Adrian Boult, Albeniz, Alfredo Campoli, Ansermet, Anthony Collins, Argenta, Arthur Bliss, Backhaus, Bartok, Beecham, Beethoven, Bloch, Boccherini, Boyd Neel, Brahms, Britten, Bruckner, Chabrier, Clemens Krauss, Curzon, Debussy, Dennis Brain, Desormière, Elgar, Enescu, Erich Kleiber, Ferras, Fistoulari, Fournier, Gendron, Griller String Quartet, Gulda, Handel, Haydn, Honegger, Jean Fournet, Johann Strauss II, Katchen, Khachaturian, Knappertsbusch, Kreisler, Krips, Lympany, Magaloff, Martinon, Mischa Elman, Mozart, Nelsova, Nielsen, Paganini, Peter Maag, Poulenc, Prokofiev, Quartetto Italiano, Quintetto Chigiano, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Ricci, Robert Irving, Roussel, Schubert, Schumann, Schuricht, Shostakovich, Sibelius, Solti, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Thomas Jensen, van Beinum, Vaughan Williams, Wagner, Wiener Oktett
Label : Decca
Format : Flac track
Cover : No
Decca’s big box “Mono Years” retrospective focuses on orchestral and instrumental recordings made between 1944 and 1956, many of which appear for the first time on CD. Its 53 discs are packaged in original jacket facsimiles (many including generous “bonus” fillers), ordered alphabetically by performer, and for the most part transferred from the best possible sources. If Decca lacked the strong artist and repertoire policies that distinguished EMI and RCA Victor during that time, its early outreach into local European markets actually yielded a surprisingly eclectic, far-reaching, and unpredictable catalog. Unpredictable, in fact, is the operative word regarding the set’s overall artistic and sonic quality.
Decca’s “Full Frequency Range Recording” engineering yielded some of the mono era’s best-sounding releases, like the Jean Martinon/London Philharmonic Lalo Suites from Namouna and concerted works with pianist Kathleen Long contained on Disc 38. By contrast, the Eric Tuxen/Danish Radio Symphony Prokofiev Symphony No. 5 sounds as if the hard-pressed orchestra had been shoved into an airless closet. Yet another dynamically constricted Danish Radio Symphony release conveys vivid detail and far superior playing in Sibelius’ complete Lemminkainen Suite under Thomas Jensen. Similarly, London’s orchestras could be strident and scrappy in Elgar and Vaughan Williams with Anthony Collins in charge, or positively shine in Haydn, Kodály, Mozart, and Bartók when the young Georg Solti wielded the baton.
You never knew what you’d get from the post-war Vienna Philharmonic: phoning in Haydn and Beethoven for Karl Münchinger; oozing charm (if not tip-top precision) for Hans Knappertsbusch in Bruckner’s Third Symphony, corrupt text and all; or trying hard to reconcile their genial style within Erich Kleiber’s forthright rhythmic integrity in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Listeners accustomed to modern-day period-instrument Handel will certainly find the 1950/’53 Boyd Neel String Orchestra Concerti Grossi Op. 6 and Water Music Suites anachronistic in regard to their conservative tempos, square-cut metrics, and frilly yet oddly endearing vibrato. Today when we take sonically spectacular, note-perfect performances of iconic 20th-century orchestral masterpieces for granted, it’s easy to forget that these were relatively new, unfamiliar, and difficult works. All the more reason to admire and respect Ernest Ansermet’s vitality and commitment in Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps and Petrouchka despite the admittedly raw-toned L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.
The 1948 Concertgebouw Bartók Concerto for Orchestra was the work’s second recording, and Eduard van Beinum’s fervent leadership and genuine response to the score overcome pockets of poor intonation and “iffy” brass work. Conversely, Britten’s Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes pose no problems for Beinum and the COA, while the aforementioned Danish Radio Symphony plays Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem well under the young composer’s direction.
Another historic item returns to the catalog in the form of Arthur Bliss leading his Colour Symphony and Violin Concerto. The latter’s excellent soloist, Alfredo Campoli, is on hand for the best mono-era Elgar concerto next to Heifetz. The Griller Quartet’s sensitive and responsive performances of Ernest Bloch’s first four quartets also reflects the ensemble’s close association with the composer. However, the biggest surprises among 20th-century fare stem from unlikely sources.
Disc 6 resurrects genuine and musically worthy rarities in the form of Croatian composers Krešimir Baranovi? and Fran Lhotka leading their own glitzy ballet suites. And I’ll bet that few collectors have heard, or even heard of, Robert F. Denzler’s absolute scorcher of Honegger’s Symphonie liturgique, where the Paris Conservatory Orchestra’s unforgettable watery brass, piercing winds, and silver-toned strings gush forth local color at full steam. Most of the items featuring soloists are relatively familiar to reissue enthusiasts. These include an Alfredo Campoli encore recital, Clifford Curzon’s Mozart and Brahms, the Fournier/Backhaus Brahms Cello Sonatas, the young Friedrich Gulda’s Beethoven, Moura Lympany’s Rachmaninov Third and Khatchaturian Concertos, Nikita Magaloff’s classically-chiseled 1952 Granados Goyescas, and prime Ruggerio Ricci Paganini (Concertos 1 & 2).
All of the set’s chamber recordings hold interest. Some may know the Koppel Quartet’s Nielsen Fourth Quartet recording via Danacord’s historic Nielsen reissue series; here it reappears with its original coupling, the Vagn Holmboe Third Quartet. Anything from the Vegh Quartet at its early 1950s apex is welcome, and I hope that this first international CD release of its Smetana First, Kodály Second, and Schubert “Death and the Maiden” quartets will be made available separately. Ditto the Quartetto Italiano’s rounded and refined Haydn E-flat (Hob. III:64 No. 6), Boccherini D major Op. 6 No. 1, and Schumann Op. 41 No. 2 quartets.
Believe it or not, my first exposure to the Shostakovich Piano Quintet was an old Decca “Ace of Clubs” LP reissue featuring the Quintetto Chigiano. This 1952 recording is not the most idiomatic, to put it kindly, but the Siena-based ensemble proves better suited to the Brahms F minor and Bloch C minor Quintets, along with a pair of Boccherini works. The Trio di Trieste’s Brahms B major Trio Op. 8 receives a more intense and colorful performance in comparison to its tighter, less expressive DG remake, whereas their Decca Beethoven “Archduke” is less animated and rhythmically pointed than the later DG version.
Excellent booklet essays from historian/discographer Michael Gray and reissue producer Raymond McGill not only provide detailed information about Decca’s technical and artistic evolution, but also place the label’s achievements in appropriate context. In addition to archival photos, the booklet includes samples of vintage advertisements, whose dryly humorous approach to selling classical records must have raised a few eyebrows 65 years ago. In all, this intelligently curated and produced collection leaves few stones unturned walking back into a fascinating chapter in an important classical label’s early history
Complete tracklist : Decca Sound – The Mono Years 1944-1956