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Leonard Rose (cello)
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor Op.33 +
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)

Schelomo +
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Variations on a Rococo Theme Op.33 *
Jules MASENET (1842-1912)

Elégie #

Sing me to sleep #
Leonard Rose (cello) with
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/Dmitri Mitropoulos +
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/George Szell *
Gladys Swarthout (mezzo soprano) and Gibner King (piano) #
Recorded 1949-52
BIDDULPH 80209-2 [67.20]


Rose was the doyen of American cellists. Readers may well be aware of his solo stereo recordings in the 1960s in which he re-recorded some of the literature he’d earlier set down in mono, and they may also have caught the last recordings – I think especially of the Brahms Cello Sonatas disc recorded in 1982. But by general consent Rose’s finest discographic achievements as a soloist came in those late 1940s to mid-1950s recordings of which Biddulph gives us an apt selection, complete with the inclusion of the hard to find Swarthout sides, originally released I believe on a 45rpm single.

If the Brahms Double and Beethoven Triple Concertos gained some of the widest exposure on disc for him – alongside the later Stern-Rose-Istomin trio records - he was very much at home with a wide range of repertoire. A pupil of the demanding, sarcastic Felix Salmond at Curtis, Rose joined the NBC Symphony led by Toscanini (for whom, in his writings, he never hid his personal antipathy) in 1938, moving to the Cleveland a year later and then following the man who’d appointed him, Rodzinski, back to New York to lead the cellos of the Philharmonic. He stayed eight years and then pursued a solo career. That we should have much more of Rose from the 1950s is doubtless a reflection of economics and the ruthless natural selection instincts of recording companies who preferred the French school – Tortelier, Navarra, Fournier – or the emergent post War Russians. But Rose was a player of the most admirable musical instincts and accomplishment and these early examples show him at his considerable best.

The Saint-Saëns is fluent and fluid though capable of refined lyricism, reaching a peak in the cantabile playing of the third movement, where subtle changes in bow weight and distribution illumine the playing with a painterly eye. An interesting – though incomplete – comparison can be made with Rose’s slightly earlier self; a fragment of a 1946 live recording with anonymous forces has survived and is on an invaluable Pearl double CD. As indeed one can makes comparisons between the 1952 Tchaikovsky and a piano accompanied 1947 Town Hall Concert (with Irving Owen) where he is, not unsurprisingly, quicker than with Szell, whose precise chording, and whose witty and virtuosic conducting are an equal pleasure. Bloch’s Schelomo was a Feuerman speciality and his 1940 Stokowski led recording was a powerful achievement. Rose is more ruminative and ostensibly serious than Feuerman’s rapier incision and the former’s expressive diminuendi are touching and moving. Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic mine quite a bit of colour but the 1951 recording doesn’t catch them in so richly focused sound, nor is Rose’s tone as emphatically centred as his great contemporary’s. The two Swarthout items are certainly collector’s items; I don’t know how long they stayed in the catalogues but it can’t have been long. Though she was only 49 she sounds a mite matronly in the Massenet but there’s rarity value in these two items.

The transfers, which I take to derive from commercial LP and 45rpm discs haven’t entirely dealt with some inherent problems. There’s some LP rumble (in the Bloch) and some steely, rather unattractive sound along the way. The Saint-Saëns does also sound rather cramped and constricted acoustically. But Rose emerges unhindered by such relative limitations. It’s good to have these sides back in business.

Jonathan Woolf

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