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Oscar Shumsky - Legendary Treasures
Oscar Shumsky (violin)
Full track-listings at end of review
DOREMI DHR 8031 [3 CDs: 232:40]

Although Oscar Shumsky (1917-2000) stood firm in the grand tradition of Russian-Jewish violinists, his star was never as prominent as those of David Oistrakh, Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Elman or Nathan Milstein. Although American — born Philadelphia — he was of Russian-Jewish lineage. The career path he chose was multi-faceted. The all-round musician par excellence, he dedicated much time to teaching, playing chamber music and conducting. His solo career was somehow squeezed into this demanding schedule. He even played the viola, testimony to this being present in this Doremi set.
A child prodigy, he made his concert debut at the age of seven with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Leopold Stokowski, who declared him ‘the most outstanding genius I have ever heard’. Kreisler, too, was impressed when the boy played from memory the great man’s cadenza to the Beethoven Concerto, reconstructing it in his mind after hearing Kreisler play it on just two occasions. In 1925 he became Leopold Auer’s pupil at the Curtis Institute, moving on to Efrem Zimbalist when the great pedagogue died in 1930. He later joined the Primrose Quartet as first violin, and was also invited by Toscanini to join the NBC Symphony. During World War II he served in the US army.
After the war, as well as teaching, he worked with Glenn Gould, co-directing the Stratford Festival in Ontario. There are several filmed appearances of Shumsky and Gould from this period. Then in the 1980s he resumed his concert-giving and started anew to make records. The fruits of this Indian Summer can be enjoyed in the many distinguished recordings he made for the Nimbus label.
Of the live performances which form the bulk of this set, the 1982 Basel recital is in the most ideal sound. The concert is book-ended with two Kreisler pieces – a violinist close to his heart, of whom he was an ideal interpreter. The Schubert Rondo Brillante lives up to its name. Dramatic, engaging and vital, Shumsky brings to this delightful work a wealth of imagination and virtuosic brilliance. The Bach D minor Partita, for me the highlight of this collection, is compelling and refined with the violinist having an eye for the architecture and structure of this sublime masterpiece. Intonation is pristine, with phrasing and dynamic shadings well-judged. His powerful, rich tone and projection of colour are ever present in the Chaconne, the summit of the work. I love his complete cycle from 1979, re-mastered on Nimbus, with this performance forming a desirable adjunct. In the Strauss Sonata Shumsky summons up his technical resources to deliver a performance of dramatic intent. Whilst I don’t think he has quite the range of tonal colour of Heifetz who, for me, is nonpareil in this work, he gives a captivating performance. There is an excellent film of the violinist playing the first movement with Glenn Gould on You Tube.
In the remaining live recordings, the age of the broadcasts is telling, and allowances have to be made for some sonically compromised sound. However, this is a small price to pay for the outstanding fiddle playing on offer. Commentaries are retained, and this positively adds to the nostalgic flavour of the experience. The Beethoven Sonata No. 7, where Shumsky is partnered by the Lithuanian pianist Nadia Reisenberg, is marred by a constricted sound picture. Due to badly judged microphone placement the piano is forward and dominates, leaving the violin in a recessed perspective. The solo Telemann from the same session fares much better, with the violin thrown into relief.
The Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso is rhythmically alert and rubato is tastefully executed. In the Mozart and Hindemith selections from 1965, Mario Bernardi is shown to be an extremely fine accompanist, sensitive at all times to the violinist’s nuances and inflections. The CBC live broadcast from November 1951 has a gripping ‘Devils Trill’ Sonata, yet allowances have to be made for the less than ideal aural image.
We are fortunate in that the vocal items involving Shumsky are in remarkably good sound. The two Bach Cantata arias, taken from a 1962 Desto LP, are beautifully accomplished readings. The singers are Maureen Forrester (contralto) and Lois Marshall (soprano). Both hailed from Canada. With a cello and chamber organ continuo, the solo violin and voices blend well in sublime realizations. Forrester, especially, is in her comfort zone in this repertoire having recorded some fine Bach on Vanguard. There were also some successful collaborations with Hermann Scherchen for Westminster. Similar forces are used in the Buxtehude Jubilate Domino, with Shumsky this time assuming the role of viola soloist and conductor, in a live performance from the Stratford Festival, 1967.
The aria from Mozart’s Il Re Pastore is sung by the German lyric soprano Erna Berger. Mozart was a composer in whose music Berger excelled. The violin and piano provide an effective backdrop to the singer’s exquisitely phrased rendition. The Rachmaninov/Kreisler songs are sung by the tenor James Melton. A popular singer in the 'twenties and 'thirties, he could be classed as one of the early ‘cross-over’ artists, before that phrase became accepted parlance. Taken from 1949 RCA Victors, I found his renditions unremarkable and undistinguished.
All told, this is a very valuable set, showcasing the many facets of this distinguished artist, and further adds to the impressive legacy he amassed. Booklet notes are in English only. For lovers of great violin playing, this is a release well worth exploring.
Stephen Greenbank
Full track-listings
CD 1 [78:32]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Aria for alto and Violin solo from Cantata No. 132 [4:38]
Maureen Forrester (contralto)
Aria for Soprano and Violin concertante from Cantata No. 120 [6:59]
Lois Marshall (soprano)
Bach Aria Group Recorded c. 1962, from Desto DC7139/40 (LPs)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 7 in c, Op. 30 No. 2 [26:12]
Nadia Reisenberg (piano)
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Fantasia for Violin solo in D, No. 10 [5:12]
Live broadcast, WQXR studio, New York, Jan. 3, 1972
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1875-1943)/Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
In the silence of the night, Op. 4 No. 3 [2:53]
To the Children, Op. 26 No. 7 [3:35]
O cease thy singing, maiden fair, Op. 4 No. 4 [3:45]
The Cherry tree, Op. 26 No. 10 [2:15]
James Melton (tenor)
Oscar Shumsky (violin)
Carroll Hollister (piano)
Recorded 1949
Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1770)
Cantata Jubilate Domino [9:04]
Maureen Forrester (contralto)
Oscar Shumsky (viola soloist and conductor)
Live performance, Stratford Festival, Canada. 26 July 1967
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Träumerei, from Kinderszenen, Op. 15 No. 7 [4:58]
Al Goodman Orchestra Recorded c. 1948
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28 [8:41]
NBC Symphony Orchestra
Milton Katims (cond)
Live broadcast, 22 April 1950
CD 2 [76:16]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Adagio in E, K.261 [7:40]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 11/2 [17:41]
Mario Bernardi (piano)
Live performance, 1965
Johann Sebastian BACH
Violin Sonata in E, BWV 1016 1st Mvt: Adagio [4:40]
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)/ Fritz KREISLER
Violin sonata in g, Devil's Trill (Cadenza by Kreisler) [13:20]
Song: Daisies, Op. 38 No. 3 (arr. by Kreisler for Violin and Piano) [2:30]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Polonaise Brillante No. 2 in A, Op. 21 [7:53]
Leo Barkin (piano)
CBC Live Broadcast: 28 Nov 1951
Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
Dance from Bourgeois gentilhomme [5:12]
Oscar Shumsky (soloist and cond)
CBC Orchestra,
CBC Live broadcast, 1965
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
L'amerò, sarò costante from Il Re Pastore, K. 208 [7:00]
Erna Berger (soprano)
Oscar Shumsky (violin)
George Schick (piano)
Recorded 1950
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Polonaise Brillante No. 1 in D major, Op.4 [5:04]
Earl Wild (piano)
Live broadcast, 15 August 1940
Recitative e Scherzo-caprice, Op. 6 [4:55]
Frank Maus, (piano)
Recital, Basel, 24 Oct 1982
CD 3 [77:52]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Rondo brillante in b, Op. 70 D. 895 [13:34]
Johann Sebastian BACH
Partita No. 2 in d for Violin solo, BWV 1004 [30:04]
Sonata for Violin and Piano in Eb, Op. 18 [26:24]
Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta [7:42]
Frank Maus, (piano)
Recital, Basel, 24 Oct 1982