Felix Salmond, Volume 2 = Cello works of BEETHOVEN, CHOPIN, BIZET, PIANELLI, PIERNE – Pristine Audio

Felix Salmond, Volume 2 = BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonata No. 1 in F Major, Op. 5, No. 1; Cello Sonata No. 4 in C Major, Op. 102, No. 1; Cello Sonata No. 5 in D Major, Op. 102, No. 2; 7 Variations on Mozart’s “Bei Maennern”; CHOPIN: Largo from Cello Sonata in g minor, Op. 65; PIANELLI: Villanelle; FAURE: Berceuse, Op. 16; BIZET: Adagietto; PIERNE: Serenade, Op. 7 – Felix Salmond, cello/ Leonid Hambro, piano (Beethoven); Simeon Rumschisky, piano – Pristine Audio PACM 099, 79:09 mono [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

Despite his having ceased making commercial recordings after 1930, cellist Felix Salmond (1888-1952) remained musically and pedagogically active, teaching at the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute. As producer, restoration engineer, and annotator Mark Obert-Thorn remarks, the present disc represents much of a recital Salmond gave on 29 March 1947 at Juilliard to celebrate his twenty-five year anniversary of his American debut. The three sonatas of Beethoven recorded in 1948 found their way onto a private LP issued (1960) as part of a fund-raiser for a scholarship in honor of the cellist.

The first impression we receive sonically consists of the vast difference between the 1947 fidelity and the several 78 rpm records that have always projected a rather shadowy image of the Salmond sonority. That contrast finds quick proof when we audition the remainder of the recital, inscribed 1927-1928. Salmond’s playing eschews much of the Romantic excess of style we find in Casals and Squire, and corresponds to the modern approach we attribute to Feuermann and Starker.  The immediate felicity of approach captured between Salmond and pianist Leonid Hambro (1920-2006) resonates throughout the Cello Sonata in F, whose first movement Allegro sparkles with fervent, aggressive energy. We soon recall that the Sonata was composed for Beethoven the brilliant keyboard virtuoso and for the French cello master Jean-Pierre Duport, who relished showing off his staccato eighth notes and his quick rockets into the upper registers of the instrument. The ensuing Rondo proves no less volatile, light handed and dreamily virile in its brief cantabile indulgences, and rife with a cantering potency that never relents in its mesmeric power, even in those drone-sections from Salmond.

The two late (1815) Beethoven cello sonatas, each a miracle of classical compression, bear Salmond’s aggressive imprimatur. The C Major, after an otherworldly, contrapuntal Andante, bursts into a grueling Allegro vivace in a minor, with the flow’s stopping on a dime to change course. Salmond’s Adagio grumbles again from someplace in outer space; when the melody emerges, Salmond caresses its song and accompanying ornaments with an ardor that belies his sixty years (at the time). Blink, and we find ourselves in the frisky throes of the Allegro vivace, another occasionally fugal affair rife with inventive stops and starts. Hambro’s bravura playing reminds us that Beethoven’s sense of keyboard virtuosity had not diminished, despite his curtailment of his solo piano career. The D Major appears the more “baroque” of the two sonatas, its first movement chromatic and meandering in its development. Salmond imbues this music with dark ferocity, given that several commentators liken the first movement phraseology to Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet. Even with the shift back to D Major we feel that the touch of mortality will not leave us. The B-flat Adagio con moto looks ahead to the late quartets and beyond. Hambro’s keyboard paints a hazy luster against Salmond’s expressive cello. The Allegro fugato raises the art of the cello sonata to a height that must have confounded Beethoven’s contemporaries. Whether a fiendish assault on his times or a veritable dance of death, the music continues to startle us, and Salmond’s confrontational style seems uniquely apt.

The series of electrical recordings returns us to the antiquated sound we normally associate with Salmond, though our perception remains affected by the intensity of his Juilliard performances. The 1801 “Bei maennern” Variations flow easily their seven permutations of Mozart’s theme from Die Zauberfloete. Pianist Simeon Rumschitsky makes his own points for keyboard transparency. The Pianelli lilting Villanelle is an arrangement by Joseph Salmon.  The remainder, four French pieces – if we permit Chopin that identity – bequeath us Salmond’s only documented excursions into Gallic territory. Sweetly luxurious, the Chopin and Faure items convince us that Salmond could be the troubadour of the cello. The Pierne Serenade proffers a Spanish air of refined enchantment.

— Gary Lemco

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