Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 [28:10] Mélodie, Op. 42, No. 3 [3:29] Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Symphonie espagnole, Op. 21 [25:10] FryderykCHOPIN (1810-1849) Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op 64, No. 2 (arr. Huberman) [3:15] Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Hungarian Dance No. 1 in g
(arr. Joachim) [3:01] Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908) Romanza andaluza [4:39] Aleksander ZARZYCKI (1834-1895) Mazurka in G major, Op. 26 [4:22]
Bronislaw Huberman (violin) Siegfried Schultze (piano)
Staatskapelle Berlin/William Steinberg (Tchaikovsky) Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/George Szell
rec. 1928 (Tchaikovsky), 1934 (Lalo), 1929-1932 PRISTINE AUDIO PASC439 [72:03]
Bronislaw Huberman started making electrical recordings for Columbia in Europe in 1928. The Tchaikovsky Concerto presented here comes from his first session for the label. He recorded the Lalo Symphonie espagnole with George Szell in 1934. Huberman possessed a fabulous technique allied to a highly-strung temperament. Columbia A&R rep Rex Palmer said at the time that the violinist “broke down in the middle of a record on innumerable occasions, and even after obtaining a [completed] master he needed 5 or 10 minutes rest before anything further could be done.” Putting this to one side it can’t be denied that his Tchaikovsky recording, especially, is a remarkable reminder of a great violinist.
The Tchaikovsky starts at a slow tempo but Hubermann’s first entry takes us back to the time when musical individuality was probably at its peak. To modern ears he sounds all over the place. There are some indulgent portamentos and a style of phrasing that must have been a nightmare to follow for the conductor. Hardly two bars are played at the same tempo. The technique is rock-solid and the double-stopping and spiccato effects are up there with the best. His singing tone is deep and beautiful. Basically he was a superb violinist. The cadenza, again with some outrageous slides and scoops, is magnificent and in terms of the recording he dominates the sound-stage, so much so that the solo flute at the end of the cadenza can hardly be heard. This is very much Huberman’s Tchaikovsky with the orchestra set back and playing, to excuse the pun, second fiddle to the soloist. The slow movement is calm and understated and it’s here that we get to the heart of Huberman’s playing. It’s very personal with a beautiful tone and a highly romantic style. The finale is dashed off with complete mastery and brilliance. The recording is clear with very little distortion and a light background noise from the original 78s that is never intrusive. The orchestra is thin and backward, the soloist is set in a spotlight. The transfer is expertly managed and once the ear has adjusted to the technology of the late 1920s the sound is perfectly enjoyable.
The Lalo is presented here in its four movement version. It doesn’t make a good initial impression. The orchestra doesn’t even start together and Huberman’s intonation is approximate on his first entry. The sul G opening theme isn’t exactly in tune either to put it mildly. The lovely second subject is played with a hushed tone but much of the movement is marred by an aggressive approach and the tendency of the soloist to play marginally sharp. There’s a welcome return to form in the Scherzando and the Andante is a perfect vehicle for Huberman’s exquisite singing tone and rubato. The orchestral opening of the final Rondo gives us some highly comical percussion effects but the violinist is dashing and fleet of foot. The central sul G melody is again the Achilles heel in terms of intonation. The Lalo has a more realistic balance when compared with the Tchaikovsky and the orchestral sound is warmer and more reverberant. It’s another great transfer from Mark Obert-Thorn and Andrew Rose.
The bonus tracks with piano accompaniment showcase Huberman in the intimate setting of the salon. The highlights are the Brahms Hungarian Dance played with flair and virtuosity and the Tchaikovsky Mélodie with yet more of the ravishing Huberman tone on display.
Anyone hearing the Lalo on this CD would probably not be too enthused by Huberman. The patches of poor intonation, particularly in a first movement crying out for a retake, let it down. The Tchaikovsky on the other hand is a great performance and Pristine have done it proud with their transfer. Rob Cowan was highly enthusiastic about this version of the concerto when it was previously issued in 2000. I fully agree with his assessment - it’s a recording that deserves a warm welcome back into the catalogue.