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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.129 (1850) [25:07]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Kol Nidrei, Op.47 (1881) [11:28]
Henri CASADESUS (1879-1947)
Cello Concerto [14:54]
Joseph Schuster (cello)
Los Angeles Orchestral Society/Franz Waxman
rec. December 1952, Los Angeles

Joseph Schuster (1903-69) is little remembered today, but in his time he was seen as something of a rival to Leonard Rose. Despite his Constantinople birth, he was a Russian studying in St Petersburg and then, after the Revolution, in Berlin with Hugo Becker. Furtwängler appointed him solo cellist with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1929 but he moved to New York – for obvious reasons – in 1934 where he was later appointed cello principal of the New York Philharmonic. It’s tempting to wonder how things would have developed had he stayed there longer but he only remained a season or so before resigning to pursue a career as a soloist. He teamed up with the outstanding Friedrich Wührer for sonata recordings, including a set of the Beethoven cello sonatas.

In this restoration from Forgotten Records we have the fruits of an unusual Capitol LP made in 1952. It paired Schuster with the Los Angeles Orchestral Society, about which I know little – pick-up studio band from the film studio orchestras? – directed by none other than Franz Waxman. The repertoire is one standard concerto, one richly expressive Hebraic piece, and a pastiche.

Schuster and Waxman play the Schumann Concerto with level-headed commitment. Schuster doesn’t have quite Maurice Gendron’s variegation of tone colour, to cite just one contemporary performer of the work – Gendron and Ansermet on Decca are in fact superior to Schuster and Waxman at a number of moments. But Schuster does play with refined tone and dexterity, even if Waxman can do nothing to restrain – if he really did want to restrain – the somewhat butch tuttis. Soloistically this all reflects well on Schuster, though the orchestra does sound a bit terse and abrupt. No such problems attend the prayerful Bruch Kol Nidrei. The opening is a touch heavy and drawn-out but its melancholy – inclined to be a bit stretchy, metrically speaking – is well conveyed here. Performers such as Fournier took it quicker but it’s not so much a question of tempo as of tone and the conveyance of feeling.

This leaves Henri Casadesus’ pastiche concerto once ascribed to J.C. Bach, but in fact written ‘in the manner’ by Casadesus himself. It’s not an adaptation of the better-known so-called Handel Concerto for viola that William Primrose liked to play, and recorded. This rather Kreislerian confection – just think of Kreisler’s ‘Vivaldi Concerto’ – offers a quarter of an hour of engaging listening. Once again the orchestra is in no mood to take prisoners and punches out its tuttis over-emphatically. Schuster rides above this, his cantabile a model of phrasing, even in such a trifle as this. You can’t be half-measured about this kind of thing; you have to play it as if you believe every note. Fortunately Schuster does just that.

The excellent restoration reveals good Capitol sound for 1952. This is one for admirers of the cellist, though.

Jonathan Woolf



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