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Mercury Recordings on
The Fontana Label

 

 

Page 2

Furthermore Philips made matrixes from copies  of Mercury tapes and pressed Lp's for the US market. The covers of these editions were labelled 'Golden Imports'.
Rhapsodies of Liszt and Enesco were previously released by Mercury as SR 90235 and as a 'Golden Imports' release as SRI 75018 (the I probably meaning 'Imports' or 'International' in order to avoid confusion with the original American SR series and the earlier 10" Philips SR series of 1959).
The reason for these pressings could be that Philips technicians could have had some criticism regarding the American editions that were pressed on less refined, harder, grainy quality vinyl, their opinions eventually being supported by the remarks of a few European reviewers who were not used to clear, high definition sound recording pressed in stronger vinyl that produced a good mid band but showed also much hiss of the mastertapes.****)

As a 'Golden Import' Marcel Dupré's recording of organ music of César Franck has therefore less presence than could be expected. The disc with Barber's Medea and Adagio for Strings conducted by Howard Hanson sounds less dynamic. The Liszt/ Enesco disc is of better quality compared to the ones just mentioned. There are others in this category. I list a few reference numbers:

 
 

  • SRI 75002 Bartók: Violin concerto No. 2. Menuhin/Dorati
  • SRI 75003 Saint Saëns: Symphony No. 3 with Marcel Dupé/Paul Paray.
  • SRI 75010 Symphony No.4 (Hovhannes) and Symphony No. 3 (Giannini), Howard Hanson conducting
  • SRI 75016 Le Coq d'Or (Rimsky-Korsakov), Polovetsian Dances (Borodin), a.o.; Dorati.
  • SRI 75017 Howard Hanson conducting Concerti Grossi by Bloch. SRI 75018 œHungarian Rhapsodies Nos. 2 & 3 (Liszt) and Two Roumanian Rhapsodies (Enesco)/Dorati
  • SRI 75059 Marcel Dupré plays César Franck (Grande Pièce Symphonique, Fantaisie and Pastorale)
  • SRI 75046 Marcel Dupré plays Bach (Preludes and Fugues)
  • SRI 3-77002 Janos Starker performing the Complete Suites For Unaccompanied Cello by Bach

    Also old monorecordings were released on Golden Imports mostly in shrill electronic stereo instead of the fullblooded original monaural sound:

  • SRI 75115 Antal Dorati conducting the Mineapolis Symphony in Feste Romane and Church Windows (Respighi)

Because of contractual reasons Philips could only gradually release their own European recordings on the US market. Specifically recordings made before 1961 remained for a long time (until 1967) only available on the Epic label. Van Beinum's Philips recording of the Suite from Handel's Water music with the Concertgebouw Orchestra was available on Epic BC1112 (in Europe on 835 series). However the complete Water music played by Van Beinum and his orchestra was released on Philips World Series 9016.
Mozart's Piano concertos Nos. 20 and 24 played by Clara Haskil (with the Lamoureux Orchestra directed by Igor Markevitch) had reference number BC 1143. The old nineteen fifties mono recordings of the Concertos Nos. 20 and 23 with Haskil and Bernhard Paumgartner (Vienna Symphony Orchestra, 1957) were released as Mercury 90413 which means in electronic stereo of course.

More Philips recordings were promoted and distributed in the US through the Chicago office. Examples:

 

 

  • PHS 900-092: George Szell and the Concertgebouw with Sibelius' 2nd Symphony.
  • PHS 900-101: Colin Davis' interpreation of the Symphonie Fantastique (BBC SO)
  • PHS 900-132: A Century of French Song - Gérard Souzay accompanied by Dalton Baldwin
  • PHS 900-158: Lorin Mazel with the RSO Berlin in Mozart's Symphonies 38 & 39.
  • PHS 900-171: Bernard Haitink conducting Bruckner's 4th Symphony.
  • PHS 2-920: Beethoven's Sonatas for Piano and Cello by Svjatoslav Richter and Mstislav Rostropovich.
  • PHS 5-970: Beethoven's 5 Piano concerti performed by Claudio Arrau with Bernard Haitink conducting.

 

Around 1968 Philips began releasing Mercury stereo tapes on the Fontana label in European countries. First in the 700 series. After a while more were released in the 894 series and some time later in the 6531 series. Again much later Mercury recordings re-appeared in sub series on the Philips label. The only Mercury that survived as a Mercury for a longer time was MGY 130 514 which was still announced in the 1972 catalogue: Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture coupled with Wellington's Sieg (Beethoven) - apparently for commercial reasons. The pressings on Fontana and on Philips were not available in all countries where Philips had their sales- and distribution organizations. And if they were available then they did not necessarily have the same prefix and number. So some readers may not have come across these particular releases.

Mercury is what could be called a 'typical American' record label. High quality sound recording made it possible for a small company like Mercury to establish itself and consolidate its position on the US market. The label did not have a great arsenal of artists to work with. It had relatively few conductors and soloists. Many a release had Antal Dorati's name printed on its label. In the beginning with the Minneapolis Symphony and in later years (when the association with Philips was at hand) with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Although conductors Paul Paray, Stanislaw Skrowaczewsky and Howard Hanson, and artists like Byron Janis and Henryk Szering have done their share, undeniably Antal Dorati has contributed most significantly to the label's success. This in spite of the fact that he was not an all-round conductor and not a good accompanist at all times. The choice of repertory of the company shows a taste for works that either enjoy great popularity (Beethoven, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky) or excel in lush orchestration that can show off the distinctive recording technique.

The recording technique was definitely part of the artistry of the label and was also carried through in the recordings of solo- instrumentalists like Janos Starker's violoncello in Bach's Unaccompanied Suites, the guitar sound of the Romeros, Byron Janis's grand piano in a recording of popular pieces, Henryk Szering's violin playing Kreisler-favorites accompanied by Charles Reiner at the piano, and the works played by Marcel Dupré on the magnificent organ of Saint-Sulpice in Paris.

The popular concertos and symphonic works (generally referred to as 'the iron repertory') are a good insurance for sales and survival in any big market. The fact that Mercury can be considered a typical American label - more so than Columbia or RCA - is substantiated by the many recordings with marches, military music and the sonic documentaries of The Civil War. Also Mercury produced so called 'sonic spectaculars' like the Overture 1812 or a release like 'Bravo Hi-Fi' with music by Gershwin, MacBride and Gould. The Civil War belongs actually to the same category. If the catalogue contained some exclusive repertory, then it was more a consequence of the possibilities and interests of some of the important artists than by an outspoken wish to be an avant-garde label, which Mercury was not because there was no continuity in the building up of this segment of the catalogue. The same is true for the section 'opera'. The few operas that the American catalogue contained had been recorded for the Italian publisher Ricordi and certainly were a welcome addition to the Mercury catalogue. See also Mercury Living Presence.

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