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Design Review: Volume 4, Issue 6 (January-February 1953)

Gramophone Notes

page 140

Gramophone Notes

The Arrival of Nixa long playing records in saleable quantities has meant the advent of a quite bewildering diversity of music, some of which has long been a closed book to record collectors. How many of us had heard anything of ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ save the Overture? Of Haydn's masses, Mozart's ‘La Clemenz a di Tito’, or Bizet's ‘Pearl Fishers’ apart from one or two favourite items? All these and many more now lie on shop counters to tempt us.

It might perhaps be pointed out that Nixa is a blanket name covering the English issue of records by anything up to half a dozen American recording companies, and embracing such important ones as Period, Concert Hall, Renaissance, Vanguard and Haydn Society. This explains the amazing variety of the Nixa catalogue, and also, of course, the disturbing inconsistency of the quality of the recordings—each concern obviously having its own recording characteristics. But it is only fair to affirm that the great majority of these Nixa discs reproduce well on most machines and have agreeably quiet surfaces. Some of them, notably the Bizet opera mentioned above, reach a level unsurpassed by other L.P.'s. Possibly the most important and interesting discs are those sponsored by the Haydn Society, an energetic body domiciled in Boston and not to be confused with the organisation which, under the guidance of H.M.V., recorded the string quartets in pre-war days. The new Society has also included the quartets in its curriculum (all 83 of them are being recorded by the Alexander Schneider Quartet), but it casts its net so wide as to include two or three dozen symphonies, a number of masses, concerti, divertimenti and keyboard sonatas, even a full-scale opera, Orpheus and Eurydice, never given publicly since Haydn wrote it in 1791, until it was heard in 1951 at Salzburg.

From the Concert Hall Society's catalogue, Nixa have pressed such invaluable acquisitions as the complete string quartets of Beethoven, done in forthright, solid style by the French Pascal ensemble, and for those with less austere tastes there are some interesting and virtually unknown works by Tchaikovsky, such as his orchestral suites and his other piano concerti. And the Nixa catalogue has much to interest the collector of music stemming from the era before Bach and Handel.

Since early October the English scene has been enriched by the entry into the L.P. arena of H.M.V., Columbia, Parlophone and one or two of their subsidiaries. None of these discs has appeared here at the time of writing, but the English reviewers have been most impressed by an H.M.V. disc of the Moussorgsky-Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition, played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Kubelik. One of the most interesting items in the first Columbia lists would appear to be the Berlioz Harold in Italy, newly recorded by William Primrose with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Thomas Beecham.

Decca were our first friends in the L.P. world, and they have not been content to rest on their laurels. Simultaneously with the opening of the H.M.V.-Columbia offensive, Decca have come forth with such mouth-watering enterprises as the Beethoven Ninth Symphony, done in Vienna under the direction of Erich Kleiber, and a new Mahler Song of the Earth with Kathleen Ferrier and Julius Patzak as the singers and the one and only Bruno Walter as conductor. Their latest operatic ventures range from a Pelleas et Melisande under the experienced eye of Ernest Ansermet to new and highly successful versions of Tosca and Aida with all-star Italian casts.

A recent Decca arrival sure to be in great demand is their long awaited recording of Swan Lake on two discs (LXT 2681–2). This will give complete satisfaction to all but the more fanatical balletomanes, who may object to some of the omissions, the most serious of which are the brilliant variations and coda to the Act 3 pas de deux. There is evidence that the work has been huddled on to the four sides allocated, but that is really a small price to pay for such richness. The recording contains every piece to Swan Lake previously obtainable on the ‘78’ records, and a great deal of exciting ‘new’ material from which one might single out the enchanting pas de trois with variations in Act 1, and the plaintive dances of the swans in Act 4 which, though not actually intended for this ballet in the first place (they comef rom [sic] some of the composer's late piano pieces) nonetheless fit the atmosphere perfectly. And all will rejoice to have the famous second act absolutely complete at long last. Performance and recording, by the London Symphony Orchestra under Anatole Fistoulare, are alike first rate, and no less an artist than Campouli has been engaged to play the solo violin passages.