Mark Obert-Thorn restores the classic recording of the 1930 Kreutzer Sonata by Huberman and Friedman. 

BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 “Kreutzer”; BACH: Andante from Solo Sonata No. 2 in a minor, BWV 1003; Sarabande and Double from Solo Partita No. 1 in b minor, BWV 1002; Chorale Prelude: “Nun komm der Heiden Heiland,” BWV 62; Air from Orchestral Suite No. 2 in D, BWV 1068; SCHUBERT: Ave Maria, D. 839; Moment Musical in f minor, D. 780, No. 3; CHOPIN: Waltz in c-sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2; Waltz in G-flat Major, Op. 70, No. 1; Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2; BRAHMS: Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 39, No. 15; BRUCH: Kol Nidrei, Op. 47; ELGAR: La capricieuse, Op. 17 – Bronislaw Huberman, v./ Ignaz Friedman, p. (Beethoven)/ Siegfried Schultze, p. – Pristine Audio PACM 102, 78:06 [avail. in var. formats (incl. a successful ambient stereo) from pristineclassical.com] ****:  

The art of violin virtuoso Bronislaw Huberman (1882-1947) remains fascinating and problematic to our ears, unaccustomed to his idiosyncratic style of continuous vibrato and sudden shifts of tempo. But the sincerity and ardent fervor of his performances warrants our attention; and often, in music to which Huberman feels deep commitment, the effect becomes mesmeric. His playing projects a rhetorical and oratorical nobility, often romantically indulgent in the matter of portamentos and added grace notes.  When not to our taste, these effects sound inflated, and they do not gain in attractiveness when Huberman’s high notes become frayed. When Huberman’s lyrical gift holds sway, his performances can be expressive and utterly convincing. In Mark Obert-Thorn’s new transfers of these recordings, 1929-1935, there are moments – such as in the Schubert Ave Maria – when his tone resembles the deep velvet of a viola.  At times, as in the Brahms A-flat Waltz, his choice of tempo feels sentimental and mawkish.

The major work, Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata (11-12 September 1930) features Huberman’s collaboration with fellow Polish musician Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948), an acknowledged master of the Chopin style and quite capable of raising the Sonata back to its imperial status among Beethoven’s chamber opera. Huberman in 1930 addresses his part with astounding proficiency, his attacks direct and piercing.  When he and Friedman accelerate, as in the Presto (tarantella) finale, the roulades retain velocity and poise, at once.  The Andante con variazione, from a sheer musical point of view, may prove the most successful movement in terms of continuity and fluidity of vision. The four, lengthy variants flow with a strong sense of the musical “point” of each episode.  When the A Major chord of the finale strikes, we know we are off to a grand rush to a magnificent peroration.

The two Bach solos from 1934 reveal a rapt concentration and intensity that complement the work Huberman accomplished in his concerto collaborations with Issay Dobrowen (PASC 297), where the razor edge of his tone and his non-linear phrasing compel us to wonder what a complete set of the Unaccompanied Sonatas would have meant for us. The throaty approach to the chorale emphasizes the ‘weepy’ character inherent in much of Huberman’s inconsistent vibrato. The thick texture works to better advantage in the Kol Nidrei of Max Bruch, in which pleading lyricism and stately declamation combine to imitate a Jewish doxology. The Viennese style enters into the three Chopin pieces, hazy in their slides and inflated note-values. The waltzes come to us in Huberman transcriptions, while the Nocturne in E-flat Major – treated to enough syrup to make us think Elman is playing – has been arranged by Sarasate. The G-flat Waltz has a heavy beat, making it more mazurka than waltz.  The final selection, Elgar’s La capricieuse, will find praise or blame for its self-indulgence and cloying personality, which some will claim as entirely in character. The eight pieces succeeding the Bach offerings remain singularly quiet, given their shellac 78 sources.

—Gary Lemco