Notes and Editorial Reviews
William Steinberg, cond;
George Szell, cond;
Paul Frenkel (pn);
Berlin St Op O;
OPUS KURA 2103, mono (65:41)
These famous recordings, available on and off for decades, have only been paired twice before on CD: a disc which appeared on the Strings label in 1998 (I couldn’t find the CD number at Allmusic) along with the Bach Violin Concerto No. 2 (BWV 1042), and an even rarer CD issued in 1990 by a small French label, The Classical Collector (FDC-2003), which I do own. The latter CD, which also included his 1925 Brunswick
from 1929, Bruch’s
from 1931, and the 1932 remake of his own arrangement of the Chopin Waltz op. 64/2, had fairly dull sound quality, pitched the Tchaikovsky Concerto just a shade flat, and had some weird “break in” noise during the
that sounds like a radio station playing in the background. No wonder the label has since disappeared.
For those not familiar with these recordings, they are still considered benchmark performances by most violin connoisseurs despite the fact that Huberman played with alternating straight tone and vibrato as well as some old-fashioned portamento in his phrasing along with an almost vicious spiccato. The incendiary brio and energy in his playing is still astonishing after nearly a century; many critics felt that he had “the soul of a gypsy,” and this shows up particularly in the Tchaikovsky, where his playing is even faster than Heifetz’s. Yet it was the Lalo recording that, along with his 1930 version of the Beethoven “Kreutzer” Sonata with Ignacy Friedman, Huberman considered his very best. Roger Norrington insists that even up through the late 1930s, at least until Arnold Rosé was removed as concertmaster, the Vienna Philharmonic strings played with straight tone, but to my ears they sure sound like they’re playing with vibrato on the Lalo disc.
As is usual with Opus Kura, the recordings presented here leave a fair amount of grit in, although not so much as the British Pearl label. I’ve had some problems with certain previous discs of theirs, particularly the Furtwängler Tchaikovsky Sixth because the original issues of the quiet first movement had so much grit in them that they buried the sound of the orchestra. This is a touchy point of contention with many collectors, particularly British and Canadian collectors, to wit, they believe that “the overtones of the music are in the record noise.” Yet strictly from an acoustic standpoint this is not possible. The recording was made by a microphone which had no grit in it, and unless the original master was filled with grit—and one would assume that any major label release would try to ensure that such a defective master would be replaced—the pressed discs simply cannot have “overtones in the surface noise.” What one is actually hearing is the hiss and crackle of the original disc, which adds a certain dirty but bright quality to the upper registers. The one thing that does become minimal when surface noise is removed is the clarity of the string vibrato—nothing else—and that normally only pertains to string
which are recorded at a bit of a distance, not to solo violinists. Otherwise, every other instrumental section, particularly the winds and brass, are actually clarified when surface noise is removed. The difficult trick is to judge how much or how little needs to be removed.
In these cases, Opus Kura has left in a bit more noise than I like but not enough that it can’t be corrected. I found that by selecting a snippet of opening noise and reducing the volume by 8 db, I was able to remove enough extra noise to make the discs sound reasonably quiet without disturbing the naturally high frequencies, and what was left is really a wow. I can’t even begin to tell you how bright and clear these discs sound, at least the electrical recordings. Huberman’s violin practically snaps out of the speakers; he sounds as if he’s in the room with you. And of course, with the exception of the string portamento that Steinberg allowed in the 1928 recording of the Tchaikovsky concerto, the orchestral playing here is also of a high order.
I’m not really sure why Opus Kura chose to fill out this disc with the acoustically recorded excerpts of the Lalo and Tchaikovsky works made with piano for Brunswick in 1923. They’re nice for what they are, but don’t really tell you how Huberman might have played the complete works just a few years earlier. I’d have preferred that they filled out the disc with something really unusual, like the single discs of encore pieces that Huberman recorded for Columbia between 1928 and 1935, but since they chose these particular fillers I can only say that they are, again, fairly bright in sound but with a modicum of crackle and hiss.
By the way, for those who are wondering about the exact recording dates, they are as follows: Lalo, June 20 and 22, 1934; Tchaikovsky, December 30, 1928; acoustic Lalo, February 26, 1923; acoustic Tchaikovsky Canzonetta, January 1, 1923. I should also mention that, like many other versions (including both of Heifetz’s), the third movement of the Lalo (Intermezzo:
Allegro non troppo
) is omitted. In any case, this is most decidedly the new preferred pressing of the electrical Lalo and Tchaikovsky works.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Symphonie espagnole, Op. 21 by Edouard Lalo
Paul Frenkel (Piano),
Bronislaw Huberman (Violin)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1873; France
Date of Recording: 1923
Length: 32 Minutes 15 Secs.
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 35 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Bronislaw Huberman (Violin),
Paul Frenkel (Piano)
Written: 1878; Russia
Date of Recording: 1923
Length: 31 Minutes 20 Secs.
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