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Camilla Wicks (violin): Five Decades of Treasured Performances
rec. various locations, 1946-1995
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1282 [6 CDs: 463:00]

It’s principally her recording of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto that has kept Camilla Wicks’ name fresh to record collectors, though in recent years a smattering of live and previously unreleased material has appeared to enhance her reputation still further. The Biddulph transfer of the Sibelius contained other valuable material whilst Forgotten Records have also released their transfer of it more recently. Live Walton and Brustad – his Concerto No.4 – can be found on Simax and she has a volume devoted to her in the Great Norwegian Performers series, volume 3, on the same label. Others discs exist too.

Now from Music & Arts comes a bonanza for admirers of the American violinist in the shape of a 6-CD boxed set of previously unreleased material. It spans five decades of her performing career, which was interrupted because of family commitments. It’s the most complete index of her concert performances available and the good news for collectors who are long on choices but short on cash is that the six discs are priced ‘as for four’.

One of the most exciting things about the collection is the number of concertos and sonatas that are represented. Disc one houses a particularly interesting and early example of her art in the form of the Mendelssohn Concerto with Fritz Busch conducting (Copenhagen, 1949, and in good sound). Busch is a strong, purposeful collaborator and Wicks is sweet-toned and fast of vibrato, and just a bit over-hasty at the end of the first movement. Otherwise this is a youthfully vibrant reading. It’s followed by a performance of the Brahms Concerto dating from the mid-1990s. The conductor is the sympathetic Ari Rasilainen. This is a strong, powerful performance with her ‘forward’ vibrato strongly in evidence; extrovert, incisive, bright – and intonation a tiny bit flat only once or twice. The slow movement isn’t especially introspective but the finale is rhythmically fine. There are two excellent examples of her 1950 partnership with pianist Robert Levin – a saucy Brahms Hungarian Dance No.7 and a lusciously voiced Mendelssohn On Wings of Song.

The second disc has two concertos from the years of her youthful brilliance. The first is a rousing traversal of the Tchaikovsky with William Steinberg (Hollywood Bowl Symphony, 1953) which makes its points without any recourse to audience-whipping-up or lurid colouristic devices. The same orchestra supports her in Wieniawski’s Concerto No.2 in D minor with Stokowski directing in 1946. The succulent sweet tone is on show here but the collaboration with Stokowski doesn’t sound nearly as successful as that with Busch and Steinberg. Tempi are pushed here throughout and especially in the Romance there’s no room for rubati. The final concerto in this disc is Barber’s with Sixten Ehrling directing either the Stockholm Royal Philharmonic or the Stockholm Radio Symphony. Like the orchestra, the date is unknown. I like this performance. More than most players she distinguishes between the first two movements to stop them sounding like two slow movements bleeding into each other. The result is that she is much quicker in the opening – faster than the man who gave the work its first performance, Albert Spalding and those who came after who tended to follow his tempos, from Isaac Stern through James Buswell (review, review, review, review) and on. She’s also defiantly quicker in the slow movement – the quickest I think I’ve ever heard it taken. So, a very differently proportioned reading – and I’m sure many will dissent. It’s good to hear the fourth movement of Bjarne Brustad’s witty Troll’s Windmill, as Wicks was so fine an exponent of his music. It must have been her encore at the Tchaikovsky concert.

Sonatas are a feature of the third disc. There is Beethoven’s last sonata and the Strauss with Martin Katz from the University of Michigan in 1986. Katz is over-recorded in relation to Wicks and he tends to draw the ear too much for comfort. The collaboration sounds somewhat formal and arms-length to me, and rather too metrical. For some reason the Strauss doesn’t soar. Turn however to the earlier 1973 example of the first movement (only) from 1973 with pianist Horace Martinez and her tone is more expressive and honeyed, the performance is quicker, and the rapport palpable. She recorded the Shostakovich-Tsiganov Preludes commercially – they’re on the Biddulph disc – though it’s good to hear her perform them live; they’re from the same recital with Katz. She plays Heifetz’s arrangement of Gershwin’s Preludes in 1980 with the excellent Roslyn Frantz – very characterful readings. Disc four opens with a very intense Chausson Počme with piano accompaniment (Albert Hirsch, Dallas, 1963) in a shallow recorded sound. There are good tempi and colours in a forceful reading of Ysa˙e’s Sonata No.3, though the recording is again not quite as fine as others – the violin tone isn’t quite centred enough. Her Fauré Sonata No.1 – very valuable repertoire from her – was given with Miles Graber in San Francisco in 1985. It’s a little on the heavy side and she doesn’t really play with overmuch Gallic impulse. The Tailleferre Sonata No.1 that follows, however, is really rare repertoire. It dates from the same city only five years earlier with pianist Brian Connelly. Dedicated to Jacques Thibaud this work must incarnate much of his sunny and sensual character. It’s a work that warms and sometimes darkens but Wicks captures excellently its flirtatious qualities in the scherzo and plays throughout with security and strength Connelly, too, is excellent. This disc ends with another souvenir of that Michigan concert with Katz, namely the Nin-Kochanski Spanish Songs.

There are more sonatas in disc five, which begins with a powerful and passionate reading of Bloch’s Sonata No.1. It’s very well worth reading the notes in detail because they contain quite a chunk regarding the professional friendship between Bloch and Wicks, and there is much to ponder. The recording quality is pretty good and once again Roslyn Frantz is an admirable pianist and contributes her fair share to the success of the reading. Wicks and Neal Kurz play the then little-performed Sonata Op. posth., of Ravel and this is followed by the Debussy which, in the modern manner, is relatively slow; relative, that is, to Thibaud, to Dubois, and to Francescatti. Of its type it’s a good performance. The Bartók Rhapsody No.2 comes from 1984 and is sufficiently resinous to be effective. The Ravel Tzigane is with Albert Hirsch in dated 1963 sound. It’s enjoyable to her self-announce a work by her father, Ingwald Wicks – the evocative Ode to the Desert.
 
There’s a bit of a mystery about the composite Grieg Sonata in C minor that opens the final disc. The first movement comes from a 1947 documentary film whilst the second and third movements comes from lacquer discs, possibly deriving from live performances. They are undated. The film movement sounds predictably boxier than the discs. Wicks and Levin are heard at their most youthful here. She was still performing slightly Old School recitals with piano-accompanied concertos as late as 1960. With Martinez she gives a dashing Wieniawski No.1 dealing excellently with the torrential and here very much exposed technical demands. The remainder of this disc is given over to a succession of small pieces – Sarasate, Chopin arrangements, Arthur Benjamin, Kreisler included. Three Standard Hour broadcast pieces are here in a sequence from c.1948 and provide valuable examples of her playing in lighter fare.

Nathaniel Vallois has written the comprehensive notes and Ward Marston is responsible for the excellent transfers. I think it’s unlikely that there will be a box of this kind devoted to Camilla Wicks for some time, if ever, so her devotees should snap this up now.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank (Recording of the Month)

Contents Listing

CD 1 [78:55]
Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto Op.64
Danish State Symphony Orch/Fritz Busch
22 September 1949, Copenhagen
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.77
Norwegian Radio Orchestra/Ari Rasilainen
1994 or 1995
Hungarian Dance No. 7 in A Major (arr. Joachim)
Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY
On Wings of Song, Op. 34, No. 2 (arr. Achron)
Robert Levin (piano)
1950, Norway
Maria Theresia von PARADIS (1759-1824)
Sicilienne (arr. Dushkin)
Horace Martinez (piano)
4 November 1973, Wenatchee, Washington

CD 2 [75:45]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35,
Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra/William Steinberg
Bjarne BRUSTAD (1895-1978)
“Trollkvenna” (“The Troll’s Windmill”) - 4th movement from Eventyr (Fairytale) Suite for solo violin
18 August 1953, Hollywood Bowl
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 22
Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
14 August 1946
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)
Introduction and Tarantelle, Op. 43
Standard Hour Broadcast
conductor and venue unknown
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Violin Concerto, Op. 14
Stockholm Royal Philharmonic or Symphony Orchestra of Radio Stockholm/Sixten Ehrling
Date unknown

CD 3 [75:52]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 96
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18
Martin Katz (piano)
11 February 1986, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan, Rackham Auditorium
Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18 11 ‘Improvisation’ Andante Cantabile
Horace Martinez (piano)
4 November 1973, Wenatchee, Washington
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Four Preludes from Op. 34 (arr. Tsiganov)
Martin Katz (piano)
11 February 1986, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan, Rackham Auditorium
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Preludes (arr. Heifetz)
Rosalyn Frantz (piano)
1980, Fullerton, California State University
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Ave Maria (arr. Wilhelmj)
Horace Martinez (piano)
8 October 1960, Anaheim

CD 4 [77:13]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1856-1899)
Počme, Op. 25
Albert Hirsch (piano)
26 February 1963, Dallas, Texas
Eugčne YSAŸE (1858-1931)
Solo Sonata No.3 in D minor ‘Ballade’
1988, Round Top Festival, Texas
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op.13
Miles Graber (piano)
24 March 1985, San Francisco
Germaine TAILLEFERRE (1892-1983)
Sonata No. 1
Brian Connelly (piano)
15 October 1990, San Francisco
Joaquin NIN (1879-1949)
Four Spanish Songs (arr. Kochanski)
Martin Katz (piano)
11 February 1986, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan, Rackham Auditorium

CD 5 [77:35]
Ernst BLOCH (1880-1959)
Sonata No. 1
Rosalyn Frantz (piano)
1980, Fullerton, California State University
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Sonata Op. posth.
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Violin Sonata
Neal Kurz (piano)
5 April 1991, Rice University, Houston
Belá BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Rhapsody No. 2
Jean Barr (piano)
4 March 1984, ? Eastman
Maurice RAVEL
Tzigane
Albert Hirsch (piano)
26 February 1963, Dallas, Texas
Ingwald WICKS (1892-1967)
Ode to the Desert
Horace Martinez (piano)
4 November 1973, Wenatchee, Washington

CD 6 [79:15]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Sonata no.3 in C minor, Op. 45
Robert Levin (piano)
Mov.1 1947
Mov. 2 & 3 ? date
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Concerto No.1 in F-sharp minor, Op. 14
Horace Martinez (piano)
8 October 1960, Anaheim
Scherzo-Tarantelle, Op.16
Horace Martinez (piano)
4 November 1973, Wenatchee, Washington
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)
Malagueńa
Horace Martinez (piano)
8 October 1960, Anaheim
Zapateado
Rosalyn Frantz (piano)
1980, Fullerton, California State University
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. posth. (arr. Nathan Milstein)
Horace Martinez (piano)
8 October 1960, Anaheim
Nocturne in D (originally D-flat), Op. 27, No. 2 (arr. Wilhelmj)
1948 ? pianist
Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960)
Santo Domingo
1948 ? pianist
Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962)
Tambourin Chinois
Horace Martinez (piano)
8 October 1960, Anaheim
Ioan SCARLATESCU (1872-1922)
Bagatelle
Arthur BENJAMIN
Jamaican Rumba
Michele Cooker (piano)
? date, Ann Arbor, Michigan

 

 




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