> William Primrose [RB]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johannes BRAHMS

Viola Sonata No. 1 [20.49]
Primrose/William Kapell (piano)
rec 5 July 1946, Victor
Viola Sonata No. 2 [18.47]
Primrose/Gerald Moore (piano)
rec Sept 1937, HMV

Elegy, Waltz and Toccata [15.18]
Primrose/Vladimir Sokoloff (piano)
rec 22 May 1945, Victor

Soliloquy and Dance [12.38]
Primrose/Johana Harris (piano)
rec 12 Jan 1942, Victor

Praeludium and Allegro in the style of Pugnani

Primrose/Franz Rupp (piano)
rec 14 Aug 1941, Victor
William Primrose (viola)
PEARL GEMM CD 9253 [73.04]


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If Pearl has a mission beyond the need to survive in the intensely competitive small market for historical recordings it must be to present a facsimile of the ideal shellac listening experience. Declicked but otherwise unfiltered the deep groove whiskery burble soon sinks out of conscious hearing. The best filtering if we are not to lose something of ambience or tone is the filter the mind brings to bear. In the case of this disc the light crackle is in any event discreet - barely discernible.

The Brahms pairing surprises with the presence of the fabled American pianist Kapell killed at the age of 31 in a plane crash and with the lieder pianist Gerald Moore (he also recorded the Rubbra Second Sonata with Sammons). In both sonatas Primrose is warmth and vigour personified. There is no blurring of phrasing and while this accent on punctuation and 'breathing' can, in other hands, seem over-emphatic or stilted, Primrose's approach and tone remains clear, humorous and virile. I cannot imagine Brahmsians being disappointed. In fact he strikes me as a sort of counterpart of Isaac Stern in his Sony recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto.

The Benjamin work starts with a disenchanted and disenchanting macabre little elegy. Benjamin's sound world owes more than a modicum to Prokofiev (cf First Violin Concerto). What I wouldn't give to hear this work in its orchestral finery preferably with Primrose or alternatively with Frederick Riddle (who gave the UK premiere in Manchester with Barbirolli). This work is coeval with the Symphony and both date from the late Second World War. They share a seriousness and a tragic turmoil and serenity. Primrose is always spick and span and attacks notes with a belligerent bow when required. The work is also known as the Viola Sonata and in orchestral dress as the Viola Concerto.

Roy Harris is another symphonist but whereas Benjamin produced only one, Harris wrote fourteen. The Harris Soliloquy and Dance was issued by Victor with the Benjamin (Benjamin 11-9210-; Harris 11-9212-3). Dance was as much a sympathetic mode of expression to Harris as it was to Creston and, in his earlier works, Piston. The components of the diptych are of practically equal length. The faltering soliloquy seems to speak for the modest crestfallen man and the plangent piano writing (articulated by the composer's wife) calls up echoes with the Third Symphony. The Dance capers and ambles along with sidelong glances at the oft-sniffed at Folksong Symphony (No. 4).

The Kreisler-faked Pugnani piece is Bach-like and could easily have been adapted from some lost movement from the four orchestral suites or the violin concertos. It is highly entertaining - just as much as the oboe and orchestra adaptations made by Arthur Benjamin and so much in currency at Evelyn Rothwell concerts.

The notes are by Tully Potter who is in his usual fine form though I would have wished for more specifics on the works as well as the artists. In the case of Benjamin and Harris it is quite plausible that this disc will be of interest for the composer content.

Primrose was born in Glasgow on 23 August 1904 and died in Provo, Utah on 1 May 1982. His artistry is fairly represented here but we should remember that he commissioned concertos from Bartok, Milhaud (No. 2), Rubbra and Fricker.

The transfers have been well handled by Roger Beardsley who has been favoured with what seems to be mint condition source material ... or perhaps this is a tribute to Mr Beardsley's engineering artistry.

Rob Barnett

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