REVIEW POTPOURRI: Few listen to old 78 records

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The number of record collectors who listen to the dusty old 78s are few when one considers the general population but, if gathered in a convention hall from around the world, could fill it. The dealers hawking them on Ebay, popsike and other venues plus the Facebook pages testify to the interest, even, unbelievably, among young people born after Bush 41 assumed office!

Franz Schubert

Anyways time to end this banal introductory paragraph! I possess several thousand shellacs ranging from Woody Hermon and Caruso to the original Carousel and imported Telefunkens, Polydors and Deutsche Grammophons and love my sitdown sessions, interrupted every three to five minutes by getting up to change the disc. I play them on a Magnavox console I bought for ten bucks at an Augusta yard sale at least 11 years ago – this gift has kept on giving in the old-fashioned sense, like cars that were traded in mainly because their owners were tired of looking at them!

I would like to offer hopefully succinct comments on a few I own:

A record from 1940, on the Masterpiece label, has sides five and six featuring two-thirds of the slow movement of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony performed quite nicely by an unnamed orchestra. The New York Post spearheaded a series of record sets in the late ‘30s that contained Symphonies and other classical pieces that sold for a buck per set, instead of one or more dollars per record like Victor, Decca, Columbia, etc., but did not name the performers. Yet, because players and others, who were directly involved, talked, the story goes that there was a series of midnight recording sessions at Carnegie Hall with hand-picked free-lancers and conductors such as Eugene Ormandy, Fritz Reiner, Artur Rodzinski and Fritz Stiedry: names would be assigned to different works as more useful snitchings occurred. Thus, Ormandy was revealed as responsible for the Schubert!

An acoustic Victor from the World War I years features the Arthur Pryor Band doing a lively, charming first half of Rossini’s William Tell Overture, itself a very favorite classic of mine. Unfortunately, it is the last half that contains Heigh Ho Silver. I have previously covered another Pryor breakable in these most edifying pages so I will refer the newly curious to an informative Wiki bio on the bandleader’s illustrious life.

Arthur Pryor

Another acoustic from the same label and recording decade has one side devoted to the Victor Minstrel Company, a chorus/orchestra combo performing Alabama Minstrels, a feisty medley consisting of then current hit songs – Fly Fly Fly, My Rosie Rambler that is not to be confused with Nat King Cole’s Ramblin’ Rose of more than 40 years later, and Linda, definitely not the Buddy Clark hit of more than 30 years later! These quaint celebrations of life in the then pellagra, hookworm and lynching – infested Deep South utopia are similar to the 1930s Mills Brothers Decca hit 78, Is It True What They Say About Dixie? and, of course, the 1940s Al Jolsen record of George Gershwin’s Swanee River, itself unsurpassed to this day as a rendition of that song! Finally, Jolsen sang it blackface in the movies before these practices were politically corrected.

Side two contains, again, Pryor’s Band doing Old Heidelberg, A Trip Up the Rhine that incorporates the Sailor’s Chorus from Wagner’s sterling opera, The Flying Dutchman.

One more – a Columbia acoustic from the Columbia Operatic Sextette, a mixed group of fine voices, performs the Donizetti Lucia di Lammermoor sextette, What from Vengeance, and Verdi’s Rigoletto quartet, Beauteous Daughter.

I might be pushing TMI here but I am certain somebody out there would like to know that all of the above selections are 12-inch discs.


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