Monday, October 27, 2008

Classical Music's First Recordings....Found At Last

Daniel Wakin reports in the New York Times that a fairly large trove of early Edison phonograph cylinders has been uncovered in Russia, with some of the earliest known examples of classical recordings:
According to Marston, the cylinders contain the earliest existing recordings of works by Bach, Wagner, Verdi, Chopin, Schumann and others. The performers include several noted composer-pianists: Sergei Taneyev, a pupil of Tchaikovsky’s who played the premiere of his Second Concerto; Anton Arensky, playing his much-loved Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor just months after it was written; and Paul Pabst, a Liszt pupil and dedicatee of pieces by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. They also include the legendary pianist Josef Hofmann in his first known recordings and singers who performed in the premieres of operas by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. Some 22 of the artists, well known in their day, have not been represented on recordings until now, including Taneyev.
The NYT also has put together a multimedia page with samples from the found recordings. In spite of the grainy quality of the cylinder-to-digital transfers, you can still get a decent feel for what musicians sounded like in that era. I particularly enjoyed the piano playing of Josef Hofmann and Anton Arensky. Then again, the singers....well, it only reinforces the stereotype that most singers 100 years ago would never work these days. Louisa Margaret Nicholson aka Madamoiselle Nikita has some flexibility, but those vibrato issues and the straight tone on the last note would not endear her to many current listeners. Maria Klimentova-Muromtzeva shows a bit more consistency, but the core of sound carried by the cylinder sounds little more than amateurish to my ears of 2008. Still, these recordings are a valuable tool to both collectors, performers, and educators, sho will have a lot to discover by donning the ears of 1900.

The NY Times Multimedia Page can be found here.
The entire collection is slated to be released shortly by Marston Records.

No comments:

Post a Comment