Notes and Editorial Reviews
THE HUBERMAN FESTIVAL: 30TH ANNIVERSARY
, Shlomo Mintz
, Pinchas Zukerman
, Henryk Szeryng
, Chaim Taub
, Roy Siloah
, Shira Ravin
, Ida Haendel
, Itzhak Perlman
(vn); Pinchas Zukerman
, Daniel Benyamini
(va); Zubin Mehta, cond; Israel PO
HELICON 9667, analog (4 CDs: 292:24) Live: Tel Aviv (?); 12/13–19/1982
Double Violin Concerto.
Double Violin Concerto,
Concerto for 3 Violins.
Concerto for 4 Violins,
Violin Concerto in e.
Violin Concerto No. 2
Even a cursory reading of the headnote will make it clear that Helicon’s digital remastering of recordings from the archives of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra needs no recommendation. All took place during the Huberman Festival in 1982 (the centenary of Bronislaw Huberman’s birth) and therefore have by now become historic performances. Those who haven’t felt the passage of time need only look at the booklet and cast their eyes upon a very young Shlomo Mintz or a younger Ida Haendel and Ivry Gitlis.
The program as captured in the CD set begins with Bach and Vivaldi—specifically, with Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, played by Isaac Stern and Shlomo Mintz, leading off. Of course, those by now accustomed to the crisp textures of small ensembles and crackling articulation may not be able to readjust easily to Stern’s fat tone and the orchestra’s bloom, but everyone should appreciate the energy of both orchestra and soloists in the first movement, the glowing, richly toned but insightful account of the slow movement (although with a few mannerisms) at a gently rocking tempo, and the glancing brilliance of the third. Some things remain timeless. (How, after all, would Nicolò Paganini sound to modern audiences?) Pinchas Zukerman and Daniel Benyamini appear as the two principal violas in Bach’s
No. 6, the first movement of which may seem to plod along rather heavily to listeners accustomed to faster tempos. The same holds true of the second movement, demonstrating the differences between the generations in their opinions on the manner of achieving the deepest penetration of the music’s core. The last movement boils over with energetic contrapuntal detail. Vivaldi’s Double Violin Concerto, op. 3/8, with Henryk Szeryng and Chaim Taub as soloists, exhibits somewhat less forward thrust than does Isaac Stern’s performance with David Oistrakh and the Philadelphia Orchestra (with the wrong finale) but seems to have been cut from similar cloth, though with even stronger accentuation in the slow movement and the right finale—the latter played with what now sounds like an elephantine tread, both in weight and speed, that makes even its brilliant duet passagework seem labored. Vivaldi’s Triple Violin Concerto, RV 551, with Stern, Roy Shiloah, and Shira Ravin as soloists, sounds more vigorous in its first movement, although the tempo is slow enough to induce a feeling that the passagework occasionally reaches stall speed. And, a few moments of questionable intonation will mar the first movement for some listeners. The second movement is hardly devoid of charm, though, with its pizzicato accompaniments captured up so close that listeners can hear the strings snap, and the finale is strikingly declamatory. Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins, RV 580, licensed from its release on Deutsche Grammophon (so the booklet relates), features Stern, Mintz, Haendel, and Gitlis in a kind of reading strikingly different from the kind to which listeners might now, only 30 years later, be accustomed, with textures that may almost seem to have loosened, especially in the first movement (the finale should sound taut enough for anyone).
The rest of the CDs present two big later concertos each. In the first of these, Itzhak Perlman plays Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, a work for the performance of which Perlman has received great acclaim. In this reading, the engineers have placed Perlman just a bit to the fore of the orchestra; Zubin Mehta leads a rugged version of the first movement, with Perlman giving a magisterial account of the solo part, stunningly alert technically (and expressive in Fritz Kreisler’s cadenza)—but also sweet-toned—and supremely confident in his mid-30s. He and Mehta mine a rich vein in the slow movement by the simplest and most natural of means, never resorting to the experimental or jarring. In the finale, Perlman once again plays with crackling articulation and brings the theme’s dance rhythms to vibrant life. The finale’s cadenza gives a faint suggestion of tonal harshness, but also stupendous technical display.
Henryk Szeryng then takes the stage in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. He doesn’t seem to have been placed so far forward as Perlman (as it did in Beethoven’s Concerto, the crew has captured a great deal of woodwind detail, perhaps as an unintended sort of compensation). However, he’s close enough for listeners to hear a performance of the first movement exceptionally nuanced; anyone who has ever charged him with sounding generic should listen to this. It’s exciting, too, and technically brilliant. In the second movement, however, Szeryng suffers from a few moments of tonal insecurity; when they pass, he seems to regain his composure. The finale, though dazzling, seems most notable for the highly expressive moments in this performance. It’s a moving and highly satisfying program which, unlike that of the first disc, should appeal to, and perhaps move, virtually all listeners.
The third CD begins with a performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto by Shlomo Mintz, richly expressive and warm-toned in the first movement, which some may feel nearly overheats during the cadenza. But there’s plenty of refined nuance, from both violinist and orchestra, throughout the rest of the movement to make up for whatever uneasiness that strenuousness occasions. Mintz brings a similar level of expressive detail to the slow movement, while the finale, at its judicious tempo, for better or for worse shares the sense of urgency of the first movement’s cadenza—but also a great deal of the subtlety to be found there. To the first movement of the symphonic concerto by Edward Elgar, Pinchas Zukerman brings a sweet and reflective introspection. But this isn’t Albert Sammons and Henry Wood, poetic and expansive in the violin part and tight and thrusting in the orchestral one. Here Zukerman and Mehta share the poetry (even if Zukerman has the lion’s share of it) as well as the forward thrust (and Zukerman also exhibits plenty energy in the technically difficult passagework with which violinist Elgar laced the movement). However, Zukerman’s close focus on that passagework’s detail occasionally may make his reading seem fussy to some listeners. In the slow movement, Mehta and the orchestra create an atmospheric backdrop for Zukerman’s meditative solo part. In the finale, Zukerman again gives the impression of being an arborist rather than a forester. I remember a review of his recording with Daniel Barenboim stating that Zukerman played the work with Jascha Heifetz’s swagger, but many listeners to this performance, six years later, might be inclined to disagree. Heifetz dispatched detail with aplomb, never losing his way in it, whereas Zukerman almost becomes immobile in the finale’s accompanied cadenza.
Share a dream with me? I’ve reached the pearly gates, and St. Peter toys with me, giving me sad news: I haven’t made it into heaven. But I did earn a sort of consolation prize—a ticket to any one concert in history (I’ve already given my soul for it, he explains). Then he uncharacteristically laughs and tells me that I must realize that is already heaven. Anyway, I know what I’d choose: Kreisler’s premiere of Elgar’s Concerto. And how I hope it wouldn’t end up sounding just like this one. The audience went wild, so I guess it didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, though; Zukerman’s reading isn’t a bad one, but I wouldn’t squander such a valuable ticket on it.
The fourth CD begins with a performance by Ida Haendel of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto. Her playing seems typically steely and strong-minded in the first movement—and especially rich on the G-string. But some may feel that though the movement needs to be passionately declamatory, Haendel is just too much so. Heifetz made the movement red-hot with Beecham and white-hot with Hendl, so how come he didn’t give the same impression? Perhaps because he never wasted time digging into the strings for the sake of doing so. However aggressive his approach, it never became an end in itself. This reading by Haendel is molten in the slow movement, with many fewer moments of mannered accentuation. But the same thing happens in the finale: The microscope blurs the overall impression, commanding though that may be.
The final concerto in the collection, Bartók’s, seems well suited to its soloist, the slashing and dashing—and slightly, though not unpleasantly, eccentric sounding—Ivry Gitlis. He’s wiry and tensile in the opening movement, but also highly ethnic (just about the polar opposite of Stern’s way in his recording with Leonard Bernstein). There’s some of what sounds like extraneous noise in the rushing passages before the second theme, but that doesn’t detract in any way from the vitality of this performance; Mehta supports Gitlis’s rhapsodic declamation with sensitive brooding. Gitlis gives a tender account of the theme of the second movement’s variations—and perhaps a more probing reading of the first two of these than did Yehudi Menuhin. He grows kittenish in the quicker variations, adding to a unique and highly personal view of the movement. He does something similar in the finale, especially magical in the transformed second theme from the first movement.
Back to the dream. Would I have chosen a ticket for this series of concerts (if Peter would be willing to bend the rules slightly)? No, but I’d certainly recommend this set of recordings, and in a big way. What a week of music! Don’t be fooled by my occasional quibbles—except for the Baroque favorites, these exciting performances stand well, each in its own category. The Elgar? Well, maybe not and maybe so. Urgently recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for 2 Violins in D minor, BWV 1043 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Isaac Stern (Violin),
Shlomo Mintz (Violin)
Written: 1717-1723; Cöthen, Germany
Length: 17 Minutes 3 Secs.
Concerto for 3 Violins in F major, RV 551 by Antonio Vivaldi
Roy Shiloah (Violin),
Shira Ravin (Violin),
Isaac Stern (Violin)
Written: Venice, Italy
Length: 11 Minutes 12 Secs.
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 61 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Itzhak Perlman (Violin)
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria
Length: 43 Minutes 2 Secs.
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 35 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Henryk Szeryng (Violin)
Written: 1878; Russia
Length: 34 Minutes 7 Secs.
Concerto for Violin in B minor, Op. 61 by Sir Edward Elgar
Pinchas Zukerman (Violin)
Written: 1909-1910; England
Length: 48 Minutes 1 Secs.
Concerto for Violin no 2, Sz 112 by Béla Bartók
Ivry Gitlis (Violin)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1937-1938; Budapest, Hungary
Length: 36 Minutes 20 Secs.
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