Parnassus Blog

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

"The Indispensible Man" plays the worst concert ever

Reading William Kristol's column about William F. Buckley, Jr. ("The Indispensable Man") in Monday's New York Times brought back vivid memories of a visit Buckley paid to the Hudson Valley.

Buckley was well known as a lover of classical music, and once wrote an article for the Times Magazine about his harpsichord studies. I no longer have the concert program, but Buckley's appearance must have occurred at least twenty years ago, when Leon Botstein was conducting a series with the Hudson Valley Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, a smaller group drawn from the HVP which Botstein founded and later abandoned. Buckley appeared with the HVPCO, under Botstein's direction, in a special benefit performance at the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie.

I remember Buckley's parts of the program well. He brought his harpsichord, and attempted to play two movements of Bach's Concerto in D Minor (the second and first, in that order, but not the third). He also played the Bach's Chromatic Fantasia for solo harpsichord, but not its more difficult succeeding fugue.

Seeing the program, I presumed that the missing parts of the music were too difficult for Buckley to play. But all of it was. From the opening measures of the second movement of the Concerto, it was obvious that Buckley couldn't play anything accurately. He had a coach with him, perhaps his teacher, who was pointing to the places in the music where Buckley was trying to play, but Buckley wasn't even close to being able to get all of them. I noted with amusement that he was doing something I've otherwise seen only at low-level student recitals, when a kid has great trouble playing the music, leans forward towards the score and squints, as though if he or she could just see the notes more clearly they would be easier to play. Buckley was doing that, but as always it didn't help. He simply didn't have the technique to play
even the easiest passages of the music. For long stretches, he was literally playing more wrong notes than right ones--and I do mean literally.

This event lives vividly in my memory, because it was, by a comfortable margin, the worst public musical performance I have ever heard.

After an intermission, Buckley returned to narrate "Peter and the Wolf," which he did with his usual air of supercilious patrician pseudo-elegance. Fortunately the audience had very few children in it.

Kristol inadvertently reinforced my feelings about Buckley's devotion to classical music by writing that, on the last night of his life, he and a pianist friend "talked about music and politics and friends, to the accompaniment of a recording of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto, Bill's favorite." As if anyone with any appreciation of one of Beethoven's greatest masterpieces could use it as background music!

Buckley's recent death has called forth a variety of tributes to his supposedly positive qualities. But I prefer to remember him as a man who wrote ringing support of racial segregation in his early career, who played the role of aristocrat, and who somehow managed to turn his intellectual dishonesty into a successful career. Buckley was the man who supposedly made conservatism intellectually acceptable, but I suspect this was true only among conservatives. I never bought it.

Leslie Gerber

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Parnassus Records Important Announcement

I am sorry to announce that 2008 will be the last year for the Parnassus Select catalog. Sharp declines in sales, both in the number of records sold and the prices we get for them, have made the record business unprofitable, and it cannot continue. This realization also made the boss (Leslie Gerber) realize that I have been doing this long enough (37 years for the catalogs, 39 years altogether including LP publishing). It's time for a change.

We will continue to provide you with our usual quality of service--for whatever that's worth!--until it becomes time to close the business, a decision which will be contingent on the sale of the house where we work. Most likely we will discontinue the business sometime this summer. We'll give customers plenty of notice to complete any outstanding transactions, so please don't hesitate to order from our last catalogs. There will be no close-out sale; we have already arranged for the donation of our remaining stock to a university library.

One reason for announcing our closing well in advance is to give customers a last opportunity to order our custom CDs and DVDs and the private CDs we have been ordering from other suppliers. We will place our last order for the imported private CDs (including the Rare Moth items included in this catalog and our previous one) sometime in February. Our Parnassus Custom Video and Dis private items will be available only as long as we are publishing our catalogs, and some may run out of stock before then.

I am intending to continue the Parnassus CD label, and possibly even to increase the number of discs published. I'm also hoping to expand my writing career, and, frankly, to loaf a little more. All those records sitting on the shelf! It's time to enjoy them without having to use them mostly for background while I type listings.

--Leslie Gerber

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Keeping Records out of the Landfill

My recent column in Classic Record Collector, "To Chuck or Not to
Chuck," dealt with the subject of record triage. These days, when
dealing with classical records (78s or LPs) that are not outstanding
collectors' items, it has become difficult to dispose of them in ways
that will ensure their preservation.

Here's what we do at Parnassus. First, if possible, I discard any
records in poor condition, as they will only pollute the remainder.
These do go to the landfill and there is absolutely no hope for them.

Until a few years ago, we took LPs that did not sell through our
catalogs to a consignment shop which we maintained in a local
bookstore. That store is now gone, and our replacement in another
location is doing poorly. Nevertheless, I know several dealers who do
something like this with success, often in antique malls (collectives
of a number of dealers under one roof). It is important to date the
records in some way and keep the stock rotating or the customers,
even at very low prices, will stop looking at them.

The records we did not sell were given to the Woodstock Library,
which has--as many libraries do--an ongoing book sale to benefit the
library. Some libraries have even more vigorous operations than
Woodstock, which confines its sales to alternate weekends for the
half of the year when the sale building doesn't require heat, which
it doesn't have. I know libraries in my area which have "permanent"
library sales, open for several days every week year round. But not
all such sales accept records as donations.

There are also many charity thrift shops which sell records. The
nearest Salvation Army, in Kingston New York, has thousands of them
for sale at any given time. I think many local LP collections being
discarded wind up there.

Inevitably, some records donated to these sales will also wind up
being discarded. But at least they have had a chance at life in the
home of someone who still plays LPs.

78s are much more difficult. Most of the outlets described above, at
least in my area, won't accept 78s. Some local antique shops do sell
78s, but they don't carry very large quantities. There is one antique
shop in Kingston, "Lock, Stock and Barrel," operated by a man named
Jack Whistance, who was a record dealer himself many years ago. Jack
recently took a small 78 collection I needed to dispose of, although
he warned me in advance he couldn't pay for the records. Still, some
of them might find a home somewhere.

When attempting to dispose of large collections, the situation is
rather different. I can't give the Woodstock Library 5,000 LPs at a
time (although I would like to) because they don't have space. Most
colleges and libraries are not interested in acquiring 78s or LPs for
their collections. There are a few who are, but diligent research is
needed to find them. I made my contact with Brigham Young University,
described in my previous column, through a letter a customer kindly
placed on a music library list-serve. You can also try offering
collections to the few dealers who still advertise in publications
like Classic Record Collector. But with Parnassus, at least, the
collection must have a fairly high proportion of real collectors'
items or we can't buy it.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Grand Piano Podcast 002 - Composers at the Piano

Some of the most insightful piano interpretations come from the very composers who wrote the pieces. In this episode we listen to several of the 20th Century's most famous composer playing their own music. Several short interviews with the pianists accompany the music.

Bela Bartok - brief comments on Mikrokosmos
Bela Bartok - Mikrokosmos - Notturno #97
Aaron Copland - excerpt from interview, 1981
Aaron Copland - Piano Variations
Dmitri Shostakovich - Trio #2 - with David Oistrakh, violin; Milos Sadlo, 'cello.
George Gershwin - comments on the variations of "I Got Rhythm"
George Gershwin - Variations on "I Got Rhythm" - Radio boadcast April 30, 1934. Louis Kaplan, conductor.

Download The Grand Piano Podcast 002 - Composers at the Piano - 49Mb - 53 minutes - 128k mp3

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Grand Piano Podcast 001 - History of Piano in Sound

Is now available for download at

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Free Sample - Richter / Hindemith

When I was a teenager, I first got to hear parts of Paul Hindemith's
piano suite entitled "1922." Three movements were included in a
fascinating piano recital by the composer-pianist Leo Smit called
"The Masters Write Jazz." I thought this was some of Hindemith's best
music, but Smit's performance didn't seem powerful enough, especially
in the final movement. I thought the intent of this movement was
forceful to the point of being downright apocalyptic, something that
did not come across in Smit's playing.

It didn't come across in any of the subsequent recordings that I
kept checking out, always hoping for something I didn't get to hear.
Then along came a recording by Sviatoslav Richter. Not for the first
time, Richter played a piece of music the way I wanted to hear it. In
his playing the fearsome implications of this music, a depiction of
the chaos of post World War I Germany and perhaps even a threatening
prediction of the horrors to follow, are fully realized.

It's a pity that this particular Richter recital was available so
briefly. It's not the best recorded Richter ever (although supposedly
digital, it sounds as though it might have been made on a portable
recorder). But the repertoire is fascinating, the sound is good
enough, and these are mostly the only Richter recordings of the music.

PCCD 20089/90 is available as item CD0311 in Parnassus Select Catalog P344

Sviatoslav Richter Suite "1922" : Ragtime (3 minutes - High quality VBR mp3 - 5.08 mb)

Sviatoslav Richter Suite "1922" : Ragtime (3 minutes - 128 bit mp3 - 2.79mb)

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

PCCD Free Sample - Youra Guller

The Roumanian pianist Youra Guller is a shadowy but legendary figure. She was active in France for many years, where she became friends with major performers and composers, but she did not record until 1956. She made only three recordings, now all out of print, and all magnificent. Her 1956 Chopin collection for Ducretet-Thomson is an LP of such superlative rarity that we have never seen a copy. However, an authorized reissue appeared momentarily on a French CD label, and we now have that in our private reissue series as Dis PCCD 20291. Her stereo recording of Beethoven's Sonatas Nos. 31 and 32, done in France in the late 1960s, is another treasure, now on PCCD 20292.

Guller's last session, originally planned as a complete set of Rachmaninov Preludes, instead turned into a collection of encores and transcriptions. It was issued on LP by Nimbus, then reissued on CD with two new items but with two Scarlatti Sonatas missing. Our edition, PCCD 20311, includes all of the Nimbus material.

However, our greatest Guller treasure of all is the 1958 broadcast transcription of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto, conducted by the French legend D.E. Inghelbrecht. This recording has never been published officially, and we have it through the immense generosity of the famous German collector Ernst Lumpe. A critic friend of ours described Guller's playing here as having "the eloquence of a great actor doing Shakespeare," and you can hear the results for yourself in the first movement available here. This disc also includes another great pianist who was born in Eastern Europe but was trained in the French tradition, Vlado Perlemuter, playing Debussy's Fantasie for Piano and Orchestra.

PCCD 20302 is available as item CD0553 in Parnassus Select Catalog P342

Youra Guller / Inghelbreht / FRNSO Beethoven Concerto No. 4 - First Movement (19 minutes - High quality VBR mp3 - 28.7mb)

Youra Guller / Inghelbreht / FRNSO Beethoven Concerto No. 4 - First Movement (19 minutes - 128 bit mp3 - 28.7mb)

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