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Jonathan Woolf
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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Violin Sonata in E flat major, Op. 18 (1887) [28:55]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Duo-Concertant (1931-2) [15:27]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Violin Sonata (1942-43) [18:58]
Joseph Fuchs (violin)
Artur Balsam (piano: Strauss)
Leo Smit (piano: Copland, Stravinsky)
rec. 1950, November 1955 (Strauss)

America was fortunate to possess both concertmaster-soloists and supreme tonalists in the 1950s to such an extent that repertoire duplication became less of a luxury and more of a given. To take just two examples, both Joseph Fuchs, for American Decca, and Louis Kaufman, for a variety of labels, most European, often replicated the literature - either contemporaneously or a few years apart. Kaufman recorded all three works in this release devoted to Fuchs but their performances could hardly be more different. Kaufman’s Strauss is on Forgotten Records FR1158 and his Copland Sonata is on Parnassus PACD96057.

Fuchs and Artur Balsam recorded Richard Strauss’ sonata in November 1955. The playing is distinguished, cultured, and technically impeccable. There’s a fine and distinctive sense of room ambience which allows both instruments space to breathe, though the piano is decidedly centre-but-behind the violin. Phrases emerge with ripeness and communicative strength and Fuchs’s slides are adroit, quick – but never slick – and stylistically apposite. With pathos in the central movement and rich lyricism in the finale, this is an excellent reading with Balsam proving as ever to be a deluxe accompanist. Only the violinist’s over-recorded subsidiary material in the finale reveals engineers afraid that he wouldn’t properly be heard and slightly misjudging things. Turning from Fuchs to Kaufman is to turn to the richest of romanticist responses. Kaufman is the more vibrant interpreter, everything stamped with his lavish tonal responses.

In the Copland Fuchs has the collaboration of a long-time intimate of the composer, Leo Smit, whose authority is audible throughout, anchoring the performance with great assurance. Fuchs plays with warmth but Kaufman, on Concert Hall LP plays with even more vivid imagination and sense of colour. Fuch’s Copland was coupled with the Stravinsky Duo Concertant which prompted a contemporary review to talk about Decca’s ‘longhair’ release. This is another splendid performance, Fuchs’s tone production put to good use in the astringencies of the writing which is not quite as apposite, perhaps, as Szigeti’s with the composer at the keyboard, but less plush than in Kaufman’s own performance.

Forgotten Records doesn’t produce sleeve notes for the majority of its releases – there’s none here – but its transfers are invariably fine. In this one, the LP rumble on the Stravinsky-Copland LP can be heard but it’s an archaeological sub-stratum that sounds very difficult to have mitigated. The sound itself is excellent and nothing will impede enjoyment of the three works, which one can slide on the shelf alongside Fuchs’s Beethoven violin sonata cycle, now on Naxos (see review), and Forgotten Records’ own restorations of Mozart and VW (see review) and chamber music (see review).

Jonathan Woolf



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