Bronislaw Gimpel, Live Vol. I – Concert Violin Works by Paganini, Kreisler, Wieniawski, Lalo, Sibelius, Sarasate, Dinicu, Mozart, Glazunov [complete listing below] – DOREMI DHR-8163/4 (2 CDS: 80:05;79:10) [www.doremi.com] *****:
Music critic Henry Roth describes Polish violinist Bronislaw Gimpel (1911-1979) as “a large-scaled virtuoso of the Heifetz, Milstein, Menuhin, Stern, Perlman order. He had a fiery temperament, and his tone was among the most vibrant of the [Carl] Flesch disciples, his vibrato carefully controlled. Not quite of maximum opulence, his sound nevertheless was rich and multifaceted. . . .Gimpel was essentially an Eastern European artist whose temperament was emphatically romantic.” Gimpel appeared before the public for six decades, yet his absence from any major record label constrained his adherents to turn to Vox or radio broadcasts to obtain his artistic legacy. Doremi here assembles live concert performances, c. 1935-1967, that provide a large spectrum of Gimpel’s dazzling repertory – with the exception of his work, mostly in Poland – with pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, with whom he made his final LP, of the sonatas by Franck and Debussy in 1978.
Disc 1 opens with a 1949 concert, from the American Broadcasting Company’s “Let’s Listen to Music” program, of two works by Henryk Wieniawski, the orchestra under the direction of Earl Wild. Unlike the recorded performance of the 1862 D Minor Concerto by Jascha Heifetz, the orchestral part of the opening movement, Allegro moderato, is not cut. But like Heifetz, Gimpel glides along the surface of this effective vehicle with a burnished patina and seamless transitions in bowings and fingerings while maintaining a fluent, driven line. The usual arsenal of slides, harmonics, double and triple stops, all scurry by us in an awesome parade of unabashed delight in technical prowess in concert with a poetic gift. The graceful Romance: Andante non troppo in 12/8 leads to the familiar Allegro con fuoco last movement, a fervent gypsy dance in cut time that allows Gimpel ample room for blistering fioritura in bold gestures. Gimpel would take an even broader perspective on the Wieniawski Concerto in 1954, playing with the RIAS orchestra under Alfred Gohlke (on Audite 24.418). The accompanying Polonaise, Op. 4, enjoys an extended introductory tutti that leads to a thrilling entry of flageolet notes, double notes, swooping leaps, broken triads, and various embellishments. The arco and legato passages have girth and melodic contour. Wieniawski appears on a program from 1953, in his popular 1855 Scherzo-tarantella, Op. 16 with pianist Richard Bechmann, a (Presto) tour de force equal to anything we know from Heifetz and Szeryng.
The music of Spanish virtuoso Sarasate always provides a measure of potent virtuosity, as evidence by the work of Ricci, Heifetz, Perlman, and Gitlis. Gimpel plays three of the Spanish master’s delightful vehicles: from 1949, with Gimpel’s leading the ABC Concert Orchestra, the A Major Malguena, a sultry exhibition of the first of the composer’s Spanish Dances; a sparkling 1953 reading with pianist Bechmann of Jota Navarra, with its pizzicatos and detached bowings in a luxurious flamenco style; and from 1955 the ubiquitous 1878 Zigeunerweisen, with pianist Martin Krause. Sarasate constructs the piece much in the manner of a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody, a slow then fast section, with melodic tissue spread over the violin’s expressive range with urgent vibrato, pizzicatos, spiccatos, harmonics, high trills, and slides. Gimpel’s piercing tone make the whole a nervous, gripping experience. When the last section, a csardas, breaks out, hold onto your hat.
The disc ends with the earliest of Gimpel’s records, a series of 1930s performances, two with his brother Karol Gimpel at the keyboard in the music of Fritz Kreisler. The gimmicky Tambourin Chinois moves a roadrunner speed without missing a beat. The more substantial Praeludium and Allegro (after Pugnani) gives us an fierce indication of what Gimpel might have made of music by J.S. Bach, especially the Chaconne in D Minor. With an uncredited pianist, Gimpel plays Dinicu’s Hora staccato, a perennial bit of whirling dervishness that Gimpel executes with the same panache we know from Heifetz.
Disc 2 offers three major violin concertos: the Sibelius with Eugen Jochum conducting in 1956; the Mozart A Major with conductor Roberto Benzi from 1967; and the Glazunov with Josef Stepal conducting from the ABC network’s series of 1949 broadcasts. The Sibelius Concerto obviously meant much to Gimpel, instilling a grand line and deeply penetrating, searching approach in this 21 April 1956 collaboration with Eugen Jochum and the Berlin Philharmonic, a reading in virtual sympathy with the studio recording with Fritz Lehmann and RIAS 25 June 1955 (on Audite 21.418). The realization of the second movement Adagio di molto repays listening may times, on a par with the great versions from David Oistrakh. The finale spits fire and sizzles in ways to make heart and feet pound faster.
With French conductor Robert Benzi (b. 1937), Gimpel delivers a sterling and brightly lit Mozart “Turkish” Concerto with the West German Radio Orchestra from 1967, notable for its stylish wit and tonal focus. The opening movement, Allegro aperto, moves with a streamlined acuity that virtually swallows all difficulties in one bite. The cadenza plays like a Bach partita movement cross-fertilized by Viennese passion. The Adagio proffers a Mozart world unto itself, a beautifully integrated fusion of melodic breadth and eloquent harmonic motion. The Rondeau, with its opening minuet in ¾, famously breaks off into a 2/4 romp in janissary style, with cellos and basses having to “compensate” for percussive effects with col legno patter from their bows. Benzi has the crescendos working well enough to suggest a regal procession. By now, we have accustomed ourselves to the piercing attacks from Gimpel, which resonate with elegance and sophisticated wit, as required. The charming insouciance by which the minuet tempo returns after the fireworks provides a lesson in style, in itself.
The 1904 Glazunov A Minor Violin Concerto remains a distinguished addition to the repertory, here performed from the ABC Concert Orchestra and Josef Stepal in 1949. Forged in one movement that divides into three, or four, sections, the piece seamlessly proceeds in lush melodic periods and no shortage of bravura passages for the solo, Gimpel moves through the work briskly, without any sacrifice of color line or those high harmonics that squeal or squeak with aerial aplomb. We do wish for better orchestral definition from this older document, whose harp part so effectively blends with Gimpel, when we can savor it. The Andante sostenuto, basically a series of variants on the first movement melody, enjoys serenity and stylistic flair, essential Gimpel traits that, with his flawless technique, make the formidable cadenza memorable. A brief Piu Animato from the participants takes to the trumpet annunciation of the Allegro finale, a Russian romp of vinegar, fire, treacle, ballet gestures, and resolve. Gimpel makes his violin into a balalaika or a demonic banshee, as he sees fit, quite impressive for an admiring posterity. This is a document of special merit.
Bronislaw Gimpel Live, Vol. I:
WIENIAWSKI: Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 22; Polonaise Brillante No. 1 in D, Op. 4; Scherzo-Tarantelle, Op. 16;
LALO: Symphonie espagnole in D Minor, Op. 21: Allegro non troppo;
SARASATE: Malguena, Op. 21, No. 1; Jota Navarra, Op. 22, No. 2; Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20; PAGANINI (arr. Auer): Caprice No. 24;
KREISLER: Tambourin Chinois, Op. 3; Praeludium and Allegro;
DINICU: Hora staccato;
SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47;
MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 “Turkish”;
GLAZUNOV: Violin Concerto in A Minor