Simeon Bellison will be remembered by many as the principal clarinettist
of the New York Philharmonic-Symphony, to which role he was appointed
in 1920. He held the position for nearly thirty years, finally
resigning in 1948. He’d been born in Moscow in 1883 and became
first clarinet in the St. Petersburg Imperial Opera orchestra
in 1915, later starting a Zionist-sponsored ensemble with which
he toured internationally before leaving Russia for the United
States. He played chamber music extensively and taught and wrote
many arrangements – and it is these that form the spine of this
characterful disc devoted to him.
In terms of his discs I particularly remember
the 78s of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet K581 that Bellison recorded.
But he recorded smaller things too and fortunately Summit Records
has chosen to open this disc with a couple of examples of Bellison
himself. The Beethoven variations on Don Giovanni show his wit
as well as his legato. We can appreciate his timbre and colouristic
sense as well from the arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Autumn Song.
Both these (undated) recordings are accompanied by Julius Chajes.
The rest of the disc is devoted to Bellison
arrangements and/or to pieces strongly associated. It’s good
to hear Grzegorz Fitelberg’s music, modest though these two
Chassidic pieces may be. Far better known now as a conductor
he did compose quite extensively. Weinberg’s two Chassidic dances
are equally compact but they’re wittily played and there are
some fine dynamic nuances at work in the Canzonetta. Srul
Glick was active as a composer in Canada and his Suite Hebraic
is warmly lyric. Alexander Krejn has received intermittent attention
from record companies, mainly for his violin music. Bellison
was a frequent interpreter of his music. The Three Hebraic Sketches
are performed by clarinet and string quartet and emerge as very
warmly moulded pieces. The central movement has some animating
pizzicatos and a Chassidic clarinet-led declamation whilst the
finale is in looser rather folkloric style alternating with
more formal clarinet quintet textures.
The remainder of the programme ranges principally
over the clarinettist’s Russian roots. There are plenty of opportunities
for virtuosic flourishes – such as the Pugni – and there’s a
Hausmusik example in the shape of the clarinet and guitar arrangement
of the Schubert. The ultimate arranger, Brian Head, plays guitar.
We end with a mass clarinet choir recording of Bellison’s arrangement
of the Air on the G string, as it’s now never known – probably
rightly in this context.
Kalman Bloch is the father of Michele Zukovsky
and they are the soloists, aided by their fine collaborating
colleagues. Recording locations and dates are not noted in the
fold-open booklet. All performances are thoroughly idiomatic,
engaging and vital.