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Jonathan Woolf
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Jonathan Woolf
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Decca Sound - The Mono Years 1944-1956 FFRR: Part 2 - Discs 9-16
by Jonathan Woolf

A brief introduction to part two of this brief survey: the first concerns playing time, which is by and large excellent with ‘bonus’ material frequently taking discs well beyond the 80-minute mark. The second point is cost. You can find this set going for around £63, though postage may take that up. Critics frequently like to say that because this or that box is a pound-a-disc (or whatever) it’s a steal and you, the benighted reader who actually has to fork out the money, shouldn’t really think twice. We live in a time blessed/cursed/swamped with reissue boxes. Look at Westminster, look at Mercury; much of this material has been tougher to source than many of these mono FFRRs. Even if a big beautiful box is only £63, you may well have shelled out for some of the Eloquence or Decca Original Masters, which cover much of the same material: you may well not want much of the rest. You may well decide that you could buy repertoire-interesting single CDs to the same value. Price is a part of the decision-making process, of course, but it’s not everything.

CD 9 [73:40]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Suite No.3 in G major, Op.55 [37:48]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
The Love for Three Oranges: suite, Op.33bis [17:14]
Lieutenant Kijé: suite, Op.60 [17:40]
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/ Adrian Boult
rec. June 1955, La Maison de la Mutualité, Paris (Tchaikovsky) and Kingsway Hall, London (Prokofiev)

Here we have Boult the Russian in Paris in 1955, an indication that Decca’s A&R team didn’t have him pegged as the British music specialist that he, in any case, never was. He was a fine interpreter of the Suite, to which he returned, slightly slower, in 1974 for EMI, to be found in their ‘Tchaikovsky to Gershwin’ box dedicated to him. Beulah released this, coupled with Boult’s Tchaikovsky Symphony No.3 recording, on 4PD12. Decca’s sound, taken from the original tapes is mellower, Beulah’s which was taken from a commercial copy has more emphatic treble and a higher level of associated hiss. Very usefully we also have examples of the conductor’s Prokofiev, where the Paris orchestra is sufficiently biting and, where required, satiric. Boult gets good sectional discipline from a band prone to occasional bouts of indifference.

CD 10 [71:19]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Job - A Masque for Dancing [45:39]
The Wasps – Aristophanic Suite [25:31]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Adrian Boult
rec. 1953-54, Kingsway Hall, London

It doesn’t get more centrally recommendable than Boult in VW. His EMI recordings can be found in his VW box and they both pre-and post-date these Deccas – 1946 and 1970 in the case of Job. This Decca version has resonant personality, immediacy of recording and a real sense of colour. There is magnificent swagger in the Dance of the Three Messengers and leader Joseph Shadwick shines in his Elihu’s Dance solo. Add a vibrant Wasps – also in the EMI box – and this is pretty much perfect.

CD 11 [82:14]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Sinfonia da Requiem, Op.20 [19:47] ¹
Diversions, Op.21 [23:51] ²
Peter Grimes: Four Sea Interludes, Op.33a [14:27] ³
Peter Grimes: Passacaglia, Op.33b [6:50] ³
The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell), Op.34 [17:05] ³
Julius Katchen (piano) ²
Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra/Benjamin Britten ¹
London Symphony Orchestra/Benjamin Britten ²
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Eduard van Beinum ³
rec. 1953, Grote Zaal, Concertgebouw (Opp.33a and 33b, 34): 1953 Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen (Requiem): 1954, Kingsway Hall, London (Diversions)

The featured LP here is Britten’s Danish recording of the Sinfonia da Requiem and his LSO traversal, with Julius Katchen, of Diversions. This Decca is strongly preferable - with richer bass and sharper definition - to Heritage HTGCD244 which has both works, adding the Piano Concerto with Jacques Abram. This is a fairly classic reissue favourite and so too is van Beinum’s humourless and indeed positively glum Young Person’s Guide, which catches the great Dutchman on a bad day.

CD 12 [81:28]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Praeludium and Allegro in the style of Pugnani [5:20]
Liebesleid [4:11]
Liebesfreud [3:43]
Polichinelle [1:46]
Schön Rosmarin [2:04]
Caprice viennois Op.2 [4:09]
Tambourin chinois, Op.3 [3:46]
Rondino on a theme by Beethoven [2:49]
La Chasse [1:54]
La Gitana [3:32]
Variations ona theme of Corelli (in the style of Tartini) [2:52]
Ignacy Jan PADEREWSKI (1860-1941)
Menuet célèbre, Op.14 No.1 in G major, arr. Kreisler [3:33]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1836-1880)
Caprice in E flat major, arr. Kreisler [2:13]
Caprice in A minor, arr. Kreisler [1:25]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Andaluza; Spanish Dance Op.37 No.5 [4:19]
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Symphonie espagnole in D minor, Op.21 [32:33] ¹
Alfredo Campoli (violin)
Eric Gritton (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Eduard van Beinum ¹
rec. 1953, Kingsway Hall (Lalo) and 1954, Decca Studios, West Hampstead (Kreisler recital etc)

Here’s another well-packed disc that clocks in at 81 and a half minutes. The core is Campoli’s Kreislerian salute which I reviewed in its Decca Eloquence incarnation back in 2002. A point to note: Eloquence is cut higher, but is more congested in sound; as compensation you hear more of the room ambience than in this FFRR box transfer. The bonus is the substantial addition of Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole where he was teamed with van Beinum. You’ll find this splendid performance in the Decca Masters box devoted to the conductor, but it’s been reissued elsewhere.

CD 13 [84:12]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Violin Concerto in B minor, Op.61 [45:31]
George BUTTERWORTH (1885-1916)
A Shropshire Lad – Rhapsody [8:44]
The Banks of Green Willow [5:20]
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Tintagel [13:28]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
The Perfect Fool – Ballet Suite, Op.39 [10:46]
Alfredo Campoli (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Adrian Boult
rec. 1954, Kingsway Hall, London

More Campoli; more Boult. More things you’re probably familiar with. The total timing of this disc is more generous than ever. The Elgar Concerto was reissued by Eloquence and Beulah so I’ve already welcomed it back twice. It’s something of a classic statement and there’s no papery sound in this restoration, which is excellent. Boult’s bonus is a string of works with which he was long associated and often recorded. Decca hasn’t reissued the Elgar ‘internationally’ – but please note that I don’t really think this means much, in the context – though the company has certainly reissued the Bax, Butterworth and Holst disc.

CD 14 [83:55]
William WALTON (1902-1983)
Façade; An Entertainment [35:41] ¹
Façade: Suites I and II [20:46] ²
Constant LAMBERT (1905-1951)
Horoscope: ballet suite [25:35] ²
Peter Pears and Edith Sitwell (narrators)/English Opera Group Ensemble/Anthony Collins ¹
London Symphony Orchestra/Robert Irving
rec. 1953, Kingsway Hall, London (Horoscope): 1953 (Façade suites) and 1954 (Façade; an Entertainment), Decca Studios, West Hampstead

There is a slight feel of ‘Been there, got the T-shirt’ about this run of discs, but what else could Decca do? If you have Anthony Collins’s Walton recordings and Robert Irving’s Constant Lambert Horoscope in your catalogue it’s inevitable that they must be here. The Façade Suites Nos. 1 and 2 and the Lambert are making first international appearances, I should note. The famous Pears-Sitwell recording doesn’t need any introduction and it’s seldom absent from the catalogue; I last reviewed it in its British Music Collection incarnation. Certainly Irving’s Horoscope is much less well-known but is a splendid example of his interpretative nuance in ballet music.

CD 15 [79:54]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Introduction and Allegro for strings, Op.47 [13:23]
Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op.20 [10:59]
Falstaff: Symphonic Study, Op.68 [36:11] ¹
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis [16:08]
Fantasia on ‘Greensleeves’ arr. Ralph Greaves [4:49]
Members of the New Symphony Orchestra of London/Anthony Collins
London Symphony Orchestra/Anthony Collins ¹
rec. 1952, Decca Studios, West Hampstead, except 1954, Kingsway Hall, London (Falstaff)

Anthony Collins has this disc all to himself. Once again there are competing transfers as all the Elgars have been reissued by Beulah on 4PD12 and 1PD15 and the VW pieces are on 1PD26. There is not a huge amount to be done regarding the shrillness of the fiddles, and even a treble cut is imperfectly successful. Still, Collins understood Elgar’s string writing from the inside, having played under his direction, and his Introduction and Allegro is vigorous and manly – less flexible in pulse than Barbirolli’s but with some splendidly taut entry points. The Serenade sounds cut at a lower level; it gets a level-headed performance, too, and not one as emotional as Sargent’s. The Tallis Fantasia is rather beautifully done. Collins rarely made a bad disc.

CD 16 [62:02]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Quartet No.1 in G minor, K478 [23:06] ¹
Piano Quartet No.2 in E flat major, K493 [23:17] ¹
Horn Quintet in E flat major, K407 [15:05] ²
Members of the Amadeus Quartet and Clifford Curzon (piano) ¹
Members of the Griller Quartet with Dennis Brain (horn) and Max Gilbert (viola) ²
rec. 1944, (Horn Quintet): 1952 (Piano Quartets), Decca Studios, West Hampstead

Back to the venerable start, almost. The Horn Quintet dates from October 1944 and famously teamed Dennis Brain with members of the Griller Quartet and a stalwart Decca recording artist, violist Max Gilbert. You may well have 425960-2, which reproduces all three pieces on this sixteenth disc in the FFRR set. Despite advances in restoration technique the slow movement still sounds a touch crumbly in places. The Amadeus members were joined by Curzon for their outings made in 1952 and produced and engineered by the elite team of Culshaw and Wilkinson.

Postscript: the next instalment of discs amplifies A&R priorities for the company and demonstrates the advances made by FFRR technology. Repertoire widens somewhat to include Honegger, Conrad Beck and Bernard Reichel. Both artist and repertoire decision making is exemplified when the company signs Christian Ferras to record Elizalde and Rodrigo – as well as Brahms. Fistoulari looms large in ballet and two of the label’s great instrumentalists, cellists Fournier and Gendron, make their appearance. Old timer Mischa Elman shows that the youngsters don’t have all the violinistic glory.

<<< Part 1 ~~ Part 3 >>>



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