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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Trio No. 3 in F minor Op. 65 B130 (1882) [35:18] ¹
Piano Quartet in E flat major Op. 87 B162 (1889) [33:38] ²
Romantische Stücke Op. 75 B150 (1887) [7:28] ³
Ernst CHAUSSON (1855-1899)

Concerto in D major for violin, piano and string quartet Op.21 (1891) [37:20] º
Louis Kaufman (violin) Artur Balsam (piano) and Marcel Cervera (cello) ¹
Artur Balsam (piano), Peter Rybar (violin) Oskar Kromer (viola) and Antonio Tusa (cello) ²
Louis Kaufman (violin) and Artur Balsam (piano) ³
Louis Kaufman (violin) and Artur Balsam (piano) with the Pascal String Quartet º
rec. c.1949-52
BRIDGE 9225 [69:42 + 45:31]



The two musicians who lend their names to this disc’s title are Artur Balsam and Louis Kaufman. Balsam has been heavily promoted by Bridge, not least in his role as accompanist to the string elite, and other companies have captured his artistry as well. Kaufman’s discs have been reissued by a number of companies but there is still an awfully long way to go before this charismatic player’s discography has been fully mined.

Bridge reminds us that the recordings here were all made for Concert Hall – though weren’t the Romantic Pieces on Capitol? Some of them certainly appeared under licence. My copy of the F minor Trio for instance appeared on a ten inch Classics Club. And many years later Masters of the Bow brought out the Romantic Pieces in one of their LPs devoted to the violinist. And while we’re on the subject of Bridge restorations and reclamations perhaps they can be persuaded to dig deeper into the vaults to give us some of the following Kaufman recordings, none previously transferred to CD so far as I know (some Japanese issues tend to escape me hence my caution); sonatas by Franck, Delius No.1 (fruity performance), Bloch, Hindemith No.2, Ravel (with Balsam and also on Concert Hall), a vibrant Respighi, and the Stravinsky Duo Concertante. Then there’s Smetana’s Trio in G with van der Berg and Firkušný - has Vox reissued this?

That’s the plea for what remains missing so now a few words about what we actually have. Those Romantic Pieces reveal Kaufman in all his powerfully singing and expressive commitment. The tone is bewitchingly intense, tone colours are vibrant almost to the point of being lurid; the extrovert masculinity is powerfully focused and sweepingly active. The Fourth is somewhat over-vibrated at least in relation to the previous three and one could, with reason, find this kind of performance overdone and alien. I admire it for all that I find it too intense. The Trio receives a similarly full blooded and fluently fast performance. Cellist Marcel Cervera has rather a nasal tone, which doesn’t make matters of string tone easy on the ear, but the vibrancy of Kaufman’s contribution can’t be denied. The luscious portamenti and period expressive devices are constant in the slow movement, allied to which Kaufman’s vibrato takes on increasingly juicy power. This isn’t the most neat and tidy performance and this isn’t the most sympathetically recorded performance either but it does capture a laudable ensemble musician in the shape of Balsam anchoring his two string colleagues in a rather tonally unbalanced traversal.

The E flat major Quartet witnesses some more inequalities. This is the only piece without Kaufman. Instead we have Peter Ryba with Balsam, joined by violist Oskar Kromer and cellist Antonio Tusa. The latter two are apt to phrase a touch woodenly and there is a lack of optimum tonal consonance, finely though the splendid Rybar plays. It’s Balsam who strikes most sparks here and he proves a galvanising partner. There’s a bad edit at 3:30 in the scherzo about which Bridge could do little. But they could here, and elsewhere, have cleaned up the pops and clicks that are far too numerous for comfort.

The remaining work is non-Dvořák and is the hothouse Chausson Concerto. It wasn’t well recorded and imparted a certain thinness to the string tone. Kaufman, though, is gloriously over-heated and the quivering nervousness he imparted so often, works very much to the advantage of the ensemble. Balsam shares as big or indeed – like the Franck Violin sonata – an even bigger musical burden. My quibbles centre on Kaufman’s salon-leaning tastes in the Sicilienne, and the occasionally untamed tone of the Pascal Quartet (as recorded). Once again it’s by no means a tidy performance – but it is big, bold, and vibrant.

Bridge used to be rather more scrupulous about recording matters than of late. The fact that all these recordings were made for Concert Hall is acknowledged in the booklet notes but there are no issue numbers or approximate dates of recording given. I’d put them at 1949-52. As for the transfers Bridge has done well with the Romantic Pieces; the sound is very much more forward than on the LP transfer mentioned above but as a by-product it has imparted a slightly razory tone to Kaufman’s playing. The same is also true of the Trio – forward but a touch brittle; and these were hardly the most advanced recordings of their age in the first place. Regarding the transfers though, my main complaint centres on the false economy of not cleaning pops and ticks.

Otherwise Kaufman and Balsam admirers will find much on which to feast.

Jonathan Woolf




 


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