Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Efrem Zimbalist
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Romance in G Op. 40 (c1802)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor Op. 108 (1886-88)
Jenö HUBAY (1858-1937)

Der Zephyr [Blumenleben Op. 30 No. 6]
Eugène YSAYE (1858-1931)

Sonata No. 1 in G minor for unaccompanied violin Op. 27/1 (1923)
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)

Carmen Fantasia Op. 25 (? 1883)
Zigeunerweisen Op. 20 (1878)
Zapateado Op. 23 No. 2 (1878-82)
Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)

After Sundown [No. 2 from the Tallahassee Suite Op. 73] (1910)
Efrem ZIMBALIST (1889-1985)

Improvisation on a Japanese tune
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)

Efrem Zimbalist (violin) with
Japanese Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra/Nicolai Schiferblatt (Beethoven Romance), and variously Harry Kaufman, Emanuel Bay and Theodore Saidenberg (piano)
Recorded 1928-39
PEARL GEM 0032 [79.30]


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Once lauded as one of the Holy Trinity of Auer students (along with Heifetz and Elman) Carl Flesch was already sniping at him in the 1920s and 1930s, asserting that Toscha Seidel more properly deserved Zimbalist’s place. Indeed listening to Seidel’s hot blooded and vivacious (if intellectually erratic) playing is in almost grotesque distinction to Zimbalist’s patrician nobility, exemplified by his sometimes woefully slow vibrato. Seidel imbued morceaux with coruscatingly intense life; Zimbalist varnished them with jewelled aloofness. The latter however could do with some CDs to his name as befits his importance and this Pearl intelligently collates his most important recordings – the Brahms and Ysaye, the only long length commercial discs he recorded, with the exception of the famous 1915 Bach Double Concerto with Kreisler. It also includes some of the Japanese sides he made – he was exceptionally popular there.

The disc starts with his pristine phrasing in the Beethoven Romance, a performance somewhat vitiated by the galumphing basses of the Japanese radio orchestra. But it’s the next two items on which Zimbalist’s meagre heavyweight sonata reputation rests. The Brahms (recorded in 1930) receives a pliant and noble reading. Unaggressive in the opening Allegro, with Kaufman blending well with Zimbalist, whose little subtle rhythmic nuances are of the greatest interest. We can also immediately hear his violinistic ethos, his musical-tonal aesthetic, which is analogous to another Auer pupil, Kathleen Parlow. Neither radiates provocatively irradiating tonal allure and Zimbalist tends to value lyric generosity over romantic passion. His ardour, such as it is, is essentially introspective and one that abjures theatrical flourish. His slow vibrato is occasionally warmed by expressive power but, in the main, reflection and a steady architectural surety are his aims. Of course, as with almost all violinists, he lavishes greater intensity and colour in the Adagio, calibrated well, affectionate and aristocratic. His third movement is well characterised – if the vibrato were faster he might be able to vest it with quicker wit – though again lacking flourish. The finale has intellectual clarity and control in profusion, some quick finger position changes and even though both Zimbalist and Kaufman could be more athletic it’s a successful performance on its own terms – those of clarity and refinement and a cool, sometimes dispassionate, objectivity.

The Ysaye Solo Sonata No. 1 in G was dedicated to Szigeti and its opening recalls Bach’s Sonata in the same key (a favourite warm up piece of his). The Grave is, in Zimbalist’s hands, affecting without becoming emotive. He doesn’t dig into the G string and vibrance is limited but his technical equipment is fine – some brilliant bowing and left hand pizzicato all negotiated with nonchalance but not indifference. There’s some swish on the 78 used with does intrude somewhat. If the Fugato isn’t projected with quite enough drama he phrases the Allegretto with dancing blitheness and excellent rhythm (albeit slow vibrato in the lower strings especially). His Hubay Zephyr opens like the clappers – what kind of wind was blowing in the studio that day in August 1928? – but thankfully he slows down. His trill is excellent, harmonics tremendous and he doesn’t make an expressive meal of the contrastive material – he has other architectural fish to fry. Those wanting a bit of swash and buckle will have to look elsewhere.

He recorded quite a bit of Sarasate but frankly Sarasate was not his composer. He is athletic, technically excellent – bravura bowing and gorgeous trills (Zimbalist was a formidable technician as we have repeatedly seen) but the slow vibrato limits both tension and theatrical projection and without them Sarasate loses impact. The playing is pellucid but lacks titillating colour, personalisation and, in the end, flair. He promoted Cyril Scott, as did Heifetz and Kreisler, and plays After Sundown from the Tallahassee Suite of 1910 with a sweet lyricism entirely in keeping with Zimbalist’s own aesthetic preoccupations. His own Japanese confection demonstrates just how big a draw he was in that country and his Kreisler is an attractive end to this recital.

Notes are by well-known collector Lawrence Holdridge who also made the judicious selection and the cover artwork is the famous and gorgeously sepia tinted photo of the violinist listening, fiddle and bow in hand, to a recording on the cabinet gramophone. The Ysaye isn’t so easy to come across these days and the Brahms has only been intermittently in the catalogue so, whatever Carl Flesch may have thought, I strongly recommend acquaintance with Zimbalist’s nobility and eloquence of expression in this fine and splendidly transferred disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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