Beethoven Oboe Trio, recorded by 3 New York oboe legends!

15 08 2017

For over 14 years, I traveled to the town of Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey to study with the retired oboist and English horn player of the New York Philharmonic, Engelbert Brenner.  His oboe studio was at the very top of his house, and getting there required


Leonard Bernstein and Engelbert Brenner

some stair climbing.  Once arriving at the very top, one entered a studio, museum, and reed factory.  The walls were covered with autographed photos of the last century’s greatest conductors and players.  Arturo Toscanini’s baton was on a table.  It was truly awe inspiring.  When I met Mr. Brenner, he was already well into his 70s, yet he flew up and down those stairs like he was in his 30s.


Lois Wann

When you entered his studio, if you glanced immediately to your left, there was a table with a stack of phonograph records.  These were not the off-the-shelf type of disks, but I believed them to be masters cut on a record cutting machine.  There were no printed labels – just hand-written notes.  I asked about them once, and he told me that the top one was a recording of the Beethoven Oboe Trio that he recorded with Lois Wann.  Brenner’s studio contained no audio equipment at all.  If I were to ask to hear the Beethoven, there was no way to play it.

Fast forward 40+ years, and with the wonders of Google and YouTube, I have located this recording online.  It was recorded in 1939, presumably in New York, as the other two players featured on the recording were also legendary New York oboists – Lois Wann and Ferdinand Prior.


Beethoven: Variations on ‘La Ci Darem’
Lois Wann & Ferdinand Prior on oboes,
Engelbert Brenner on English horn.

What a thrill it is to finally hear this recording!  Here is the YouTube video that I located of the recording:   YouTube Link

Here is another sound-only file (I prefer this one, as I added a tiny bit of reverb to enhance the very old recording capabilities of the day):   Click here


  •  I was unable to find a photo of Mr. Prior.  Does anyone have one that I can include?

A famous oboe recording and its {likely} unknown story

8 07 2017

Leopold Stokowski

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Leopold Stokowski would lead a symphony orchestra that was comprised of top classical musicians through some now-legendary recording sessions.  The ensemble never really existed to perform anywhere, but was put together with hand-picked musicians by Maestro Stokowski for the sole reason to produce records.  There were players from Philadelphia, The New York Philharmonic, the NBC


Robert Bloom

Symphony Orchestra, and so on.  Stokowski’s choice for principal oboe was always Robert Bloom.  My teacher, Engelbert Brenner was often present on these recordings as the English horn player.

Mr. Brenner was a great story teller, and would spell my embouchure during long lessons by telling stories from his long and illustrious career as oboist and English hornist of both the Cleveland Orchestra and later the New York Philharmonic.


Engelbert Brenner

On one particular recording session, the Jacques Ibert piece, “Escales” (Ports of Call) was recorded.  The 2nd of the 3 movements is all oboe solo, playing an exotic, dance melody that stretches from the bottom to the top of the instrument’s range.  It is haunting to hear, and daunting to play.  Robert Bloom was a wonderful oboist, and his playing of this hallmark oboe solo would be one for generations to listen to, enjoy and learn from.

Unfortunately, the recording session was not going as smoothly as all musicians and technicians had hoped.  Mister Bloom’s oboe solo movement was not going well, and sessions back in the 1940s & 50s were not like those of today, where a missed note could be patched in, or dynamics could be digitally manipulated.  If a tape splice was required, it was nervously done with a razor blade and tape to reassemble the edit.

The oboe solo is loaded with low Ds, and the solo ends on an extended one that diminuendos from p to ppp.  It was becoming apparent to Brenner, as the takes started to mount up, that Bloom’s low Ds were becoming less and less stable, and they were dropping off abruptly and early.  Neither Bloom nor Stokowski was happy with any of the takes, and the tension in the room was mounting.  After a break, one more take was to be attempted.  The first portion of the solo was played beautifully.  The middle section, which extends the range up high, also went well, as did the small cadenza.  The final recap of the main melody was all that was left, but Bloom was exhausted, and his low Ds were on everyone in the room’s mind.  The repeated first low D didn’t speak – but it was there.  How?  Engelbert Brenner, playing English horn next to him, whispered the note out, covering up the note slip. The movement continued.  From that point out, Brenner played the Ds on his English horn, spelling the now exhausted Bloom.  When the movement ended,   Stokowski wrapped up the movement quickly, and moved on to the final movement.

At a gathering later, Robert Bloom received praise from either Stokowski or another musician in the orchestra (I don’t recall who Brenner said it was) on how he was finally able to make that last low D fade away to nothing after such a grueling and tense number of takes.  Mr. Bloom humbly acknowledged that the beautiful low Ds at the end were actually played by Engelbert Brenner.

album_2Why am I telling this story now?  When Brenner relayed this story to me, there was no YouTube or Google in which one would research stories like this.  Brenner was one of the three musicians mentioned in this story, so he would know how things played out that day.  I always wanted to hear that recording, having been let in on its interesting back-story.  But before the internet, I would look in used record stores to see if I could locate a copy, and never did.  Over the decades, it eventually slipped my mind and I stopped searching.  The other day, I was reading an online article about Stokowski and His Orchestra.  It mentioned some of the players used for the recordings, and Mr. Bloom’s name was included.   This triggered the incident in my mind, and I went to work combing the internet for a copy of the recording.  FOUND IT!

Just as told to me, and over 30 years ago, you can hear the first repeated low D after the cadenza played by the oboe, but its re-attack has a different timbre, as the whole note is being played in the middle range of an English horn, not the bottom of the oboe’s range.  The 4 beat rest that Brenner offered Mr. Bloom made this important recording possible.  The assistance was not agreed upon in advance.  Brenner knew an esteemed colleague was having difficulty, and did what he could to help.  And after all these years, I have finally heard this story’s results.

Here is the original YouTube recording I located:

YouTube Excerpt

and here it is again in a different format.

Escales mvt.2

Mr. Bloom’s playing and interpretation is wonderful… and listen carefully for the moments mentioned in the last recap of the main melody.  ENJOY.

As a postscript, I met Robert Bloom in the repair shop of Hans Moennig.  Moennig introduced us, and told Bloom that I was a Bert Brenner student.  Bloom was extremely complementary about his working with Brenner over the years, and stated that his character and playing were of the highest standard.

Snoozing With the Masters

6 02 2015

IPeters love it when good things happen on their own. A few weeks ago, Peter asked me to identify a song. He hummed the iconic 4 note introduction to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. He knew it was Beethoven, but did not know the title of the piece. After I identified it, and explained that those are the opening notes of just the 1st movement of the symphony, and that there were 3 other movements, he asked if I could make a CD of the piece so he could fall asleep to it at night. After a few evenings of listening, he then asked me for a recording of the Nutcracker. He didn’t receive the abbreviated concert suite, he fell asleep to the entire ballet. Next, he asked for more music by “real composers”. I have been burning CDs of movements from lots of masterworks, exposing him to Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Mozart, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky. I even slipped in some Sibelius. His hunger is growing. He asked me this morning if I could include in the next disc this song (then he began humming Fur Elise).

With all the opportunities that today’s kids have to be bombarded with noise and audible trash, Peter is requesting the classics. He was humming Tchaikovsky at the school bus this morning. I would say that he falls asleep with good things in his ear, and he wakes up with it in his brain.

Marian Anderson

17 01 2011

Oboist Engelbert Brenner performed in recital with legendary contralto Marian Anderson.  Anderson’s voice was described as a rich, vibrant contralto of intrinsic beauty.  As an African-American artist, her role in the Civil Rights movement was monumental. Her legendary performance at the Lincoln Memorial (after having been denied the venue of D.A.R. Constitution Hall) will be forever part of American History.  Through her grace & talent, a blind American public was forced to see.

Anderson gave Brenner this autographed photo after one of their musical collaborations.  He prized it, as do I now that the photo has been left in my care.

Marian Anderson

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2011

Bernstein Symphony Recordings Resurface

19 12 2010

Over the years, I have bought hundreds of vinyl pressings and CDs of Bernstein/New York Philharmonic recordings.  As an oboist who grew up in the New York area, Harold Gomberg and Engelbert Brenner’s sound and playing styles were my earliest memories of the instruments, and are still the gold standard to me.

There is an exciting new release of symphony recordings on CD.  This is a SIXTY CD collection of nothing but symphonies.  Here is a list of the contents:

  • Beethoven: Symphonies 1-9 (Complete)
  • Berlioz: Symphony Fantastique
  • Bernstein: Symphonies 1-3 (Complete)
  • Bizet: Symphony in C
  • Blitzstein: The Airborne Symphony
  • Brahms: Symphonies 1-4 (Complete)
  • Bruckner: Symphony No. 9
  • Copland: Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, 3
  • Dvorak: Symphonies 7, 8, and 9
  • Franck: Symphony in D Minor
  • Goldmark: Rustic Wedding Symphony
  • Harris: Symphony No.3
  • Haydn: Symphonies 82-88; 93-104
  • Hindemith: Symphony in E-Flat
  • Ives: Symphonies 2 and 3
  • Liszt: Faust Symphony
  • Mahler: Symphonies 1-9 (Complete)
  • Mendelssohn: Symphonies 3, 4, and 5
  • Mozart: Symphonies 35, 36, 39, 40, and 41
  • Nielsen: Symphonies 2, 3, 4, and 5
  • Prokofiev: Symphonies 1 and 5
  • St. Saens: Symphony No. 3
  • Schubert: Symphonies 5, 8, and 9
  • Schumann: Symphonies 1-4 (Complete)
  • Schuman: Symphonies 3, 5, and 8
  • Shapero: Symphony for Classical Orchestra
  • Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms
  • Shostakovich: Symphonies 1, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 14
  • Sibelius: Symphonies 1-7 (Complete)
  • Tchaikovsky: Symphonies 1-6 (Complete)
  • Thompson: Symphony No. 2
  • Vaughan-Williams: Symphony No. 4

Bernstein, Gomberg and Brenner are all now gone, but in this age of vanishing classical music ensembles and recordings, it’s heartening to see this release.  Lenny was largely responsible for a generation’s awareness of a symphony orchestra, and I’m glad to see that people can still experience those magical recordings today.

This set is available for around $100 – that’s pretty amazing when you consider its contents!

toscanini rarities

12 05 2010

From 1926 to 1936, Arturo Toscanini was at the helm of the New York Philharmonic.  In 1931, Englebert Brenner became the 2nd oboist of that orchestra.  Toscanini was fiery and feared, yet revered as the best conductor, and many say he has never had an equal.

During a rehearsal of the New York Philharmonic, a photographer sneaked on to Carnegie Hall’s stage and took some photos while hiding behind the bass drum.  Had Toscanini known of this, the camera would surely have been smashed on the spot.  A few of these (perhaps never before seen) photos came into Brenner’s possession.  They were kept hidden away in his studio, and he treated them as if they were contraband.  He showed them to me on occasion, but mentioned each time that had Toscanini known these photos existed…

I proudly own many of Engelbert Brenner’s musical belongings.  While going through some boxes the other day, I found that mystical envelope.  I knew what was inside – the rare Toscanini photos!  Here are 4 of them.  You can see the emotion – the motion – the intensity.  Perhaps for the first time for the world to see – Arturo Toscanini rehearsing the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall, sometime between 1931 & 1936.


Wolfgang & Rémy

24 01 2010

This week, the 254th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart occurs. I recently played on an all-Mozart concert.  We performed some choral works, the well-known Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and a piano concerto.  Not required to be on stage for the Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, I was able to sit, watch and listen from the wings.  Although this piece is extremely familiar, I found myself listening intently to the work, analyzing the harmonic progressions, and revisiting the occasional (and brilliant) asymmetry.  What a remarkable piece.  What a remarkable composer.

Grapes grow on vines.  Some of the best grapes are nurtured and grown for wine production.  There are bad wines, there are good wines, and there are excellent wines.  They change and age with time.  A nice table wine can be found on any table in Italy to accompany any dinner.  It is simply “right” for its purpose.  A fine wine… refined further becomes cognac.  It becomes more intense, multidimensional and therefore takes on a different “purpose”.  There are bad cognacs, good cognacs, and the precious few that are extraordinary.

Sound is everywhere.  Organized sound can be categorized as music.  There is bad music, there is good music, and there is great music.  Then there is the music of Mozart… refined further.  It does not change or improve with age.  It was born of brilliance, and remains so for the ages.  We change in the way we hear, analyze, ponder and enjoy Mozart’s music.

No one can define your favorite wine but you.  No one can establish a best cognac for you to enjoy but you.  This week, I hope to enjoy Mozart and Rémy Martin.

Happy Birthday, Herr Mozart.