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Legendary Concertmasters of the Berlin Philharmonic
Hugo Kolberg (violin), Michel Schwalbé (violin)
rec. 1952-1965
MELOCLASSIC MC2039 [78:01 + 73:05]

Two concertmaster-soloists, four concertos, one sonata and a raft of smaller pieces; that’s the premise of this twofer from Meloclassic. Both Hugo Kolberg (1898-1979) and Michel Schwalbé (1919-2012) were concertmasters of the Berlin Philharmonic and both had been born in, or very near, Warsaw.

Kolberg is the less well-known, a student of Henri Marteau in Berlin who took private lessons from Huberman and gained valuable orchestral experience throughout the 1920s. He replaced Szymon Goldberg in Furtwängler’s Berlin Philharmonic in December 1934 when Goldberg was forced to leave Germany. He also performed concerto and sonata engagements – he and Furtwängler premiered the latter’s Violin Sonata in D, for instance – but in early 1939 he left Germany for America (his first wife was Jewish) where Reiner promptly snapped him up as concertmaster in Pittsburgh. Thereafter he had a strange ping-ponging career in orchestras, enjoyed a near-fist fight with Georg Szell at the Met, returned to Berlin to lead for Karajan in 1958, and then on retirement in 1965 went back to America.

He essays one concerto, Spohr’s Ninth in D minor, taped with Carl Schuricht a few months before resuming his old position in Berlin. It’s not the usual Spohr choice, though it’s a work Erica Morini, for one, had in her armoury. Kolberg proves a solid, stylish and purposeful exponent, lyric and elegant in the slow movement and technically accomplished in the finale’s droll character study. He’s not an opulent tonalist, as the smaller pieces reinforce. They come from a 1956 recital with Hubert Giesen in Stuttgart. He chooses the most obviously contrastive pair from Suk Op.17 set of four, adding a well bowed Kreisler Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice and an effective but not especially Hebraic Nigun.

Schwalbé (born Szwalbe) did record an Electrola LP with Karl Engel in the early 1950s but otherwise his legacy is limited to orchestral solos, arrangements and chamber music. Back in Warsaw his classmate had been Henryk Szeryng but in 1932 he continued studies in Paris with the exalted trio of Boucherit, Enescu and Monteux. He had to leave Paris during the war, ending up as first violinist of Ansermet’s Suisse Romande. Later he was concertmaster of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and in 1957 was hired as first concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, a position he held for three decades. Like Kolberg, he had numerous opportunities away from the orchestra to perform.

The Saint-Saëns B minor concerto performance with Schmidt-Isserstedt reflects strong Gallic affiliations in his training. It’s not saturated in a Thibaud or Merckel-like ethos – either of sensuality or of piquancy - but it does possess elegance, refinement and a dashing virtuosity that proves characterful in its own right. The Glazunov Concerto (Cologne, with Mario Rossi in 1962) is certainly rather more perfumed than Milstein or Heifetz, notwithstanding their sovereign authority in this work. There’s plenty of room for expressive intonation and for effusive phrasing in this fine, purposeful reading. Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole, with Rudolf Michl, comes from 1964. They omitted the Intermezzo. It shares qualities with the Saint-Saëns; phrasal generosity but without an indulged Andante. The small pieces include a lovely Pugnani performance, a charmingly coaxed but erotically chaste Girl with the Flaxen Hair (contrast Thibaud), and a subtle Wieniawski Légende. The final item is the Debussy Sonata, significantly more idiomatic, inflected and ardent than Erick Friedman’s 1968 reading on another recent Meloclassic release.

These fine sounding restorations are housed in a gatefold album with valuable notes. One of the photographs shows both men in the concertmaster positions of the Berlin Philharmonic watching on inscrutably as Karajan takes a grinning bow.

Jonathan Woolf

SPOHR: Violin Concerto No 9 in D Minor, Op 55
Hugo Kolberg (violin)
Sinfonie-Orchester des Süddeutschen Rundfunks/Carl Schuricht
rec. 11 April 1958, Stuttgart · Villa Berg, Süddeutscher Rundfunk, Radio Studio Recording
SUK: Un poco triste, Op 17, No 3
SUK: Burleska, Op 17, No 4
KREISLER: Recitativo und Scherzo-Caprice, Op 6
SAINT-SAËNS: Havanaise in E Major, Op 83
BLOCH: Nigun No. 2 from Baal Shem
Hugo Kolberg (violin): Hubert Giesen (piano)
rec. 6 December 1956, Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, Süddeutscher Rundfunk, Radio Studio recording
SAINT-SAËNS: Violin Concerto No 3 in B Minor, Op 61
Michel Schwalbé (violin)
Sinfonieorchester des Norddeutschen Rundfunks/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
rec. 20 October 1965, Hannover, Großer Sendesaal, Norddeutscher Rundfunk, Live Recording
GLAZUNOV: Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op 82
Michel Schwalbé (violin)
WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln/Mario Rossi
rec. 19 February 1962, Köln, Großer Sendesaal, Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Radio Studio recording
LALO: Symphonie espagnole, Op 21
Michel Schwalbé (violin)
Sinfonieorchester des Saarländischen Rundfunks/Rudolf Michl
rec. 23 May 1964, Saarbrücken, Funkhaus Halberg, Saarländischer Rundfunk, Radio Studio Recording
PUGNANI: Largo espressivo
DEBUSSY/HARTMANN: La fille aux cheveux de lin
WIENIAWSKI: Légende, Op 17
Michel Schwalbé (violin): Kurt Herrlinger (piano)
rec.11 October 1952, Köln, Studio Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Radio Studio Recording
DEBUSSY: Violin Sonata in G Minor, L 148
Michel Schwalbé (violin): Walter Kamper (piano)
rec. 10 December 1959, Berlin, Kleiner Sendesaal, Sender Freies Berlin, Radio Studio Recording

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