BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61; BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77 – Bronislaw Huberman, violin/ Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ George Szell/ New York Philharmonic Orch./ Artur Rodzinski – [avail. in various formats from Pristine Audio) PASC 421, 76:23 [www.pristineclassical.com] *****:
Bronislaw Huberman (1882-1947) inscribed the Beethoven Concerto 18-20 June 1934 for Columbia in Vienna with George Szell, enshrining for posterity Szell’s only commercial recording of the work. Given Huberman’s idiosyncratic style, his passionate but often willful shifts in tempo, the performance remains a miracle of musical cooperation, relying on Szell’s ability to adjust his players to the requirements of Huberman’s personal, gypsy sense of rubato and accent. Considering the brilliantine with which the interpretation glows, we marvel how often roughly and “unpolitely” the conception progression moves in the first movement, the basic tempo sternly strict while Huberman moves over the pulse in the manner of a Chopin aria. The orchestral sheen, no less spectacular, tends to the Toscanini model of the long and direct phrase, although some of the tuttis evince a noble power that we might attribute to the German school of the period. The expressivity of the phrasing, however, never loses its flexibility or luster, often in the throes of a breathless tempo. The first movement cadenza fairly bristles with excitement, a sense of unnerving improvisation that rekindles our sense of Beethoven’s “experimental” personality.
Szell’s articulate attention to detail does lyric justice to the G Major Adagio and its splendid variants, particularly in the dialogue between Huberman and the VPO bassoon. A pearly luminosity prevails, augmented by Huberman’s colossal security in his own vision of the score. Like Heifetz, Huberman will apply added bow pressure ad libitum, occasionally inserting a hint of portamento. His fluttering trill and flute tone prove infectious, flirtatious, and eminently musical. The lively Rondo enjoys Huberman’s rasping, rustic impulse that bespeaks Beethoven’s earthiness and spiritual exaltation at once. The colloquies with the VPO woodwinds and tympani, the explosive rushes of energy, consistently jar our expectations within and beyond the bar line. The XR processing of the original masters by Andrew Rose has restored a vintage 1930s document to a state approaching our modern sonic expectations. Musically, the collaboration cannot age, since its playful majesty pleases the gods.
The “live” Carnegie Hall performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto on 23 January 1944 with Huberman and Artur Rodzinski had a brief life in the 1960s – if I recall correctly – on a Rococo LP whose limited sound could at best hint at the monumental vitality of the occasion. Huberman had played the concerto in the presence of the admiring composer some half century prior, and that sense of virtually cosmic authority dominates the present reading. Rodzinski seems particularly inflamed by the occasion, and his woodwinds, tympani and low strings resonate with a force or delicacy requisite to the most romantically expansive effect. Those musical periods in which Huberman and the orchestra virtually throw tones at each other achieve hair-raising ferocity and lead to explosive tuttis from Rodzinski, followed by lyrically ardent tapestry from Huberman. Recording engineer Andrew Rose has retained the refined elegance of Huberman’s tone even in those passages in which he deliberately desires a dramatic edginess. The drive to the first movement cadenza reaches a fever of intensity matched by the bravura cadenza itself, rife with acerbic polyphony. With the final chords of the Allegro non troppo, the audience has already conceded its unabashed veneration.
The marvelous oboe solo that introduces the Adagio marks only the first of many touching elements of this wistful movement, to which Huberman adds his poignant, studied personality. In this instance, Huberman’s portamenti become more pronounced, and Rodzinski, too, adjusts his phrase lengths to accommodate the subjective character of the interpretation. The late colloquy between Huberman and the French horn, as well as his re-acquaintance with the oboe, make for some poignant and persuasive Brahms. Again, a moved public responds prior to the rush to judgment that constitutes the opening bars of the final movement, a real Allegro giacoso ma non troppo vivace in the most furious, guttural of renditions. Indeed, an almost drunken fury prevails, Huberman’s urging his bow and flying fingers to extremes. Each approach to the ritornello assumes greater impetuosity, an abandon quite astonishing, given the thorough control that dominates the musical periods and color antiphons. With the last, martial bars, Huberman has catapulted this familiar work into a space inhabited by titans. Remarkable music-making by any standard and recommended without reservation.