Every ambitious accordionist should make it his or her hobby to collect choice accordion records. The phonograph is a wonderful medium by which to stimulate the accordionist's interest in good music. By careful listening he can note the arrangements, general treatment of a number, and, on the whole, achieve a new elevation in taste.
My following list of the "cream" of domestic and foreign accordion recordings are all yours. Be smart and avail yourselves of them.
Let us listen to the foreign records, to begin with.
"Ungaria" (Doucet) on Odeaon-O-'25372 by Viljo Vesterinen, the Finnish wizard. A most thrilling and amazing arrangement. The paraphrase is constructed upon the main themes of Franz Liszt's "First" and "Second" Hungarian Rhapsodies. As for Vesterinen's playing, I should say it is a veritable revelation in technique, attack, bellows control, and general mastery of the instrument.
"Rhapsody in Blue" (Gershwin) on Victor V-S by The Fomeen Brothers, who also are Finnish. Cleverly arranged for two accordions with nothing of the "meat" omitted.
"Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2" (Liszt) on Columbia-MC-3057 by Toralf Tollefsen, the great Norwegian. Toralf truly approximates the wide compass of the piano, with the intermingling of bass and treble in perfect harmonic succession. The fortissimos on the accordion keyboard seem to shrink under his accordionistic grip with magic brilliance and acceleration, from bass clef depths to flute notes. Tollefsen reveals infinite patience in performing this difficult selection. It usually plays havoc with accordionists' nerves.
"The Lion Chase" (Kolling) on Columbia-DNX-2 by Sven Hylen, the Swedish virtuoso. A most colorful composition expertly played-though there are signs of impatience. For interesting contrast, Hylen has uniquely arranged Alice Tegner's song fox-trot, "Mother's Little Olle" into a jazz paraphrase on HMV-X-3935.
"Spring" - Symphonic Impression (Mathis), on HMV-BC-664 by Alan J Helm and his accordion orchestra. Helm is German. Written in the modern harmonic idiom, akin in parts to the music of Debussy and Stravinskv. It is the first attempt to provide the accordion with that type of serious symphonic music which, until now has been the prerogative of the symphony orchestra. One truly becomes lost for words at the graceful playing, and the accordion tone seems to become almost perfect woodwinds and strings.
"Dizzy Fingers" (Confrey) on Tele-funken-A-1326 by Rudolph Klaus, Ger-man virtuoso. Played at an extraordinary rate of speed, there are few notes missed. There are even improvisations ! (It is wisely written! The hasty man drinks his tea with a fork.")
"Poet and Peasant" Overture (Suppe) on Zonophone-A-392 by Jean Fiers, the great French accordionist. We are all acquainted with this selection, but I doubt if a more sympathetic interpretation has been heard of it.
And now to get back "home."
"Merry Wives of Windsor" (Nicolai) on Victor 68719 by Pietro Deiro. A tantalizing overture. here is the buoyancy which is so characteristic of Pietro's playing. The coordination between right hand and left is perfect to the nth degree. Difficult passages are admirably facilitated.
"Il Guarany" Overture (Gomez) on Victor 25413 by Anthony Galla-Rini. A virtuosity of the highest order is exhibited on this recording. Superlatives are meager when speaking of Galla-Rini.
"Carnival of Venice" Fantasie (Frosini) on Decca-DIO by P. Frosini. A set of appealing variations indeed. It is evident that Frosini does not wish anyone else to learn his "secrets of harmony'," as the most exquisitely beautiful part of this record he omits from his published arrangements of the same piece. And why not?
"Two Medleys" on Columbia 18005-D by Charles Magnante's accordion orchestra. Here is another opportunity for lovers of flute ensemble playing. Recorded around 1933. It is still obtainable.
"Opium Dream," "Time On My Hands," and "Fantasie" offers interesting contrast in the way of "Impressions" on Maestro PCS-974:35, PCS-97547 and PCS-97548 by Jerry Shelton. I really believe Jerry is a student of impressionism in music. These are delectable examples.
Turning away now from the more ''legitimate'' music to genuine swing playing, it is only logical that I list records of the greatest of them all, the "non-plus-ultra'' accordionist. Cornell Smeltzer. Hungarian born genius.
About ten years ago when most accordionists thought swing was a hammock, Cornell was already scaling the heights in music. A radical perhaps, but were not the difficult art of swing and modernism the greatest genii and innovators in music radicals? Of course. History tells us this. I have in my possession about 15 recordings of orchestra in which Cornell is present. However, since there is only one recording today that is obtainable in which Cornell is present. I shall list only that.
"Accordion Joe" (Cornell) and "Double Check Stomp" (Bigard) (In Brunswick 6846 and played by Duke Ellingtons's or-chestra. And did you know that Jimmv Dorsey, Tommv Dorsey, Adrian Rolini. and Lennic Hayton were all present on Cornell's Okey swing records? This was Cornell's own all-star band which he had assembled. Interesting, is it not? I know many of you who did not know this before will think it so.
My study of Cornell's immortal recordings has revealed without any doubt his transcendant musicianship.
The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. staff gratefully acknowledges volunteer Benjamin Lang who assisted in the production of this article, as well as Stanley Darrow and the comprehensive American Accordion Musicological Society library.
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