Arthur Catterall (1882-1943) was a distinguished British violinist,
an orchestral leader, soloist, quartet and chamber player, conductor and teacher.
He was especially
associated with the Hallé until his famous bust-up with the orchestra’s
conductor Hamilton Harty, whereupon he moved to London, eventually becoming leader
of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He did much for native music - Bantock, Coleridge-Taylor
(British premiere of the Concerto) and Moeran (world premiere of the Concerto
in 1942) are a few prominent names that come to mind - but he was a splendid
Delius performer and did much for Dale as well as a raft of others. He was also
a Slavic player - Tchaikovsky via his teacher Brodsky - and Sibelius too, unusually
for a British player of the day.
On disc his quartet recorded extensively for HMV and less so for Columbia. As
a concerto player he can be heard with his quartet colleague John S Bridge in
the Bach Double Concerto (1924) and with Harty the Mozart Turkish. His
recordings included abridged sonata recordings of Ireland (No.2), Coleridge-Taylor,
Beethoven (Spring, Kreutzer), Mozart’s K526 with Harty, and Brahms Op.108
with William Murdoch. With BBC colleagues Messrs Thurston, Camden, Shore et
al he left behind a splendid Beethoven Septet for HMV.
After Sammons and a host of other leading players defected from Columbia to the
newly formed Vocalion label, there was a gap in the domestic violin market. Into
that breach went Catterall, recording with Sammons’s regular sonata partner
and chamber colleague the Australian pianist William Murdoch who had stayed loyal
to Columbia. Two of the fruits of that contract are here.
The first ever Franck sonata recording had a weird history. It was never issued
in Britain and when it was issued in North America there was a mix-up, a 3 disc
album appearing before it was replaced by the complete four disc set, the error
having been spotted pretty quickly. The acoustic Thibaud-Cortot recording was
issued at around the same time, a traversal that has become eclipsed by their
subsequent electric remake. This Catterall-Murdoch acoustic has languished untransferred
but stubbornly unforgotten by a coterie of admirers. It’s good to have
Catterall was more a classicist than an overtly romantic player. His tone was
quite slim, not at all opulent, finely equalized across the scale, and his use
of portamenti was extensive. His trill is not of electric velocity. He had an
on-the-string lyric quality, and a way of phrasing that is intensely attractive.
His Franck for example has opening paragraphs that offer fluid examples of portamento-motored
phraseology, somewhat excessive in places because so proximate. Lyric intensity
and a degree of ‘innocence’ - if you follow - inform the playing.
Murdoch is equally splendid in a work where the pianist bears more than his fare
share of technical difficulty.
Interestingly - I didn’t notice this on 78 - one hears an acoustic change
on the second side of the second movement, where the violin is suddenly more
prominent and the piano a touch more splintery. Maybe Catterall moved closer
to the recording horn for that matrix.
The Tchaikovsky Trio saw the two join forces with WH Squire, dedicatee of Fauré’s
Sicilienne and a veteran of the recording studios, and another player much associated
with Hamilton Harty. This was also the first ever recording of this long work,
and was recorded electrically in 1926. Squire is a touch backwardly recorded
perhaps, but no great harm is done. This hugely communicative performance is
anchored by Murdoch, illuminated by Catterall’s pirouetting and precise
elastic rhythm, and by Squire’s (by his standards) quite discreet use of
portamenti. The sense of noble reserve is palpable, and the episodes are demarcated
with some flair - the rich piano chording, the drone paragraphs, the fugal incidents.
There was one rather tough side join in the second movement.
There are no notes, but that is a small matter when set against good transfers
of material that has never been reissued since the days of 78. The Franck is
by some way the rarer item, but both these works show what a sympathetic chamber
player Catterall was, and how eloquent were his colleagues.