Tuesday, 28 March 2017

A Musical Couple

The cellist William Pleeth is probably best remembered for his association with Edmund Rubbra and as a teacher to Jacqueline du Pré. Alas his wife, the pianist Margaret Good, is maybe less well known and probably hardly remembered at all. 

From the late 1930's to the early 1970's the couple were to some extent fairly regular contributors to BBC programmes and also to concert life around Britain. Their main commercial recorded output was chiefly restricted to the early 1940's, together with the odd work doted about the following decades. A certain snobbishness for musicians with foreign, rather than British sounding names, is alluded to in Margaret Campbell's The Great Cellist, Gollancz, 1988. I wonder if this is the case for all performers who can only find  proper acknowledgement in foreign fields?

William Pleeth, cello & Margaret Good, piano
London, West Hampstead - Tuesday, 27th May 1941

Grieg: Cello Sonata in A minor, Op. 36
I. Allegro agitato : II. Andante molto tranquillo : III. Allegro molto e marcato

Decca K1048-K1051
[AR5429-5,  AR5430-5,  AR5431-4,  AR5432-4, 
AR5441-4, AR5442-4 & AR5443-5]

Lyric Pieces, Op.38 No.1 - Berceuse 
arr. by Joachim Stutschewsky & Isco Thaler

Decca K1051

(If you are not familiar with FLAC I can recommend Foobar2000 player)
Both pieces can also be streamed as mp3 @ 192 kbps below each label

All other Decca recording issued by these two fine artists can be listened to and/or downloaded from CHARM through this link.

The Recording

I think [something I do need to check!] that takes -1, -2 and -3 were recorded in March 5th, 7th & 10th. All of these takes failed to be passed as satisfactory so another session took place on the 27th May. This session produced two takes of each side, -4 and -5, and it is from this session that sides for the published set were chosen.

In all probability the work was recorded in the smaller No. 2 studio in the basement of Decca's West Hampstead building. This  studio was pressed into uses that it was not intended for during the war, and it may account for the sound we hear. Tension was maybe a bit high on the 27th of May, as a couple of weeks earlier, on the night of the 10th & 11th May 1941, London had endured it's worst bomb damage of the war. The quality for the recording is trifle close miked with not much reverberation, some forte passages are also bit full on, a combination that does not really help the piano tone much. The shellac of my copy is abominable and the condition is not to great either, still, being enthusiasts, we are not too concerned with these trifling distractions. The original recording wavers around 79-80 rpm to produce A at 440Hz [see my footnote on this].

The Performers

Decca publicity, February 1942

Margarate Good was a very interesting pianist, she studied under the great Tobias Matthay and then evolved her own style with the incorporation of the Leschetizky 'method' - I'm not quite sure what that really means, except the playing is both very fluid, exciting, almost a hard driven sound, that still retains a very musical view of the composition without being simply technically brilliant.

Pleeth is a true master of the cello, his most influential teacher was the Julius Klengel (1859-1933). 'At thirteen Pleeth won a two-year scholarship to study with Julius Klengel at the Conservatory in Leipzig. He was the youngest person ever to receive this scholarship at the time. Pleeth much appreciated Klengel. He said: "He was a wonderful teacher because he allowed you to be yourself. He hated it if someone copied him. He wanted us to develop our own musicality - and we did, and we're all different after all. Emanuel Feuermann and Gregor Piatigorsky were both Klengel pupils and they were totally different in their style of playing. Klengel himself was a very simple, unsophisticated man whose integrity was unquestionable. He was always honest and I loved him for it."' [quoted in Wikipedia]. Again a very fine artist and up their with other great cellists

Julius Klengel about 1914

Klengel is important link between Grieg, for although Friedrich Ludwig Grützmacher premiered the first public performance of this work with Grieg at the piano on 22nd October 1883 in Dresden, it was Julies Klengel on the 27th October, again with Grieg, who gave the next performance at Leipzig. I hazard to even guess how the work developed in Klengel's mind over the next 50 years; further the very idea that Klengel ever produced a pupil that sounded anything like him is a misnomer. He would, I understand have guided Pleeth, but only in the possibilities the work afforded a player, not how Pleeth could interpreted it.

Grieg looking youthful

So we have a performance of the work which has connections with the composer but we can't really say more.

Contemporary Review

It was not until February 1942 that the set was advertised and then the first 'review' in Gramophone appeared the April issue. Compton Mackenzie's was after all leading the Home Guard on the Isle of Barra, so it looks as if it took a while for Mackenzie to get his hands on the records and delayed publication of any comments:-

Compton Mackenzie surveying his domain in 1936

'... a most delightful recording on four Decca discs of Grieg's Violoncello and Piano Sonata in A minor, played by William Pleeth and Margaret Good. This is a tender work full of simple melodies, and requiring from the string instrument just what Mr. Pleeth provides with his performance. It is almost easier to sentimentalize the violoncello than the violin, and when this is done the result is more nauseating. The same is true of the human voice. The lachrymose tenor or contralto is more trying than the lachrymose soprano, and, let me add, much more frequent. On the other hand, there is the danger of pomposity to' which the violoncello virtuoso is apt to succumb in the interpretation of a major opus, and all too often in the interpretation of a minor one. I alluded last month to the restraint and depth of emotion conveyed by Mr. Anthony Pini in that superb recording of the First Rasoumovsky Quartet by Columbia. That is an example of what I mean by avoiding pomposity. There is no pomposity to avoid in Grieg's A minor Sonata, but it would be all too easy to plunge into sentimentality, and this Mr. Pleeth avoids with complete success. The balance between the violoncello and the piano (yes, I realise I am being illogical in not writing pianoforte) is- beautifully preserved, and these Decca discs have given me particular pleasure. The eighth side is taken up by an arrangement of Grieg's Berceuse, which I do not think is found on any other disc.' [Gramophone April 1942, p. 176]

The records remained in the catalogues to 1948 or thereabouts, dispatched to the deletion list when lots of other pre-FFRR recordings appeared together with the first tentative LP's.

Biographies of Good & Pleeth

Instead of the obituaries etc., readily available online, I have transcribed the entries of this musical team from publication nearer in date to the recordings. Russell Palmer's British Music, London, Skelton Robinson, [1947]. These entries, I hope give a better idea how they, or possibly their agents Ibbs & Tillett, thought to have the couple promoted.

Margaret Good & William Pleeth in the 1960's

Good, Margaret. Pianist, b. London (date not for publication [27 April, 1906]). Showed a love for the piano at the early age of five, took her first lessons at seven, and a year later played at her first concert. While at school she also studied the violin, and wrote several small compositions. She gained a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music when she was sixteen, where she studied piano and gained several prizes, including the coveted Macfarren Gold Medal. She took lessons for a very short time with Tobias Matthay, and during this period appeared several times with orchestra under the late Sir Henry Wood at Queen's Hall, London. She was the first musician to be made an Associate of the R.A.M. while still a student. Her first broadcasting began in 1930, playing solo works and sonatas with her brother, Ronald Good, the violinist. This partner-ship continued until he joined the B.B.C. Symphony Orchestra a year or two later. After leaving the Academy, Margaret Good studied the Leschetizsky method of piano technique, and her present system is evolved from a combination of the Matthay and Leschetizsky methods. In 1937 she met and formed a partnership with William Pleeth, the 'cellist, whom she later married (see separate entry). They broadcast together from 1938 onwards, and gave their first recital as a combination at Wigmore Hall in the same year. They record for Decca, and have given recitals all over the country, as far north as Dunfermline. Margaret Good played in Paris, 1938, and was prevented from doing so again the following year by the outbreak of war. She has always been particularly interested in contemporary music, and has given many first performances of works by young British composers, including Herbert Murrill, Alan Bush, Elizabeth Maconchy, Grace Williams, etc. She has broadcast the solo part of many piano concertos under Boult, Raybould, Lambert, Julius Harrison, etc., and has appeared in Promenade Concerts. Perhaps her greatest love has always been chamber music. With the Silverman Piano Quartet she made records of the Dvorak Quartets in D Major, Op. 23 and E Flat, Op. 87 for Decca, and has immersed herself in a great deal of other chamber work in company with Harry Blech and William Pleeth. She has a small daughter, born in March, 1946. [d. August, 2000]

Pleeth, William. 'Cellist, b. London, [12, January] 1916. Came from a family of well-known musicians, and began to study the 'cello at the age of seven, afterwards gaining a scholarship to the London 'Cello School where he was trained by Herbert Walenn. At thirteen he won a scholarship to the Leipzig Conservatoire, and there studied with the distinguished teacher Julius Klengel, at the same time taking piano lessons from Paul Klengel, brother of Julius. Two years later, William Pleeth made his debut as a 'cellist in Leipzig with the Conservatoire Orchestra under Walter Davidson, playing the Haydn Concerto. Subsequently Pleeth was engaged to perform with the Gewandhaus Orchestra under Bruno Walter, and was the only 'cellist besides Feuermann to gain this distinction at such an early age. Returning to England in 1932, Pleeth gave his first recital and made his first broadcast during the following year. In 1936 he joined the Blech String Quartet, and in 1937 formed a partnership with Margaret Good, the pianist, who later became his wife (see separate entry). The two artists have played together since 1938 in most of the important centres of music in England and Scotland, apart from a deal of recording activity for Decca. William Pleeth plays a beautiful old 'cello by Stradivari, dated 1732 ; he has used his skill equally in the spheres of chamber music and solo repertoire, this latter in association with our leading conductors. He served for four years as an N.C.O. during the second world war, during which duties he met and worked with Edmund Rubbra, the composer. As a result of this association, Rubbra wrote his Soliloquy for 'Cello and Orchestra for Pleeth, who first performed the work in London, 1945. The 'Cello Sonata which Rubbra has just completed at the time of writing is dedicated to Pleeth and his wife. [d. 6 April, 1999]

First page of the manuscript score


I have dubbed this recording at A = 440Hz. This is not to claim that the recording was actually recorded at 440Hz for when played at 78rpm it is actually at a quite acceptable A = 435Hz. 

However their is a trace of a 50Hz hum, now all thing being equal that would be a good baseline to calculate the correct speed. This was after all the frequency used for most of the UK alternating current mains electricity at this time. 

Or rather it would be nice to use this baseline but in this recording the hum is around 49Hz at A = 440Hz. So it should follow that the recording maybe be then in a higher realm and play even faster at say around A= 445Hz. Ah but there is here a fatal flaw in this argument. Unfortunately this 50Hz cannot really be relied on to solve our pitch problem. 

During times of scarcity (wartime), or high usage (when everyone put the radio on for the 6 o'clock news whilst plopping the kettle on for a soothing cuppa) the national grid did drop the standard alternating frequency of 50c/s a tad so that there is less strain on the system. The net effect for users is their voltage stays constant but your kettle takes longer to boil - A digression: their is a neat way they avoid this problem today which you can see here. 

During wartime this frequency could drop as low as 47c/s which in turn would produce a hum of 47Hz. Much below this frequency you can collapse the grid system and cause blackouts. So the hum actually proves very little, so to avoid madness, I have recorded at the supposed standard in the UK for this period at A=440Hz.   

Monday, 2 January 2017

I've been away from this blog since 2015 so as this is a New Year and time for resolutions, I thought also to do something to distract me from the real world. Not sure if my resolution or the world will stop first but I won't think too deeply about that for now and just stick to the music.

Edward de Jong, flute & [Madame Adami], piano
c. Wednesday, 8th May 1907

Traditional : Auld Robin Gray
Gramophone & Typewriter 9199 [6008e]

Stephen Foster : Old Folks at Home - The Swannee River
Gramophone & typewriter 9198 [6011e]

Two FLAC selections in one Zip file 44.1kHz/16bit [23Mb]

(If you are not familiar with FLAC I can recommend Foobar2000 player)
Both pieces can also be streamed as mp3 @ 192 kbps below each label

Edward de Jong (1837-1920) is the oldest surviving flute player to have recorded.  I find it quite staggering that someone who played flute with the Gewandhaus Orchestra in the 1850's can even be heard today, but that he also played with Jullien's Orchestra also before he went on to become first principle flute of the Hallé Orchestra at its inception 160 years ago even more amazing.

Edward de Jong

De Jong studied at the Cologne Conservatory until 1850 when he moved to Leipzig to take private lessons with Wilhelm Haake (1804-1875). A pupil of the flautist Anton Bernhard Fürstenau (1792-1852). Haake had joined the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1821 and de Jong often deputised for him in the Gewandhaus Orchestra. At this period the orchestra was conducted by Julius Rietz (1812-1877) who if he is remembered today is through his most celebrated pupil Sir Arthur Sullivan. It was at this time that de Jong met with Franz Liszt, whe encouraged the young flautist and gave him a number of letters of introduction. In 1855 de Jong had moved to become a flautist in the Amsterdam Orchestra under August Mann (1825-1907), but being dissatisfied there he travelled in 1855 to London arriving so he said with with only 1s 6d of Dutch money in his pocket, nevertheless he still succeeded in joining the famous Jullien's Orchestra. [One wonders if he actually travelled back with Mann, who had incidentally only gone to Amsterdam to conduct the orchestra before returning to London to take up the conductorship at the Crystal Palace?]
Louis Antoine Jullien in the late 1850's
Louis Antoine Jullien (1812-1860) is now rather difficult to assess, he was certainly a showman, probably a charlatan, certainly a bankrupt fleeing his Paris creditors and lastly mad.  Little wonder that his career was so interesting having to live up to his full name of Louis George Maurice Adolphe Roche Albert Abel Antonio Alexandre Noë Jean Lucien Daniel Eugène Joseph-le-brun Joseph-Barême Thomas Thomas Thomas-Thomas Pierre Arbon Pierre-Maurel Barthélemi Artus Alphonse Bertrand Dieudonné Emanuel Josué Vincent Luc Michel Jules-de-la-plane Jules-Bazin Julio César Jullien. Despite the bejewelled baton, the gold chair and certain enhancements of the storm sequence of Beethoven's Pastoral symphony by shaking vigorously a large box of dried pees, Jullien generally did try to bring more 'serious' music to his concerts despite the boos from his devotees!
Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition, 1857
I digress, but this image is looking east from Saloon A to C - the picture to the right of the empty
frame leaning on the floor in the middle distance is Franz Pourbus the Younger's Portrait
of Henry Duc de Guise. This was exhibit 514 and lent by the  Spencer family at Althrop.
It is still there in the same frame, so to add some colour it is shown in at the foot of this page.
In 1856 Charles Hallé was asked to form an orchestra for the Art Treasures Exhibition at Manchester that scheduled to open the following year. The first concert was held on the 6th of May 1857 and it is quite probable that the jubilee of this event prompted de Jong to make his recordings fifty years later. De Jong, recalled that he had been interviewed by Hallé in London before going to Manchester to perform with the Orchestra at Manchester which was made up from an amalgam of Jullien's and Hallé's musicians. This event must have been of some significance to de Jong by 1907 and surly prompted the recordings. This exhibition although not as famous as some, probably had the largest collection of art put ever put together in one place. 
Edward de Jong looking left!

He clearly preferred to stay in Manchester and on the founding of the Hallé Orchestra in following year de Jong became their first principle flute participating at their inaugural concert on the 30th of January 1858. De Jong held this position until 1870 when he left to established his own orchestra at Manchester, much to Hallé's ire.  Much of de Jong's time was then taken up as an active conductor at the large exhibitions and popular resorts including posts as Musical Director of the Winter Gardens in Blackpool, Southport and Buxton. He was something of a showman in the Jullien way, although without anything like the same extravagance, he did not as Hallé aim to satisfy the public with too serious a program of classical music but aimed at the lighter and more popular music of his day. From 1893 until 1906, de Jong taught flute at the Royal Manchester College of Music before retiring from this position in 1907 at the age of 70.
Royal Manchester College of Music c. 1911

By good fortune there is a contemporary review of of these two records given in The Manchester Guardian, this must have been one of the earliest sustained series of record reviews to appear in a British newspaper for this time.  In the July 16th 1907 issue the following was penned 'Another good record is the one of Mr De Jong's flute-playing which must be still in the memory of older concert-goers in Manchester. The flute tone in very well reproduced; the lower notes are remarkably real. But the kindly, inoffensive old."Swannee River" is surely, getting too venerable to be subjected to such irreverent variations.' 

Alas the copies I have are not in the best of conditions. They appear not to have lasted in the catalogue more than a year although Auld Robin Grey got to a second stamper showing some popularity but The Swannee River may only have managed a first stamper.  With the opening of the Hayes pressing plant it appears not to have proved worthwhile to transport these matrices with the other 'English' titles from the Hanover pressing plant and instead they would have been destroyed with other redundant material. The spelling 'de Jonge' on The Swannee River label is likely to have been miscommunication between London and Hanover, indeed the name is spelt 'De Jange' on the recording sheets, seems very unlikely that the record was withheld for such a reason a more likely reason was the records wore out quickly on earlier gramophones. Another point worth pointing out are that very few recordings were issued of the flute by G&T up to this time. In total twelve 7" sides and seven 10" had been issued before De Jong's two sides came out with only a further nineteen solo, concerted or concerto sides issued before 1927 in any format marketed by G&T and HMV. 
Fred & Will Gaisberg 1912

Dating of the records

Only the dedicated discographer need read further but I thought I could explain the dating of these discs and thereby by default the probable dates of Vladimir De Pachmann's first recording.  

Will Gaisberg who recorded these records returned from the Bombay on the Wednesday 1st May 1907 and so is known to have begun recording at the City Road studio sometime that month.  On his return the block of 10" matrix numbers was restarted at 6001e the last number used by Will in India being 5560e. Vladimir De Pachmann was the first person recorded by Will Gaisberg on 6001e, 6003e and 6004e [6002e was not issued], there is then a short gap before de Jong's two issued matrix number 6008e and 6011e [6009e and 6010e no doubt being rejected]. There is then a long gap of twelve unknown matrix numbers before a choir composed Fishermen of the North Sea Trawlers (in conjunction with the National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen) recorded three selections beginning with 6024e. 

Will Gaisberg doubtless took a couple of days off after the voyage so probably did not actually start recording again until Monday 6th May. So to get a fix on the date of de Jong's recording sessions so I suggest the following chronology. De Pachmann gave his last concert in London before his two year tour to America on Wednesday 8th May and the The North Sea fishermen must surely be connected with the annual meeting of the National Mission held at Exeter Hall on Friday May 10th 1907. This last was advertised as including 'One Hundred North Sea Fishermen [who] will attend and take part in the proceedings.' So these recordings by the fishermen could very probably have been made on the following day, I would presume that working fishermen were very unlikely to remain in London too long after the meeting was over. I suspect the recordings by de Jong were made on or about Wednesday the 8th May just a few days after de Jong had celebrating his jubilee. I also suspect that De Pachmann recorded on Monday or Tuesday that week but also feel he returned to the studio for a second second session on the Thursday or Friday. It is this second session that may partly account for the missing matrix numbers after de Jong's 6011e. There is a similar gap of four matrix numbers in the De Pachmann's 12" series recorded at the same time, so it is also possible that de Jong may have attempted a longer composition during his recording session.
Vladimir de Pachmann 

This is all quite speculative but but it would seem a sensible plan as The Gramophone &d Typewriter Ltd may have thought to make enough good recordings of De Pachmann before he went abroad for a two year period of concert tours, Enough time then to have tests approved before De Pachmann left the UK sometime in the middle of June 1907 [he arrived at New York on the 27th June].

One final point is that I have ascribed the piano playing to Madame Adami with no proof whatsoever. although it is very probable that she is playing on these records for from 1907 she had become the house pianist at G&T and featured quite prominently in some publicity at this time - more about this mystery woman in a later post.

Franz Pourbus the Younger's Portrait
of Henry Duc de Guise