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Lionel Tertis – The Complete Columbia Recordings 1924-1933
BIDDULPH 80216-2
[4 CDs: 79.39 + 70.55 + 76.04 + 79.27]
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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Chaconne (Partita n° 2, BWV 1004) [14.15]
Aria "Come Sweet Death" (Cantata BWV 191 / Arr. L. Tertis) - two versions [2.53 + 2.31]
Adagio from Toccata in C major (Arr. L. Tertis) [2.38]
Nicola PORPORA (1686-1768)
Air [2.30]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Hornpipe (From Much Ado About Nothing, op. 11 [1.46]
Ernö von DOHNANYI (1877-1960)
Sonata for violin and piano in C sharp minor op. 21 [16.03]
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)
Fugue en D (Arr. F. Kreisler) [3.13]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Nacht und Träume (Lied), D827 (Arr. L. Tertis) [2.55]
Andante and Allegro moderato from the Sonatina n° 3 [7.26]
Du bist die Ruh' (Lied), D.776 (Arr. L. Tertis) [3.07]
Joseph SULZER (1850-1926)
Sarabande (Air on the G string) for violin/violoncello and piano, op. 8 [2.39]
Antonin DVORAK (1841-1904)
Slavonic Dance No.1 in G minor (Arr. F. Kreisler) [2.51]
Songs My Mother Taught Me [Gypsy Songs op. 55 (Arr. Walter)] [2.25]
Anton Stépanovitch ARENSKY (1861-1906)
Berceuse (Arr. L. Tertis) [3.33]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
La Gitana [2.40]
Preludium and Allegro [4.27]
Gabriel FAURE (1845-1924)
Après un rêve (Arr. L. Tertis) [2.30]
Ernest GUIRAUD (1837-1892)
Mélodrame [3.07]
William WOLSTENHOLME (1865-1931)
Canzona [2.18]
Allegretto The Answer [6.25]
Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)
Cherry Ripe [2.40]
Georg Friedrich HANDEL (1685-1759)
Sonata in F (Adagio and Allegro / Arr. L. Tertis) [5.51]
Passacaglia from Keyboard Suite No.7 (Arr. Halvorsen) [7.23] *
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata in A (Allegro molto - Thème and variations / Arr. L. Tertis) [6.56]
Trio in E K.542 (Allegro – incomplete and Andante) [10.04] *
Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major K.364 [29.55] *
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Thème and Variations (Arr. L. Tertis) [6.19]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
On Wings of Song (Lied, op. 34 / Arr. L. Tertis) [2.35]
Romance n° 1 Sweet Remembrance 19 n° 1 "Doux souvenir" (Arr. L. Tertis) [2.23]
Romance Fleecy Cloud op. 53 n° 2 (Arr. L. Tertis) [2.31]
Romance op. 62 n° 5 "Gondola Song" (Arr. L. Tertis) [3.14]
Duetto (Arr. L. Tertis) [3.19]
Trio n° 2 in C minor op. 66 [28.35] *
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)
Mélodie en f (Arr. L. Tertis) [2.40]
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
A Pleading (Arr. L. Tertis) [2.41]
Chanson sans paroles (Arr. F. Kreisler) [2.12]
Chanson triste (Arr. L. Tertis) [2.31]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Liebestraum (Arr. L. Tertis) [3.55]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Minnelied (Arr. L. Tertis) [2.17]
Sonata n° 1 in F minor op. 120 n° 1 [30.36]
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Sonata for viola and piano [19.53]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Sonata for violin and piano n° 2 (Arr. L. Tertis) [11.32]
Serenade from Hassan [2.47]
Giuseppe SAMMARTINI (1695-1750)
Sonata in E (Allegretto) [0.38]
Lionel TERTIS (1876-1975)
Hier au soir [3.05]
Three Sketches : N° 1 Sérénade - N° 2 The blackbirds - N° 3 The River [7.40]
TRADITIONAL (arr. L. Tertis)
Old Irish Air – two versions [3.39 + 2.32]
Londonderry Air [3.15]
Complainte [2.21]
Old German Love Song [2.42]
Lionel Tertis (viola)
William Murdoch (piano), Arnold Bax (piano), George Reeves (piano), Ethel Hobday (piano), Harriet Cohen (piano) and anonymous pianist
Albert Sammons (violin) *
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Hamilton Harty (Sinfonia Concertante)

This is a veritable Feast of Tertis. And the appearance of this four-disc set is a cause of celebration for admirers of the indomitable violist in its comprehensive collection of all his Columbia discs – and, unannounced on the cover, the single issued side of his 1947 HMV session. Praise be, we also get full matrix and issue numbers as well – vital for this kind of thing, but which Biddulph is strangely reluctant to present in its other issues.

Let’s simply survey what we have; a lot of morceaux, it’s true, but amongst them some big sonatas. There’s the Tertis-arranged Dohnányi C sharp minor, recorded in November 1925 with Bendigo-born William Murdoch and the Bach Chaconne from 1924. Adding ballast to the second disc is the Bax, from a 1929 session and famously unreleased at the time; Tertis’s pupil Harry Danks kept the test pressings and they were originally issued on Pearl. There are also sonatas by Mozart and Handel in this second disc. The third of the set gives us Delius’s Second Sonata in the Tertis arrangement and the Brahms F minor, similarly arranged. And the fourth disc sports one masterpiece after another; the Mendelssohn C minor Trio, the Sinfonia Concertante, and the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia – not to mention the bonus of a previously unissued performance by the Chamber Music Players (Sammons, Tertis, Murdoch) of part of a 1929 recording of Mozart’s Trio in E, K542. The first disc also houses a previously unreleased piece by Korngold.

So what we have here, in effect, is the most important body of recordings made by the most important violist of the first half of the twentieth century. A few words may be in order to direct your interest. The Bach Chaconne was one of the two most important recordings of the piece made in the 1920s – the other was by Isolde Menges. It has a heroic and vibrant intensity and notwithstanding the fact that Tertis may subsequently have come to regret some portamenti they were part of his emotive arsenal and are deployed with loving passion. Malcolm Sargent turns up as accompanist in the 1925 Bach Come, Sweet Death/Porpora Aria disc – this was a full decade before he and Tertis (and most of the orchestral musicians in Britain) came to blows over some unusually fatuous remarks the conductor made about giving one’s "life’s blood" working in symphony orchestras.

Happily we can distract ourselves first with the Korngold Hornpipe from Much Ado About Nothing – only 1.46 but that’s unpublished 1.46. It sports a very curious matrix number – T 1709 4a. We can also listen to the Dohnányi – a very valuable thing, this, as it was last around on Claremont, the South African label. Listen to the passionate, declamatory sweep, the elastic rhythmic sense – and marvel at the very finely recorded piano and the exemplary balance between Tertis and Murdoch. Lest one thinks Tertis a master simply of huge tone, luscious portamenti, continuous Kreisler vibrato and outsize romanticised gesture try his own composition, Hier au soir – it’s truly delicate with finely reduced dynamics.

Amongst the other smaller things in this first disc is the Elman favourite, Sulzer’s Sarabande, an apt choice for Tertis, himself the son of a Cantor, from whom he always claimed he derived his sense of legato. He essays some pieces by his accepted hero, Kreisler but his Fauré Après un rêve is too loud and fast.

The second disc is notable for his Handel and Mozart sonatas and for the Bax, which makes a striking conversation piece for those who wish to contrast this performance, with the composer at the piano, with William Primrose’s 1937 set, which featured Bax’s mistress, pianist Harriet Cohen. Tertis’s own Three Sketches stretched over two discs and they couldn’t have sold that well because they’re not so easy to come across these days. They were rather hollowly recorded for June 1927 but these late Romantic, very late nineteenth century pieces are charmers. As with many contemporary performances of the Londonderry Air, Tertis doesn’t hang about.

Disc Three opens with the Delius Sonata. This had already been recorded for Columbia by its dedicatee Albert Sammons with Evlyn Howard Jones at the piano in a late acoustic, so Columbia must have relished the opportunity to issue a Tertis-arranged electric five years later. Clearly things didn’t go smoothly. Sammons and Howard Jones had already been into the studios to set down their recording of the First Delius sonata – never issued because May Harrison and Arnold Bax had beaten them to it for HMV - and Tertis duly joined the pianist a week or so later for their recording of the Second. Now Howard Jones may have been a friend of Delius’ and a first call Delius sonata partner for Sammons but he had a mind of his own. Tertis was equally capable of causing a scene and whatever transpired the recording was scrapped and Tertis returned three days later trailing the excellent but doubtless more emollient pianist George Reeves. The results were a success but I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when Tertis and Howard Jones got going – if that’s what they did.

Disc Three also houses the fabulously masculine Kreisler Preludium and Allegro – muscular and vivid – and a very warmly aerated Liebestraum. His friend, the blind organist Wolstenholme is well represented and there are some remakes as well; the Old Irish Air of 1930 replaced the earlier December 1925 version and 1928’s Londonderry Air was swiftly replaced by a 1930 version and both are here, as is the 1947 HMV Bach Come, Sweet Death. The Brahms F minor with Harriet Cohen shows him in all his masculine finery, huge tone and lavish portamenti, and will remind aficionados that Tertis had recorded this sonata with Ethel Hobday on an acoustic Vocalion set. It is a matter of lasting regret that the other Brahms sonata recording, with Solomon in 1947, remains unissued; parts of it apparently survive but a torso only. Some of the sides on disc three show that Columbia was at a bit of a loss to know what to do with Tertis – two discs featured him with a lamentable salon band and his Dvořák Songs My Mother Taught Me is probably the nadir of this session.

The last disc hosts that Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia, probably the most heroically conceived solo violin-viola disc ever recorded; Sammons and Tertis are incomparable here. They and Arnold Bax had gone into the Columbia studios in May 1929 and the string players warmed up with this before Tertis and Bax got down to the composer’s sonata. The Mendelssohn Trio is anchored by the splendid Murdoch, with the two string players pouring forth golden tone throughout, oscillating between assertion and expressive floating of sound; wonderfully fluent and intensely dramatic in the finale. The previously unpublished Mozart Trio is a superb survival. Although Tertis and Sammons had made a cut version of this for Vocalion with another pianist, it shows that Murdoch was the most classically oriented of the three and that Tertis and Sammons continued to vest the most romanticised of spirits on Mozart’s muse; no portamento was spurned but the effect is one of (albeit highly romanticised) intimacy and affecting directness. The same is true of the famous Sinfonia Concertante recording, the first on record and made in 1933. Tempi are elastic, portamenti pervasive, rallentandi constant; but above all there is a dialogue between the two string players of ravishing tonal complexity and expressive directness. Leaving aside the notorious Hellmesberger cadenza what remains imperishable here is the sound of two great string players communing together in producing a performance of intensity and buoyancy; very much of its time of course but unforgettably so. I can confirm one thing; Tertis slightly splits a note in his final ascending run in the finale but in the second, unissued take, he doesn’t. It goes to show that when it came to the spirit of the music over the letter of the law, a musician like Tertis would let split notes go hang.

Tully Potter has put together a good article in the booklet, amending some of the details he has previously published and adding some useful matters of performance and dating. I am less happy with the transfers, which are uniformly over processed. In every case where I can make a comparison – Sinfonia Concertante on Naxos and an earlier Biddulph, Bax and Brahms on Pearl, the Passacaglia and Mendelssohn Trio on the previous Biddulph disc, the results favour the other discs. This is especially galling in the case of LAB023 which Biddulph itself produced using Jon Samuels’s transfers of the Sinfonia, Passacaglia and Mendelssohn Trio. Apart from the annoying matter of a clipped opening piano note in the Trio this earlier disc is much to be preferred. The same applies when I tested my own copies of the 78s with David Hermann’s transfers, which are allergic to any shellac crackle. In fairness this is a widespread aversion and Hermann is by no means alone so some will welcome the smoothed down, treble dampened sound. Obviously I don’t, and can’t. But with this caveat I should note that you will have to hunt far and wide to assemble a collection such as this and you will have to have a Goldring Lenco GL75 – or similar – to play the 78s on, because you will find that most of the smaller pieces have never been reissued, either on LP or on CD.

Given the comprehensive nature of this collection the next plea is for Tertis’s Vocalions to be transferred. These have been shamefully treated. If you have any interest in Tod Boyd, Benjamin Dale’s Romance, Brahms with Ethel Hobday, Dunhill’s Trio with Sammons and Frank St Leger (later a supremo at the Met), a Fuchs Duet with Sammons, Grieg’s Third Sonata with Hobday, Ireland’s Holy Boy, John McEwen’s Breath o’ June, two Mozart trios, an abridged Schubert D898 Trio, and much, much else, then I suggest you lobby Biddulph. And if anyone has the cylinder recordings that Tertis always claimed he made around 1900 perhaps he could give me a call.

Jonathan Woolf




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