– Porgy And Bess

The first more or less complete recorded version of “Porgy And Bess” appeared on Columbia in 1951. As a result of the cooperation between Philips and Columbia the recordings were released in Europe on the Philips label in 1955 (probably). I acquired a copy of this 3LP album recently.

Gershwin’s opera was an important work of art and the following text (from Wikipedia) explains (partly) why.

Porgy and Bess is an English-language opera by the American composer George Gershwin, with a libretto written by author DuBose Heyward and lyricist Ira Gershwin. It was adapted from Dorothy Heyward and DuBose Heyward’s play Porgy, itself an adaptation of DuBose Heyward’s 1925 novel of the same name.

Porgy and Bess was first performed in Boston on September 30, 1935, before it moved to Broadway in New York City. It featured a cast of classically trained African-American singers—a daring artistic choice at the time. After an initially unpopular public reception, a 1976 Houston Grand Opera production gained it new popularity, and it is now one of the best-known and most frequently performed operas.

The libretto of Porgy and Bess tells the story of Porgy, a disabled black street-beggar living in the slums of Charleston. It deals with his attempts to rescue Bess from the clutches of Crown, her violent and possessive lover, and Sportin’ Life, her drug dealer. The opera plot generally follows the stage play.

In the years following Gershwin’s death, Porgy and Bess was adapted for smaller scale performances. It was adapted as a film in 1959. Some of the songs in the opera, such as “Summertime”, became popular and are frequently recorded.

About the recordings:

Columbia recorded a 3 LP album (1951) of what was then the standard performing version of Porgy and Bess – the most complete recording made of the opera up to that time. It was billed as a “complete” version, but was complete only insofar as that was the way the work was usually performed then (actually, nearly an hour was cut from the opera.) Because album producer Goddard Lieberson was eager to bring as much of Porgy and Bess as he felt was practical on records at the time, the recording featured more of Gershwin’s original recitatives and orchestrations than had ever been heard before. The recording was conducted by Lehman Engel, and starred Lawrence Winters and Camilla Williams, both from the New York City Opera. Several singers who had been associated with the original 1935 production and the 1942 revival of Porgy and Bess were finally given a chance to record their roles more or less complete. The album was highly acclaimed as a giant step in recorded opera in its time. The album is not sung in as directly “operatic” a style as later versions, treading a fine line between opera and musical theatre.

The complete Wikipedia text can be read here.

Porgy and Bess albums and singles on this website:

– Clara Haskil

Impressed as I am with the recently purchased posthumous album by Clara Haskil (Philips A 02073 L), I found it appropriate to give a little attention here to this piano-player extraordinaire.

Clara Haskil at an early age

Here’s what Wikipedia tells us about this artist (a few parts have been omitted from the original article):

Clara Haskil was born into a Jewish family in Bucharest, Romania, on Jan. 7, 1895. Her father Isaac Haskil (1858–1899) immigrated to Romania from Bessarabia (then part of the Russian Empire); he died from acute pneumonia when Clara was only 4 years old. Her mother Berthe Haskil (1866–1917), of Sephardic origin, was one of six children of David Moscona and Rebecca Aladjem. Haskil studied in Amsterdam under Richard Robert (whose pupils also included Rudolf Serkin and George Szell) and briefly with Ferruccio Busoni. She later moved to France, where she studied with Gabriel Fauré’s pupil Joseph Morpain, whom she always credited as one of her greatest influences. The same year she entered the Conservatoire de Paris, officially to study with Alfred Cortot although most of her instruction came from Lazare Lévy and Mme Giraud-Latarse, and graduated at age 15 with a Premier Prix. She also graduated with a Premier Prix in violin and cello. Upon graduating, Haskil began to tour Europe, though her career was cut short by one of the numerous physical ailments she suffered throughout her life. In 1913 she was fitted with a plaster cast in an attempt to halt the progression of scoliosis. Frequent illnesses, combined with extreme stage fright that appeared in 1920, kept her from critical or financial success. Most of her life was spent in abject poverty. It was only after World War II, during a series of concerts in the Netherlands in 1949, that she began to win acclaim. In 1951 she moved to Vevey in Switzerland. Not long after that she was appointed a Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur by the French state.

As a pianist, her playing was marked by a purity of tone and phrasing that may have come from her skill as a violinist. Transparency and sensitive inspiration were other hallmarks of her style.

Well regarded as a chamber musician, Haskil collaborated with George Enescu, Eugène Ysaÿe, Pablo Casals, Dinu Lipatti, Joseph Szigeti, Géza Anda, Isaac Stern, Henryk Szeryng and Arthur Grumiaux, with whom she played her last concert. While renowned primarily as a violinist, Grumiaux was also a fine pianist, and he and Haskil would sometimes swap instruments.

She played as a soloist under the baton of many conductors, including Ansermet, Barbirolli, Baumgartner, Beecham, Boult, Celibidache, Cluytens, Dixon, Fricsay, Giulini, Hindemith, Inghelbrecht, Jochum, Karajan, Kempe, Klemperer, Kubelík, Markevitch, Monteux, Munch, Paray, Rosbaud, Sawallisch, Solti, Stokowski and Szell.

One of her most famous recordings as a soloist with orchestra is of Mozart’s Piano Concertos No. 20 in D minor, K. 466 and No. 24 in C minor, K. 491, made in November 1960 with the Orchestre Lamoureux conducted by Igor Markevitch.

Haskil died from injuries received in a fall on a staircase at the Brussels-South railway station. She was due to play at a concert with Arthur Grumiaux the following day. She was aged 65.

An esteemed friend of Haskil, Charlie Chaplin, described her talent by saying “In my lifetime I have met three geniuses; Professor Einstein, Winston Churchill, and Clara Haskil. I am not a trained musician but I can only say that her touch was exquisite, her expression wonderful, and her technique extraordinary.”

To see Clara Haskil’s records on this website, click on the links below (more to follow):

– Images of Rita Reys’ first LP added

After a few weeks of inactivity, I added scans for Rita Reys’ first LP (Philips B 08006 L) today. This LP, titled “The Cool Voice Of Rita Reys”, was released first in the US, on the Columbia label, to be released in the Netherlands a few months later, in early 1957. The recordings were made in the Netherlands with the Wessel Ilcken Combo (sida A) and in the USA with the Jazz Messengers (side B).