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CD & Download: Pristine Classical

Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Schelomo – Hebraic Rhapsody (1916) [19:51]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Don Quixote Op. 35 (1897) [38:11]
Emanuel Feuermann (cello)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski (Bloch), Eugene Ormandy
rec. 1940, mono
Experience Classicsonline

You don’t need me to recommend this to you, only to consider matters of transfer quality. With Ormandy at the tiller for the Strauss - wherein we find Samuel Lifschey, solo viola, and Alexander Hilsberg the concertmaster -  things were never going to go wrong. The acerbic, supercilious Feuermann may not have been anyone’s idea of an ideal dinner guest – any more than Heifetz was – but we’re here to discuss musicianship, not etiquette, and by any rational standards Feuermann was technically at least, simply the greatest cellist of the twentieth century. 

The Strauss dates from 1940 and is a performance of tensile brilliance, a reading of leonine majesty all round. Lifschey is not to be overlooked as he often is in this reading. If the mouth doesn’t salivate at the idea of a Feuermann-Lifschey partnership quiet as much as the fabled meeting of Casals and Tertis a little earlier – not recorded so far as I know -  that does nothing to diminish the violist’s artistry; it could hardly have been easy to stand up to Feuermann and in such matters the cellist could be somewhat gladiatorial. There is requisite colour and variety of texture here, and of course the solo cello playing is simply magnificent. 

Maybe you came to Schelomo through Zara Nelsova, or maybe your entry point was another cellist altogether. Feuermann was first in the recorded stakes with this famed Stokowski-directed recording made a month later than the Strauss. Once again it was a session held at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. The cellist and conductor conspire in a recording of great opulence and tonal variety, huge reserves of technical assurance and a rich sense of characterisation and projection. It’s a deserved classic. 

This coupling has been out before. Mark Obert-Thorn has revisited his earlier transfer on Biddulph LAB042 and effected some changes. Firstly the running order is reversed and this disc starts with the Bloch. In this transfer these new Bloch transfers are clearer and cleaner than those used on Biddulph. They lack the surface clicks that the older transfer preserved. In the Strauss we find this Pristine Audio has marginally less presence than the Biddulph; there is now less surface noise but arguably the sonic stage is less vital. It’s a small matter in any case because on balance these are preferable transfers.

Jonathan Woolf

















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