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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Violin Sonata in E flat major, Op. 18 (1887) [25:31]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Violin Sonata in D major, Op. 11, No. 2 (1918) [17:28]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Sonata for two violins, H.213 (1931) [12:02](1)
Five Short Pieces for violin and piano H.184 (1929): Nos. 2 and 5 [4:49](2)
Louis Kaufman (violin)
Artur Balsam (piano)
Peter Rybar (violin)(1)
Pina Pozzi (piano)(1)(2)
rec. 1952

Louis Kaufman (1905-1994) must be one of the most recorded violinists in history. He can be heard on the soundtracks of as many as five hundred films, as well as clocking up over one hundred classical recordings. One of his main claims to fame was his 1947 Vivaldi Four Seasons, which has garnered much critical acclaim over the years, and won a Grand Prix du Disque in 1950. It was Kaufman’s beguiling, vibrant tone, coupled with sensuous expressive portamenti and position changes which conferred a richly-coloured intoxicating tonal opulence on his captivating sound. This must surely have attracted the Hollywood moguls, making the violinist a valuable asset. For me, his stylistic characteristics have many similarities to those of Kreisler and Heifetz. A great favourite is his 1946 rendition of Jerome Kern’s The Song is You with the pianist Leonard ‘Tiny’ Berman (Bay Cities BCD 1019), a heady mix of suavity and rapt intensity.

The Polish pianist Artur Balsam (1906-1994) collaborated frequently with Kaufman, and they made several fine recordings together. Some of their efforts can be found on an excellent ‘twofer’ from Bridge (9225A/B) which contains music by Chausson and Dvořák. They also recorded the Poulenc Sonata together, which is on the B side of the Hindemith recording we have here (CTL 7001). It’s regrettable that it hasn’t been included; presumably not enough space.

The Strauss Sonata is as good as any I’ve heard. The players declaim the heroic grandeur of the opening movement with a determined sense of purpose and, indeed, generate plenty of passion and lyricism in the outer movements. Romantic tenderness imbues the slow movement, and in the muted middle section there’s a true improvisatory feel. The Hindemith Sonata in D major, Op. 11, No. 2 deserves to be better known. It’s late-Romantic bearing owes a debt to Reger and there’s also a detectable influence of Debussian impressionism. The first movement is given an arresting start with Kaufman and Balsam injecting plenty of life and energy. The movement can meander, but here is given a strong sense of direction. The contrasting second movement is calm and serene, and is topped with a dance-like finale, sprightly and joyous.

I’ve not come across these Martinů works before. In the Sonata for two violins, Kaufman is joined by the violinist Peter Rybar (1913-2002) and the pianist Pina Pozzi (1914-1966). The violinists blend well. They bring rhythmic vitality to the first movement, which has a neo-classical bent. In the more restrained second movement the two violinists hover over an adorning piano accompaniment. A punchy, angular finale ends the work with gusto. We stay with Martinů for the last two pieces from Five Short Pieces for violin and piano H.184. Kaufman has chosen nos. 2 and 5, offering contrast in mood: one sedate and reflective, the other spiky and ebullient.

The recordings are re-mastered from Concert Hall LPs except for the Hindemith which derives from a Capitol. The latter are rather treble-biased, lacking bass and depth, whereas the Capitol LP has a more favourable aural perspective. No notes are provided, but the listener is pointed in the direction of several relevant websites.
Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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