Decca Sound - The Mono Years 1944-1956 FFRR: Part 3 - Discs 17-24
by Jonathan Woolf

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op.15 [47:01]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.4 in B flat major, Op.60 [30:58] ¹
Clifford Curzon (piano)
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Eduard van Beinum
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Josef Krips ¹
rec. 1953

Disc 17 opens with an old friend, Curzon’s 1953 Brahms D minor with van Beinum. This has been reissued several times, and the last time I reviewed it was over a decade ago in volume 2 of the Original Masters series devoted to the pianist’s long association with the company. The coupling is Krips’ well-paced, sensible and thoroughly recommendable Beethoven symphony, a reminder perhaps of his similarly worthwhile Everest cycle.

Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Symphony No.3, ‘Symphonie liturgique’ [30:21] ¹
Chant de joie [5:33] ¹
Conrad BECK (1901-1989)
Viola Concerto [20:41] ²
Bernard REICHEL (1901-1992)
Concertino for piano and orchestra [18:50] ³
Walter Kägi (viola) ²
Christaine Montandon (piano) ³
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/Robert Denzler ¹
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Jean Meylan ²
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Edmond Appia ³
rec.1952 (Beck and Reichel) and 1955 (Honegger)

These recordings may well have passed by even the more assiduous collector, and Decca provides the LP sleeve pdfs link for further reading. All the composers are Swiss. Denzler directs a striking reading of Honegger’s Liturgique, with an especially bristling and fast first movement. In its lithe-stringed playing, its powerfully hard-won serenity and taut direction it deserves to stand alongside the recordings of the composer himself and Tzipine. Conrad Beck’s Viola Concerto is somewhat neo-classical and also Honegger-influenced: unsurprising; the older man was Beck’s teacher. Folk hints, expressive dissonance and a good, crabby finale mark out this work. Reichel’s Concertino evokes older French harpsichord music in the then-modern manner, with a touch of folksiness here, too, and some Ravel. This is a really fine restoration and an interesting disc all-round.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.61 [46:37]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No.102 in B flat major, Hob.I:102 [27:05]
Mischa Elman (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Georg Solti
rec. 1951 (Haydn) and 1955 (Beethoven)
Papa Mischa is represented by his 1955 recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Solti. You’ll find all Elman’s numerous Deccas on Testament; this one is on SBT4 1343 which is just a touch warmer than this Decca restoration. Once past some edgy-sounding broken octaves, and admittedly at a slow basic pulse, this is an endearing reading. Fans of cadenzas (some exist) can mull over the fiddler’s own famously controversial cadenzas in this work. Solti recorded a lot of Haydn for Decca in these early years and his Symphony No.102 goes well with No.101, which he had already recorded for the company but isn’t in this FFRR set – though Münchinger’s is.

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.77 [39:32] ¹
Federico ELIZALDE (1907-1979)
Violin Concerto [24:11] ²
Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999)
Concierto de estío [21:00] ³
Christian Ferras (violin)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Carl Schuricht ¹
London Symphony Orchestra/Gaston Poulet ²
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/George Enescu ³
rec. 1947 (Elizalde), 1951 (Rodrigo) and 1954 (Brahms)

A much younger violinist who signed to the Decca roster was Christian Ferras. The Ferras-Karajan collaboration is the best known example of the violinist’s’ playing in the Brahms but many will prefer Schuricht’s thoughtful accompaniment in 1954 – it can also be found in the Schuricht Original Masters set. Ferras plays Kreisler’s cadenza with great sweetness of tone. The other two works have already been reissued on Testament but it’s a shame that there’s no pdf link as hardly anyone will otherwise have heard them. This FFRR transfer is more penetrating and immediate than the 10” LP of the Elizalde. Ferras plays Elizalde’s Concerto with succulence and enjoys its festive element. He also plays Rodrigo’s work with great elegance and warmth, though there’s a touch of degradation about the sound. Enescu is the conductor here.

Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Graduation Ball: Ballet Suite compiled and arranged by Antal Dorati ¹ [37:01]
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
Ballet Suite No.1 arranged by Felix Mottl ² [15:04]
André-Ernest-Modeste GRÉTRY (1741-1813)
Ballet Suite, arranged by Constant Lambert from Zémire et Azor ² [24:07]
New Symphony Orchestra of London/Anatole Fistoulari ¹
New Symphony Orchestra of London/Robert Irving ²
rec. 1953 (Strauss) and 1955 (Gluck, Grétry)

Three composers, three arrangers, two conductors. The company’s regular ballet directors are on hand here, Fistoulari and Irving. Dorati compiled and arranged the Strauss which is played with brio whilst the Gluck was arranged by Felix Mottl and is played in quite a red-blooded way. Something has gone awry with the tracking points, however, both here and in Constant Lambert’s Grétry suite. The Orfeo/Armide tracks need sorting out and the Pantomime and Passepied of the Grétry have been transposed.

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Nutcracker: Suite No.1, Op.71a ¹ [20:13]
The Nutcracker: Suite No.2, Op.71, selected by Anatole Fistoulari ¹ [25:10]
The Sleeping Beauty: Suite, Op.66 ² [17:47]
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/Anatole Fistoulari ¹
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/Roger Désormière ²
rec. 1951

Fisty is back for an all-Tchaikovsky ballet disc. This was the kind of thing he did very well, albeit the Sleeping Beauty is in the hands of Roger Désormière. All the recordings were made in Paris, a favourite destination for Decca. Crisp, bright trumpets, for sure, though the strings can be a little slack for Fistoulari. They’re on their toes more for the French conductor, who manages to squeeze just a bit more juice out of them.

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Cello Sonata No 1 in E minor, Op.38 [21:17] ¹
Cello Sonata in F major, Op.99 [22:54] ¹
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Viola da gamba Sonata in G major, BWV1027 arranged for cello [14:36] ²
Pierre Fournier (cello)
Wilhelm Backhaus (piano) ¹
Ernest Lush (piano) ²
rec. 1952 (Bach) and 1955 (Brahms)

We move on to the first of the Decca cellists to be honoured in the box, the aristocratic Fournier. Both Brahms sonatas with Backhaus have seen reissue service more than once and they have earned their reputation over time. They’re not simply notable for the cellist’s refined and unaffected playing but also for this very rare example of Backhaus as a collaborative artist. Normally on disc he ploughed the solo route as recitalist or concerto soloist. Excellent ensemble, and balance with requisite lightning of tone when required; splendid lyricism. This was very much a meeting of musical aesthetics, unlike the Piatigorsky-Solomon mismatch in the Beethoven sonatas. The Bach is no mere filler. With Britain’s best instrumental accompanist of the time, Ernest Lush, Fournier proves a master of phraseology. The recording here is earlier and is a bit wintry, especially the rather cutting cello sound.

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Arpeggione Sonata in A minor, D821 [21:06]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasiestücke, Op.73 [11:38]
Three Romances, Op.94 [10:40]
Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.129 [22:03]
Maurice Gendron (cello): Jean Françaix (piano)
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
rec. 1952 (Schubert and Schumann Opp.73 and 94) and 1953 (Schumann Concerto)

Another French cellist is the subject of disc 24 – namely, Maurice Gendron, His collaboration with Jean Françaix can be heard in the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata. This is a bit of a light-sounding recording – there’s not much depth to it – but the playing itself is excellent. Gendron’s palette was, in any case, less richly resonant than Fournier’s. The Schumann Concerto with Ansermet was originally coupled with the Rococo Variations but here we have the Fantasiestücke and Three Romances. Ansermet distinguishes himself as an accompanist and the performance is on a much higher level of subtlety than the Schuster/Waxman recording of around the same time that I recently reviewed on Forgotten Records.

Postscript; there’s a clever interplay of artists here, a good conjunction of a Golden Age fiddler (Elman) and a young pretender (Ferras) as well as two cellist contemporaries. The Curzon-Brahms is an old favourite though the Krips coupling shouldn’t be overlooked. Fistoulari can be heard in standard rep doing what he did best. Disc 18 is a stand-out.

The next tranche moves from discs 25 to 32. There are two discs devoted to the Griller Quartet’s Bloch, we meet another quartet - the Quartetto Italiano – and the young Gulda, Jensen in Sibelius, Kleiber’s Choral and Pastoral, and Knappertsbusch’s 1954 Bruckner 3.

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