Just after World War II, George H. de Mendelssohn-Bartholdy founded Vox Productions, which became and remained the largest of the several "independent" record companies that flourished in the era of microgroove.
For more than 30 years, Mendelssohn was regarded as the industry's No. 1 talent-finder, introducing to the U.S. record-buying public such performers as Jascha Horenstein, Otto Klemperer, Guiomar Novaes, Lili Kraus, Alfred Brendel, Walter Klien, Ingrid Haebler and Friedrich Wuehrer. He also recorded hundreds of little-known and neglected works, by composers both famous and obscure, and he pioneered numerous innovations in marketing, chief among them the "Vox Box," a three-disc set of related works offered at a low price.
Over the years Mendelssohn's ideas and several of his performing artists were picked up by the big international companies, but he continued to produce and to maintain one of the largest catalogues in the world. In 1977 he sold his company to Ira Moss, who has since expanded the labels (Vox, Turnabout, Candide) and their image. Mendelssohn remained as consultant for a time, but last October he celebrated his 70th birthday by announcing the formation of a new company, Pantheon Music International.
The new company was launched on an ambitious scale, with releases in four categories: (1) original productions recorded in the United States; (2) coproductions with European organizations; (3) direct imports of prestige items from European companies; and (4) historic recordings--reissues from EMI and live and/or broadcast performances from major music festivals. What is unusual is that everything is being issued initially on cassettes, and some items--particularly in the "historic" category--will not be available as discs.
Unusually interesting examples of Pantheon's original productions are the records devoted to the music of Alec Wilder, recorded at the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music. Another is the three-cassette package of Bach's six suites for unaccompanied cello, as performed by Milton Katims in his own edition for the viola.
One of the Pantheon coproductions, in this case with the West German company Fono (FSM), is a three-disc set of all of the overtures composed by Franz Schubert, played by the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra under Paul Angerer. It is digitally recorded, and beautifully pressed by EMI's German company, Electrola (FSM 93.902 PAN). The cassette edition takes up only two tapes (CFSM 93.902) PAN).
Pantheon is also importing the releases of another West German company, Orfeo, whose catalogue is devoted to vocal music and whose recordings, all digital, so far are coproductions with various German radio organizations. The coupling of Debussy's cantatas "L'Enfant prodigue" and "La Demoiselle e'lue," both conducted by Gary Bertini in Stuttgart, with Jessye Norman, Ileana Cotrubas, Jose' Carreras and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau among the soloists (S012821 A), has already been issued here on the Pro Arte label, but the import edition, pressed by Telefunken with its Direct Metal Mastering technique, is clearly superior.
Also from Orfeo is a splendid version of Gluck's opera "Alceste," performed by Bavarian Radio forces under Serge Baudo, with Nicolai Gedda, Jessye Norman, Bernd Weikl, Tom Krause and Siegmund Nimsgern in the excellent cast (S027823 F, three discs). Another opera on this label is Werner Egk's "Peer Gynt," in the Bavarian Radio production conducted by Heinz Wallberg (S05823, three discs).
And if the recent Philips disc of Fischer-Dieskau performing Tchaikovsky songs surprised you, how about Fi-Di in Stravinsky? He sings "Abraham and Isaac" and the Verlaine Songs on S015821 A, on which Bertini conducts the Symphony of Psalms, "Babel" and the JFK Elegy. On yet another Orfeo disc, the great baritone sings songs by Hans Pfitzner (S36821A).
On the historic cassettes we find such treasures as Guido Cantelli's superb Brahms Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3 (CA-PFN-2081), the same conductor's Tchaikovsky Fifth and Sixth (CA-PFNM-1961), Yehudi Menuhin's recordings of the big Barto'k Violin Concerto, with Furtwa ngler conducting, paired with the Nielsen Concerto, conducted by the late Mogens Wo ldike (CA-PFN-1951), and a three-tape set of six Mozart piano concertos played by Annie Fischer, conducted variously by Boult, Kurtz and Sawallisch (CA-PFN-2013).
Not all of the EMI material may be classified as "historic." There are some rather recent stereo recordings that Angel either deleted after a short time in its domestic catalogue or simply chose not to issue here. Among these are Mozart's "Abduction from the Seraglio," sung in English by Mattiwilda Dobbs, Nicolai Gedda et al. and conducted by Menuhin (CA-PFN-1943); "the Marriage of Figaro" conducted by Daniel Barenboim, with Heather Harper, Judith Blegen, Teresa Berganza, Fischer-Dieskau and Geraint Evans (CA-PFN-1913), and the classic performance of Poulenc's brief opera "Les Mamelles de Tiresias," conducted by Andre' Cluytens, with Denise Duval, Jean Giroudeau et al. (CA-PFN-1931).
Pantheon has also got hold of that fine Erato recording of "Cosi fan tutte" under Alain Lombard, with Kiri Te Kanawa and Frederica von Stade (CA-PFN-1993), and, as distributing agent for Pro Musica cassettes, is offering such other operatic material as Karajan's 1960 Salzburg "Don Giovanni," with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Leontyne Price, Wa chter et al. (XLNC-108), and Wagner's first two operas--"Die Feen" (XLNC-121) and "Das Liebesverbot" (XLNC-129)--both in BBC productions under Edward Downes. Another interesting item from the same source is XLNC-107, a set containing both Dukas' "Ariane et Barbe-bleue," conducted by Norman Del Mar, and Bizet's "Jolie Fille de Perth" under Sir Thomas Beecham. Beecham also conducts Berlioz's "Les Troyens" (XLNC-104), and there's a Furtwa ngler "Fidelio" with Flagstad and Patzak from Salzburg 1950 (XLNC-109).
There is a great deal more, quite a large assortment already, all adding up to the impression that Pantheon is determined to cover all the areas neglected by the so-called giants of the industry, and to do it with style.