It was hard work being an American violinist in
the 1950s and 1960s. After the death of Albert Spalding, and Menuhin’s
move to Europe, it was Isaac Stern who became the most internationally
recognised American fiddle player. Even elite musicians such as Oscar
Shumsky, admittedly something of a prickly customer, found it difficult
to carve out a solo career, and it was just as tricky for fine players
such as Berl Senofsky, about whom I’ve written a number of times
during reviews of his recordings. A couple of them can be read here;
Briefly, Senofsky was born in Philadelphia in 1926 and died in 2002.
He studied with Louis Persinger, one of the first American-born teachers
to further the cause of native-born fiddle players, and afterwards with
Ivan Galamian. He became the first and so far only American violinist
to win the Queen Elizabeth Violin Competition, which he did in 1955.
In the wake of his win he made what was for many years his only relatively
well-known recording, and here it is. Like others before him, Spalding
most obviously just a few years before, and Elman at roughly the same
time, Senofsky went to Vienna. There he teamed up with one of Europe’s
most hard-working recording units, the Vienna Symphony. If it was tough
trying to find a niche as an American soloist, it was hard being in
the Vienna Symphony, who worked flat out to bring in the dough.
In charge was Rudolf Moralt, and he gives Senofsky good support. The
orchestra too plays well enough. Senofsky himself proves a capable tonalist
and stylist and in every way this is a refreshingly straightforward
but not unsubtle performance. Rubati are thoughtfully deployed, and
whilst his vibrato can, on occasion, be a touch fast and unvaried, his
technical adroitness here is not in question. Quick slides illuminate
the slow movement, and a tautly centred tone brings lofty expressivity
to it. Requisite snap and brio are brought to bear on the finale and
this good performance, very reasonably recorded for 1956 Vienna, is
a credit to all concerned. On the basis of this Philips disc it’s
certainly a surprise that Senofsky didn’t go on to receive more
contracts to record.
For Moralt admirers there is the bonus of his 1954 recording of the
Suite. There were so many internationally glamorous
LP performances becoming available at the time, and still many an admired
78 set to be had, that this Vienna traversal would have had a limited
impact at best. In any event, it’s pleasingly done and makes an
enjoyable adjunct to the return of Senofky’s Brahms.
Masterwork Index: Brahms