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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 12/2 [15:40]
Violin Sonata No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 23 [14:30]
Violin Sonata No. 5 in F major Op.24 'Spring' [19:39]
Joseph Bernstein (violin)
Ella Goldstein (piano)
rec. 1949, New York. Mono.

As forgotten recordings go, I’m certain that these Concert Hall Society recordings of three Beethoven violin sonatas from 1949 won’t be remembered by many. The violinist is Joseph Bernstein (1914-1976), who could boast impressive credentials. Born in Bessarabia, he was a pupil of Arnold Rosé, who was concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic for over half a century, and leader of the renowned Rosé String Quartet. He then finished his studies with Carl Flesch and George Enescu. In 1937 he became first violin of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, which had been founded the previous year by Bronislaw Huberman. Whilst there he formed the Tel Aviv String Quartet. In 1947 he relocated to the States and taught at Tanglewood and at the Hart College of Music. Between 1959-1971 he acted as assistant concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic. His partner in these recordings is the pianist Ella Goldstein (b.1927). She was born in Harbin, China. She made her debut at Carnegie Hall in 1947, and in 1953 won first prize in the Ferruccio Busoni Competition.

This selection of three sonatas is all the more pleasing in that, apart from the ‘Spring’, the performers have opted for two of the lesser performed works. Bernstein’s playing has immense appeal. He possesses a warm tone, enhanced by an extremely flexible vibrato, which yields a substantially varied tonal palette. I’ve never heard him in any other repertoire, but his Viennese years with Rosé surely have contributed to a sympathetic affinity with this music. He projects well, and his communicative powers draw the listener into the music-making. His musicianship is impeccable.

He is blessed with a sympathetic collaborator in Ella Goldstein. I don’t know how often they worked together, but I would imagine regularly on the evidence here. Matching phrasing, dynamics and singularity of vision are compelling. A good example is the finale of the Second Sonata in A major, which comes over as a genial dialogue between two intimate friends; I’ve rarely heard it done so well. The ubiquitous ‘Spring’ abandons stale routine for a performance intensely engaging, intuitive and fresh-sounding. The Adagio is expressive and oozes beguiling lyricism. The Scherzo is impish, with the off-beat responses from the violin rhythmically crisp.

Not always the case with this label, this release comes with some interesting notes, written in French by the violinist Alexis Galpérine. The fine transfers are stated to be from Concert Hall Society LPs, which appear to have been very well-preserved.

Stephen Greenbank


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