F. Charles Adler    (Bruckner)        (5-Music & Arts 1283)
Item# C1365
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F. Charles Adler    (Bruckner)        (5-Music & Arts 1283)
C1365. F. CHARLES ADLER Cond. Vienna S.O.: Overture in g; Symphony #1 in c; Symphony #3 in d; Symphony #6 in A [radio broadcast of 17 Feb., 1952]; Symphony #9 in d; Mass #1 in d (all Bruckner). 5-Music & Arts 1283, recorded 1952-56. Restored from the original SPA and Unicorn LP sources in 2014 by A. Z. Snyder. Liner notes by Mark W. Kluge. Handsome Boxed Set. Specially priced, 5 CDs for the price of 4. - 017685128325


“This is one of those occasional sets that is peculiarly difficult to review and then decide whether to recommend it or not. One the one hand, these are recordings of a certain historical importance: the very first commercial release of the Mass #1 in d minor, and recordings of four symphonies with mostly only one or two predecessors on 78s and/or LP, made by a dedicated but now little-remembered Brucknerian. As such, they are eminently deserving of refurbishing and issuance on CD, and Music & Arts is once again to be praised for its typical intrepid courage in undertaking a project of historical conservation on which it can expect minimal financial return. On the other hand, the performances are of uneven quality with respect to both conductorial interpretation and orchestral execution, and the sound quality, while much improved from the original LP releases, remains problematic compared to commercial releases by major labels from the same era.

F. Charles Adler (1889–1959) - 'F' for Frederick, a name that Adler never used professionally - was born and raised in London, though the family name indicates German origins. His father was a banker; his mother, a pianist who studied with Franz Liszt. Although his father wished for Adler to go into the family business, he abandoned that at the first opportunity to pursue a career in music. By 1910 he had made his way to Munich, where he first assisted Mahler in preparing the premiere of the latter’s Eighth Symphony and then worked with Felix Mottl. After becoming director of the Düsseldorf Opera in 1912, he was interred as an enemy alien during World War I; resuming his career at the war’s end, he conducted widely on both sides of the Atlantic, became director of Berlin State Radio in 1924, and founded his own publishing firm. However, Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933 prompted Adler immediately to emigrate to the USA, where he found employment in conducting concerts for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). In 1936 he married Hannah Moriarta, a socialite from Saratoga Springs, NY. While the booklet notes do not say so in so many words, this match presumably gave Adler a prosperous financial basis from which to pursue his subsequent recording activities.

In 1951, his work with the WPA being long ended and some subsequent projects having faltered, Adler formed an alliance with a Saratoga businessman, Norman Fox, and started a new record label, SPA Records, to be devoted to works with few or no prior recordings. (SPA stood for ‘Society of Participating Artists’.) In 1952 Adler renewed musical contacts in Vienna after an absence from there of over 20 years and began to make orchestral recordings for SPA with the Vienna Symphony. Eventually over 70 SPA LPs were issued; in addition to Bruckner and Mahler, repertoire ranged from Baroque flute concerti and Beethoven (the first recording of the piano version of the violin concerto) to contemporary composers, the latter ranging from Antheil, Cowell, and Schönberg to Philip James, Eric Zeisl, and Artur Schnabel. The label always led a precarious existence financially, a situation exacerbated by lawsuits and bad publicity resulting when the pseudonymous ‘Vienna Philharmonia’ on the recordings was misidentified by both the Schwann catalog and a New York Times review as the Vienna Philharmonic. (The pseudonym was changed to ‘Vienna Symphony’ by SPA, whereas Vox adopted ‘Vienna Pro Musica’ instead.) It became largely inactive by the end of 1954, after which Adler went on to record with the Unicorn, CRI, Vanguard, and Vox labels. In early 1957 Adler’s activities were curtailed by the onset of cancer, from which he died in early 1959.

The interpretations themselves reflect a Romantic aesthetic of a type now often referred to as ‘old-fashioned’, but are intriguing in their own way. In particular, tempi are subject to frequent change; second subjects in sonata movements are taken more slowly than first subjects (radically so in the opening movement of the Symphony #1), and major cadences and endings of movements feature generous ritards. If dynamic shading appears to be somewhat limited, I suspect that is more an artifact of the recordings than of the performances. The strongest points of the symphonies are the slow movements, where Adler with unerring judgment always finds the means to bind their sprawling structures into entirely logical and tightly knit unities.

The production values for this set are typical of Music & Arts, which is to say they are of the highest standard. Aaron Snyder has done wonders in refurbishing the sound of the ancient LPs and broadcast tapes, including correction of pitch problems in the originals. Mark Kluge’s booklet notes are richly detailed and informative. And, while the performances are to my ears not all convincing, they offer a valuable window into a past aesthetic of Bruckner interpretations that present-day conductors could study with profit. Finally, the set provides a fitting tribute to an enterprising and courageous pioneering musical figure whose recorded legacy calls for reclamation. On all these counts, then, recommended to collectors of Bruckner and fans of Adler alike.”

- James A. Altena, FANFARE, 12 June, 2015