> The Art of Misch Elman [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Mischa Elman

The Art of Mischa Elman
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)

Slavonic Rhapsody
La Precieuse
Peter I TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Russian Dance Op 40 No 10
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

La plus que lente
Christopher Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)

William KROLL (1901-1980)

Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960)

From San Domingo
Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884)

From My Homeland No 2
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)


Airs Tziganes
Mischa Elman, violin
Joseph Seiger, piano
Recorded New York 1966

Mischa Elman enjoyed some triumphs during 1966. He had been his usual spirited and combustible self in interviews, lambasting ugly concert halls, academic violin playing and cosy relationships between record companies, soloists and orchestras who sought to promote their own interests. But critics, who once routinely scoffed at the supposedly dinosauric posturing of the seventy-six year old veteran, now tempered their strictures with a wistful admiration; his baroque and classical stylistic impulses may be unacceptable but there was, to them, a nobility that coursed through his playing still. An era in which it mattered much less what was played than who was playing it, was coming to an end.

In October that year Elman went to the Vanguard studios in New York, with his accompanist of fifteen years, Joseph Seiger, to make what proved to be his last recordings. It was a successor to his Jubilee Album, which had been something of a success. He recorded ten pieces from his repertoire, in the main a wide-ranging selection of late Romantic and twentieth century pieces, variously lissom, ethereal, full of panache and virtuosity. In truth though, Elmanís fires had slacked long before. His left hand had ceased to be as mobile as it once had been, causing ruptures rhythmically and causing his interpretations, never the fleetest anyway, to slow inordinately as a result. His right arm, once one of the wonders of the violinistic world, was also simply incapable of reproducing the miracles of his youth when, for a brief period, no more than a decade, he had been one of the worldís indisputably stellar musicians.

In the Kreisler confection on DvořŠkís themes, the Slavonic Fantasie, the fatally slackening left hand and the diminishment of his tonal lustre, that once volcanic throb, are all too prominently audible. There are however things still to savour, along with the inevitable signs of violinistic and motoric decay. He is subtle and manages to maintain a reasonable line in the Debussy whilst in the Gluck, arranged by Ries, though there is some thinning tone, occasionally strained, it is so romantically and vocally phrased, so expressive and with such a characteristically quick and unmistakable Elman slide, that itís worth listening to his playing simply to apprehend the use to which he puts melodic contours. In the Smetana he simply canít compete with younger, faster, more virtuosic violinists. Itís slow and laboured and though affectionate the lyric intensity he would, forty years earlier, have vested in the piece is pretty much gone. In the Faure there is nothing of Thibaudís fleetness and eroticism, nothing of the Frenchmanís suavity either; Elman is much more stolid, taking an inordinate amount of time to spin the Berceuse to a conclusion. In Kreislerís La Precieuse there are some quirky slides and rather heavily emphatic playing and in the Espejo, though engaging, we can hear the slackening of the violinistís lower strings.

The LP was issued in the spring of 1967, posthumously. Elman has passed into violinistic history but not, thankfully, discographic history. One could hardly recommend this CD reissue for its intrinsic virtues. Itís a study in decline, the Last Testament of a once great individualist. But to those who appreciate such things and can listen beyond the frailties there is still a compelling nobility of utterance to his playing and we can hear haunting the disc the ghostly patina of his youthful genius.

Jonathan Woolf


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