- Written by Richard Freed Richard Freed
- Category: Richard Freed's "Keepers" Richard Freed's "Keepers"
- Created: 01 April 2015 01 April 2015
Just as this column’s last installment was posted, in December 2014, welcoming the long awaited return of the Schneider Quartet’s Haydn (originally recorded for and issued by the Haydn Society, more than 60 years ago, now handsomely reissued by Music & Arts Programs of America), news came of a near-parallel phenomenon, the restoration of the Haydn symphony recordings with Max Goberman conducting the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, originally issued on Goberman’s own LP label, Library of Recorded Masterpieces, now on CD from Sony Classical (88843073942, 14 CDs, so far issued only in the UK, very economically, with the individual discs also offered separately, as downloads).
Neither of these landmark projects was brought to completion, but both commanded the interest and enthusiasm of connoisseurs (and many others who would not dream of describing themselves as such) long after their disappearance from the active catalogue, and the virtually simultaneous reappearance of what both the Schneider Quartet and Max Goberman recorded has set off rounds of celebratory thanks.
While there are numerous obvious and less obvious differences in the very natures of the two projects and the two restorations, there are in fact several parallels, or near-parallels, involved here. The Schneider Quartet was actually formed, in 1951, for the express purpose of making the first complete recording of all the composer’s string quartets, for the newly founded Haydn Society. The performances were outstanding in every respect, and the monophonic sound was excellent for its time, but the project was abandoned at about the halfway point, in 1954, when it ran out of funds, and the Haydn Society itself ceased operations shortly after that -- though many of its recordings, the quartets among them, resurfaced for a time in the 1960s.
Goberman began what was intended to be the first “integral” recording of the symphonies in 1960, with the advantage of stereophonic recording that was by then beyond its experimental stage. The respected Haydn scholar H.C. Robbins Landon, who had founded the Haydn Society in 1949 at age 23, and had made the string quartets an early item on its agenda, was again at the helm for Goberman’s symphony project. The degree of Landon’s involvement in recordings of this music was indicated early on: in the name of the Haydn Society, he commissioned the respected firm Alexander Brothers, in Mainz, to make new horns in C alt for use in the Society’s early recording of the Symphony No.50, taped in Copenhagen under Mogens Wöldike. These may well have been the same instruments used in Goberman’s recordings a dozen years later. Of course a harpsichord continuo is heard in the earlier symphonies.
Unlike the Schneider Quartet project, the subsequent one for the symphonies under Goberman did not run out of money (the recordings were undertaken on subscription), but came to an unexpected halt when Goberman died on the last day of 1962 at the age of only 51, having managed by then to record almost half of the symphonies and a few opera overtures. This was to have been not only the first complete recording of the symphonies, but also the first using Landon’s corrected editions of the scores -- which were in fact printed and attached to the sleeves of the respective LPs. LRM simply ceased to exist after Goberman’s death.
In the case of the quartets, the performances sustained an exceptionally high level of interpretive insight and technical skill, and when M&A took on its reissue project the original master tapes were made available to its transfer engineer, Lani Spahr. Repeats that had not been on the original LPs turned up on those CDs, with no explanation of how they got there, or in fact any reference to them in the set’s otherwise superb documentation.
While Goberman’s LPs of the symphonies were more generous with repeats than almost all previous recordings of these works, more repeats were recorded than actually appeared on those LPs, or on the CDs issued now by Sony. The Symphonies No.35 in B-flat and No.92 in G (the “Oxford”) are conspicuously rich in repeats here, but even these two were recorded with still more of them. The “Oxford,” curiously, was originally issued not on Goberman’s LRM label, but by a Chicago newspaper, the Sun-Times.
For the most part, Goberman secured superb, truly committed performances, which suggest even now that his musicians, to a man (and they were all men in the Viennese orchestras of that time), were totally persuaded by him and thoroughly relished their assignment. At his best -- and Goberman seemed constantly at his best in this project -- he left an impressive monument to himself, by focusing selflessly and confidently on what the composer had set down -- and, as in the case of so many other significant Haydn projects, he had Landon at his side.
Nothing was taken for granted here, and mere custom was never allowed to override sense and substance. If the first handful of symphonies in the numerical sequence show relatively little in the way of what was to come, the triptych numbered 6-7-8 and assigned the respective titles “Le Matin,” “Le Midi” and “Le Soir,” fairly bursts with excitement and innovation on a wholly new level. Sadly, among the 45 symphonies Goberman lived to record, there is not one from the “Paris” set (Nos. 82-87); there are only two from the first of Haydn’s two visits to London (Nos. 96 and 98), and none from his second. But what a monument Goberman left to himself, and the composer, in such works as (to mention only a few that happen to have titles or nicknames) the brilliantly festive “Maria Theresia” (No.48 in C major), “The Schoolmaster” (No.55 in E-flat), “The Philosopher” (No.22, also in E-flat) and the aforementioned “Oxford.” All these and the more numerous ones with only numbers and key signatures to identify them are downright stunning and so remain in the face of any and all competing recordings.
While Sony, unlike M&A in its quartet reissues, did not have access to the original master tapes for all the works, and in some instances had to use commercially issued LPs as source material, the overall sound quality is very good indeed. Specifically, the stereophonic separation is noticeably wider than on the LPs -- hardly surprising, since master tapes of the time these recordings were made had a far wider separation than the best LPs could handle.
Certainly the overall sound is immeasurably superior to what was heard on the budget-priced Odyssey LPs issued by Columbia Records several years before that company was bought by Sony, but there have been other revivals of this material since then -- “independently” produced CDs which are not mentioned in the new set’s documentation -- and some of them measured up quite well. Some, in fact, even have conspicuously more repeats.
It must be borne in mind, then, that not all the material in the new box came from master tapes, and from the sound of it some of the symphonies may not even have come from the original LPs, but more likely from the Odysseys. Anthony Fountain, of the Sony team responsible for this project, writes in the accompanying booklet that while the original master tapes were of course used as first choice whenever possible, they were not available for all the works included here, and that he and his associates “managed to cobble together sources, comprising original 3-track masters, 2-track masters used in the Odyssey re-releases and, as a last resort, pristine copies of the original LPs issued by the Library of Recorded Masterpieces, the record company founded by Max Goberman.”
With the best will in the world, it might be suggested that those Odyssey LPs, and not the LRM LPs, ought to have been the “last resort,” as the former were issued in such a way that the center channel of the master tapes was either “held back” or missing entirely, disfiguring the sound considerably -- while the LRM LPs were for the most part exemplary for their time, and some very effective CD transfers have been made from them..
There is a great deal to enjoy and admire here, though, and in a concrete, quantitative sense more than before, in any presentation of Goberman’s Haydn. In a still remarkable book on the Haydn symphonies and their recordings, published in 1976, the British Haydn scholar Antony Hodgson noted, regarding the little-known early Symphony in B-flat listed variously as “Letter A” and No.107, “It should be mentioned that Max Goberman made a recording of the work in the early Sixties but it has never been made available for sale in any form.” Similar comments occur in reference to the Symphonies Nos. 27, 34 and 37 in the same book. All of these additional recordings noted by Mr. Hodgson are here now, as well as that of the Overture to Acide e Galatea, all appearing in the Sony box for the first time in any form.
Although there have been other recordings of No.107, by the way, Antony Hodgson points out that Haydn did not catalogue this work among his symphonies, and notes further that Helga Scholz-Michelitsch includes it in her thematic catalogue of instrumental works by Georg Christoph Wagenseil. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians also labels this work “attrib. Wagenseil.” Still, it’s good to have all the Haydn that Goberman recorded, even if there may be some question about the authenticity of this one item. (As noted later in this report, Goberman’s earliest Haydn recording was of another piece identified with this composer for a very long time, but eventually shown to have been composed by Leopold Mozart.)
Before proceeding further, it has to be mentioned that this very welcome reissue set off an uncommon spirit of collaboration among critics, scholars, recording engineers and others, all eager to share their knowledge with colleagues and the public, out of sheer enthusiasm for Goberman’s Haydn and their determination to present an accurate background on these landmark recordings. I gladly acknowledge that I have been more a beneficiary than a contributor in amassing this data pool. I will not attempt a list of individual acknowledgements, for fear of leaving someone out, but I am profoundly grateful for the clarification provided on numerous issues.
Now, here are the complete contents of the Sony box, with the five added titles indicated by asterisks:
No.1 in D major
No.2 in C major
No.3 in G major
No.4 in D major
No.5 in A major
No.6 in D major, “Le matin”
No.7 in C major, “Le midi”
No.8 in G major, ‘Le soir”
No.9 in C major
No.10 in D major
No.11 in E-flat major
No.12 in E major
No.13 in D major
No.14 in A major’
No.15 in D major
No.16 in B-flat major
No.17 in F major
No.19 in D major
No.20 in C major
No.21 in A major
No.22 in E-flat major, “The Philosopher”
No.23 in G major
No.24 in F major
No.26 in D minor, “Lamentatione”
*No.27 in G major
No.32 in C major
*No.34 in D minor
No.35 in B-flat major
*No.37 in C major
No.40 in F major
No.41 in C major
No.48 in C major, “Maria Theresia”
No.49 in F minor, “La passione”
No.51 in B-flat major
No.52 in C minor
No.55 in E-flat major, “The Schoolmaster”
No.56 in C major
No.57 in D major
No.60 in C major, “Il distratto”
No.65 in A major
No.92 in G major, “Oxford”
No.96 in D major, “The Miracle”
No.98 in B-flat major
*No.107 in B-flat major, “Letter A”
No.108 in B-flat major, “Letter B”
*Acide e Galatea
If Max Goberman’s name is not associated by the general public with the symphonies of Haydn, or with the concert hall in general, it is definitely not because such a connection would have been unwarranted. Landon knew what he was doing in committing to this undertaking, which was originally set up as a co-production of Deutsche Grammophon and Goberman’s own label, Library of Recorded Masterpieces. Anthony Fountain has helpfully provided biographical background, which is filled out just a bit here.
Goberman, born in Philadelphia in 1911, had for his violin teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music no less than Leopold Auer, the Hungarian violinist and master pedagogue who succeeded Wieniawski at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, served as court violinist to the Tsar, and taught numerous virtuosi (Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Elman, Efrem Zimbalist and others) before coming to the US in 1918. At the same time, Goberman studied conducting with Fritz Reiner, who regarded him as one of his most gifted pupils and provided meaningful encouragement and references. Goberman conducted opera and ballet in New York and abroad, and formed his own ensemble, the New York Sinfonietta, with which he gave concerts of baroque music and other works for small orchestra. His earliest recording as a conductor, vintage 1938, was the first ever of the eight little symphonies of William Boyce, in the authoritative edition, then new, of Constant Lambert, whose Boyce-derived ballet score The Prospect before Us was introduced two years later. He is remembered also for his own edition of The Beggar’s Opera, by John Gay.
Haydn turned up in Goberman’s discography as early as 1946, although it was bogus Haydn: the “Toy Symphony,” which he recorded for Horace Grenell’s short-lived Young People’s Record Club. That piece was widely accepted as Haydn’s at that time: Felix Weingartner and Serge Koussevitzky recorded it as Haydn’s Toy Symphony; Arturo Toscanini performed it with that attribution. It wasn’t until the early 1950s that this work was identified widely as sections of a Cassatio by Leopold Mozart for orchestra with toy instruments. Eventually Goberman created the LRM label to record Vivaldi, Corelli, Prokofiev etc.; several of those recordings were reissued on LP by the Musical Heritage Society after his death.
What enabled Goberman to do all this, and to embark on his grand Haydn project in Vienna, was his income as a conductor of Broadway “musicals.” He was identified with more than a few exceptionally successful, long running ones, among them Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town and his even more remarkable West Side Story, which was eventually produced in several major European opera houses (though not with Goberman in the pit). According to Anthony Fountain, Goberman was canny enough to demand a clause in his contract prohibiting Bernstein from conducting a performance or rehearsal of WSS during the period covered.
Mr. Fountain’s note, while accurately sizing up the importance of Goberman’s Haydn, does not tell us just how these recordings came to be undertaken. There is no mention of a direct connection with H.C. Robbins Landon beyond the circumstance of his edition of the scores’ being affixed to the LRM LPs, and there is no acknowledgement that the Symphony No.3 is actually performed by Goberman’s New York Sinfonietta. Part of Goberman’s motivation for moving on to Vienna, according to various sources (Anthony Fountain among them), was his admiration for the strikingly characterful performances of Haydn symphonies recorded by Hermann Scherchen with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Vienna State Opera Orchestra on Westminster in the early 1950s, and his regard for the overall Viennese tradition of orchestral performance.
Goberman’s Haydn performances are indeed similar to Scherchen’s, in the general sense that both conductors showed enthusiasm, confidence and spontaneity while guided always by an apparently inborn resistance to anything smacking of excess -- though both also showed an occasional tendency toward indulgence in slow movements. Haydn’s humor and wit were never overlooked, but were allowed to make their point without gratuitous overlay or the slightest indication of questionable taste. More to the point, both conductors projected a sense of self-renewing delight in this music, and they seldom failed to draw in both their orchestra and their listeners as happy participants in the sort of warm-hearted, edifying musical experience that can never be taken for granted.
. . . Richard Freed
[This is the end of "Part One" of Richard Freed’s essay on the Sony reissue of Haydn symphonies conducted by Max Goberman; "Part Two" will appear next month.]