In the first half decade of the 1920s, during the period when Albert Sammons defected to the Vocalion recording company, Columbia, for whom he used to record, turned instead to another leading English violinist on their books, the leader of the Hallé, Arthur Catterall. He’d recorded a fair bit, but this lacuna gave him a major opportunity and he set down the three sonatas here, in addition to the Turkish Concerto of Mozart, amongst other things.
These performances were all late acoustics, but they were expertly balanced — I’m not sure if the engineer was Arthur Brooks, who was a practised hand — which was not at all easy, and the pianist usually lost out. The Spring Sonata was abridged to fit four 78 sides, and in this work Catterall, as in the case of the Kreutzer sonata (not included in this disc), was following in his compatriot’s footsteps. Sammons had recorded it a few years earlier; Columbia replaced the performance but retained the catalogue number, which led to predictable discographic confusion in later years. The same cuts were made as well, and each movement fits a single side. When others came to record it, the tail lengthened; first Robert Zeiler and Bruno Seidler-Winkler took five sides in Berlin in 1924 and then Edith Lorand and Michael Raucheisen went one better and recorded it complete on six in 1925.
Catterall was a classicist, whereas Sammons was a romantic. The former makes fewer slides than his colleague, and his tone is less ardent. But the performance is a fine one, and he has the great advantage of Sammons’s sonata partner, William Murdoch, who remained loyal to Columbia, and was an outstanding chamber player. Ensemble is excellent, the playing attractive, communicative, and highly effective. I must also commend the transfer which has brought forward the sound without compromising treble frequencies.
The Brahms sonata was the first ever recording of the work. Both Catterall and Sammons were notable interpreters of the composer’s music; Sammons’s performance of the Concerto with Boult was remembered for years by admirers, but hardly anything of his Brahms was recorded — just two Hungarian Dances, and a Waltz. Catterall often performed the Double Concerto, but it too wasn’t recorded. Sammons is on record as having admired this recording of the sonata — given that Murdoch is playing here too, that might seem only too obvious — but it is indeed a fine, noble, and intelligently conceived performance. The approach to the climax of the slow movement is especially convincing. The only way you’d be able to gauge where the side-joins are is by slightly increased surface noise, or by the de-accelerandos made to prepare for the turn-over.
This leaves Mozart’s Sonata in A where Catterall was partnered by the Hallé’s conductor, Hamilton Harty, who had been, many years earlier, one of London’s greatest accompanists. A couple of years later they had a famous dust-up, leading to the violinist leaving the orchestra. For now they were amiable colleagues, performing with congenial wit and taste. This, again, is the work’s first ever recording, and was for the time a full edition. The only demerit is not really the fault of the performers; the accompanying violin figures were over-recorded, but this was an ever-present danger of recording via the acoustic horn, and indeed after.
The transfers are really very good. There are some clicks in the Brahms. There is too small a gap between the Brahms and Mozart. But running my own copies of all three recordings alongside these transfers I appreciated the way that the sound was beneficially boosted and clarified. Unless you are allergic to acoustic recordings — and I appreciate that this is a ‘groovy hi-fi’ world and many, if not most, are allergic — you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how good chamber music recordings of 1923 actually were … and performances too. Catterall was a fine player, and these restorations demonstrate the point.