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CD: Historic Recordings

César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Violin Sonata in A major (1886) [28:01]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50 In memory of a Great Artist (1881-82) [39:38]
Arthur Catterall (violin)
William Murdoch (piano) W H Squire (cello)
rec. November 1923 and April 1924 (Franck); December 1926 (Tchaikovsky)

Experience Classicsonline

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 it here.

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.

Jonathan Woolf  








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