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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 (1806) [39:40]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 (1878) [36:43]
Bronislaw Huberman (violin)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/George Szell
Philharmonic–Symphony Orchestra of New York/Arthur Rodzinski
rec. 1934, Vienna (Beethoven) and January 1944, Carnegie Hall, NYC, live

By happy coincidence – or, rather, due to his outstanding gifts as a collaborative and accommodating colleague – George Szell presided over two of the most successful concerto recordings made in Central Europe in the mid-to-later 1930s: there was Casals’s Dvořák, recorded in Prague in 1937, and Bronislaw Huberman’s Beethoven, recorded in Vienna in June 1934 and now released in Pristine Audio’s XR re-mastering marque. This is a performance that has seldom been overlooked in the discography of the work, where it takes a high place due to the soloist’s iconoclastic, indeed late-nineteenth century approach, which teems with nervous astringency and drama. One’s ear is inevitably drawn to his playing but, especially in view of all the ink spilled in describing Huberman’s performance, it is well worth charting the nature of Szell’s accompaniment in this, his only studio recording of the work. He prepares for the soloist’s broken octaves entry perfectly, his control of the fluctuation of the music preparing one for the unconventionally spiky, tensile, and itself fluctuating approach – intensely alive, personalised, and often driving – that Huberman pursues. The powerfully sculpted reading is supported by the almost alchemically refined Vienna Philharmonic and this sets up a battery of tensions - tonal, metric – that continually intrigue and excite. Huberman’s bowing in the slow movement – quivering rather than seraphic – vests the music with a renewed intensity that never lets up, not least in the curvaceous dance that he makes of the finale. Andrew Rose has used EMI analogue LP pressings for his transfer. The XR brings instrumental focus very much into centre-stage – the percussion is certainly vigorously audible and is slightly too resilient in its boom for my tastes, as are the VPO basses.

Note that Pristine Audio has also released Huberman’s Bach and Mozart concerto performances in Vienna on PASC397 though these are not in XR, but are the work of Mark Obert-Thorn — albeit Mozart’s K218 has some sonic enhancement. Note too that a live 1944 performance of the Beethoven with Leon Barzin and the National Orchestral Association exists on Arbiter 115, a disc that valuably also includes alternative takes of Huberman and Friedman’s studio recording of the Kreutzer Sonata.

As a child Huberman had famously performed Brahms’ Violin Concerto in the composer’s presence in Vienna. In 1944 a live recording was made of his reading, with Artur Rodzinski directing the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York, the position recently vacated by John Barbirolli. Huberman’s authority in this work is nowhere more in evidence than in his phrasal sculpting and in his combative tonal reserves, now even more taut than in Vienna. This performance is also a known quantity, though obviously much less so than the studio Beethoven and was available on a Music and Arts CD. XR has most certainly centralised the sound perspective and has improved on the rather resinous air-check sound.

No representative collection of historic violin recordings can hope to be complete without examples from Huberman, and this disc, which enshrines the two greatest violin concertos, is a vital marker of his greatness.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank (Recording of the Month)



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