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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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www.arbiter.com

Huberman. Concert and recital recordings
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin Concerto in D Op. 61 (1806)
Sonata No. 9 in A Op. 47 Kreutzer (1803) – First and Third movements
Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884)

From the Homeland T128 (1880)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland
Bronislaw Huberman (violin) with
The National Orchestral Association conducted by Leon Barzin, recorded New York 1944 (Beethoven Concerto)
Ignaz Friedman (piano) in the Kreutzer Sonata – previously unissued takes of the commercial recording made in London in 1930
Boris Roubakine (piano) in Smetana and Bach, recorded c.1942
ARBITER 115 [69.06]

The second volume devoted to Huberman in Arbiter’s engrossing series includes a substantial first release. The 1944 Beethoven Concerto dates from his sixty-second year and shortly preceded his early death – he died in 1947 aged sixty-five. It must now also take its place alongside the decade earlier commercial Columbia recording with George Szell conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra as a means by which to judge Huberman’s classicist credentials, with the increased frisson of a live performance. Huberman’s oratorical grandeur and his philosophical depth are shown in all their richness and animation in this dramatic traversal. His dry tone, unwarmed by continuous vibrato usage, is both an anachronism in matters of twentieth century tonal development and also, ironically, a beacon for and presage of contemporary iconoclasts as, for example, Gidon Kremer.

Huberman’s broken octave entry is a locus classicus of his expressive style; it’s quick and intensely dramatic but tonally it is to modern ears inconsistent, with a bleaching effect caused by on/off vibrato usage. Nevertheless the powerful current of his articulacy is best measured by noting where the weight of his vibrato intensification falls, by analysing the phrasal rise and fall, its lyric phraseology. His lower two strings are especially unwarmed and this contributes to some of the passagework sounding – to coin a word of William Primrose’s – "scratchy" (an adherent of Ysaye and subsequent embracer of the Russian school such as Primrose would never have countenanced the anachronisms that Huberman so self-evidently displayed). Huberman’s portamenti are prominent but intensely expressive when employed – and in doing so he sometimes employs a portamento with an audible intermediate note, just one of several portamenti an elite player can employ. He plays the Joachim cadenza with tremendous drive and drama. The horns aren’t ideally secure in the opening of the second movement – in the same way that the oboe and winds had made their idiosyncratic weight felt in the opening movement. But Huberman is secure in terms of intonation and his profile here is seraphic albeit whilst the metrical flexibility is intense there are still signs of slightly forced or italicised phrasing. It is noteworthy how expressive his playing can be without resorting to ostentatiously overt vibrato usage. Barzin and Huberman launch the finale with real theatrical bravado. If the violinist’s vibrance is decidedly limited he dances and spins over the bars with decided brilliance and if the cadenza is not entirely secure and there remains a lack of opulent potential and colouristic projection, he lacks nothing in drive and punch. I must admit that his dead sound can be off-putting – the pre-Kreislerian aesthetic was much more austere and steely – but that his conception is intensely involving and my objections and criticisms are generally subsumed into musical admiration.

The two movements from the Kreutzer Sonata are unpublished takes from the commercial London recording of 1930. I’ve always found his huge downward portamenti in the opening of the first movement to be as intensely provocative, as part of a musical argument, as the rather austerely snatched phrasing. His passagework positively crackles and Friedman is a worthily combustible partner, both men in regally driving form; the reappearance of that immodest portamento at the end of the movement is part and parcel of Huberman’s expressive symmetry. The differences however between this and the published take are minimal as is the case in the finale of the sonata, where Friedman’s bass pointing makes itself exquisitely apparent. The Smetana suffers from some acetate wear but as a performance is full of affectionate drive and not heated artificially at the climax as it all too often can be – an additional pleasure is that he never recorded it commercially. The Bach is incomplete unfortunately – he’d recorded it commercially for Columbia in 1935 – but was a favourite Chorale Prelude of Huberman’s and he plays it with rapt devotion if again with idiosyncratic tonal resources.

Once again this is a release of considerable distinction. Huberman was an endlessly fascinating, endlessly provocative violinist and his legacy’s expansion in the past few things has been a source of admiration and excitement to his still legion of admirers amongst whom, even doubtfully, I register myself.

Jonathan Woolf



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