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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op 61 (1806) [42:12]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Violin Concerto in D major, Op 77 (1878) [37:13]
Albert Spalding (violin)
Austrian Symphony Orchestra/Wilhelm Loibner
rec. 1952, Brahms-Saal, Musikverein, Vienna

Remington signed a deal to record the Beethoven and Brahms concertos in the Brahms-Saal of the Musikverein in Vienna in 1952. The chosen soloist was the veteran American, Albert Spalding (1888-1953) – so veteran, in fact, that he had been retired since May 1950. Nevertheless, they were to be his only non-78rpm concerto recordings in what were to prove to be his last studio sessions. Remington used the so-called Musirama multiple-microphone technique; there were, in fact, four microphones recording in mono. It’s highly likely, given timing and financial constraints, that these were all single-take performances.

Despite the imperfections and occasionally wandering intonation, it’s still a rewarding experience to hear Spalding in the two greatest concertos for his instrument. In the Beethoven his lower strings can sound rather guttural and slow-to-sound in places but his upper strings are still quite fast, the vibrato characteristically fleet and decidedly pellucid in sound. Some studio noises-off only add to the verisimilitude of the recording. His tempi are perfectly acceptable – no Elmanesque slowing down (to cite another veteran also recording in Europe) - and he graces the music with deft slides. Are these his own cadenzas? Spalding’s dignity is best in evidence in his phrasing in the slow movement, albeit he’s not helped by the too-functional orchestral support he receives from the Austrian Symphony Orchestras aka the Vienna Tonkunstler Symphony Orchestra. The finale is somewhat underpowered but is suitably playful.

The Brahms Concerto is notably successful in terms of structure. Sometimes, inevitably perhaps, Spalding’s tone bleaches white but his is refined, propulsive and principled playing. His tone may not be as attractive as it once was but he was clearly out to give a good, unsentimental account of the work, playing up to tempo. Again I suspect the cadenza may be his own – he was a fine composer too. Whilst the central movement has been played more poetically Spalding plays with elegance and Loibner delineates the accompanying string sections very adeptly. The violinist engenders a degree of pathos here, and though he could be earthier – Spalding didn’t really do earthy – and embrace the more rustic spirits of the dance in the finale, his performance is honest and enjoyable.

Forgotten Records has used good source material; Remington (or possibly Concerteum) for the Beethoven and possibly the same for the Brahms. If they’ve used the Varese Sarabande (VC81059) for the latter then the transfer on that LP was via the original 30ips master tapes, rather than the 15ips that Remington used commercially.

I’ve written several times about Spalding in reviews and hope I’ve communicated my admiration for his elegant, clean-cut but refined playing. His concerto ‘Last Will and Testament’ offers imperfections but also strong vestiges of his rewarding musicianship.

Jonathan Woolf



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