Emanuel Feuermann: Unexpected Discoveries.
The complete acoustic recordings (1921-26) and selected live performances (1938-41)

  CD 1

Acoustic Recordings made 1921-26

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Concerto in D – Adagio [3:46]: Allegro finale [3:38]
Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Frieder Weissmann
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturne in B flat Op.9 No.2 [3:48]
Max Saal (harp)
Zigeunerweisen arr. Feuermann [3:58]
Frieder Weissmann (piano); Max Saal (harp)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Träumerei [3:03]
Abendlied [3:24]
Carl Stabernack (mustel organ)/Orchestra/Frieder Weissmann
Träumerei [3:19]
Abendlied [3:28]
Fritz Ohrmann (Dominator harmonium): Max Saal 9harp)
Johan Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Orchestral Suite in D – Air BWV1068 [3:50]
Johan Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)-GOUNOD
Ave Maria [3:56]
Frieder Weissmann (piano); Fritz Ohrmann (harmonium)
Antonin DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Rondo Op.94 [4:13]
Alt-Italienisches Liebeslied [3:17]
Cesar CUI
Cantabile Op.36 No.2 [3:26]
Serenade Op.54 [3:25]
Frieder Weissmann (piano)
Antonin DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto Op.104 – Adagio [7:59]
Hungarian Rhapsody Op.68 [7:12]
Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Michael Taube

Electric recording made 1926

Kol Nidrei Op.47 [8:18]
Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Frieder Weissmann  

CD 2

Live Broadcasts made 1940-41

Antonin DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto Op.104 [36:23]
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Hans Lange
Silent Woods Op.68 No.5 [5:37]
Rondo Op.94 [6:48]
Ernest BLOCH
Schelomo [19:49]
National Orchestra; Association/Leon Barzin  

CD 3

Electric Berlin recordings; and Live Broadcasts made 1940-41

Hungarian Rhapsody Op.68 [6:54]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Paul Kletzki
Antonin DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto Op.104 – Adagio [11:51]
Eugen d’ALBERT
Cello Concerto Op.20 [22:01]
Cello Concerto in A Op.4 No.1 [24:39]
National Orchestra Association/Leon Barzin
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Cello Sonata in D Op.102 No.2 – fragment of Adagio; Allegro fugato [5:06]
Albert Hirsch (piano)
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturne in B flat Op.9 No.2
Siete Canciones Populares Espańolas: No.4 Jota [8:30]  

CD 4

Live Broadcasts 1938 and 1940

Antonin DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto Op.104 [35:33]
National Orchestra Association/Leon Barzin
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Don Quixote Op.35 [39:30]
Mischa Mischakoff (violin); Carlton Cooley (viola)/NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini

WEST HILL RADIO ARCHIVES WHRA-6042 [4 CDs: 74:09 + 68:41 + 79:08 + 75:02]

I suppose what collectors would most want is a vast box or series of smaller boxes devoted to Emanuel Feuermann’s complete studio and off-air performances. That said, West Hill has taken a less compendious though strategically astute route in focusing on two specific areas of the cellist’s discography, namely the acoustic recordings of 1921 to 1926 and selected live recordings from 1938 to 1941. This doesn’t mean that other areas are overlooked. Rather between the cracks come some electrically recorded Berlin studio performances from the 1930s.
The most important thing to note is that eighteen pieces are making what West Hill states are CD premiere appearances - I have one small note to add to that in due course. Given that many of Feuermann’s London and American sides are well known and oft reissued – the Brahms Double with Heifetz, the chamber sides for Columbia and numerous others – this more systematic and focused look at his recorded legacy makes sense. Especially important are the acoustics, though not all are especially well recorded or indeed of huge musical worth, artistically speaking.
We open with two abridged movements from Haydn’s Concerto in D, recorded in Berlin in 1921. He was 19 at the time, a youthful prodigy of great promise, but the evidence of some gulped slides and strong rubati points to a transitional stage in his artistic development. Casals’ recordings of around the same time show a cellist in his maturity, and already formed as an artist – not surprising given that Casals was 39 when he first recorded. The Chopin Nocturne – with Max Saal’s harp accompaniment – fits comfortably into the salon bracket, but whilst the cellist’s legato is suave and nonchalant, he can’t muster Casals’s intensity or sentiment. With the addition of Frieder Weissmann at the piano – who’d conducted the Haydn – Feuerman unleashed a fragment (only) of his Zigeunerweisen adaptation. Thrilling – but better encountered in his electrical remake. Incidentally this Sarasate has been issued on CD before. It was included in Annette Morreau’s biography of the cellist in a transfer by Sebastian Comberti. The differences are striking. Comberti’s work preserves ticks and tocks but it’s quite open and straightforward. Lani Spahr prefers a much more interventionist approach, one that removes glitches and scratches and presents the cello centre-stage in the sound spectrum. It is, however, a more subterranean bass-oriented sound and rather more tiring to listen to over long stretches. The same is true of the Haydn Allegro which Comberti also transferred but which West Hill doesn’t claim is a CD premiere. Regarding transfers I should add that my Parlophone 78s, in particular the 1926 Popper Hungarian Rhapsody, are also rather lighter on the ear than this transfer. The bass emphasis has the effect of redoubling the bass reinforcements used in the orchestral acoustic sessions and this can sound rather congealed. I would suggest the use of a graphic equaliser, if you have one, to try to lighten the sound spectrum.
Back to the acoustics in disc one. Parlophone re-recorded some items. The Mustel organ plus orchestra imparts a lugubrious quality, so the Schumann brace was revisited using just harp and Dominator harmonium – and issued under the same label number as before, as was so often the case, but in completely different (and better) performances. The Bach Air was once issued on an Opal LP sounding lighter and brighter but very much more distant than this transfer. It’s only when one gets to Dvorák that one gets an inkling into the range of Feuermann’s instincts by 1924. The Rondo is abridged but he plays it adroitly, and then we hear an eight-minute abridgement of the slow movement from the Concerto. This was a work he was much associated with, and indeed he made the first recording of it in 1928-29, which collectors will remember from the Pearl LP transfer. It’s not included in this box, but then we do have two live performances which should be compensation enough. One of the best things from the first disc is the last item, Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, recorded in 1930 at a time of now full maturity. It doesn’t fit the rubric of the set, being neither acoustic nor live, but let’s not quibble. His instincts have tautened; his expressive gestures glint but are now firmly controlled. He refuses to indulge gauche extroversion; he deigns cheap gestures.
The second disc opens with a 1941 live performance of the Dvorák given with the Chicago Symphony under Hans Lange. This live off-air performance is making its first ever CD appearance and will be a central focus of interest for collectors, notwithstanding the other surviving documents that chart the cellist’s association with the work. Lange is rather at odds with his soloist. One senses this from the start where he indulges too much metrical freedom. Nevertheless Feuermann sounds rather freer than he had over a decade earlier in the Berlin studios when making that commercial set with Taube. It’s this lessening of constriction that lends distinction to this reasonably well preserved broadcast. Feuermann is scrupulously clean in his approach – no fake fingerings for him in this work. And though it would easy to be thankful that Toscanini didn’t conduct, which might have accelerated things exponentially in the slow movement, it’s worth pointing out that there were some Czech conductors of the time who shaped a very fast Adagio as well; František Stupka, for instance, conducting for Navarra at the Prague Spring in 1951 took the same tempo as Toscanini and his cellist Edmund Kurtz.
The same composer’s Silent Woods and the Rondo – complete this time – are caught on the wing with Leon Barzin and the National Orchestral Association at Carnegie Hall in 1940. We also hear Bloch’s Schelomo – shimmeringly intense - with the same forces. Feuermann’s recording of this with Stokowski is rightly revered but it turns out that the cellist didn’t much like the work which caused him endless memory problems. If you had Philips’ poor No Noise CD transfers of the two smaller Dvoráks, the Concerto with Barzin (which is on disc 4) and the Bloch, you should know that it is wholly superseded by Spahr’s work. That Barzin-conducted broadcast is a better index of Feuermann’s playing of the Concerto, indeed the best surviving example. It is architecturally powerful, tonally expressive, exciting and sensitive – and once again devoid of gestures that might draw the ear away from the true musical argument.
The third disc gives us yet another slow movement from the Dvorák – you can never have too much of a good thing in my book – this time with the efficient Frank Black and the NBC Symphony from February 1940. It’s followed by the d’Albert Concerto (Barzin, April 1940) which witnesses one of Feuermann’s amazing explorations of timbre and tonal variety, as well as seamless legato in pursuit of a rather uneven work. Another rarity, then as now, is Josef Reicha’s Concerto in A which the cellist encountered in a Philadelphia music library. There are some really tricky cross-string passages in the work and the Haydn contemporary clearly had an outstanding soloist to perform it. There are a few slips in intonation and absolute accuracy, though when one considers that this was a live performance and he was playing from the music, then that’s wholly understandable. Both these concerto performances have been released on CD before. I first encountered them on Connoisseur Society cassettes along with the other Barzin-led items, so it’s good to ‘upgrade’. Things that have never been available before however end this disc. There’s an excerpt from a live Town Hall broadcast in February 1941 of Beethoven’s Op 102 No.2 sonata with Albert Hirsch. This is a very rough home recording but it’s the only surviving evidence of the cellist in this work. Two Kraft Music Hall items follow, live from Hollywood in 1940. Theodore Saidenberg is the well-known pianist. The whole of the on-air scripted banter has survived and is included. We hear Feuermann’s speaking voice too – along with his de Falla and Chopin Nocturne Op.9 No.2 (a piece he’d played at his second ever acoustic session).
Along with the Barzin-directed Dvorák, noted above, the final piece in this 4 CD set is Strauss’s Don Quixote in the 1938 traversal with Toscanini. Opinion will doubtless rage between those who prefer it, or the 1940 studio recording with Ormandy. Maybe the most intense experience is generated by the live BBC broadcast that survives with Feuermann and Toscanini but the sound, unfortunately, is poor and is, in any case, not part of this box.
This is a most impressive set. I wouldn’t necessarily rank it higher than West Hill’s recent Piatigorsky box, but its rationale is different. It collects disparate material but manages to impose a degree of logic on it. There is an excellent booklet note by Terry King and full discographic information. Given the availability on CD of much material previously unavailable in that medium, I can’t imagine how any true admirer of the cellist can overlook this box.
Jonathan Woolf

I can’t imagine how any true admirer of the cellist can overlook this box.