Emmanuel Feuermann, cello = BLOCH: Schelomo – Philadelphia Orchestra / Leopold Stokowski; R. STRAUSS: Don Quixote – Philadelphia Orchestra / Eugene Ormandy – Pristine Classical

by | Jun 21, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Emmanuel Feuermann, cello = BLOCH: Schelomo – Philadelphia Orchestra / Leopold Stokowski; R. STRAUSS: Don Quixote – Philadelphia Orchestra / Eugene Ormandy – Pristine Classical PASC168 [www.pristineclassical.com] (download or CD-R available); 58:08 ****:

Emmanuel Feuermann was born in 1902; the family moved to Vienna in 1907, and in 1914, he made his debut with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, playing Haydn’s D major cello concerto under Felix Weingartner. In 1917 he travelled to Leipzig to study with Julius Klengel, whose Cello Concertos Nos.1 & 4 and Double Cello Concerto No.1 are well worth seeking out on CPO 9997142. By 1929 he was head of the Musikhochschule in Berlin, a position he lost in 1933 with the advent of Nazi power.

After moving to London, then Zurich, he was visiting Vienna as the Anschluss was in progress, and after being helped to escape to Palestine by Bronislav Huberman, he moved to New York, ending up teaching at the Curtis Institute. He died in 1942 aged just 39, due to complications arising from what would be today a minor operation.

He made five very highly-regarded recordings with orchestra; the first two were in 1928/9, the Dvorak in Berlin under Michael Taube, and in London in November 1935, the Haydn D major concerto under Sir Malcolm Sargent, available together on Naxos 8110908, as well as the Dvorak on Pristine Classical PASC073. After moving to the US he recorded the Brahms Double Concerto on 21 December 1939 with Jascha Heifetz and the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy, now on Naxos 811940.

The two remaining works are coupled together on this new release from Pristine Classical, all five superbly transferred by Mark Obert-Thorn. Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote was recorded in February 1940, again with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Ormandy. Together these musicians bring out the grandeur of the big scenes, but especially effective are the episodes for small forces where the music approaches chamber music quality. Ormandy was a superb collaborator with soloists, leaving behind a large corpus of recordings which testify to this, and this was something he would continue to do for another forty years after these two recordings were made. Samuel Lifschey, solo viola and Alexander Hilsberg, solo violin match their illustrious cellist in painting a deep portrait of Strauss’s colourful work.

For Bloch’s Schelomo (Solomon), the orchestra was directed by its old chief, Leopold Stokowski. When I was a teenager in the late 1960s, LPs, even Heliodor and Ace of Clubs, were too expensive for my meagre pocket money and I discovered that junk shops invariably had boxes full of 78s for very little money indeed. Very early on, I came across the Brahms Double and Bloch Schelomo sets, and was amazed and moved by the intensity of the playing, especially in the latter work. Listening open-mouthed, with the hair standing up on the back of the neck, I was totally captivated by the music and the playing. In some recent correspondence, I discovered someone else with the same reaction: “…one evening I was transferring that recording of Schelomo from my nice copy of the 78s. I was stunned, shattered almost, by every aspect of the performance. Beyond the peerless Feuermann, it was as if the grooves would melt from the intensity of the orchestra’s playing with Stokowski.” I have to say that forty years later the effect is undiminished.

Schelomo was written in 1915, the solo cello representing King Solomon, the orchestra the world around him. The rhapsodic construction gives the soloist the broadest palette and this is a work so rewarding for both player and listener. Despite excellent performances and more modern recordings by Piatigorsky/Munch and Fournier/Wallenstein, this most Jewish work touchingly recorded in Berlin in the 1960s, and a beautifully recorded version by Torleif Thedeen on BIS, coupling Bloch’s Symphony in C sharp minor, and lastly, Rostropovich with Bernstein on a DGG DVD, I must say Feuermann with Stokowski still fits the bill for one of my desert island recordings.

Mark Obert-Thorn has used vinyl test pressings for the transfer of Schelomo, and the lack of shellac noise and the sound quality are amazingly good. This is a quite superb release!

— Peter Joelson

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