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William Primrose (viola)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Cello Suite No. 1 in G arr Primrose
Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor arr Primrose
Cello Suite No. 3 in C arr Primrose
Cello Suite No. 4 in E flat arr Primrose
Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor arr Primrose
Niccolo PAGANINI (1782-1840)

Caprice No. 5
Caprice No. 13
Caprice No. 17 *
La Campanella *
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Ave Maria +
Litanei <
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

None But The Lonely Heart ^
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)

Liebesfreud
TRADITIONAL

Londonderry Air +
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Komm, süsser Tod <
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Geistliches Sehnsucht >
Geistliches Wiegenlied >
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)

Elegie >
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

In stiller nacht >
Antonín DVORAK (1841-1904)

Humoresque #
Ethelbert NEVIN (1862-1901)

The Rosary #
William Primrose (viola) with
Harry Isaacs (piano) *
Sidonie Goossens (harp)
Unidentified pianist ^
Vernon de Tar (organ) <
Marian Anderson (contralto) and Franz Rupp (piano) >
Victor Symphony Orchestra/Charles O’Connell #
Rec. 1934–41; the Bach Suites are previously unpublished and were recorded in Aug 1978
BIDDULPH LAB 131/2 [2CDs: 145.03]


This well filled double cannily brings us Primrose’s famous first viola discs and the last, previously unpublished arrangements of the Bach Cello Suites made when the violist was nearing seventy five and had been long since retired. The long gap between the two and the intervening ailments that beset Primrose are rather dramatically highlit but it’s of profound documentary value to have made his perception of the Bach works available and for this we should be grateful.

The earliest discs here, from 1934-35 find Primrose still the violist of the world-travelling London String Quartet and shortly before he became co-principal viola of Toscanini’s NBC Orchestra. They’ve long since entered folklore and Biddulph’s transfers compare well with the competition on Pearl. Coupled with them are the Sidonie Goossens accompanied sweetmeats and the opportunity to hear his plangent middle register in the Tchaikovsky. The Vernon de Tar organ accompanied sides date from October 1945, with the Glaswegian now firmly settled in America. They’re not rare but they are slightly awkward to collect and haven’t much been reissued so it’s good that they’re here, even if this first disc does prove rather a peculiar piece of programming. Admirers can, even in this lighter fare, still have cause to admire the exceptional range of colours Primrose can extract from the noble seriousness of Komm, süsser Tod.

There is also the exemplary balance of the Marian Anderson sides – four of them – that were recorded back in 1941. The highlights are the Brahms of course, superbly eloquent; the Massenet is not properly enunciated and the Rachmaninov is rather generically sung. If you want soupy orchestration Charles O’Connell is your man; he piles glucose upon glucose in the Dvořák and Nevin and Primrose does his best. As David Dalton’s notes relate it was something of a heroic effort for Primrose to have recorded the five Bach suites (he balked at No. 6, in D major, finding it unsuited to the viola). He had suffered a progressively debilitating hearing loss and this made playing in tune exceptionally difficult so during the sessions Dalton would correct Primrose’s score with ascending or descending arrows to demonstrate where the violist had played out of tune. Primrose recorded the Bach at Brigham Young University where he was a distinguished teacher for many years – additionally he’d sold his Guarneri and played a modern Japanese violin. There are still remarkable things about his playing; its agility and technical strength and fluidity – try the Courante of the First Suite for example or the Allemande of the Fifth, in C minor. Equally the nobility and grandeur he brought to the Sarabande of the D minor is a distillation of many years’ profound study and absorption of these works. He can reveal a rich introspection – as in the Sarabande of the C minor – or the drive in the Bourées of the E flat. But equally it can hardly be argued that this is still the tonal and technical marvel of the earlier years. The tone has withered, the intonation, despite his and Dalton’s valiant efforts, is frequently approximate and what one preserves from listening to it is the sense of a carapace of a great performance, the idealised perfection that Primrose could have produced say thirty years before.

Given this caveat and the miscellaneous nature of the rest of the disc this is more a collector’s or a specialist’s release than one for the general listener. But production values are high and much here is currently unavailable.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 



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