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Artur Balsam - Concerto Album
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 8 in C major, K. 246 (1776) [23.04] 1,a
Piano Concerto No. 13 in C Major, K. 415 [387b] (1782) [24.56] 2,b
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto in D Major, Op. 61a (1807) – arrangement of Violin Concerto in D major (1806) [42.07] 1,c
Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 85 (1815) [27.15] 1,d
C.P.E. BACH (1714-1788)
Piano Concerto in D minor H427 [Wq23] (1748) [23.24] 1,e
Artur Balsam (piano)
Winterthur Symphony Orchestra 1
Concert Hall Symphony Orchestra 2
Conductors: Walter Goehr a, Henry Swoboda b, Clemens Dahinden c, Otto Ackermann d, Victor Desarzens e
rec. c1950-52
BRIDGE 9196 A/B [65.24 + 75.52]

Admirers of the excellent Artur Balsam have long been aware of the many concerto recordings he made for Concert Hall Society in the early 1950s. The wider world will however remember him best for his collaborations with elite string players, either as sonata partner - Milstein and Francescatti among them - or as chamber collaborator of the Budapest Quartet, a number of whose live performances have been published by Bridge itself.
Sixteen Balsam concerto performances were recorded by Concert Hall, eight of which were Mozart concerti. Here we have two early Mozarts, a C P E Bach, the Hummel A minor, and the 1807 arrangement for piano of the Beethoven Violin Concerto.
Balsam plays Mozart’s C major Concerto K246 with deftness of phrasing truly pleasurable to hear. Those qualities that made him so esteemed a chamber collaborator held him in good stead for the exchanges with section principals and for the selfless realisation of the solo part – not for nothing was Balsam known for his studying of full scores of the works he played, not just his own part. The noble visits to the minor in the first movement have suitable gravity and those little pre-figurings of Hummel are saliently brought forth. He is no less impressive in the companion concerto in the same key, K415.  Buoyant and affectionate this performance reinforces his suitability for this kind of repertoire. Swoboda encourages some very rich and romantic string phrasing in the slow movement and together he and Balsam conjure an introspective feel to the finale, laden with significance, and highly effective.
Hummel’s A minor Concerto, as with all these works, was rare on disc at the time. Our increased familiarity with repertoire such as this shouldn’t divert us from appreciation of these pioneering recordings. That in itself is not necessarily reason enough to recommend this two CD set – but happily performances such as this have a sparkle and an élan that still makes them of interest. It was also something of a favourite with Balsam. He certainly catches the distinctly vocalised curve of the writing, characterising its intermittently martial moments and pellucid lyricism with equal aplomb. Phrasing is of patrician elevation, with the quasi-operatic moments of the finale despatched with fluidity and the more knotty passagework easily surmounted.
C.P.E. Bach’s Concerto features a harpsichord and a rousingly large band. Important as a catalystic figure his D minor concerto is especially effective in its setting up of orchestral weight and solo limpidity in the slow movement. The finale has intimations of Mozart – very fluent and clever writing and for most people in the early 1950s a complete novelty on disc. Beethoven’s Concerto was a discographic first – at least I’m not aware of an earlier recording of this reworking. Incidentally Balsam  substituted on this recording for another pianist on two days’ notice. Not only that but he rewrote the cadenzas. His singing tone and commanding control of the rhetoric of the cadenzas – extensive and timpani-accompanied in the opening movement - are reminders of his notable musicianship. The finale has great lift and aeration, splendid drive and surety; those trills are infectious, the pianistic curlicues of elegant precision..
Transferred from LP we do find some problems. The original sound was somewhat muddy and occluded. But Bridge’s transfers do also preserve LP rumble, which you will clearly hear in the Mozart C major, K. 246. One will have to accept Concert Hall’s 1950s instrumental spotlighting and in the Beethoven some signal overload but to me some of Bridge’s restoration work could and should have dealt with the rumble. Other than that however we have a successful entrant into the field – first class notes as well.
Jonathan Woolf    


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