The Columbia Beethoven Centennial Symphony Series complete (1926/27) - PABX013

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The Columbia Beethoven Centennial Symphony Series complete (1926/27) - PABX013

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This set contains the following albums:

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The Columbia Beethoven Centennial Symphony Series, Volume 1 (1926/27) - PASC366

The Columbia Beethoven Centennial Symphony Series, Volume 1

Groundbreaking Symphonic series first issued in 1927 begins here in new Obert-Thorn transfers


This volume is the first of five which will reissue, for the first time in one series, the complete symphony cycle which English Columbia commissioned to commemorate the centennial of Beethoven’s death in 1927.  It was a bold move for the label, perennially in the shadow of its larger competitor, HMV, to embark on such a project at a time when no other company had recorded all nine symphonies using the relatively new electrical process.  Indeed, HMV and Polydor would not complete their cycles until several years after the centennial had passed.

The first four symphonies were assigned to British conductors (Henschel, Beecham, Wood and the Northern Irish Harty) while the remainder were given to Weingartner, already generally acknowledged as a Beethoven specialist.  The German-born Sir George Henschel (1850–1934) was equally noted for his appearances as a baritone recitalist as he was for his conducting.  He was the first music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and this Beethoven First Symphony is his only recording as a conductor.

Beecham’s recording of the Second Symphony was the first of three he would make (the others were in 1936 with the LPO and 1956/7 with “his” RPO).  While all share an exuberant approach to the main theme of the first movement, the present performance threatens to go off the rails with tempi that are just short of humanly impossible to play.  The Luftpausen just before and after the Trio in the Scherzo were an interpretive indulgence Beecham did not repeat in his later versions.  It has never been reissued on CD before, perhaps in part due to the unusually high playback speed required (84.4 rpm at A4 = 440Hz, quite the fastest speed I’ve ever encountered for an electrical recording).  Henry Wood’s contemporaneously-recorded Leonore Overture, although not part of the Centennial Symphonies series, has been included to fill out the short program, as a sort of preview for his Eroica on Volume 2.

The sources for the transfers were first edition American Columbia “Viva-Tonal” pressings.  Multiple copies of each were assembled, and the best sides were chosen for transfer, although it must be kept in mind that these early electrics are inherently rather noisy.  The Henschel set was plagued by pitch fluctuation throughout each side, which has been corrected in this transfer.

Mark Obert-Thorn

The Columbia Beethoven Centennial Symphony Series, Volume 2 (1926) - PASC386

The Columbia Beethoven Centennial Symphony Series, Volume 2

Continuing this groundbreaking Symphonic series, first issued in 1927, in new Mark Obert-Thorn transfers


This volume is the second of five which will reissue, for the first time in one series, the complete symphony cycle which English Columbia commissioned to commemorate the centennial of Beethoven’s death in 1927. It was a bold move for the label, perennially in the shadow of its larger competitor, HMV, to embark on such a project at a time when no other company had recorded all nine symphonies using the relatively new electrical process. Indeed, HMV and Polydor would not complete their cycles until several years after the centennial had passed.

The first four symphonies were assigned to British conductors (Henschel, Beecham, Wood and the Northern Irish Harty) while the remainder were given to Weingartner, already generally acknowledged as a Beethoven specialist.

Henry Wood had already set down an abridged acoustic version of the Eroica for Columbia on six sides in 1922 when he was approached to record it complete for the microphone. The recording locale is not precisely known; I have seen references to both the Scala Theatre and Columbia’s Large Studio in Petty France. We do know, however, that the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra did not record it in Queen’s Hall, which was under exclusive contract to HMV at the time.

Wood’s approach is surprisingly modern for its time – fleet, unmannered, and with hardly any string portamenti to be heard. Apparently, Wood was originally intended to play a greater role in Columbia’s Beethoven Centennial series. In March of 1927, he recorded two concerti, the Emperor with Ignaz Friedman and the Violin Concerto with Albert Sammons; but neither was ever released, and the original matrices were destroyed.

The Fourth would turn out to be the only Beethoven symphony Harty recorded. His approach here is similar to Wood’s, albeit with a bit more portamenti on display, and he benefitted from the almost-too-ample acoustics of Manchester’s Free Trade Hall. For the final side (the last half of the fourth movement), the engineers must have told Harty that he was running perilously close to the four-minute maximum Columbia was apparently enforcing at the time for twelve-inch matrices, as he speeds up his already energetic reading to an exhilarating conclusion, the Hallé following him with great precision and virtuosity.

The sources for the transfers were American Columbia “Viva-Tonal” pressings for the Eroica and laminated English Columbias for the Fourth. Pitch fluctuations throughout each side, which were particularly severe in the Fourth Symphony, have been corrected in this transfer.

Mark Obert-Thorn

The Columbia Beethoven Centennial Symphony Series, Volume 3 (1927) - PASC399

The Columbia Beethoven Centennial Symphony Series, Volume 3

Continuing this groundbreaking Symphonic series, first issued in 1927, in new Mark Obert-Thorn transfers


This volume is the third of five which will reissue, for the first time in one series, the complete symphony cycle which English Columbia commissioned to commemorate the centennial of Beethoven’s death in 1927. The first four symphonies were assigned to British conductors (Henschel, Beecham, Wood and the Northern Irish Harty) while the remainder were given to Weingartner, already generally acknowledged as a Beethoven specialist.

Oddly, even though he had already recorded a complete acoustic version of the Fifth Symphony three years earlier, Weingartner was not Columbia’s first choice for their Centennial series. On November 19th and 22nd of 1926, Bruno Walter led the (old, pre-Beecham) Royal Philharmonic in their first electrical version. Copies of the shells were even shipped to Columbia’s American affiliate before the recording was cancelled on January 24th of the following year and the matrices destroyed. Four days later, Weingartner began recording the version heard here.

As he did in his 1932 set with the British Symphony Orchestra (but not in his recordings of 1924 and 1933), Weingartner here omits the first movement repeat. But the most anomalous feature of the present version is the incredibly swift tempo of the second movement, which starts at ♪ = 96, faster even than Beethoven’s metronome marking of ♪ = 92. This movement beats his final recording by nearly two and a half minutes – 7:30 vs. 9:55 (not counting the pauses after the tracks). Almost certainly, this was due to Columbia’s enforcement of a four-minute limit on the duration of the sides of their early electrical recordings.

That same reason would account for the Pastoral’s 33 minutes being lavishly spread over ten 12-inch sides. The brief duration of the symphony is due not only to similarly fast tempi, but also to the omission of all repeats. Although Weingartner had begun an acoustic recording of the symphony in 1924, it was never completed; and, alone among his 1926/27 series of the Fifth through the Ninth, this one was not re-recorded by him in the 1930s. Of particular note is his handling of the brass in the last movement, bringing it to the fore in passages where most conductors keep it as accompaniment.

The sources for the present transfers were American Columbia “Viva-Tonal” pressings. While these are usually the quietest versions available, a higher-than-average amount of surface noise will be noticeable, particularly in the Fifth Symphony. The best portions of multiple copies of the recordings were used for transfer, so it is possible the noise may be inherent in the masters. The severe speed fluctuations of the originals have been corrected through the application of Celemony Capstan, allowing the performances to be heard with rock-solid pitch for the first time since the original recording sessions.

Mark Obert-Thorn


The Columbia Beethoven Centennial Symphony Series, Volume 4 (1926/27) - PASC414

The Columbia Beethoven Centennial Symphony Series, Volume 4

Penultimate issue in this groundbreaking Symphonic series, first issued in 1927, in new Mark Obert-Thorn transfers


This volume is the fourth of five which will reissue, for the first time in one series, the complete symphony cycle which English Columbia commissioned to commemorate the centennial of Beethoven’s death in 1927. The first four symphonies were assigned to British conductors (Henschel, Beecham, Wood and the Northern Irish Harty) while the remainder were given to Weingartner, already generally acknowledged as a Beethoven specialist.

For the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, Weingartner was returning to scores he had only relatively recently recorded for Columbia using the old acoustical process. In the Seventh, he restored a cut he had made in the Scherzo in the previous nine-sided version, while the remade Eighth took one side less due to the elimination of a large overlap of repeated music in the third movement. Both of the present versions are swifter than their 1936 remakes, but the differences are not as marked as those between his 1927 and 1933 versions of the Fifth Symphony (detailed in the notes to Volume 3).

The two overtures date from the Concertgebouw Orchestra’s first recording sessions in May, 1926. The early electrical sound is noticeably more primitive than that of the symphonies, showing the great advances Columbia had made over the intervening months. The single movement from the Eighth Symphony was included as the filler side to Mengelberg’s recording of Cherubini’s Anacreon Overture. While not part of the Centennial Symphonies series per se, these sides have been included not only to fill out an otherwise short program, but also because, along with Henry Wood’s Leonore Overture No. 3 in Volume 1 and the symphonies, they comprise the complete electrical orchestral recordings of Beethoven which Columbia had in print by the end of the Centennial year of 1927, (excluding Louis Zimmermann’s recording of the Violin Concerto, released only in Holland).

The sources for the present transfers were American Columbia “Viva-Tonal” pressings. While these are usually the quietest versions available, a higher-than-average amount of surface noise will be noticeable in the Mengelberg items. When played using the typical recording curve for the early electric era, these sides sound dull and bass-heavy; however, by playing them with a “flat” equalization and then significantly boosting the upper frequencies, the balance and detail of the original recordings comes into focus, albeit at the expense of significantly increased hiss. The severe speed fluctuations of the originals have been corrected through the application of Celemony Capstan, allowing the performances to be heard with rock-solid pitch for the first time since the original recording sessions.

Mark Obert-Thorn


The Columbia Beethoven Centennial Symphony Series, Volume 5 (1926) - PASC427

The Columbia Beethoven Centennial Symphony Series, Volume 5

The final instalment in this groundbreaking Symphonic series, Weingartner's brilliant 1926 Ninth, in new Mark Obert-Thorn transfers


This volume is the last of five which have reissued, for the first time in one series, the complete symphony cycle which English Columbia commissioned to commemorate the centennial of Beethoven’s death in 1927.  The first four symphonies were assigned to British conductors (Henschel, Beecham, Wood and the Northern Irish Harty) while the remainder were given to Weingartner, already generally acknowledged as a Beethoven specialist.

This final symphony of Beethoven’s was actually the first in the series to be recorded.  In fact, the Centennial Symphony Series had not yet been envisioned when it was taken down, and it became a part of it later by default.  Columbia had only been making electrical recordings for five months when the ambitious project of recording the Beethoven Ninth was undertaken.  By that time, Weingartner had already made acoustic recordings of the Fifth, Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, and had begun an acoustic Sixth that was abandoned when the microphone came in.  It was natural that Columbia would turn to him for the electrical recording première of the Ninth.

Weingartner’s reading is, overall, faster than his 1935 remake with the Vienna Philharmonic, although most of the difference is in the final movement, which is swifter by nearly a minute and a half here, and admittedly sounds rushed in places.  Part of this may have been due to Columbia’s enforcement of a four-minute limit for twelve-inch sides at this early stage of electrical recording.  Like a couple other early recordings of the symphony – Albert Coates’ version from seven months later with much the same orchestral forces (Pristine PASC 296) and Stokowski’s 1934 Philadelphia version – the “Ode to Joy” was sung in English.

The sources for the present transfer were American Columbia “Viva-Tonal” and large label, post-“Royal Blue” shellac pressings.  While these are usually the quietest versions available, a higher-than-average amount of surface noise will be noticeable due to the early date of the recording.  The downward pitch drift on each side the originals has been corrected through the application of Celemony Capstan, allowing the performance to be heard with rock-solid pitch for the first time since the original recording sessions.  I have added a small amount of digital reverberation to bring some warmth to the rather dry studio which Columbia had previously used for acoustic recordings.

Mark Obert-Thorn


Click below to expand track listing:
The Columbia Beethoven Centennial Symphony Series, Volume 1 (1926/27) - PASC366


  • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21
    Recorded 14 and 21 December 1926 and 4 February 1927 in the Scala Theatre, London
    Matrix nos.: WRAX 2284-1, 2285-1, 2286-2, 2287-6, 2303-6, 2304-2, 2305-1 and 2306-2
    First issued on Columbia L 1889 through 1892
    Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
    Sir George Henschel
     conductor

  • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 36
    Recorded 9 - 10 November 1926 in the Scala Theatre, London
    Matrix nos.: WRAX 2142-2, 2143-2, 2144-2, 2145-2, 2149-3, 2150-2, 2151-2 and 2152-2
    First issued on Columbia L 1864 through 1867
    Additional pitch stabilisation: Andrew Rose

    London Symphony Orchestra
    Sir Thomas Beecham 
    conductor

  • BEETHOVEN Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b
    Recorded 28 February 1927 in London
    Matrix nos.: WRAX 2467-2, 2468-1, 2469-1 and 2470-1
    First issued on Columbia L 1978 and 1979
    New Queen's Hall Orchestra
    Sir Henry Wood
     conductor



Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Sir Thomas Beecham

Total duration: 66:56


The Columbia Beethoven Centennial Symphony Series, Volume 2 (1926) - PASC386


  • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3 in E flat, Op. 55 "Eroica"
    Recorded 18 November and 2 and 5 December, 1926 in London
    Matrix nos.: WRAX 2212/16, 2249/54, and 2262/64 (all Take 1)
    First issued on Columbia L 1868 through 1874
    New Queen's Hall Orchestra
    Sir Henry J. Wood
    conductor

  • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 4 in B flat, Op. 60
    Recorded 26 – 27 November, 1926 in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester
    Matrix nos.: WRAX 2233-1, 2234-1, 2235-1, 2236-2, 2237-2, 2238-2, 2239-2, 2240-2, 2241-1 and 2242-2
    First issued on Columbia L 1875 through 1879

    The Hallé Orchestra
    Sir Hamilton Harty
    conductor



Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
Additional pitch stabilisation: Andrew Rose
Special thanks to Richard Kaplan for providing source material
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Sir Henry Wood


Total duration: 73:45

The Columbia Beethoven Centennial Symphony Series, Volume 3 (1927) - PASC399


  • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67
    Recorded 28 – 29 January 1927 in the Scala Theatre, London
    Matrix nos.: WRAX 2414-2, 2415-2, 2417-2, 2418-2, 2419-2, 2420-2, 2421-2 & 2422-3
    First issued on Columbia L 1880 through 1883

     

  • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 "Pastoral"
    Recorded 18 – 19 January 1927 in the Scala Theatre, London
    Matrix nos.: WRAX 2363-1, 2364-2, 2365-1, 2366-2, 2377-3, 2378-1, 2379-2, 2380-2, 2381-2 & 2382-1
    First issued on Columbia 1893 through 1897
     

    Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
    Felix Weingartner  conductor


Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
Additional pitch stabilisation: Andrew Rose
Special thanks to Nathan Brown and Charles Niss for providing source material
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Felix Weingartner

Total duration: 60:52

The Columbia Beethoven Centennial Symphony Series, Volume 4 (1926/27) - PASC414


  • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92
    Recorded 20, 25 – 26 January 1927 in the Scala Theatre, London
    Matrix nos.: WRAX 2383-2, 2390-2, 2391-2, 2392-1, 2393-1, 2394-2, 2397-2, 2398-2, 2399-2 & 2400-2
    First issued on Columbia L 1898 through 1902

  • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93
    Recorded 27 – 28 January 1927 in the Scala Theatre, London
    Matrix nos.: WRAX 2412-2, 2413-2, 2404-2, 2405-2 2406-2 & 2407-2
    First issued on Columbia 1903 through 1905
     
    Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
    Felix Weingartner  conductor


  • BEETHOVEN Coriolan, Op. 62 – Overture
    Recorded May, 1926 in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
    Matrix nos.: WAX 1546-2 & 1547-2
    First issued on Columbia L 1848

  • BEETHOVEN Egmont, Op. 84 – Overture
    Recorded May, 1926 in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
    Matrix nos.: WAX 1544-3 & 1545-1
    First issued on Columbia L 1799

  • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93 - 2nd Mvt.: Andante molto moto
    Recorded 10 June 1927 in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
    Matrix no.: WAX 2844-1
    First issued on Columbia L1973


    Concertgebouw Orchestra

    Willem Mengelberg conductor


The Columbia Beethoven Centennial Symphony Series, Volume 5 (1926) - PASC427
  • BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, "Choral"

    Recorded 16–17 March 1926 in the Columbia Studios, Petty France, London
    Matrix nos.: WAX 1350-2, 1351-2, 1352-2, 1353-2, 1354-2, 1355-3, 1356-2, 1357-1, 1358-2, 1359-2, 1360-2, 1361-1, 1362-2, 1363-2, 1364-2 & 1365-2
    First issued on Columbia L 1775 through 1782


Miriam Licette (soprano)
Muriel Brunskill (contralto)
Hubert Eisdell (tenor)
Harold Williams (bass-baritone)

Chorus and London Symphony Orchestra

Felix Weingartner  conductor


Fanfare Review

I thought it exhilarating

REVIEW OF VOLUME 5

This concludes Pristine’s CD issue of the first complete cycle of the Beethoven symphonies to be recorded electrically. The series coincided with the centennial of Beethoven’s 1827 death. Actually, the Ninth was the first to be recorded and replaced an acoustic recording of the piece by Weingartner that was abandoned when electrical recording arrived. According to Mark Obert-Thorn, who did the fine transfer and added just a touch of resonance to enliven the original’s dry sound, the centennial series was conceived after Weingartner’s recording was made and it became a part of the cycle by default. At the time, Weingartner, who went on to record Beethoven’s four previous symphonies as part of the cycle, was regarded as something of a Beethoven expert, though he was erratic about observing cuts, reorchestrated if he thought it necessary, and pretty much ignored the composer’s metronome markings. This is an observation, not a criticism. What gives his two recordings of the Ninth a certain cachet, at least for me, is that, when he was a young man he was introduced to an elderly women who had sung in the chorus at the 1824 Vienna premiere, which was conducted by Beethoven himself. Imagine how thrilling that must have been—two degrees of separation from Beethoven!

He recorded the symphony a second time in 1935 with the Vienna Philharmonic, and it was those 78s that I learned the piece on. The performances are quite similar with two exceptions: The 1927 one, like two other early Ninths (Coates and Stokowski) is sung in English, and he takes the finale faster on the earlier recording. The faster tempo bothered me not a bit; in fact, I thought it exhilarating and, while the English text, often incomprehensible, is no asset, the soloists are quite good—Harold Williams still sounds like himself 20 years later. It seems to me that, perhaps due to the use of a slightly smaller string section and/or “tighter” acoustics, more inner detail is heard on the 1927 recording than on the later one. These two Weingartners, needless to say, have been surpassed sonically through the years, but in their straightforward, no-nonsense directness, they still hold up very nicely as performances, per se. and I’m delighted to have them both.

James Miller
This article originally appeared in Issue 38:5 (May/June 2015) of Fanfare Magazine.