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William Primrose (viola)
Baroque Sonatas and Encore Pieces
Joseph Kahn, Earl Wild, Franz Rupp (piano)
rec. 1939/41, New York
BIDDULPH 85005-2 [77:05]

This exciting disc includes a raft of previously unreleased Primrose 78s. It will be much quicker to note those pieces that were issued on RCA Victor 78s at the time: the Boccherini Sonata in A, the C.P.E. Bach and Rameau, Schubert’s Ave Maria, the Paganini Caprice No.24, the two Dvořáks, Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro and his ‘Boccherini’ Allegretto. Even the briefest look at the track listing shows what an extraordinary trove is to be found here in these 1939 and 1941 sides.

Primrose is in typically magnificent tonal and technical form. It’s also Primrose on the cusp, as he left behind the London String Quartet years and a tone that was more cellistic for a very much more tensile approach suited to his string playing equals Heifetz and Feuermann, later Piatigorsky.

The discs aren’t presented chronologically but rather thematically, so for example the Kreisler pieces, recorded in both 1939 and ’41, are presented in one sequence. This is useful as a grouping mechanism and also, perhaps, it forces the ear to acclimatise between Primrose’s subtle changes in tone and vibrato speed over the brief period involved. The most obvious example of this is in Bach’s Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ in the Templeton arrangement, which is richly resonant and generously bowed. In later years some of this kind of colour was no longer to be found in his playing, great though it still remained. The Handel Sonata in A is an especially fine catch showing the full colouristic range of which he was capable as well as his dazzling articulation and his natural rhythmic buoyancy and refinement. His tempo for the finale is justly tasteful.

Two of the accompanying pianists were then NBC staffers, one more famous than the other. Earl Wild gave Primrose his own arrangement of Paganini’s Caprice No.13 and joins him for this audacious reading, which reminds one of something Mischa Elman is said to have muttered when he heard Primrose’s earlier May 1934 78s of Caprices 5 and, indeed, 13; ‘It must be easier for violists’. Among the many pieces here I had no idea Primrose recorded is La fille aux cheveux de lin which he plays with great beauty and romantic phrasing, though not, it’s true, with the sensuous longing of Jacques Thibaud. Primrose is a dapper exponent of Kreisler’s Baroquerie but also plays a more unusual piece, Aucassin and Nicolette. He has the Kreislerian rubato in Liebesfreud. Cherry Ripe is just beautiful and though Delius’ Serenade from Hassan is Tertis territory Primrose, back in 1939, does it more than justice.

Of the commercial recordings, the Boccherini Allegro moderato movement is splendidly alive and his own arrangement of the C.P.E. Bach Solfeggietto is brilliantly clean. The two Dvořák pieces in their Kreisler arrangements are touching and Kreisler’s own Praeludium and Allegro is heard in an August 1941 recording notable for superb clarity of articulation and virtuoso command though arguably without Primrose’s great predecessor Lionel Tertis’s brand of romantic panache when heard alongside the latter’s 78.

Tully Potter has written a good four-page note and David Hermann’s transfers and Dennis Patterson’s digital mastering have borne ripe fruit. The discs, and especially the unpublished ones, are in excellent state. I hope there’s more Primrose, including perhaps large-scale works, yet to emerge from the archives. In the meantime, this remains a significant addition to the great Scotsman’s discography.

Jonathan Woolf

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 639 arr. A. Templeton [3:02]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 1 No. 3, HWV 361 [7:44]
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1747-1805)
Cello Sonata in A Major, G. 4; I Adagio molto and II Allegro moderato [7:36]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1786)
Solfeggietto in C Minor, Wq. 117 No. 2 arr. W. Primrose [0:56]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Harpsichord Suite in E Minor VIII. Tambourin arr. F. Kreisler [1:51]
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)
Violin Sonata in B-Flat Major, Op. 4 No. 3 III. Presto transcr. L. Bridgewater [2:01]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Ave Maria, Op. 52 No. 6, D. 839 arr. A. Wilhelmj [4:40]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 No. 3, Warum? arr. W. Burmester [1:28]
Niccolň PAGANINI (1782-1840)
24 Caprices, Op. 1 No. 13 in B-Flat Major "Devil's Laughter" arr. E. Wild [2:23]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Gypsy Melodies (7), Op. 55 (B104) No. 4, Songs My Mother Taught Me arr. F. Kreisler [2:57]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Préludes - Book 1 No. 8, La fille aux cheveux de lin [2:48]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Negro Spiritual Melody (after Dvořák's Op. 95 No. 2) [4:45]
Praeludium and Allegro in the Style of Pugnani [5:01]
La précieuse in the Style of Couperin [3:00]
Allegretto in the Style of Boccherini [2:00]
Scherzo in the Style of Dittersdorf [3:10]
Aucassin and Nicolette [1:59]
Liebesfreud [3:05]
Syncopation [2:02]
Richard HEUBERGER (1850-1914)
Der Opernball (The Opera Ball) Midnight Bells arr. F. Kreisler [2:57]
Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)
Cherry Ripe [3:04]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Hassan: Serenade [3:55]

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