch’s Quintet – Decca liked its Bloch – is superbly realised, with real intensity – though the string players are not nearly as full bodied of tone as the Grillers.

CD44 [72:15]
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Piano Quintet in A major, Op.57 No.1 G413 [14:32]
Piano Quintet in D minor, Op.57 No.4 G416 [18:51]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Quintet in F minor, Op.34 [37:29]
Quintetto Chigiano
rec. 1951-52

Pre-war, several ensembles had explored Boccherini on 78s, though there was never an extensive archival undertaking to present much more than the occasional piece or movements from them. The Poltronieri is an example of exploratory work and later on the Quartetto Italiano did much to popularise the composer. The Chigiano are lively in the A major, and suitably sensitive in the more serious and proportionate D minor. Their Brahms is clean-limbed and lightly singing in a kind of Franco-Belgian way; tonal saturation was not their aim, but clarification was.

CD45 [56:15]
Nicolň PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Violin Concerto No.1 in D major, Op.6 [28:36]
Violin Concerto No.2 in B minor, Op.7 [27:23]
Ruggiero Ricci (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/Anthony Collins
rec. 1955

As with Zara Nelsova, Decca has already paid handsome homage to it star virtuoso in the Original Masters box, which has already been reviewed. The orchestral string tone remains a bit thin but I’ll also draw attention once again to Anthony Collins, ex-violist, and fine accompanist.

CD46 [80:48]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No.25 in G minor, K183 [17:03]
Symphony No.38 in D major, K504 Prague [24:03]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868) š
Overtures: The Siege of Corinth [9:08]: William Tell [11:04]: Tancredi [5:34]: Il Signor Bruschino [4:34]: La Cenerentola [7:35]
London Symphony Orchestra/Georg Solti and Piero Gamba š
rec. 1954-55

There are more examples here of the ongoing relationship between Decca and Georg Solti. In a previous instalment I rather regretted that Decca had given the Mozart symphonies to Solti rather than to Maag. Solti had been a Decca artist since 1947, firstly as an accompanist to violinist Georg Kulenkampff. Let loose on symphonies he proves prickly in places in No.25 and efficient in No.38. He shares disc-space with Piero Gamba’s enlivening Rossini overtures.

CD47 [69:57]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Music for strings, percussion and celesta, BB114 [27:45]
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Háry János – suite, Op.35a [21:35]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No.100 in G major, Hob.I:100 Military [20:06]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Georg Solti
rec. 1954-55

Haydn was a staple of Solti’s repertoire at this time, a fact reflected in several Decca recordings, as here. However the main focus of interest falls on the pairing of Bartók and Kodály. The taut, tense performance of the Music for strings, percussion and celesta shows him on pretty much top form, and he takes the LPO with him all the way. If some prefer Fricsay’s direction of the suite from Háry János, Solti’s characterisation is not notably inferior.

CD48 [70:46]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trio No.7 in B flat major, Op.97 Archduke [36:09]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Trio No.1 in B major, Op.8 [33:46]
Trio de Trieste
rec. 1952-53

The later DG recordings of the Trio de Trieste are better known than the earlier sequence of LPs that the ensemble made for Decca. They are predictably fine in the Archduke but are saddled with an impossible recording. Made in the Geneva Hall, it’s very shrill and unflattering and a real disappointment: violinist Renato Zanettovich is made to sound as if he’s wielding a razor, not a bow. A rare Victor Olof miscalculation. The following year, in the same hall, the ensemble sounds transformed in a nicely paced Brahms. They are more urgent in the Decca scherzo and broader in its slow movement than they are later for DG. Later they tended to become a touch less expressive.

CD49 [71:14]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No.5 in B flat major, Op.100 [39:57]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No.5 in E flat major, Op.82 [21:00]
Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra/Erik Tuxen
rec. 1952

Tuxen’s recording of Sibelius 5 has been reissued several times, and was prominently available on Dutton CDBP9801. Note the missing digit in the track information: 14 minutes not four. There’s inevitable high level detritus but it can safely be ignored. Tuxen brings out the music’s balletic elements, reserving power for the finale. The reading is largely straight-forward but compelling. His much less well remembered recording of Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony has no excesses and finds considerable lyricism in the music.

CD50 [79:08]
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Symphony No.5, FS197 [33:30]
Flute Concerto, FS119 [18:32]
Clarinet Concerto, FS129 [26:45] š
Gilbert Jespersen (flute): Ib Erikson (clarinet)
Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Jensen and Mogens Wödikeš
rec. 1954

This disc and the previous one explore recordings made in Copenhagen when Decca’s symphonic portfolio was expanding. In addition to Tuxen, they recorded Thomas Jensen, two years later, in Nielsen. This Fifth symphony LP is probably too famous to require much comment and it’s been reissued before but fits perfectly into this box’s remit to present pieces that reflect Decca’s musical aspirations. Gilbert Jespersen premiered the Flute Concerto, and in the Clarinet Concerto Ib Erikson is partnered not by Jensen but by Mogens Wödike. Cahuzac’s Columbia recording with Frandsen and the Royal Copenhagen may be the better-remembered but Erikson is devilishly alive to the quixotic interplay between himself and the orchestral principals.

CD51 [77:46]
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
String Quartet No.1 in E minor, From My Life [30:11]
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
String Quartet No.2, Op.10 [16:48]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quartet No.13 in A minor, D804 [30:27]
Végh Quartet
rec. 1952 and 1953

Central European repertoire with an Eastward slant is in the characterful hands of the Végh Quartet. Their Smetana is richly expressive and the compact Kodály Quartet No.2 is full of rhythmic zest and intensity. Their more classical credentials can be savoured in their excellent Schubert.

CD52 [66:50]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Divertimento No.17 in D major, K334 [36:38]
Divertimento No.10 in F major, K247 [27:53]
Members of the Vienna Octet
rec. 1950 and 1952

The sequence of discs draws to a close with the most gemütlich of ensembles, the Vienna Octet. It was a direct consequence of recording the Vienna Philharmonic that the Octet, whose violinist Will Boskovsky, was leader of the VPO, was also signed by the company. Boskovsky’s long-overlooked Mozart sonata recordings have been restored of late – they were originally reissued in boxed LP sets in the 1980s – and attest to his affiliations, which infuse these delightful recordings of the Divertimenti, made in 1950 and 1952.

CD53 [64:30]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Octet in E flat major, Op.20 [28:57]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op.116 [35:02]
Members of the Vienna Octet including Alfred Boskovsky (clarinet)
rec. 1953

The set concludes with a brace that offers high spirits and mellow reflection. The Mendelssohn is played with rich-toned resonance but also sufficient rhythmic impulse to excite, and the recording in the Musikverein – home turf for the group – is excellent. In the Brahms Alfred Boskovsky proves a notable exponent. He plays with minimal vibrato, unlike his English contemporary Reginald Kell who made a recording of it at around the same time. The string players draw out the music’s underlying motion with romantic ardour; no prosaic felt underlay to support the clarinet but a true feeling of interweaved participation.

Postscript; It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable experience reviewing these discs, but boxed sets are difficult beasts. The sheer bulk of the thing invariably means duplication to those interested. Mind you, it’s not desperately expensive and doesn’t take up much house room. Doubtless the Decca vocal set will be along soon, so you might want to weigh up the pros and cons of a single or double investment. If all this wasn’t enough, try not to get distracted – because I am distracted - by the quandary of whether to buy the Mercury and Westminster sets but that’s a whole new ball game.

Jonathan Woolf

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