OF THE MONTH
Dvorak Opera Premiere
- see end of review
Ruth Posselt: American Violinist Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Baal Shem (1923) [15:26]
Ruth Posselt (violin, all)
Florida State Chamber Orchestra/Richard
Burgin, recorded live October 1967 Edward Burlingame
Violin Concerto Op.38 (1933 revised 1934 and 1937) [23:16]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Serge Koussevitzky, recorded
live at the world premiere, Boston Symphony Hall, November
1938 Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Violin Sonata in E [9:52] Heitor VILLA-LOBOS(1887-1959)
Première Sonate-Fantasie [8:37] Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Five Melodies Opus 35b (1925) [12:53] Enrique Fernandez
Tango Op.6 No.3 [8:23]
Allan Sly (piano) from the Album of Twentieth Century
Violin Music Academy LP Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Violin Concerto in D minor (1940) [37:00]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Richard Burgin, recorded live at Boston Symphony Hall,
October 1955 Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Violin Concerto (1939) [29:42]
Harvard-Radcliff Orchestra/Russell Stanger, recorded live
March 1951 Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D major Op.35 (1878) [34:52]
Springfield Symphony Orchestra/Richard Burgin, recorded live May 1944 Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Violin Concerto Op.14 (1939) [25:22]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Richard Burgin, recorded live April 1962
Interview Excerpt with Ruth Posselt at Florida State University,
April 1969 [6:12] WEST HILL RADIO ARCHIVES WHRA6016 [3 CDs: 78:42
+ 72:56 + 60:28]
Posselt was born in Massachusetts in 1911. She made her
debut in Boston at the age of six, afterwards studying
with Emmanuel Ondricek, the Czech teacher. Her recital
debuts at Carnegie Hall and Symphony Hall, Boston were
followed by a concerto debut in 1928 under Walter Damrosch
playing the Tchaikovsky. Studies were completed in Paris
with Thibaud and she gave frequent tours throughout Europe
and America in the 1930s. Boston though was her home and
her husband was Richard Burgin, famed concertmaster and
latterly assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony. Her
last European tour was in 1949 and thereafter she confined
her activities – playing and teaching - to her native soil.
Ruth Posselt died in February 2007 in Florida.
recorded though not extensively which makes this three-disc
memorial edition from West Hill Radio Archives so valuable.
With the exception of the piano-accompanied set with Allan
Sly, originally issued on the Album of Twentieth Century
Violin Music Academy LP, all the items are live archive
Bloch is in rather muffly sound for 1967 but this straightforward,
unemotive reading – with a few discreet portamentos – will
do nicely. The centrepiece of the first disc is the world
premiere of Edward Burlingame Hill’s Concerto with the
Boston Symphony and Koussevitzky in 1938. It’s a clean-limbed
work, lyrical with brassy climaxes and some slow evocative-luscious
sections; approachable, sweetly lyric in the slow movement
with a certain late Impressionistic impress. There are
some cod baroque feints in the finale. Posselt plays immaculately
throughout. The commercial recording with Sly is contained
in this first disc. Posselt was an avowed advocate of Hindemith
and he reciprocated the admiration; the Sonata in E may
be recorded boxily, as all these sides were, but it reveals
her unflappable intellectual instincts and refined playing.
The Villa Lobos unfortunately blasts a bit in fortes but
no matter – we can hear her range of tone colours even
despite this. Her Prokofiev is modest but the Arbos Tango – rare
stuff – was one of her signature pieces and this, along
with the Prokofiev, was played at her funeral.
second disc starts with the Khachaturian Concerto in a
performance given with the Boston Symphony and Burgin in
1955. We can hear her husky tone at its more warmly communicative
in the second subject of the first movement. Throughout
in fact she plays with vital, energising, technically eloquent
control. It’s true that her vibrato can be rather one-dimensional
but compensation comes from her razor sharp reflexes. The
companion concerto is Hindemith’s. As could be anticipated
from her performance of the E minor sonata she is effortlessly
attuned to Hindemith’s vocabulary. The Harvard-Radcliff
orchestra is conducted by Russell Stanger in 1951. She
has the work thoroughly under her fingers by now, having “stolen” it
from her husband, Burgin, the man who had given the work
its American premiere in April 1940. Posselt was Hindemith’s
leading violin exponent in America and she played his concerto
regularly, the last time in 1971. Purity and eloquence
are the hallmarks of her playing, not showy tonal breadth.
the 1969 interview contained in the second disc, which
is six minutes in length, Posselt talks principally about
the works and composers with which she has been most associated.
She gave the first performance, it’s sometimes forgotten,
of Copland’s Violin Sonata with the composer as pianist
and of Piston’s First Concerto, which was also dedicated
to her. When she says she gave the first performance of
the Barber, a traversal of which is on disc three, I assume
she means the revised 1949 version or the first Boston
first played the Tchaikovsky at that concerto debut in
1928 and she played it thirty times during her career.
Burgin is once again on the rostrum conducting the Springfield
Symphony Orchestra in wartime. It does hang fire in places
and once or twice Posselt’s intonation frays but the slow
movement is expressively played, her finger position changes
subtle and attractive. The end of the finale is a bit messy
but the audience is explosively enthusiastic. Finally there
is the Barber. She had given the first Boston performance
in 1941, the year after Spalding had premiered it. She
also premiered the revised version in January 1949 with
Koussevitzky in Boston. In terms of tempo she sides more
with Louis Kaufman than Isaac Stern – the former quite
slow in the first movement, the latter brisk. I prefer
the Stern approach as it affords more contrast between
the first two movements. But this is an affectionately
moulded and highly sympathetic, warmly contoured reading.
Throughout her affinity is rock solid, her vibrato broadening
triumphantly in the second movement. The finale is vivacious.
A really splendid performance from an exceptional exponent
of the American violin school.
is the kind of set I admire and the dedication involved
in its compilation and presentation should not be underestimated.
There are helpful biographical and performance details
and fine photographs. Posselt was an important figure in
America’s music-making life and if she never quite reached
the ranks of the elite the works written for her, or promoted
or premiered by her, were, as this set shows, hardly insignificant.
She was a splendid, proselytising musician and this salute
will be welcomed by her admirers everywhere.
Woolf Note At time of publication of this review, the
availability of this disc was very limited. Crotchet usually
sells this label, so if you are interested, you should
check with them.
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