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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K219 Turkish (1775) [30:05]
Violin Sonata No. 32 in B flat, K454 (1784) [19:28]
Violin Sonata No. 35 in A, K526 (1787) [18:46]
Oscar Shumsky (violin)
Leopold Mittman (piano)
The Little Orchestra Society/Thomas Scherman
rec. c.1956 (concerto) and c.1950 (sonatas)

Oscar Shumsky was contracted or licensed to some small record labels in the 1950s, a time when he was finding it hard to make headway in the crowded American concert world. Both the Concerto and the sonata discs reflect that he was a long way from winning the kind of esteem that came during his 'Second Coming' concerts and recordings in the 1980s. The Concerto was made for Music Appreciation Record, also appearing on World Record Club, whilst the sonatas, recorded a number of years earlier, came out on Allegro AL97. In fact he made another all-Mozart sonata disc for Allegro at the same time – ALX112, containing K304, K305 and K570 – but it received far less widespread distribution for some reason and so is much less well-known: not that this Allegro is much known either, given the passage of nearly seventy years since it was first released.

Shumsky had the good fortune to be paired with a fine accompanist, the experienced Leopold Mittman – much as, many years later, he was partnered by Artur Balsam for the complete sonata cycle undertaking on Musical Heritage Society, later reissued on ASV. It’s instructive to compare the two different recordings, made thirty or more years apart. Shumsky is almost always quicker in the earlier recordings, something one may well have anticipated. He has a youthful but not impetuous take on the first movement of K454, and there is plenty of virile masculinity to be savoured in its central Andante. He and Mittman are more direct and self-assertive in their Allegro traversal than Shumsky was later to become, where just a degree of tactful restraint slightly modified the interpretation. In K526 he is again buoyant rhythmically conforming to the general pattern that outer movements are played more tersely than in the later complete cycle but that the slow movements, whilst differing in certain phrasal emphases, are not too dissimilar.

He was joined by The Little Orchestra Society and their director Thomas Scherman for a robust performance of the Turkish Concerto. Here, possibly because of added input from Scherman, it’s the slow movement that stands removed from the later recording he made with Yan Pascal Tortelier for Nimbus. Shumsky makes some quick slides in the Concerto and occasionally gnaws at a phrase or two in a way that elite Mozartian contemporaries such as Grumiaux and Szeryng didn’t, but this is nevertheless a spirited, affectionate, warmly vibrated and thoroughly communicative performance. The accompaniment is sympathetic, the string body perhaps a little larger than ideal, even for the time.

Given Shumsky’s later cycles of concertos and sonatas this is clearly a niche disc. For those who admire his recordings and want to delve deeper still, these early LPs, excellently transferred and without booklet notes, may well prove tempting.

Jonathan Woolf



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