Nimbus is an independent British record company occupying a unique position. It believes in "...serving music through continuing research into sound recording and reproduction, which is based on the philosophy that technology must be used for communicating a musical experience and not technology for its own sake."
Over the past 37 years they have chalked up many landmark achievements. These include the celebrated "The Grand Piano" series. They have likewise made a home for a treasure trove of acclaimed recordings from pianists of the stature of Shura Cherkassky and Vlado Perlemuter.
Oscar Shumsky (1917-2000) as heard in the present set ranks in a league of his own. Hailed by David Oistrakh asRead more "one of the world's greatest violinists", Shumsky studied with the famed pedagogue Leopold Auer (1845-1930) until the late 1920s. He then continued his studies with Efrem Zimbalist (1890-1985) at the Curtis Institute until 1938. He has been regarded as arguably “the greatest violin talent ever to enter Curtis.” He developed a generous and firm tone, faultless intonation and a facility with technical skills. To these can be added a certain ‘musical sizzle’ that later contributed to his signature ‘Shumsky Sound’. He enjoyed enormous esteem among discriminating music lovers and professionals alike. His cycles of Bach Sonatas and Partitas and Mozart Violin Sonatas on Musical Heritage Society remained highly treasured by connoisseurs. Fortunately, through the efforts of Nimbus and ASV those recordings have been restored and return to us with greatly improved sound. One can readily pinpoint and appreciate the qualities that mark Shumsky out as, arguably, the greatest violinist of the 20th century: strong technique, warm tone, and sterling musicianship. These are skilfully articulated on his 1715 ‘Duke of Cambridge’ Stradivari.
This set could readily have been named "Homage to Fritz Kreisler". Here is a near complete collection of Kreisler’s musical output for the string instrument. The Rondino on a Theme of Beethoven, the Russian miniatures of Rimsky-Korsakov and the celebrated violin concerto cadenzas of Beethoven and Mozart are omitted.
Always an imaginative colourist, Shumsky’s secure technique was firmly rooted in the Russian School of Auer and Zimbalist. In the full-bodied Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta or in the arrangement of Tartini’s “Devil’s Trill Sonata”, Shumsky presents a broader view of the music without sacrificing the finer points.
CDs 1 and 2 provide a mix of original works and arrangements. These are done tastefully in collaboration with pianist Milton Kaye. Nimbus does not provide any biographical sketches on the artists, nor acknowledge the authorship of the liner notes - except those clearly written by Shumsky himself. Nonetheless, Milton Jay Katz - who later changed his last name to simply ‘Kaye’ - was a pianist and arranger who studied with the legendary pianist and pedagogue Carl Friedberg. He moved with ease from accompanist to Jascha Heifetz and Erica Morini, to writing theme music for TV quiz shows, to playing in Toscanini’s NBC Symphony of the Air; talk about multi-tasking! Of all these his role as pianist and chamber musician stands eminent. His facility in transforming light and shade in response to Shumsky is undeniable. Listen to the Viennese miniatures: Caprice Viennois, Liebesfreud and Liebesleid. They are deliciously performed by Shumsky and Kaye – each responding with grace to Kreisler’s rhythmic jest and wayward energy.
Shumsky projects the richest and most lustrous tone imaginable and does so with unflagging virtuosity, and when needed, with just a touch of schmaltz. Musical lines are presented in high relief, with melodic angles tastefully emphasized. The playfulness of Schön Rosmarin, a delightful musical portrait of a beautiful and vivacious young girl, is elegantly done yet with teasing mischief.
Francois Francoeur may not be a household name to many nowadays, but if Kreisler’s Sicilienne and Rigaudon were genuinely stylistic representations "à la Francoeur," then (at least as played by Shumsky), he is due for a come-back.
A similar spirit, with adjustments to account for the linguistic differences, enlivens the readings of Shumsky and Kaye of Kreisler’s Tartini arrangements. The principal item here is the Devil’s Trill Sonata into which Shumsky’s cleverly introduces the Recitativo and Scherzo for solo violin. Tartini’s Concerto in the style of Vivaldi ripples with folksy energy; one can easily imagine listening to this in the streets of Venice. The reading's most magical moment comes in the exquisite restraint displayed in the chorale-like Andante doloroso which opens in the second movement. This produces a feeling lingers between the sweet and the sad.
It is a pity that neither Nimbus nor the Musical Heritage Society provide a date and location for these recordings. It would have been helpful for listeners to be able to chart the growth behind Shumsky’s violin artistry. The first two volumes appeared after the infamous Bach and Mozart cycles. Efrem Zimbalist heard the first volume on cassette tapes (according on Zimbalist’s biographer, Roy Malan, in his book ‘A Life’). These facts suggest a recording date some time during the decade between 1960-1970.
The collection is by no means devoid of Romanticism. During his lifetime, Shumsky was considered to be "a violinist’s violinist and a musician’s musician...while Zimbalist bent the twig to make new growth possible [in the Art of Violin], Shumsky embodied a blossoming that aspired to and achieved the ultimate in violinist and musical symmetry". He can be seen as prolonging the Romantic traditions of Leopold Auer’s violin school.
Shumsky brings a truly melting tone and a sense of intimacy bordering on introspection in his performances on CDs 3 and 4. For these recordings he is partnered by William Wolfram who landed the Bronze medal at the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in 1986 and the Silver Medal at the William Kapell Competition in 1987.
For CD 3, we begin with one of Kreisler’s favourite miniatures, the Tambourin Chinois. Shumsky’s violin speaks beautifully from the heart and his playing sizzles from start to finish. He treats the piece like a short masquerade, racing through with runs and double-stops in the upper register all part of the fun. With a selection of pieces “in the styles of” forgotten Baroque masters like Padre Martini and Nicola Porpora, Shumsky adopts two approaches. The first is to present technical showpieces such as the Tambourin according to Leclair. For the second, Shumsky uses these miniatures as vehicles to project his infamous singing line. In this mode he can be heard in La Precieuse ‘in the style of Couperin’ or the Andantino of Martini. In the Andantino, Shumsky’s unmistakable caress reflects the violinist’s care for the espressivo, dolce and semplice markings that fill the score. Both artists play with a particular delicacy, even though some cadences seem to invite more aggression. Shumsky and Wolfram prove an understanding pair who strike a mutual balance between restraint and sentiment.
CD 4 offers a high-cholesterol programme, including such famous works as Gluck’s Mélodie from "Orpheus and Euridice," Schubert’s Ballet Music from "Rosamunde," and the Spanish musical fiestas of Albéniz’s Tango and Granados’s Spanish Dance. This last disc offers amusing and intriguing reflections. Its listening pleasures owe much to Shumsky’s irresistible spontaneity, his gutsy, "golden age" timbre and faultless technique.
This four disc collection is a tribute from one great violinist to another.It is no discredit to Kaye or Wolfram that the focus remains overwhelmingly on Shumsky throughout. Again and again these recordings assert his right to stand in the “Hall of Fame” alongside so many other violin legends.
- Patrick P.L. Lam,
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Works on This Recording
Austrian Imperial Hymnby Fritz Kreisler Performer:
Milton Kaye (Piano),
Oscar Shumsky (Violin),
William Wolfram (Piano)
Period: Romantic Written: Austria
Orfeo ed Euridice: Dance of the Furiesby Christoph W. Gluck Performer:
Oscar Shumsky (Violin)
Period: Classical Written: 1762/1774; Vienna, Austria Notes: Arranger: Fritz Kreisler. Composition written: Vienna, Austria (1762). Composition revised: Paris, France (1774).
La vida breve: Spanish Danceby Manuel de Falla Performer:
Oscar Shumsky (Violin)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1904-1905; Spain Notes: Arranger: Fritz Kreisler. Composition written: Spain (1904 - 1905).