This is the final
instalment in a three CD conspectus - available singly
- of the very first complete survey of the Beethoven violin
sonatas on long-playing discs. I reviewed
other two discs in October 2008.
For the task American
Decca selected the doughty Artur Balsam (1906-1994) alongside
Joseph Fuchs (1899-1997). Balsam worked with Milstein,
Menuhin, Goldberg, Francescatti and Szigeti. Polish-born,
he studied in Lodz and later made a career in Berlin until
the rise of the National Socialists compelled a move to
the USA. Fuchs’ longevity encompassed activity well outside
the established classical canon. He premiered Nicolai Lopatnikoff’s
Violin Concerto in 1944-45 with the NBCSO conducted by
Frank Black. A Ford Foundation grant enabled him to commission
Piston’s Second Violin Concerto and in 1960 premiered it
with the NYPO and Bernstein. He also gave first performances
of concertos by Ben Weber and Mario Peragallo as well as
the revised Vaughan Williams violin sonata with Balsam.
Fuchs was concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra until
1940 when he felt the call of a solo career.
Turning to the present
CD I should note that there is occasional hastiness in
the passagework of the opening of No.8. Otherwise it receives
a reading of admirable linearity and directness. It’s rather ‘modern’ sounding
playing. The Kreutzer
is spick and span, decisive
and taut, albeit there are one of two misplaced rubati.
Overall it’s robust, masculine playing, fluid and trenchant
in the central movement as well, where trills are very
fast; occasional portamenti as well. Clean and unmannered
though it is, occasionally it sounds rather impersonal.
The final sonata finds Balsam playing more inwardly than
Fuchs where we find a very slight air of calculation to
his phrasing. Again though it’s admirably clean and clear-eyed
playing characterised by instrumental finesse, a good sense
of tempo contrast and fine ensemble. The results can however
sound rather sleek. This is coupled with vintage American
mono lending a honed and even strident keenness to the
tone of Fuchs’ instrument.