Felix Salmond, cello = Works of BEETHOVEN, BRUCH, ST.-SAENS, GLAZUNOV, BRIDGE, GRIEG & Trad. – Pristine Audio

Felix Salmond = BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major, Op. 69; BRUCH: Kol Nidrei, Op. 47; SAINT-SAENS: The Swan; GLAZUNOV: Serenade Espagnole, Op. 20, No. 2; BRIDGE: Melodie; POPPER: Gavotte in D Major; GRIEG: To Spring, Op. 43, No. 6; Cello Sonata in A Minor, Op. 36; TRAD: Londonderry Air – Felix Salmond, cello/ Simeon Rumschisky, p. – Pristine Audio PACM 095, 79:25 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclasical.com] ****: 

British cello virtuoso Felix Salmond (1888-1952) long maintained an association with the music of Edward Elgar, this despite the debacle of the premiere of the Cello Concerto in 1919.  Mark Obert-Thorn has assembled Salmond’s wide repertory in Columbia recordings from New York City studios, 1926-1929, that reveal his warm tone and often lustrous concept of the music he championed.

The opening selection, Beethoven’s potent Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major (18 January and 15 February 1926), enjoys a nice balance between Salmond and pianist Rumschisky, though I find Salmond’s tone in the Scherzo somewhat brittle.  No one, however, can find fault in Salmond when he plays legato and cantabile, which move the melodic line in a clean, lyrical arch.  Obert-Thorn in his producer’s note mentions that the “Viva-Tonal” Columbia pressings represent a particularly quiet form of these pressings. The Adagio cantabile proves thoughtful and fluently paced, leading to an equally arresting Allegro vivace finale, in which the lyric passages receive a kind of “spotlight” through Salmond’s selective application of rubato. The presto passages move like quicksilver, Salmond’s technique certainly the equal of his contemporary Casals and less mannered, more of an anticipation of Feuermann’s later contribution.

The Bruch Kol Nidrei (5, 17 June 1928) projects – in a singularly quiet transfer from the shellac – the requisite plaint, with a full-throated, cantorial quality in Salmond’s lower register. In his upper register, Salmond delivers a clear-voiced, elongated, liquid melodic line, capped by a clean trill. The music of Frank Bridge always held pride of place with Salmond, and here he performs the Bridge Melodie (20 May 1929) in a lyrically persuasive performance that aligns Bridge with the pastels and arabesques of both Delius and Debussy. It might reward auditors to compare Salmond’s rendition of the dashing Popper Gavotte (15 June 1928) with that of Janos Starker, a cellist of equal facility but cut from an entirely different stamp.

Salmond’s execution of the middle section “drone” effects quite dazzles the ear. No surprise that Saint-Saens’ The Swan from his Carnival of the Animals (15 March 1926) glows with a seamless luster. The Glazunov Serenade Espagnole (19 April 1936)– later a standard encore for Rostropovich – pulsates with earthy, folkish affection.  Between his two competing registers, high and low, Salmond makes the piece a  real courtship in erotic colloquy. In an arrangement by O’Connor-Morris, Salmond intones a heartfelt Londonderry Air, guaranteed to bring a tear to eyes Irish and international, not hindered by the antiquity of the recording (15 February 1926).

From 1927 we enjoy two selections from Edward Grieg, his lyric piece To Spring (25 October) and the monumental Cello Sonata (17 May). The piano part quite flutters in the aerial miniature, with Salmond’s performing his part with intense intimacy.  Grieg’s most expansive chamber work, his 1882 Cello Sonata meant to serve as a reconciliation piece for his brother, John, who remained estranged; so Ludwig Gritzmacher served as its first interpreter.  Salmond and Rumschisky attack the first theme of the Allegro agitato boldly, and they play the secondary, “Norwegian” melody with piquant tenderness. Given the emotional expanse of the first movement, it comes as small surprise to find that Grieg includes a brief solo cadenza for the cello in the course of the music’s mercurial approach to sonata-form. As is well known, the Andante molto tranquillo takes its theme from the Homage March in honor of King Josalfar of Norway, originally scored as incidental music for four cellos.  The turbulent middle section projects extraordinary power between the two principals. After a recitative-cadenza from Salmond, the rustic dance of the last movement assumes the same epic proportions as the first movement. The robust, earthy quality of the playing, given the infectious contour of the melodies, has convinced us that in Felix Salmond we had an extraordinary musician who we know became a most influential pedagogue.

—Gary Lemco

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