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Albert Spalding. The Great Violinists Volume XIII
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)

Sonata in G minor Devil’s Trill
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Sonata in E flat No 28 K380 (1781)
Sinfonia Concertante in E flat K364 (1779)
Louis SPOHR (1784-1859)

Violin Concerto No 8 in A minor Op 47 Gesangsszene (1816)
Albert Spalding (violin) with
André Benoist (piano) in the Tartini and Mozart Sonatas
New Friends of Music Orchestra/Fritz Stiedry (Sinfonia Concertante)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy (Spohr)
Recorded 1936-38
SYMPOSIUM SYMPCD1291 [79.02]


AVAILABILITY

www.symposiumrecords.co.uk

From the death of Maud Powell in 1919 to the rise of the young Menuhin the leading American violinist was courtly Albert Spalding. Though he had faced domestic competition in the early days from such as Francis Macmillen and from the slightly younger Auer pupil, Eddie Brown, to name but two, it was Spalding by virtue of his consistently impressive concerto and sonata performances who lasted the pace. Later the émigré Russians and Europeans took an increasingly large share of popularity and esteem but Spalding still managed to retain an important place in American musical sympathies and his selfless and patriotic behaviour in both world wars endeared him to many, no less than his cast iron sense of responsibility and duty in musical spheres (witness his noble, last minute salvaging of the premiere of the Barber Concerto for one).

Spalding recorded heavily for Edison and Brunswick and after the Second War for Remington. But some of his best recordings were made for Victor and it’s to these that Symposium has turned in this compilation, a nicely balanced set of two sonatas and two concerti. It’s a notably well-chosen selection because the Spohr and Sinfonia Concertante are two of Spalding’s finest recordings, the Tartini showcases his impressive classicist credentials and the Mozart has, so far as I’m aware, never been re-released in any form since its 78 issue. The Sinfonia Concertante with Primrose was the second recording of the work after Sammons, Tertis and Harty in 1933. We can really appreciate the elegance, precision and stylistic acumen of Spalding here. He had a famously electric trill, fully in evidence, and behind him there’s a degree of orchestral clarity, if not always tidiness In the Andante one can hear the great classicist Spalding’s clarity of articulation and tonal shading. There is much distinguished playing from both soloists though arguably nothing quite so deeply moving as that achieved in their different way by Sammons and Tertis. In the buoyant finale Spalding and Primrose observe the stylistic niceties rather better than Sammons and Tertis whose massive rallentando will not be to all tastes and it is interesting to hear Spalding very slightly lengthen his note values. This is a fine recording and it is unarguably the case that this is the finest of Primrose’s recordings of the Concertante – his recording with Heifetz was an unseemly dash and that with Stern and Casals a turgid wallow. The Sinfonia Concertante has certainly made appearances on CD; I’ve reviewed a Pearl disc under William Primrose’s name but the Symposium is by far the better transfer, the Pearl being afflicted by constant scratch.

The Spohr was recorded by Heifetz and Kulenkampff as well as by Spalding but it’s the American’s traversal that has always seemed the most impressively generous in toto. Forthright and eloquent, expressive and firmly focused he spins a most persuasive line, his pellucid tone taking on ever more weight of vibrato usage in the slow movement. His expressive swellings never break emotive limits and the vibrant playing of the finale’s fugal passage and his succulent little finger intensifications illuminate and irradiate the finale; he’s excellent in alt as well. Collectors should know that the Spohr is contained on Biddulph 054 but, again, I prefer the Symposium transfer. The sound is more open here and there was a slight gauze over the Biddulph, which certainly didn’t reflect the excellence of the original recording.

The Tartini is a locus classicus of his very classical instincts and Spalding was invariably at his best in such works. His fast vibrato, concentrated core tone and buoyant expressive musicality are all on show, as are his prominent portamanti and no nonsense sense of direction (not for him Váša Příhoda’s romanticised intimacies in this work). A Classical Record ACR 42 was devoted to Spalding and contained as well as the Tartini, sonatas by Handel (No 6), Franck and Brahms’ No 2. There’s slightly more surface noise on Symposium’s transfer of the Tartini but also a mite more presence as well. Spalding admirers, needless to say, will nevertheless find ARC42 a mandatory purchase for those hard-to-find sonata recordings. So to the Mozart Sonata, again with his long-standing sonata accompanist André Benoist. (It’s a mark of both Spalding and Benoist’s cultural sophistication that both wrote fine autobiographies; Spalding’s contains a magnetically intimate analysis of what a soloist feels as he is about to embark on the opening broken octave entry of the Beethoven Concerto). They catch the wit, the litheness and affecting lyricism at the Sonata’s heart with unforced simplicity.

The notes are by Tully Potter and they are rightly admiring of Spalding as a man, though maybe implying his, in the end, lesser standing in the great ranking list of violinists. Maybe so, but this is a portrait of a serious and generous musician "in the round" and I found it an admirable tribute to a distinguished musician.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 



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