Mischa Elman, v. = Concerti and other works of VIVALDI, BEETHOVEN, MENDELSSOHN & PAGANINI – Pristine Audio

by | Jun 9, 2012 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Mischa Elman, violin = VIVALDI: Violin Concerto in G Minor, RV 317 (arr. Nachez); BEETHOVEN: Romance No. 1 in G Major, Op. 40; Romance No. 2 in F Major, Op. 50; MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64; PAGANINI (arr. Elman): Caprice in A Minor, Op. 1, No. 24 – New Symphony Orchestra/ Lawrence Collingwood (Vivaldi)/ Chicago Symphony Orchestra/ Desiree Defauw (Mendelssohn)/ Wolfgang Rose, p. – Pristine Audio PASC 339, 75:31 [avail. in various formats at www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Second only to Fritz Kreisler in popularity and “romantic” appeal, Mischa Elman (1891-1967) came from the same Leopold Auer tradition as Jascha Heifetz, although Elman’s essentially passionate approach stood in dire contrast to the seemingly objective Heifetz style. Producer and restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn has assembled a program that extends the Elman studio legacy with three novel works, the Beethoven Romance in F (30 November 1932), the Vivaldi Concerto (29 September 1931), and the extended arrangement of Paganini’s A Minor Caprice (3 April 1951)—the last transferred from 45 rpm 7-inch discs.
A curious blend of diverse musical styles, the Vivaldi Concerto combines the composer’s lightly operatic style with a series of “Romantic” mannerisms in Elman’s playing, not the least of which are slides and affected rubati that shift the metrics and accents rather willfully. Still, the playing carries a lovely sincerity of expression, and Lawrence Collingwood, himself a composer and recording producer of note, supports Elman in every musical decision. The Adagio carries an intimate devotional atmosphere, again the New Symphony strings’ engaging in portamenti that would no longer be deemed authentic. Elman himself plies his instrument in ardently breathed phrases, the trills eminently rounded and sweet. The final Allegro, in this marcato tempo, assumes the air of a courtly dance with an active bass line. Never permitting a harsh or discordant effect, Elman plays the music for its antique gemutliche charm, not for any visceral bravura.
Collingwood’s ensemble for the two Beethoven Romances (1932) remains unknown; but given Collingwood’s happy association with Albert Coates, we might assume members of the LSO.  Elman takes fewer liberties here than in Vivaldi, projecting a clean even chaste sound in the 1802 G Major Romance, at times urging an air of salon chamber music upon the occasion. The second half of the work becomes almost dainty, a demure evocation of a concertante cassation or serenade. For the 1795 F Major Romance, Elman and Collingwood take a stance commensurate with the work’s namesake, evoking a tenderly amorous sensibility. An extended rondo with a developed coda, it too delves into the minor for contrast, a plaintive moment that Elman exploits graciously.
The Paganini Caprice arrangement comes from Elman himself; and for piano accompaniment Elman has the reliable support of his old companion Wolfgang Rose. The piece evolves as a series of variations that employ virtuoso techniques, like high harmonics, sur le pont (on the bridge), quick alternation between arco and pizzicato articulation, and double and triple-stopping. The penultimate variation features an unaccompanied cadenza of considerable bravura playing, an indication that Elman might have indulged in the larger Paganini oeuvre had he so chosen.
The Mendelssohn Concerto from Chicago (8 March 1947) under Belgian master and former violinist Desiree Defauw (1885-1960) moves with considerable vitality in the opening movement, Allegro appassionato—more so than I recall when having heard Elman live at Lewisohn Stadium around 1963 under Alfredo Antonini.  Elman negotiates Mendelssohn’s musical periods with clean facility, the phrases arched and poignant, never drooping with false sentiment. The intensity and thoughtful pacing of the first movement cadenza approximates what we might have expected in an unaccompanied Bach partita. Good bassoon transition to the romantic Andante in C, pure Elman territory for tender affection. Elman milks the phrases a bit much for my taste, but we can see why he reigned in the popular style that did not demand an overly intellectual approach. No delay, and we enter the razzle-dazzle of the Allegro molto vivace, the concerto’s “fiddler’s” movement. Elman quite meets the demands of its knotty articulation and whirlwind filigree without problems, calling no attention to anything except the sheer and acrobatic line that he and Defauw execute with seamless abandon. The Chicago Symphony sound, by the way, carries every nuance with verve and decisive authority in this fine restoration.
—Gary Lemco

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