What it says on the tin

In all of music, is there a more romantic instrument than the cello?

Rhetorical question. ‘Course not.

1063 sleeveIf you want to hook someone on classical music, take them to see a good cellist play. Or even just play a recording, and you could do worse than this, one of the most demanding cello pieces ever written. It is the work of the Czech composer Anton Dvorak, who travelled to the United States in the 1890s. He lived and worked there for several years, writing the New World Symphony for which is he is mostly remembered. But he did a lot besides, and though I have only just discovered it I rank this work, which was first performed in 1896, as a masterpiece.

Like a lot of classical music, it has a less-than-catchy title: “Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in B Minor”. You get what it says on the tin, but the marketing could be better. Anyway, it is a lovely piece, dramatic and beautiful in turns. The section I have chosen is the second movement which, after a brief burst is slower, quieter and more reflective than the rest of the Concerto.1063 sticker

As part of my Planet Vinyl experience I have been learning the meaning of those strange Italian expressions which appear on the liner notes of classical records. I always found them intimidating. But, much like Italian cooking, they are actually pretty forgiving, relaxed. This movement is adagio ma non troppo. Adagio literally means “at ease” but is usually translated as “slowly”. Ma non troppo is a beautiful, very Italian, phrase: “but not too much”.

The record is a 10-inch LP, from about the early-1960s. It was bought in Geelong, from a shop called Dicksons’. The original owner played it quite a bit, and so there is some surface noise. Sadly, it will never be played again. I dropped it, you see, and 1960s vinyl can be brittle … 1063 chip

But the music shines through. Playing slowly, but not too much, is Tibor de Machula on cello. Just lovely.

  • Artist: Tibor de Machula (cello); Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Moralt.
  • LP Title: Anton Dvorak: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in B Minor
  • Side 1, Track 2: Second movement, adagio ma non troppo.
  • Format: 10” LP 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Philips G 05338 R
  • Manufactured in: Holland
  • Year: no date (early 1960s?)

Many of the records featured on this blog (not this one, wot has a big chip in it) are for sale via Discogs


Sliding doors

Kurt Maier was born in Germany in 1911, and became a skilled pilot. He fought with the Luftwaffe during the Second World War, and rose to the rank of Major. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, for bravery and leadership. Perhaps surprisingly, Maier survived the war.

All the above is true, but that was another Kurt Maier.

The Kurt Maier who plays the piano on this record was a Jew.

He, too, was born in 1911, but in what was then Czechoslovakia. By the time the Nazis seized the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia in 1938, he was a successful musician. He escaped to the relative safety of Prague, but at the end of 1941 he and his mother were deported to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt, and later to Auschwitz. His musical skills kept him alive: he played in the camp band. He was transferred to a slave labour camp, and then again to Buchanwald. Astonishingly, this Kurt Meier also survived the war.

Amazing the different paths a life can take.7069 Maier 1964 A CU

In 1946 Maier migrated to the United States, and became popular pianist in the night club scene. He took the classical works he had grown up on, and arranged them with a jazz-tinged up-tempo flavour. This could easily be gimmicky – a sort of early model Hook On Classics – but it actually works well.

Piano Favourites was released in 1964, though the recordings are almost certainly older. It was one of those EPs that people would stack up on the radiogram and play at parties. And played a lot it has clearly been – it is a bashed and battered old thing. But like Kurt Maier, it has survived, and it carries an astonishing and inspiring story.

The track here is Maier’s ragtime take on Antonín Dvorak’s “Humoresque”.

  • Artist: Kurt Maier
  • EP Title: Piano Favourites
  • Track: A3 “Humoresque” (Dvorak)
  • Format: 7” 45 rpm
  • Label: Bravo BR 332
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1964