Efrem Zimbalist in Violin Concertos by BRAHMS & SIBELIUS – Pristine Audio

by | Oct 13, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Zimbalist = BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77; SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47 – Efrem Zimbalist, violin/ Boston Symphony Orchestra/ Serge Koussevitzky (Brahms)/ The Cleveland Orchestra/ Rudolf Ringwall – Pristine Audio PASC 307, 77:33 [avail. in various formats from www.pristine classical.com] ****:
Russian violin virtuoso Efrem Zimbalist (1889-1985) maintained a curiously aloof relationship to recordings, having made only one concerto inscription, that of the Bach Double Concerto with Fritz Kreisler and a string quartet ensemble. The Brahms Concerto performance (30 March 1946) derives from a Boston Symphony broadcast from Symphony Hall, Boston. Zimbalist drives a hard impassioned musical line, much as Milstein and many other of the Auer-trained school of fiddlers. He has a slight portamento which he employs judiciously; and given Koussevitzky’s natural effusive temperament, the resultant alchemy can become quite affecting. The first movement of the Brahms receives a decidedly more expansive treatment than what Koussevitzky accomplished with Jascha Heifetz as his soloist in his one commercial record of the Brahms for RCA. Zimbalist provides his own lengthy adjustment to the Kreisler cadenza in movement one, and it offers several striking modulations and double notes in modal harmony. A series of plastic trills leads us to the return of the orchestral complement while Zimbalist holds a spider-web thin note in the aether. The French horn helps move the pedal point to the furious coda that offers several punctuated cadences of enormous power.
The BSO oboe intones “the only real melody in the whole concerto,” to paraphrase Sarasate. Zimbalist, however, plays as though convinced his solo part has gifts of its own. Some acoustic damage appears late in the movement, c. 8:48, but the emotional tenor remains intact, and Koussevitzky utters an audible Bravo to his guest. The gypsy rondo proves electrically pungent and incisive, much in the Heifetz tradition. The innately sweet tone of Zimbalist’s instrument exalts the figures, even in the midst of the throes of horns, winds, and tympani. Some swish in the radio transcription invades the last three minutes, but the cumulative effect endures, an idiomatically spirited reading of polish and natural panache.
The record of the Sibelius Concerto (9 January 1944) from Severance Hall is plagued for the first 4:09 by a post-echo that plays like some weird double-concerto for principals and magnetic tape. Yet, the execution proves so idiomatic to Sibelius’ Northern sensibilities that Mark Obert-Thorn decided to publish the document; and when the echo disappears, we suddenly have before us a lucid studied rendition of visceral insight. There remain more intrusive sounds from a deteriorated source, but the ardent interpretation shines through. Rudolf Ringwall (1891-1978), who had played under Mengelberg, provides that moody undercurrent of emotional lava that defines much of the tumult in this concerto. Zimbalist’s tone in the Adagio di molto assumes a darker cast, while the Cleveland low winds and horns bring a winter of discontent to the emotional landscape. The last movement “dance for polar bears” delivers the kind of energy in clean sound that we’ve awaited all along. Zimbalist’s hard rasping approach grants the music the bite and fever that make devotees of this alluring, untamed music, often in demented harmonics for the solo. The enthusiastic applause continues well after the last note has sounded.
—Gary Lemco

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