The Smithsonian Collection of Recordings

In its efforts to realize the concept of a ‘Living Museum,’ the Smithsonian Institution has launched a campaign to bring new dynamics to the place of music in the museum . . . It is our hope that through the offerings of the Smithsonian Collection of Recordings we are encouraging other museums to tear down the barricades that now stand between the musical artifacts in their collections, and the performers and listeners among their supporters. Similarly, we hope to encourage American musicians to broaden their knowledge of and expertise in the performance practices of the past.

                  James Morris, Director, Smithsonian Division of Performing Arts (1978)


The Smithsonian Collection of Recordings issued a number of important box sets and single CDs from the late 1970s until 1990. Some of these have been re-released on various commercial labels, but many are currently out of print. Since they may still be found in many libraries, as well as occasionally on line through third-party retailers, and since they document the early maturity of “authentic performance practice” in the United States, they are catalogued here. Instruments used from the Smithsonian Collection are identified in each instance.


Jacques Duphly: Music for Harpsichord (N004).

Jacques Duphly: Music for Harpsichord (N004) 

James Weaver performing on the Smithsonian’s 1760 Benoist Stehlin harpsichord. Recorded 1977 (LP only).

Wonderfully decadent late French baroque music, recorded in ultra-realistic sound, played expressively by curator James Weaver on the Smithsonian’s ravishingly beautiful 1760 Stehlin harpsichord. Simply perfect!

LP Klassiek, January 1978

Works of Johann Sebastian Bach, vol. 1 (comprising N3008, N3012, and N3016; issued 1978 on LP and cassette):

Six Sonatas for violin and harpsichord; Two Sonatas for violin and basso continuo 

Six Sonatas for violin and harpsichord; Two Sonatas for violin and basso continuo (originally issued on Cambridge Records, 1974).

James Weaver, harpsichord by Johannes Daniel Dulcken (Antwerp, 1745); Sonya Monosoff, violin by John Marshall (London, 1759); Judith Davidoff, viola da gamba by Barak Norman (London, 1718).

Six Partitas for Solo Harpsichord

Six Partitas for Solo Harpsichord (Clavierübung I). 

James Weaver, harpsichord by Johannes Daniel Dulcken (Antwerp, 1745). Recorded 1978

The Six Brandenburg Concerti

The Six Brandenburg Concerti.

Musicians of Aston Magna, directed by Albert Fuller. Recorded 1977.

Works of Georg Frideric Handel (comprising N023, N025, and N029; issued 1982 on LP and cassette):

Works of Georg Frideric Handel

Eight Sonatas for Diverse Instruments.

Marilyn McDonald & Nancy Wilson, violins; Robert Willoughby, flauto traverso; James Caldwell, baroque oboe; Kenneth Slowik, violoncello by J. B. Tononi (Bologna, 1740) and viola da gamba by Barak Norman (London, 1718); James Weaver, harpsichord by Burkat Shudi (London, ca. 1743). Recorded 1981.

This is one of the most joyous Handel instrumental recordings I’ve heard in years, full of life, rhythm, and verve and—miraculously—also played with musicological correctness on actual period instruments out of the Smithsonian’s collection.

Audio, February 1982

Works of Georg Frideric Handel

Seven Concerti  Grossi, Op. 3.

The Smithsonian Chamber Players, directed by James Weaver. Among the instruments played by the 24 members of the Chamber Players are a violin labeled Nicolo Amati (Cremona, 1670); a violin by Antonio Gragnani (Livorno, 1783); a violin by Jacobus Stainer (Absam, ca. 1680); a violin by Ferdinando Gagliano (Naples, 1780); a viola by Sebastian Klotz (Mittenwald, ca. 1740); a viola by Gennaro Gagliano (Naples, 1762); a violoncello by J. B. Tononi (Bologna, 1740); a harpsichord by Nicolaus DeQuoco (Italy, 1694); an anonymous Italian harpsichord (1693); and a chamber organ by John Snezler (London, 1760). Recorded 1979.

The Smithsonian Chamber Players perform scholarly texts in anything but an academic way. The music is alive and brightly conceived to show Handel’s full genius. Part of a Smithsonian series designed to preserve and highlight the best of different styles of music,  this album is a preservationist’s wish come true.

Philadelphia Inquirer, 27 December 1981
Works of Georg Frideric Handel


The Smithsonian Chamber Players, the American Boy Choir, with tenors and basses of the Norman Scribner Chorus, conducted by James Weaver, with Carole Bogard, soprano; Elvira Green, alto; Jeffrey Gall, countertenor; Charles Bressler, tenor; and Leslie Guinn, bass. Recorded 1980.

This is a performance that can make a Messiah-hater love the work again. The music has drive, sheen, color (in the way that only period instruments and boy’s voices can give) and a wonderfully exuberant excitement.

Houston Chronicle, 29 November 1981

Works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (comprising ND031-1; ND031-2; ND031-3; ND031-4; and ND031-5; issued 1986 on LP, cassette, and CD):

Works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Orchestral Works.

Serenade in D Major, k 204/213a; Concertone in C Major, K190/186E; Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major , K364/320d; Concerto in A Major for basset clarinet, K622. Jaap Schröder & Marilyn McDonald, violins; Marilyn McDonald, viola by Gennaro Gagliano (Naples, 1762); Lawrence McDonald, basset clarinet, with the Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra, directed by Jaap Schröder. Recorded 1986. The Concertone and Sinfonia Concertante were re-issued as Vol. 1 of deutsche harmonia mundi’s Mozart Edition, VD 77500.


Chamber Music.

Quartet in D Major for flute and strings, K285; Quintet in E-flat Major for horn and strings, K407/386c; Quartet in G Minor for fortepiano and strings, K478; Quartet in E-flat Major for fortepiano and strings, K478; Trio in E-flat Major, K498, KegelstattEine kleine Nachtmusik, K525; Ein musikalischer Spaß, K522; Quintet in A Major for clarinet and strings K581; Quartet in D Major, K499, Hoffmeister. Members of the Smithson String Quartet—Jaap Schröder, violin by the Brothers Amati (Cremona, ca. 1620); & Marilyn McDonald, violin from the shop of Nicoló Amati (Cremona, ca. 1670); Judson Griffin, viola by Gennaro Gagliano (Naples, 1762); Kenneth Slowik, violoncello by J. B. Tononi (Bologna, 1740)—with James Weaver, fortepiano by Jean-Louis Dulcken (Munich, ca. 1789); Christopher Krueger, flute; Lawrence McDonald, clarinet; Lowell Greer & R. J. Kelley, horn; Melissa Graybeal, viola; Richard Myron, doublebass. Recorded 1985-86.

The rubric “Smithsonian” has become known as a tacit guarantee of authenticity regarding effort, in the case of research, and conclusion when the results are published. Nonetheless, this enterprising project should not be viewed primarily as a scholastic exercise. The musical instruments largely belong to the Smithsonian’s valuable collection of antiques and authenticated facsimiles. Of greater importance, they have been entrusted to gifted musicians who are eminently qualified to apply specialist knowledge of the techniques and artistry prevalent in the eighteenth century. We are, therefore, privileged to hear Mozart’s music played in as close a manner as possible to that which the maestro heard and performed himself. And the 64-page accompanying booklet is most informatively researched and written by Smithson Quartet cellist Kenneth Slowik.

Stereophile Magazine, January 1988

Beethoven: Early Years through the Eroica (comprising ND0321; ND0322; ND0323; and ND0324; issued 1988 in CD, LP, and cassette)

Early Years through the Eroica

Symphonies 1, 2, & 3 (Eroica).

The Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra, directed by Jaap Schröder. Recorded 1987. The Symphonies 1 & 3 were re-issued as BMG/deutsche harmonia mundi RD 77030.

Hearing Beethoven’s symphonies played at the correct speeds and with authoritative refinement and dash, as the Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra does under Jaap Schröder, is an artistic event of major importance.

Los Angeles Reader, 11 August 1989

The Two Sonatas, Op. 5

The Two Sonatas, Op. 5.  

James Weaver, fortepiano; Kenneth Slowik, violoncello. Recorded 1988.

Slowik and Weaver make this music sound really interesting (as opposed to pleasantly insignificant) for the first time in my experience. The interpretations are precise, dynamic, and, I think, breathtakingly close to what Beethoven must have had in mind.

The Washington Post, 9 October 1988

Classical Record of the Year 1988

The Six String Quartets

The Six String Quartets, Op. 18.

The Smithson String Quartet (Jaap Schröder & Marilyn McDonald, violins; Judson Griffin, viola; Kenneth Slowik, violoncello). Recorded 1987. Re-issued as EMI/deutsche harmonia mundi 7-49046-2; as BMG/deutsche harmonia mundi  77029-2-RC; and as SONY/deutsche harmonia mundi 88697-57616-2.

A wonderful achievement that strikes me as the best available integral recording of these endlessly self-renewing masterpieces.

CD Review (London), September 1989

Record of the Month

Works of Johann Sebastian Bach, vol. 2 (comprising ND0381; ND0382; and ND0383; issued 1990 on CD, LP, and cassette):

St. John Passion

St. John Passion, BWV 245 (including two choruses and three arias from the 1725 version).

The Smithsonian Chamber Players and Chorus, conducted by Kenneth Slowik. Recorded 1989.

This is one of the most richly faceted and fascinating recordings that I know. Kenneth Slowik and his colleagues perform this Passion in such a thrilling and gripping manner that one can’t help but think of the stagecraft of a Hollywood film. It is breathtakingly, brutally, unrelentingly, and unbelievably dramatic.

Alte Musik Aktuell, April 1990

Record of the Month

Six Sonatas and Partitas

Six Sonatas and Partitas, BWV 1001-1006.

Jaap Schröder, violin. Recorded 1984-85. Re-issued as ADDA 581134/35; as SMC 1, Smekkleysa AC 99071; and as NAXOS 8.557563-64.

A thorough listening to all of the Partitas and Sonatas leads one to the conclusion that this is a fine recording by a master musician who, over many years, has developed a deep empathy and love for these masterpieces. A major challenge as Mr. Schröder so aptly describes it is “the ever changing conception of taste as applied in perfect good faith to the interpretation of Bach’s music.” A fellow reviewer once referred to the interpretations of Mozart’s symphonies by Swiss conductor Peter Maag as being “for all time.” Unencumbered by musical fashion or whim, this is an apt description for Schröder’s interpretations.

Three Works for Solo Harpsichord

Concerto in D Minor after Marcello, BWV 974; Italian Concerto, BWV 971; French Ouverture, BWV 831.

James Weaver, harpsichord. Recorded 1987.

Weaver, playing on an exquisite German-style harpsichord made by Thomas and Barbara Wolf, brings out all of Bach’s contrapuntal richness. Highly recommended.

CD-Welt, December 1990

Selected Piano Music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (ND033).

Selected  Piano Music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk

Lambert Orkis, piano by Chickering (Boston, 1865). Recorded 1982. Re-issued as Bridge 9206.

Lambert Orkis recorded the eight selections by Gottschalk utilizing an 1865 Chickering instrument with a light, quick action and what Orkis calls “a wet sound” issued by small dampers. The effects can be startlingly rich, often suggestively erotic sounds propped by a deep bass. Great stuff, wonderfully mounted.

Audiophile Audition, December 2006

Antonin Dvořák: Dumky Trio, Op. 90; Bedrich Smetana: Piano Trio in G Minor, Op. 15 (ND034).

Dumky Trio

The Castle Trio: Lambert Orkis, piano by Steinway & Sons, the Paderewski (New York, 1892); Marilyn McDonald, violin; Kenneth Slowik, violoncello by Antonio Stradivari, the Marylebone (Cremona, 1688). Recorded 1986.

This recording is a high-water mark of the historic instrument movement; it casts a dazzling new light on the music involved, and is one of the notable recordings of the year.

The Washington Post, 13 November 1988

Arcangelo Corelli: The Twelve Trio Sonatas of Opus 3 (1689) (ND035).

The Twelve Trio Sonatas of Opus 3

The Smithsonian Chamber Players: Jaap Schröder & Marilyn McDonald, violins; Kenneth Slowik, violoncello; Konrad Junghänel, theorbo; James Weaver, organ. Recorded 1987.

Here is another of the splendid Smithsonian re-creations on period instruments, beautifully recorded for CD and beautifully, impeccably played.

Audio, November 1989

Sweet Was The Song: Traditional Carols sung by Max van Egmond, baritone, with the Smithsonian Chamber Players under the direction of Kenneth Slowik (ND040).

Sweet Was the Song

Mary Anne Ballard, viols; James Caldwell, oboe; Dennis Godburn, bassoon & recorder; Shelly Gruskin, muzette, recorders, flute, & percussion; Stanley King, oboe, oboe da caccia, & recorder; Michael Lynn, recorder;  Marilyn McDonald, violin; Catharina Meints, viol; Linda Quan, violin; Scott Reiss, recorders; Alice Robbins, viol; Marc Schachman, oboe & oboe d’amore; Kenneth Slowik, viols, keyboard, & percussion; Margriet Tindemanns, viol; James Weaver, keyboard. Recorded 1990. Re-issued in France by Reader’s Digest in the series Les plus grands voix du monde, 3545.16/1.2.3.

Sweet Was the SongSweet Was The Song uses period instruments for material dating mostly from the Renaissance and Baroque eras. Some of the material is familiar, but all of it should be. The superb singing of Dutch baritone Max van Egmond in several languages, Kenneth Slowik’s charming arrangements, and the ensemble’s idiomatic playing make this disc very special.

The Washington Post, 23 December 1990

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