Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concerto in D
Violin Concerto in D
Bronis?aw Huberman (vn);
Artur Rodzi?ski, cond;
Eugene Ormandy, cond;
New York PO;
MUSIC & ARTS 1122, mono (64:00) Live:
New York 1/23/1944;
We have become so standardized in instrumental technique nowadays that violinists like Huberman, or even Josef Szigeti, almost seem like space aliens visiting from another planet and trying to play our musical instruments. Szigeti used a very lean tone, occasionally switching from his very rapid vibrato to “straight” tone, while Huberman was completely idiosyncratic: now sweet, now sour, now using generous amounts of portamento, now using a very subtle portamento, and usually playing with straight tone but with occasional vibrato used for emphasis. And yet this style of playing harks back to the 18th century, and is probably much closer to what we today think of as “historical” instrumental style than the razor-sharp attacks and almost mechanical sound of entire string sections whizzing by in straight tone, or soloists doing the same.
Huberman was almost always regarded as an outsider stylistically and interpretively, even as a child prodigy, yet when Brahms heard him play his Violin Concerto the child made him weep. Huberman was great as an 11-year-old, probably in a similar way to Yehudi Menuhin, and remained great until his dying day. His recording history was sporadic and infrequent: a group of early acoustic recordings for G&T, a larger selection of late acoustics for Brunswick (1925–26, with surprisingly warm, rich, and excellent sound), the 1929 Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto for Polydor, a group of encore pieces for European Columbia in 1928–34, and then two major works for the same label, Lalo’s
and the Beethoven Violin Concerto conducted by George Szell. He also recorded two of Bach’s violin concertos and one of Mozart’s with Issay Dobrowen conducting, but by 1935 his commercial recording activity was over. The war, and his eventual emigration to the United States (after first helping to found the Palestine Symphony Orchestra), put him in an environment where his idiosyncratic tone and technique were only somewhat liked by the larger public. Toscanini was said to admire him, but probably only for his high moral ground and his founding of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra; certainly, the Italian conductor never used Huberman in any of his concerts, either with the New York Philharmonic or with the NBC Symphony.
Thus, his airchecks made in America from 1939 through 1946 are extremely valuable in giving us a more complete picture of his artistry. This disc is particularly superb in that high-quality sonics complement Huberman’s unusual tone and seem to help project his emotionally-charged interpretations with particular force. There are two airchecks of the Brahms Concerto, the work whose performance so impressed the composer, but this one is the better of the two because of Rodzi?ski’s outstanding conducting. For those unfamiliar with him, Rodzi?ski was, as far as I know, the only conductor able to duplicate Toscanini’s ability to produce an orchestral sound with discrete sections, and unlike Toscanini he made more than just one or two stereo recordings that illustrate his ability quite clearly. In mono sound, of course, a certain amount of imagination must be used, but as I say, this is a very clear transfer and does full justice to both the orchestra and Huberman’s interpretation.
What makes this late (1946) version of the Tchaikovsky so interesting are really two things: one, that Huberman’s interpretation actually changed very little since his 1929 studio recording conducted by William Steinberg; and two, that it is fascinating to hear him retaining his odd technique and style even when accompanied by an orchestra in which the entire string section is using vibrato in generous amounts. I would also point out the excellent pacing and shaping of the music by Ormandy, a conductor who got very little respect during his long and prolific career and whose posthumous reputation doesn’t seem to have been helped any. I will admit that, in the German classics of Beethoven and Brahms, Ormandy’s performances tended to be somewhat routine (although certainly good, and professional), but in Russian music, Mahler, and certain modern pieces he could hold his own with virtually anyone, even into the 1970s. (I am particularly fond of his recordings of Tchaikovsky’s
Symphonic Metamorphosis on a Theme of Weber,
and every Maher symphony he ever recorded….I still recall a 1969 or 1970 broadcast of him conducting the Mahler Second, the first time I ever heard that symphony, and I found it excellent.)
These recordings, then, are very valuable to our perception of Huberman, putting him in the context of two of the greatest American orchestras of their time under sympathetic and very fine conductors. Add to that the first-class sound (almost like high fidelity in places), and you have an outstanding Desert Island disc.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
This pairing of two of the most popular violin concertos played in concert by one of the last century's greatest violinists will be a mandatory purchase for admirers of Bronislaw Huberman and for violin buffs who prefer fiery intensity to polished elegance. It's said that Huberman (1882-1947) played the Brahms Concerto for the composer, who proclaimed the 14-year-old boy a genius. As pedigrees go that one is impressive indeed. Even if it's apocryphal, the work was featured on Huberman's concert programs throughout his life. That often can lead to routine run-throughs, but nothing Huberman did was routine; this 1944 performance is shot through with commitment. If you insist on perfection and have little patience with the triumph of spirit over matter, you may not be enthralled by the violinist's awkward technique, rough spots, and occasional tonal harshness. But such considerations are trumped by the vigorous drama he milks from every note. There's an outsized personality at work here, and it's thrilling to hear. Artur Rodzinski and the orchestra match Huberman, playing with loving commitment in the Adagio and passion in the outer movements.
The same applies to the 1946 Tchaikovsky, once available on Music and Arts paired with the Mozart Fourth Concerto. Huberman made a famous recording of the work in 1928 with William Steinberg and the Staatskapelle Berlin, available in good transfers on Naxos and APR. Live in concert nearly two decades later, this performance is cut from the same cloth but with an extra dollop of fire--and similar technical failings apparent in the Brahms, such as the occasional tonal roughness. There's plenty of Grand Romantic Violinism here, full of the rubatos and slides that sound decidedly old-fashioned to modern ears. Rhythms are emphatic and melodies are stated with portamento-peppered expressive freedom. Huberman invests the Andante with a wide range of tonal colors and plays with great inwardness, while the final Allegro is full of dashing bravura.
Maggi Payne, credited with "technical reconstruction" of the source material, has done her usual superb job; despite some inevitable distortion, there's presence to the violin, and the orchestra has body and detail unexpected in old broadcast material. Music and Arts has added to the period flavor by including audience applause after the first movements of both concertos, a common practice in those times. The header lists the orchestras as they are identified on the disc; it's obviously the New York Philharmonic. There are many excellent recordings of both of these warhorses and most collectors already will have multiple versions of them, but these are really special.
--Dan Davis, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 77 by Johannes Brahms
Bronislaw Huberman (Violin)
Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1878; Austria
Date of Recording: 01/23/1944
Notes: The performer Bronislaw Huberman performes a cadenza by Hugo Heeman.
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 35 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Bronislaw Huberman (Violin)
Written: 1878; Russia
Date of Recording: 03/1946
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