Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata for Violin and Piano No.17 in C major, K296 [15:11] (1)
Duo for Violin and Viola in G major, K423 [14:25] (2) Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Duo for Viola and Cello in E flat major, WoO32 [7:56] (3)
Serenade in D major, Op.8 [24:30] (4)
Szymon Goldberg (violin) (1, 2 & 4) Frederick Riddle (viola) (2)
William Primrose (viola) (3) Paul Hindemith (viola) (4) Emanuel Feuermann (cello) (3
& 4) Lili Kraus (piano) (1)
rec. 1934-1948 OPUS KURA OPK2044 [62:43]
The focus of attention in this splendid release is the Polish violinist Szymon Goldberg (1909-1993), though the tragically short-lived cellist Emanuel Feuermann shares centre-stage on the booklet cover, where his name is spelt with only one ‘n’. Goldberg was reared from the age of nine in the Carl Flesch stable, the progeny of which included such distinguished names as Ida Haendel, Henryk Szeryng, Ginette Neveu, Josef Hassid and Ivry Gitlis. Repertoire-wise he gravitated towards Bach and Mozart, composers to whom he brought elegance, poise and refinement. He was certainly one of the finest Mozart violinists of his time.
In the 1930s he formed a duo partnership with the Hungarian pianist Lili Kraus, one of Artur Schnabel’s pupils. They recorded about half a dozen Mozart sonatas in the mid to late thirties. These have seen the light of day on CD on the Pearl and Lys labels as well as in the excellent Lili Kraus 31 CD retrospective put out by Erato a couple of years ago. Opus Kura give us the delightful K296, a stylish and spirited account that stands up with the best. The joy of their music-making and the obvious rapport between them is tangible, as is their singularity of vision. Goldberg’s warm, rich singing tone is ideally suited to this music.
The violinist set down recordings of both Mozart Duos for violin and viola. In 1934 he recorded K424 with Paul Hindemith. The K423 we have here dates from 1948, with the violinist teaming up with the English violist Frederick Riddle. Tully Potter points out in the notes that this recording has rarity value but that the shellac pressings are far from ideal. Nevertheless this is a small price to pay for such compelling music-making. Despite some surface noise, K. Yasuhara has worked wonders with the transfer, and the music emerges bright and vibrant. The Beethoven Duo is a work I’ve never heard before, and it’s certainly not one of his best. It was composed for himself and one of his aristocratic friends, Baron Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanowecz, a talented amateur cellist, to perform. A ‘Duet with two obbligato eyeglasses’ was the composer’s tongue-in-cheek title, as both men needed to wear glasses to play it. Feuermann and Primrose give a technically polished and rhythmically charged performance, brimming with imagination and stylish charm.
Whilst living in Berlin in the 1930s, Goldberg assumed the mantle of leader of a string trio with Hindemith and Feuermann, replacing Josef Wolfsthal, another Flesch pupil, who had died suddenly at the age of 31 from influenza. In January 1934, the trio participated in their only recording sessions together from which this Serenade in D major, Op.8 by Beethoven is taken. I first got to know this ‘apprentice’ six-movement trio from the outstanding Heifetz/Primrose/Piatigorsky recording. The present earlier traversal doesn’t quite reach the same lofty heights unfortunately. Hindemith’s playing sounds slightly old-fashioned compared to that of his two collaborators. Also, I miss the repeats in the beautiful Theme and Variation movement. Having said that, there’s no denying the musicians' utter commitment to the music. Their instinctive phrasing and seductive warmth is rewarding.
Despite some sonic limitations and distortions, which can be expected from recordings of this age, Opus Kura's transfers confer a new lease of life on these treasured documents. This release will appeal to those, like myself, with an interest in historical chamber music performances of distinction. Stephen Greenbank