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Lionel Tertis – The Complete Vocalion Recordings (1919-1924)
Alfredo D’AMBROSIO (1897-1983)
Petit Suite No. 2 [2:27]
Aubade Rêverie – Morceaux Op.17  [3.24]
William WOLSTENHOLME (1865-1931)
The Answer [3:25]; Allegretto [3:05]; The Question [3:33]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Air on G String – Suite No.3 in D BWV 1068 [3:21] 
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
La Chasse in the style of Cartier [1:52]; La précieuse in the style of Couperin [3:09]; Tambourin chinois [3:24]; Chanson Louis XIII and Pavane in the style of Couperin [3:09]; Praeludium and Allegro in the style of Pugnani [3:51]; Rondino on a theme by Beethoven [2:58]
John MCEWEN (1868-1948)
Breath o’ June [3.57]
Benjamin DALE (1885-1943)
Suite in D Op.2 – Romance (1906) [4:34] 
Londonderry Air arranged Lionel Tertis [2:50]; Molly on the Shore arranged Percy Grainger [3:11]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Après un rêve  - Chansons Op.7 (1878) [2:51] 
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1884)
Melody in F – Melodies Op.3 (1852) [3.16] 
Benjamin GODARD (1849-1895) Berceuse de Jocelyn (1888) [4:35]; Duettini Op. 18/1 “Souvenir de Champagne” [2:55]; Duettini Op. 18/5 “Minuit” [2:16]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Abendlied [2:53] 
Thomas DUNHILL (1877-1946)
Phantasy Trio (1912) [5:51] 
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Trio in E-flat, K. 498 (1786) [12:34]; Trio in E, K. 542 (1788) [11:36]; Trio in G K564 (1788) [12:09] 
Tod BOYD (d.1946)
Samoan Lullaby [2.34]
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Le basque – Livre IV for viola da gamba and continuo (1717) [1:04]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Berceuse [3:00]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Chanson triste – Morceaux Op.40 No.2 (1878) [2:42]; Romance sans paroles [2:38]; None But the Lonely Heart – Songs Op.6 (1869) [2:30]
Francis THOMÉ (1850-1909)
Sous la feuillée Op.29 [2:45]
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1686-1759)
Passacaglia from Keyboard Suite No 7 arranged by Johann Halvorsen [3:45]; Sonata No.8 – Sonatas Op.1 No.8 (c.1731) [7:04] 
Robert FUCHS (1847-1927)
Duet for Violin and Viola Op.60 (1898) [3:59]
Benjamin LEROUX
Le Nil [3:44]
Henri DUPARC (1848-1933)
Extase [2:46]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Trio in B flat D898 (1828) [15:51]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Spring Song - Songs without Words Op.62 No.6 (1842) [2:36]
Les rêves Op.7 (1878) [2:56]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Élégie Op.24 [4:08]
Pyotr Ilych TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Barcarolle – The Seasons Op.37a (1875-76) [3:37]
Élégie [3:34]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Ave Maria – Seven Songs No.6 D839 [3:44]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
I Love Thee [3.04]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
On Wings of Song – Songs Op.34 No.2 (1834) [3:05]
Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Bagatelles Op.47 (1880): 1 Allegretto scherzando [3:57]; 2:  Tempo di minuetto [3:39]; 3:  Allegretto scherzando [3:36]; 5:  Poco Allegro [3:59]
Lionel TERTIS (1876-1975)
Rêverie [4:03]; Sunset [2:50]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Liebestraum No.3 in A flat [3:58]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Slumber Song [3.26]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Sweet Remembrance - Songs without Words No.19 No.1 [2:08]; The Fleecy Cloud Songs without Words No.20 The Fleecy Cloud (1838) [2:52]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Sonata in C minor Op.45 [22:17]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Adagietto –L’Arlésienne Suite No.1 [3:16]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
The Holy Boy [3:29]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) 
Viola Sonata No.1 in F Op.120 (1894) [20:11]
Lionel Tertis (viola)
Albert Sammons (violin); Ethel Hobday (piano); Frank St. Leger (piano); F.B.Kiddle (piano); Zoia Rosovsky (soprano)
rec. London, 1919-24
BIDDULPH 80219-2 [4 CDs: 74:00 + 72:27 + 63:53 + 71:16]

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This seals it for the Tertis collector. I’d been wondering aloud in reviews when someone would get to grips with his acoustic Vocalions and here they are. This, allied to the complete electrics, also on Biddulph, and John White’s imminent book means that times have never been better for admirers of the pioneering British violist.

These are some of the earliest examples of a comprehensive body of chamber music, recorded by established forces. The trios are performed by two thirds of the Chamber Music Players trio. The pianist here is Frank St. Leger, later a supremo at the Met in New York, but here a versatile collaborator at the keyboard. Tertis and Sammons’s usual colleague, William Murdoch, didn’t join his string colleagues when they signed for Vocalion, remaining loyal to Columbia instead. And the trios are all subject to the usual abridgments as was the inevitable corollary of acoustic recording – and we shouldn’t be so censorious of this when, even today, I see that Bowen’s Viola Concerto, a work dedicated to and first performed by Tertis himself, has just been recorded badly cut. 

The Mozart trios, obviously in Tertis’s own viola transcriptions, are notable for Sammons’s singing lyricism and masculine expression and for the well-established balance between the two three. St. Leger is more the classicist anchoring the two romanticists. Portamenti are lavish and pervasive, vibrati well matched, the pungent wit of the finale of K542 – a work they were to return to electrically – charmingly realised.  Their Schubert is songfully lyric, what remains of it that is, even though naturally things such as the slow movement can’t help but feel rushed. The Dvořák Bagatelles offer some unusual repertoire for the time; still more so the drastically cut Dunhill trio. This was something Tertis had premiered with Marjorie Hayward and the composer in 1912 so this 1920 recording, whilst naturally representing only a partial view of it, does still show two things – firstly the kind of repertoire Tertis proselytised and secondly the adventurous spirit of Vocalion, when it was in the mood. No other company dared to essay the Quartets of Elgar, Kreisler and Waldo Warner at around this time, all entrusted to the London String Quartet and all duly issued by Vocalion.

The second CD gives us a good mix of sonatas, duos and obbligato work. The Handel-Halvorsen prefigures the later Columbia electric that Sammons and Tertis made, the most heroic solo violin-viola record ever made. This one is cut and features some hilarious tempo doubling. Fans of the two string players may recall the incident when they played together at a wartime soiree in front of such illustrious guests as Ivor Novello and Somerset Maugham. As the bombs fell in the distance Sammons and Tertis ignored all expression marks, played all repeats, and at triple forte, until the bombing raid passed. We have outstanding tonal blend between the two in the Fuchs duet, and grand expression in the Handel.

The Grieg Sonata was one of many that Tertis transcribed. Here the pianist is Ethel Hobday, wife of the gifted Alfred Hobday, Tertis’s great predecessor as holder of the title of Britain’s leading violist. Ethel Hobday was also Sammons’s mother in law, he having married the formidable Olive. Rugged but expressive and with room for dynamic variance this is an important document of Tertis’s playing. Yes, the registral change in the finale always strikes me as deeply unconvincing, but this is bold, manly, moustache-bristling playing, excellently anchored by Hobday, an elite player. Their Brahms Sonata is no less so and actually preferable to Tertis’s later electric recording with the uneven Harriet Cohen. The massively declamatory finale is perhaps the high point, even more so than the inward cultivation of the sonata’s expressive heart. The second disc ends with what are the most difficult to find of Tertis’s Vocalions, the obbligato sides he made with Zoia Rosovsky. She had a certain cachet at the time though you’d be hard pressed to find anyone now who knows the name. Together they made three sides. Even Biddulph has apparently been sent a dub of Leroux’s Le Nil, so tricky is it to trace. She has a big mezzo tinge and is most convincing in the Duparc. Tertis is well balanced against the voice, thankfully.

Discs three and four give us encore and solo fodder and some of Tertis’s most dashing performances. Some he was later to remake – like the Kreisler Praeludium and Allegro, still surely one of the most gallant and stunning viola discs on record – whilst others remain only in these acoustic discs. The constantly alive vibrato is ever evident, the rich portamenti too. His Fauré Elegie has a Casals-like nobility, though as ever his Après un rêve is too loud and unvaried. One of my favourites is his recording of his friend Kreisler’s Chanson Louis XIII  with its gracefulness and charm. Smaller things such as the Thomé Sous la feuillee are done with passionate commitment though the Mendelssohn Songs without Words have a wonderfully burnished simplicity. All of these sides deserve repeated rehearing; they all offer revelatory experiences.        

The booklet features a well-produced picture of a Vocalion record label, a less well produced one of Sammons, a regrettably fuzzy and unreadable reproduction of a full page advertisement from Musical America, and a photograph of a Royal Academy of Music Sight-Singing Prize awarded to Tertis, which I think I saw advertised on eBay not so long ago.

There is full discographic information and interesting, if I think in the main somewhat speculative, recording dates. I’m not sure that, in the absence of the recording ledgers (which are lost), one can date them with this degree of accuracy but the dates do seem plausible to me. A small discographic point; Tertis always claimed that one of his own favourites among his recordings was Kreisler’s La Chasse. Checking an on-line discography of the violist – I noticed that this was issued in two takes recorded under the same issue number, a common enough practice, but that the sessions were separated by as much as a year, something I’d never been aware of. For those of a collecting bent it’s heard here in the more commonly encountered take, 02112.

And so to the transfers. I wasn’t so pleased with David Hermann’s work on the complete Columbias for Biddulph. Here he’s had a trickier job. But I still remain unconvinced. Listening to my 78s – I have all these recordings bar the three Rosovsky sides – I find that whilst the notorious Vocalion scratch has been well attended to the upper frequencies are once again the direct casualty. This compresses the sound. There is audible room ambience in these Vocalions when listened to through sympathetic playback but none comes through on these transfers. There is more ambience and timbral variety in these discs than you will find in these transfers of them.

Still, I don’t want to end carping. Less than ideal though they may be, you will still find a huge amount to admire in the performances. And Biddulph’s commitment to restoring all Tertis’s commercial discs to the catalogue has been immense. To them goes the credit. Should they come across other scraps of Tertis’s playing we would be in their debt if they released a supplementary volume. There’s a live broadcast of Walthew’s Mosaics doing the rounds. There may be an as yet unidentified Tertis cylinder – he said he made one. I’d wager it was on Clarion or Sterling but who knows? Then there’s the Bach Double Concerto that he and Sammons recorded in Tertis’s own arrangement for violin and viola; it was never released by Vocalion and the company went on to record d’Aranyi and Fachiri in the authentic version. Until then this set remains a cornerstone collection.

Jonathan Woolf


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