Artur Balsam and Louis Kaufman in Recital = DVORAK: Piano Quartet No. 2; Piano Trio No. 3; Four Romantic Pieces; CHAUSSON: Concerto in D Major for Piano, Violin and String Quartet – Artur Balsam, p./Louis Kaufman, v./Pascal Q./others – Bridge

by | Aug 21, 2007 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Artur Balsam and Louis Kaufman in Recital = DVORAK: Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat Major, Op. 87; Piano Trio No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 65; Four Romantic Pieces, Op. 75; CHAUSSON: Concerto in D Major for Piano, Violin and String Quartet, Op. 21 – Artur Balsam, piano/Louis Kaufman, violin/ Marcel Cervera, cello (Op. 65)/Peter Rybar, violin (Op. 87)/ Oskar Kromer, viola (Op. 87)/ Antonio Tusa, cello (Op. 87)/The Pascal String Quartet (Chausson) – Bridge 9225A/B, (2 CDs) 69:42; 45:31 mono (Distrib. Albany) ****:

Taken from original Concert Hall label recordings (no recording dates given), these transfers of several key Dvorak chamber music staples may in fact be their first inscriptions. Bridge has become the premier source for the wonderful musical work by Artur Balsam (1906-1994), the Polish émigré who accompanied many of the great violin virtuosi. Here, Balsam makes music with Louis Kaufman (1905-1994), better known for his Hollywood-score participation, but equally at home with large concertos by Khachaturian, Milhaud, and Barber. Balsam’s bright piano colors and Kaufman’s exquisite sweet tone combine for some spirited Dvorak–played a mite fast perhaps–but always convincingly dramatic and eminently lyrical. The musicians who contribute to the Piano Quartet in E-flat–Peter Rybar and colleagues–were members of the Concert Hall resident ensemble, the Winterthur String Quartet.

The performance of Dvorak’s Four Romantic Pieces, which I did not know until Uto Ughi played them so beautifully, are no less lovely with Kaufman, but he takes no repeats, so the ephemeral meets the eternal.  Fleet finger in the keyboard fill out Kaufman’s expressive figures in the all-too-brief Allegro appassionato third movement, which quickly moves to the plaints of the concluding Larghetto.  The darkly passionate F Minor Trio resonates with tension throughout, and the Allegro grazioso–Meno mosso second movement shimmers with Native American rhythms.  The sweet violin melody in the Poco Adagio sings out as brilliantly and operatically as Massenet’s Thais Meditation. Along with the famed CBS inscription on CBS with Francescatti and Casadesus, this version of the anguish-laden Chausson Concerto keeps the balances exactly right. The fevers of the eerily erotic Grave section rarely bake one’s sensibilities so thoroughly in Mediterranean harmonies. The first movement Decide–calme–anime opens like Homer’s wine-dark sea, a cross of Franck’s textural thickness and Debussy’s sensual languor. The brutal piano part–with its three-chord fate motif–Balsam swallows in measured gulps. The momentum of the first movement never diminishes, building with a Wagnerian, Tristan series of chromatic ecstasies into a fuming whirlpool. The Sicilienne comes as a respite, a lullaby after the torrential outpourings of the first movement, and it, too, achieves a paroxysm of emotion.  Balsam start off the Finale with a cadenza over a string pedal, and we are off to another febrile tour of Henri Rousseau’s paintings. The Pascal Quartet cuts loose, too, and the music froths most symphonically.

The Piano Quartet, now a commonly programmed work, enjoys a sympathetic reading from Balsam and the Swiss-based Winterthur Quartet members, whose first violinist Peter Rybar (1913-2002) made many fine recordings of otherwise neglected pieces by Vivaldi and Vaughan Williams. The Dvorak foams with Slavonic impulses, rhythmic dexterities, and melodically tender mercies that deserve repeated hearings. The Lento treble sound might be a be a bit brittle for some tastes, but Balsam’s strong arpeggios underneath need no apology. The third movement complements the bucolic sensibilities of the G Major Symphony. Balsam trots out a polka upon which the string trio sings, then Balsam trills like a piano from a honky-tonk Western before the Indian motifs romp through the trio.  The Finale combines the spirit of Haydn with Native American folk energies, a sonata-rondo of fleet inventiveness. Rybar’s violin sails and purrs most sweetly. Oskar Kromer’s viola makes good points along the intricate paths.  The recap proves as inevitable as it is luscious. An important series of reissues, these.

— Gary Lemco


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