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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77 (1878) [42:10]
Oscar Shumsky (violin)
Philharmonia Hungarica/Uri Segal
rec. 1984, Kreis Recklinghausen, Marl, Germany
BIDDULPH 85007-2 [42:10]

In its recent tranche of releases Biddulph has restored a number of Oscar Shumsky’s recordings from the 1940s and 1950s. Here, however, we have a previously unreleased recording from 1984, when he enjoyed a triumphant return to Europe where he recorded widely, not least for ASV, Chandos and Nimbus.

I heard him three times during those years, twice playing the Elgar and once the Tchaikovsky. The Elgar performance with Andrew Davis was one of the greatest live performances of a concerto I have heard, the Tchaikovsky expert but not as persuasive. There were many broadcasts too, and one was a Proms performance of the Brahms with Mariss Janssons conducting the BBC Welsh Symphony in August 1987, which I duly taped. It’s now available on YouTube as the performance was filmed by the BBC. I’ve seen reference to a Rozhdestvensky broadcast with the LSO but haven’t found out more. He definitely recorded very brief illustrative excerpts from the concerto with the Little Symphony Orchestra for the Music Appreciation Records label [MAR 1015] back in the 1950s, the text spoken by conductor Thomas Scherman.

All of which is an entrée. The dish is this German recording, made in Marl over two days, after a concert performance with the Philharmonia Hungarica directed by Uri Segal. The work is central to a Romantic’s repertoire and the Auer and Zimbalist-trained violinist was nothing if not cast in the mould of the romantic tradition. In his portion of the booklet note, the violinist’s son Eric Shumsky, himself a splendid violist, relates that his father waived his concert fee to support the cost of recording, so he was plainly keen to set down a living record of his way with the work, which he hadn’t as yet recorded. And yet, afterwards, nothing happened and Shumsky moved on to other things. It was only when going through his possessions years after Shumsky’s death that Eric Shumsky found the tapes, which have now been digitally edited and mastered by Dennis Patterson. The result sounds splendid.

The performance is in the grandest romantic fashion. Shumsky phrases with spacious warmth in the first movement and Segal responds with elastic phraseology, the music tugging and expanding as befits its emotive temperature. Shumsky occasionally heightens the expressive breadth of a phrase and plays the Joachim cadenza with great dexterity. Changes of colour are always apposite and never unconsidered. The oboe solo in the slow movement sits in the orchestral tapestry and isn’t spotlit, and one can certainly hear the horn harmonies. Shumsky rhapsodises with a stream of rich-toned lyricism, attuned to dynamics, and bowing with finesse. This is playing of eloquent drama but never for a moment superficial. The finale is taken with vigour but relatively steadily, with a necessary sense of forward movement and a sufficient amount of paprika.

This proportions of the performance are very similar to those taken by a younger player, namely Perlman, though Shumsky’s tonal qualities are very different. The recording acoustic is somewhat billowy in the Kreis Recklinghausen, Marl, and sometimes the lower strings and horns can sound a touch blurry. You can certainly hear the echo at the end of the first and third movements.

Fine notes from Wayne Kiley and Eric Shumsky, of course, buttress this hugely welcome, unexpected and marvellously communicative performance. There’s no coupling and it’s therefore a disc of only 42 minutes but if you’ve read this far you’re a Shumsky admirer and won’t care about couplings and nor should you. I do hope there’s more where this comes from.

Jonathan Woolf

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