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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Sonata in E minor, K 304 (1778) [10:00]
Violin Sonata in A major, K305 (1778) [10:46]
Violin Sonata in B flat major, K. 454 (1784) [19:29]
Violin Sonata in A major K526 (1787) [18:37]
Violin Sonata in B flat major K570 (1789) [14:55]
Oscar Shumsky (violin)
Leopold Mittman (piano)
rec. 1951, no location specified
BIDDULPH 85003-2 [73:40]

Biddulph is restoring Oscar Shumsky’s Mozart LP legacy. Shortly to be reviewed is 85006-2, which will include the Fifth Concerto, but the disc under review is devoted to the handful of sonatas he recorded with Leopold Mittman in 1951. These were Shumsky’s only recordings for the Allegro label, released on two LPs – AL97 and AL 112. Allegro had a small but good roster of performers which included Roman Totenberg, the Kroll Quartet, the Pasquier Trio, Rosalyn Tureck and Adolph Baller, amongst others.

Though decades have now passed, Shumsky’s credentials as a rich toned and communicative exponent of the repertoire remain as audible now as ever. The E minor, K304 features bold, muscular and extrovert playing, fulsome in the opening Allegro but supple and elegant in the ensuing Menuetto. Youthful brio and verve inform the performance of K305 with its variations neatly characterised and vested with colour and elegant legato. Mittman is probably best remembered on disc for his collaborations with a lion of the Old School, Mischa Elman, and he plays with equal sensitivity for Shumsky.

The Sonata in B flat is a perfect example of the rapport and ensemble strengths of the Shumsky-Mittman team in which rhythmic buoyancy is balanced by romantic subtlety, not least in the generous expressivity of the slow movement. Where the duo also score is in the spry exchanges in this sonata’s finale, fleet and playful. Sensitively deployed vibrato is a notable feature of the slow movement of K526 where Mittman’s statements are distinguished by eloquence and balanced chording. The Presto finale is a veritable athletic playground of dextrous virtuosity. It’s also not virtuosity for its own sake but to convey the music’s vitality and liveliness. K570 is something of an odd man out. It’s really a piano sonata but a violin part was issued on first publication and so it is often played as an independent violin sonata. It has less in the way of individuality for the fiddler and allows Mittman to show what a fine and idiomatic player he was in this repertoire.

The Shumsky-Mittman team offers fiery, ripely coloured readings very different from those of others; let’s say the later pairings of Szeryng and Haebler, Grumiaux and Klein, or Goldberg and Lupu or, in the specific case of K304, Nap de Klijn and Alice Keksch in their recording made at almost the same time as Shumsky and Mittman were recording for Allegro. The Allegro recording balances mean that Shumsky’s counter-themes can sometimes sound just a touch overloud.

I reviewed two of these sonata recordings six years ago when they appeared on Forgotten Records (see review) - where I noted the existence of his later cycle with Balsam - and neither transfer can hide some LP imperfections or the fact that the studio sound is rather flat but Biddulph’s transfer is much more forward and present, and to be preferred.

Shumsky and Mittman’s Mozart is bold, vital and richly rewarding: well worth hearing 70 years on.

Jonathan Woolf

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