First Hand Records – Early Stereo Recordings 1 – Strauss/Del Mar, Saint-Saëns/Tortelier, Brahms/Wolf

4 of 5 stars

Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op.28
Cello Concerto No.1 in A-minor, Op.33
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77

London Symphony Orchestra
Norman Del Mar

Paul Tortelier (cello)
Philharmonia Orchestra
Herbert Menges

Endre Wolf (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra
Walter Goehr

All recorded at Abbey Road Studio No.1, London – Strauss 23 July 1954, Saint-Saëns 16 September 1955, Brahms 25 & 28 August 1954

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: November 2018
Duration: 74 minutes



This fascinating release opens with thirty seconds of “Recording alert buzzer and orchestra tuning” – I’ll leave those two with you – and is followed by a brilliant account of Till Eulenspiegel conducted by Richard Strauss authority Norman Del Mar (his three books on the composer are highly prized, he wrote other notable tomes, too). Unexpectedly this is the first-ever release of a 1954 recording, which has been shut-away for sixty-four years, yet the performance bristles with graphic imagery, Del Mar and the LSO having a ball in what seems to be a single take (a couple of horn fluffs matter not). Furthermore the stereo sound is really excellent, a tribute to the “unknown” producer and engineer and also David Murphy who has re-mastered the tape with great skill and equally fastidious ears. The orchestral layout is a little odd, however, for although it is clear that violins are antiphonal, and trombones bite through from their expected right position, all the woodwinds appear to be in a huddle to the conductor’s left. Again it scarcely matters, details are all present and correct, pointed vividly, even cheekily as befits the loveable rogue Till, and has all the ‘once upon a time’ qualities you could want – it’s almost as if Del Mar (1919-94), with a glint in his eyes and an enthusiastic raising of his professorial eyebrows, said to the LSO: “okay boys, we’re doing this in one.” They did. Decades on, we can hear the thrilling results.

The delightful Saint-Saëns that follows is just as enjoyable as a reading, Paul Tortelier in vibrant, seductive and rich-toned form, in a version that collectors will know in mono and will, I imagine, welcome in its first stereo release, the balance excellent, and with Herbert Menges ensuring that the Philharmonia is as pertinent a part of the aural treat, whether fiery or insouciant, forceful at times. Produced by David Bicknell, the stereo tape was engineered by Christopher Parker, and again crosses the decades with ease thanks to Murphy’s refurbishment, this time with Jonathan Mayer.

And it’s Mayer who is responsible for the Brahms, sounding fine, although the first movement remains in mono, but widens for the remaining two (first release, of course). Producer and stereo engineer are not known (the mono tape is credited to Neville Boyling). The long-lived Hungarian violinist Endre Wolf (1913-2011) may be less-familiar – if so, Tully Potter’s booklet note will be of informative assistance about him and numerous other matters, and FHR’s general annotation is excellent. If I have reservations about Wolf’s tone and some other unevenness, there is no doubt he has a definite character that doesn’t intrude into the music in terms of interpretation, which is admirably unaffected, passionate too, and it’s good to hear the Finale given without what can be halting emphases and also in an articulate tempo, which some listeners might find cautious. There are inconsistencies, however; the first movement veers between dull (the LSO dutiful) and take-off-time (Walter Goehr lifting the mood) – in which Wolf opts for ‘usual’ Joachim cadenza, which he makes a good job of – and the slow movement (like the first) is given time to express itself, if a little squarely. First released on Music-Appreciation Records, it should be noted that just a few years later Wolf would re-record the Brahms, Anthony Collins conducting.

While waiting for FHR’s second volume of “early stereo recordings”, let me commend the Strauss and Saint-Saëns and also FHR’s initiative.

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