Bronislaw Huberman, violin, in music of TCHAIKOVSKY, CHOPIN, BRAHMS, SARASATE, ZARZYCKI & LALO – Pristine Audio

Bronislaw Huberman = TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35; Melodie, Op. 42, No. 3; CHOPIN: Waltz in C-sharp Minor, Op. 64, No. 2 (arr. Huberman); BRAHMS: Hungarian Dance No. 1 in G Minor (arr. Joachim); SARASATE: Romanza andaluza, Op. 22, No. 1; ZARZYCKI: Mazurka in G Major, Op. 26; LALO: Symphonie espagnole in D Minor, Op. 21 – Bronislaw Huberman, violin/ Staatskapelle Berlin/ William Steinberg/ Siegfried Schultze, p./ Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ George Szell (Lalo) – Pristine Audio PASC 439, 72:03 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:  

Recording engineer and producer Mark Obert-Thorn, in collaboration with Andrew Rose, has assembled the Columbia Studio recordings of Bronislaw Huberman, 1928-1934. Huberman (1882-1947) established himself as one of the major violin virtuosos in Europe, a veritable twelve-year-old wunderkind beloved of Johannes Brahms, who once promised the young firebrand a Fantasy never realized.  Huberman became known for his blending of a “gypsy” and chiseled classical tone, of which the former could generate inimitable excitement. The two major works, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (28, 30 December 1928) and the Lalo four-movement version of his Symphonie espagnole (20, 22 June 1934) had equally fine CD transfers prior by Opus Kura (OPK 2103), issued in 2012.

From the outset – rather slow in the manner of ballet music – of the Tchaikovsky Concerto, Huberman indulges in the suavely Romantic aspects of his musical persona, indulging in broad portamentos and stretches of the measure, buttressed by an accented series of bow shifts and blazing spiccato phrases. The Huberman line tends to be long and elastic – quite picking up the tempo of the Allegro moderato –  driven to a musical “point” in the way Rachmaninov spoke of every musical arch’s intending to a definite cadence or chromatic landing.  Conductor Wilhelm Steinberg adds his own dimension of nobility and poise to the proceedings. The collaboration reminds me of several “typical” collaborations of the period that attain similar heights, such as those by Milstein and Stock and the later Morini performance with Rodzinski. The pungent, rasping tone that Huberman evokes, along with an equally ardent singing line in his upper strings, shares a potency we know from his slightly younger colleague, Guila Bustabo.  The coda provides in itself a rush to judgment that warrants your owning this performance.

The Huberman tone adds to the tender pathos of the Canzonetta, though my preference remains with Francescatti and his partnership with Mitropoulos. The veiled intimacy of the Huberman version, however, commands our admiration at every inflected phrase. Huberman’s intricate song in concert with the orchestra’s flute and oboe proves affecting, despite the sonically thin resonance of these old Columbia shellacs. The bravura Finale – even in its cut edition – unleashes a Slavic tiger upon our soon-to-be-ravished ears. Astonishing speed and playful swagger mark the energetic reading, again eliciting from Steinberg and his Berlin players a sympathetic and stylistic Russian dance.

Almost by way of preparation for the 1874 Lalo Concerto, Huberman inscribed Sarasate’s Romanza andaluza No. 1 (10 June 1929) with Siegfried Schultze in sessions at Columbia’s Petty France Studio, London. Huberman leans – with a patented portamento – into the erotic phrases with a grand languor, much the ardent lover at his inamorata’s window. The full, rich-bodied Huberman tone carries the surging melodic line in symphonic resonance that can retreat into the keyboard’s guitar strains. Sweeping gestures and rapid, fluttering trill evoke veronicas of sound, nobly alluring and seductive in every measure.   When George Szell and Vienna Philharmonic do enter the musical scene, their Lalo assumes the usual Szell militancy of tone, with Huberman’s double notes serving as a continuo to the larger ensemble. The secondary subject finds a tenderly intimate refinement in the collaboration, notwithstanding the decisive beats in tympani and pizzicato strings. The gypsy in Huberman has found its proper vehicle, and the rasping drive of the first movement Allegro maintains an explosive energy that likely provided a healthy model for Ruggiero Ricci.

The second movement Scherzando (seguidilla) has Huberman’s deft soaring over the pizzicato strings, often accompanied by a rustic bassoon.  The Andante lacks any “authentic” Spanish character as such, but it provides Huberman’s dark burnished violin tone much opportunity for expressive playing. Many commentators like to refer to Bizet’s Carmen for the combination of pyrotechnics and melodic charm that defines the spectacular Rondo: Allegro finale, which borrows rhythms from the saltarello. Before the Concerto concludes, Huberman can remind us of the first movement’s malaguena motifs. The rasping, potent energy of the Huberman approach does much to ensure the panache and bravura of a solid performance.

The few encore pieces that remain from sessions with Siegfried Schultze – the Tchaikovsky Meditation, the Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 1, and the Zarzycki Mazurka in G – each conveys the same electric combination of gypsy flavor and Viennese-Hungarian flair. Marked by their rhythmic license, the renditions testify to a major personality of the violin, whose musicianship often glorifies his persona over strictly academic rectitude. But the dazzle of this giant remains indisputable.

—Gary Lemco

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