As Mark Obert-Thorn notes, all Huberman’s Bach and Mozart Concerto recordings are for the first time to be found on one disc. True, but somewhat stretching a point as Mozart’s D major Concerto (the inlay mistakenly labels it in F major) is an off-air performance recorded after the end of the Second World War and thus of a wholly different nature to the June 1934 studio sessions in Vienna that generated the two Bach concertos and Mozart’s in G major.
Pearl issued all three a long time ago (GEMM CD9341) in transfers by - would you guess? - Mark Obert-Thorn, another case of a restoration engineer if not actively chasing his own tail, then at least having the opportunity to revisit earlier work, and better it. Music & Arts released the D major on an all-Huberman disc, CD-299, coupled with Tchaikovsky’s Concerto, conducted by Ormandy in 1946.
The salient question for collectors long familiar with these performances is whether these latest transfers are effective. They are certainly cut higher and more brightly than the earlier Pearl transfers. There is more clarity in the sound spectrum and less congestion. The sound is thus now sharper - though not in terms of pitch! - with the soloist’s tone more centred in the perspective between himself and the orchestra. I suspect - though I could be wrong - that Obert-Thorn worked with English Columbia pressings for Pearl, but for Pristine he has utilised American ones. So I account them a distinct improvement over the earlier work. That is certainly also the case with the off-air Mozart in relation to its incarnation (by another engineer) on Music & Arts. The D major is now far less gloomy-sounding and its militant quality has been successfully tamed.
Those coming afresh to these performances will need to acclimatise themselves to Huberman’s very personal tonal qualities, his razory articulation, on-off vibrato and propensity for non-linear phrasing and famously frequent indulgence of staccato. They will enjoy the strongly hewn Vienna bass-line supporting him. For all that one may have reservations over aspects of his playing - I’ve never quite been able to reconcile myself to his phrasing in the second part of the slow movement of the A minor concerto, for instance - Huberman is incapable of dullness, and keeps phraseology alive. The piano continuo is best heard in the E major concerto, not least in the bridge passage to the tutti in the first movement. Huberman’s white bleached tone is affecting in the slow movement, the pathos of his playing, too, along with pervasive portamenti.
His accompanist in Vienna was Issay Dobrowen, with whom he clearly had a good rapport. Their Mozart G major is a reasonably good one - there’s a notably fine cadenza - and even phrasal oddities such as that insinuating ‘leading in’ that Huberman indulges evince personality. The finale is rhythmically uplifting. The D major is a much later off-air affair, made a couple of years before Huberman’s death. Time has told by now. The opening is scratchy, though things do improve. There’s a hard-to-ignore individuality about him, though except for archival reasons I don’t suppose anyone would want to hear Bruno Walter accompanying Huberman in preference to Zino Francescatti in 1958.
Still, for Huberman admirers and these recordings, these are now the transfers to have.
Masterwork Index: Bach violin concertos