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Symphonies 1, 2, 3

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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1939) [27:49]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, KV 216 (1775) [26:30]
Joseph Fuchs (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/Eugene Goossens
rec. 1959, London
EVEREST SDBR3040 [53:42]

Who first recorded the Hindemith Violin Concerto commercially? Given its status, many would answer that it was the composer himself with David Oistrakh, a benchmark for all sorts of reasons. The real answer is American violinist Joseph Fuchs with Eugene Goossens conducting the London Symphony in 1959. Made several years before the Oistrakh/Hindemith it possesses very real qualities of its own and was taped by Everest, that sonic spectacular label which is making available once more a mighty slew of recordings that replicate their LPs. The attendant result is that they have, generally speaking, poor playing time for a CD.

I’ve reviewed a number of Fuchs’s recordings but never this one. He was a most assured technician and one of his country’s most eminent and commanding concertmasters. I was very much less taken than some with the Beethoven Violin Sonatas that he set down with Balsam but he repeatedly showed on disc that he was a scrupulous performer and always worth hearing. His tone inevitably lacks the richness and variegation of Oistrakh so that the violin spectrum sounds smaller and less expressive. Allied to this is the question of his very fast vibrato which imparts a coiled, tense quality to his playing. Even so, his violinistic athleticism is undeniable, and his rhythmically agile playing is exciting to hear. The recording is particularly good at drawing out the contribution of the winds. In the central movement in particular their independent lines and the orchestral counter-themes need to be heard – and here they are – to allow the listener to explore the tapestry of the concerto. The finale can be a little tight, emotively speaking, but it is well judged in most respects, and there is a fine cadenza. The bubbling winds after it attest to the level of dynamism throughout.

So, this was a good beginning to the history of the Hindemith Concerto on record. It was tautly played and intelligently accompanied by a man who understood the contemporary muse very well.

Its coupling was Mozart’s G major concerto. The orchestra reflects then-current approaches to the concertos - and why not, after all? This big-boned quality offers solid support to Fuchs’s slightly tense, nervy fiddling. The slow movement is taken very slowly, which forces the basses to trudge, and there are a few awkward turns in the finale. There’s also not much fun to be heard – the folkloric drone episode is rather po-faced. For a wittier, more agile, lighter approach someone like Szymon Goldberg is needed. That said, I’m sure that violin collectors will welcome the opportunity to hear Fuchs in Mozart, if they’ve not had the chance to do so.

This disc, however, is primarily important for the Hindemith. Premiere recordings are invariably exciting events but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they remain vital recorded documents. This one is still fine, still alive, and even if it doesn’t occupy the same status as the Oistrakh it offers probing and incisive musicianship in splendid Everest sound.

Jonathan Woolf