Music In and On the Air
Camille SAINT-SAENS (1825-1931)
The Swan [2:58]
Gaspar CASSADÓ (1896-1966)
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
O Cease They Singing, Maiden Fair Op.4 No.4 [4:57] ¹
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto for two violins in D minor BWV1043 – Movement No.2 [8:34]
Orchestral Suite No.3 BWV1068 – Air [4:28]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Violin Sonata in A major – Movements Nos. 1 and 2 [5:51 + 8:30]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Trio in C, Op.87 – Adagio Cantabile; arr. August Christian Prell [5:49]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Bachianas Brasileiras No.5 – Aria [7:56]
Clara Rockmore (theremin); Nadia Reisenberg (piano) with Erick Friedman (violin) ¹
Cellos of the Violoncello Society
Commentaries and interviews with Clara Rockmore, Nadia Reisenberg, Erick Friedman, Janos Scholz, Claus Adam; Robert Sherman (host)
rec. 26 January 1979, The Listening Room, Radio WQXR
ROMÉO RECORDS 7286 [76:12]
Unless it’s the inventor himself, there has been no exponent of the art of the Theremin like Clara Rockmore. The Russian-born Rockmore – the sister of pianist Nadia Reisenberg – had been one of Leopold Auer’s pupils in St Petersburg where she was a fellow student of Jascha Heifetz. After the revolution she left, arriving in America in 1921 but an arm injury curtailed her career as a budding violinist. Her embrace of the theremin - never more than a second best - was nevertheless whole-hearted. She even resisted Leon Theremin’s offer to reverse the poles of his instrument, as it operated on the opposite principle to a violinist’s left and right hand co-ordination in respect to vibrato. She wanted to play it correctly.
Rockmore’s art has been preserved on a number of discs. Her premiere of the Concerto by Anis Fuleihan (1900-1970), which she recorded with another sonic investigator, Leopold Stokowski, has been preserved on disc, and rather amazing it is too. But there are other examples available and this latest entrant boasts one especial claim to fame. It’s the only known performance to exist of her playing before a studio audience.
It’s taken from a radio show called The Listening Room on Radio WQXR, broadcast in January 1979, by which time she’d officially retired. The radio host, Robert Sherman, is Rockmore’s son and he introduces enthusiastically and informatively throughout. Given the addition of Reisenberg it becomes very much a family affair. Rockmore and Reisenberg open with a rather queasy Swan. They then appropriate the cello repertoire for Cassadó’s Requiebros and generate an amazingly intense, overwrought sound. Violinist and Heifetz pupil Erick Friedman joins to lend his obbligato to Rachmaninoff’s O Cease They Singing, Maiden Fair where the theremin turns singer. He then partners the theremin in a bizarrely interesting version of the slow movement of Bach’s Double Concerto. The theremin’s passagework sounds like the mournful strains of a laryngitic elk. It must certainly have been a bit of a change for Friedman, who had recorded the work with his teacher. There’s a jovial four minute interview featuring all three musicians before Friedman and Reisenberg unshackle themselves of Rockmore’s theremin to perform the first two movements of Franck’s Violin Sonata.
Part 2 is different and introduces one to the members of the Violoncello Society (the notes speak of the ‘Violincello Society’) who team up to perform on their own or with Rockmore in various permutations. Rockmore had always wanted to play Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras No.5 and she takes both the solo voice and solo cello parts.
This is certainly something of an oddball release. I enjoyed it though. The theremin has extra-terrestrial sound associations but can be the source of considerable artistry. Surveying the guests on Sherman’s programmes over the years, I’m wondering if there’s mileage in a compilation disc, should tapes still exist. The names of those musicians? Rudolf Firkušný, Oscar Shumsky, Leonard Rose, the Juilliard Quartet, William Kroll, Milton Katims, Leopold Stokowski and many others.
Certainly something of an oddball … I enjoyed it though.