> Primrose and Spalding: Mozart, Casadesus, Brahms GEMMCD9045 []: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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William PRIMROSE and Albert SPALDING
Henri CASADESUS attrib HANDEL Concerto in B Minor
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Sinfonia Concertante
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Sonata No 2 in E Flat Major
William Primrose (viola)
Albert Spalding (violin) (Mozart only)
Chamber Orchestra conducted by Walter Goehr (Casadesus only)
New Friends of Music Orchestra conducted by Fritz Stiedry (Mozart only)
Gerald Moore (piano) (Brahms only)
Recorded between 1937 and 1941
PEARL GEMM CD 9045 [63.43] Midprice


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William Primrose is here represented by three works - putatively at least – from different eras. The Casadesus was for many years attributed to Handel and is a waggish and enjoyable forgery along the lines of his Bach concerto, supposedly high-Baroque in its appeal. The Sinfonia Concertante is Mozart’s greatest string concerto and a high point of Classical literature whilst the Brahms is a romantic masterpiece.

Moreover these performances date from 1937-41, which is to say from the time of Primrose’s joining Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra as co-principal (he was always particular about this – he was never principal) having recently left the viola chair of the temporarily disbanded London String Quartet. As such they represent the relatively early Primrose, different both tonally and in matters of tensile strength from the performer who was to become so well known as the colleague of Heifetz and Piatigorsky.

In Casadesus’s jolly piece we can hear Primrose’s excellent articulation; in the Andante we can also hear the much under-rated Walter Goehr marshalling his chamber forces to good effect – most noticeably the woodwind. The finale is nicely pointed and humorous – though surely not the Allegro molto energico as marked. His great predecessor, Lionel Tertis, would never have been so circumspect.

In fact it was Tertis, with his colleagues Sammons and Hamilton Harty and the LPO, who had made the first recording of the Sinfonia Concertante against which this Spalding-Primrose-Stiedry performance was for many years judged. It is a real pity that such poor copies have been used in this issue and that the scratch that bedevils the entire concerto has not been dealt with. The original discs are not so rare that a clean set could not have been found. There is also a truly horrible side join at 8.42 in the first movement that cripples momentum. We can also hear Primrose splitting a note at 3.02 in this movement and listen to Albert Spalding’s famously electric trill, and a degree of orchestral clarity, if not always tidiness. Listen, nevertheless, to the well brought out horn writing and the way Fritz Stiedry – another under rated conductor – shapes the movement. The cadenza is especially well played. In the Andante we can especially hear the great classicist Spalding’s clarity of articulation and tonal shading. Does he speed up after the side change at 3.30? There’s a palpable tempo increase. 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 far better than Sammons and Tertis whose massive rallentando is an exercise in Edwardian piety and it is interesting to hear Spalding very slightly lengthen his note values. Orchestral counterpoint is nicely achieved by Stiedry. Whilst 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 an interminable wallow – and also that his and Spalding’s techniques are perhaps more fluent and their concept more streamlined I find this performance emotionally less intense than the Sammons-Tertis-Harty, for all its faults, and less enjoyable.

The Brahms Sonata recording with Gerald Moore is the most well known of the three recordings on this disc and the best. Though Primrose was later to re-record it with Rudolf Firkusny that was a faster and less obviously affectionate performance, notwithstanding the unambiguous excellent of both musicians. With Moore an ever understanding and sympathetic partner the Andante con moto is especially beautiful and the work is suffused with Primrose’s exercise of tonal shading and his well-chosen tempi. A performance to savour.

With the limitations as noted above then this is a good conspectus of the pre-Heifetz Primrose.

Jonathan Woolf

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