> Mischa Elman - Jubilee Album [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Mischa Elman (1891-1967)
Jubilee Album
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)

Anton ARENSKY (1861-1906)

Robert SCHUAMNN (1810-1856)

Prophet Bird arr Auer
Cesar CUI (1835-1918)
Riccardo DRIGO (1846-1930)

Valse Bluette arr Auer
Pablo SARASATE (1844-1908)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Ave Maria arr Wilhelmj
Antonin DVORAK (1841-1904)
Humoresque arr Wilhelmj
Joseph SULZER (1850-1926)
Francois Joseph GOSSEC (1734-1829)

Gavotte arr Elman
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturne in E Flat Op 9 No2 arr Sarasate
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Minuet in G arr Burmester
Peter I TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1903)
Mélodie Op 42 No 3
Mischa Elman, violin
Joseph Seiger, piano
Recorded 1959


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Mischa Elman signed a contract with Vanguard that led to six LP recordings during the last decade of his life. One of the fruits was an intriguing Khachaturian Concerto in Vienna and a remake of the Mendelssohn as well as a series of vignette albums of which this is one of the most enjoyable and affecting. As with almost all of the violinist’s post-War recordings there is evidence – sometimes considerable evidence – of slackening of both tonal fire and tempos. Though famed for his leisurely approach to the repertoire the increasingly languid speeds attest to the inevitable digital failings of old age. In this 1959 selection however there are still many felicities to admire that lent Elman’s art such distinction over so many years. Listen to the spicy finger position changes in the Massenet for instance or to the emotive intensifications of the Arensky. There is some audacious rubato in Traumerei but also some drooping at phrase endings that I find less than sympathetic though I admire the considerable reserves of phrasal sensitivity on which he relies to negotiate this repertoire. In Drigo’s evergreen Valse Bluette he is rather solidly and implacably earthbound, with a thinning tone and an ossifying tempo. Sulzer’s Sarabande however was a great favourite of Elman’s - and also of Golden Age Violinists in general – and we can hear in his playing the still living remnants of the fervour of his lower strings as he brings an intense involvement to the work. Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen is a less than successful traversal. He is guilty of some strange accenting and rhythmic displacements, as if wanting to escape routine phraseology. The performance is almost arthritically slow and disjunctive with an absence of the requisite fire and brimstone necessary in this of all works. There is something about the performance that seems, albeit constrained by Elman’s known limitations and deficiencies, animated by a spirit of nose thumbing, as if the violinist were poking fun at the speed merchants who routinely dispatch Sarasate with almost contemptuous aplomb. Whatever the reason this is a seriously poor performance.

Many of Elman’s finest qualities exist alongside the worst in Schubert’s Ave Maria and Dvořák’s Humoresque provides an opportunity to admire Joseph Seiger, Elman’s loyal and excellent accompanist of many years, and one who once resisted what he took to be a malicious poaching ploy by Elman’s despised one-time rival, Jascha Heifetz. Seiger is felicitously and sympathetically skittish here – with staccato accents which tend to distract from his violinist partner’s more erratic and idiosyncratic phrasal ploys. Chopin’s Nocturne gives us Elman’s practised finger slides – but at such a slow and ponderous tempo that the work bloats itself like a whale beached on the shore. Elman still has some pungent things to say in Schumann’s Prophet Bird but for all his fervour here, as elsewhere, it’s inevitable that one chooses instead to remember the violinistic titan whose incendiary tone inspired two generations of violinists and enchanted countless admirers around the world.

The Vanguard re-issues have been effected with care and skill, using 24-bit digital high definition, retaining the original sleeve design. Whatever cavils there are to be made regarding Elman’s playing Vanguard couldn’t have done much better to perpetuate their valuable series of discs and to keep alive the last recordings of a mould breaking musician.

Jonathan Woolf

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