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Zimbalist Auer v1 850182
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Efrem Zimbalist (violin)
The Auer Legacy, Vol. 1
rec. 1911-1939
BIDDULPH 85018-2 [73]

Efrem Zimbalist was one of the so-called trinity of leading students of Leopold Auer, the others being Heifetz and Elman. It was always as much an advertising slogan as anything and the gimlet-eyed Carl Flesch began the assault on Zimbalist quite early, believing that the tonally voluptuous (but personally and artistically erratic) Toscha Seidel should have been the third and not Zimbalist. Well, so much for reputations.

I reviewed a Pearl disc which contained both the Brahms and Ysaˇe sonatas and Zimbalist’s Improvisation on a Japanese Tune – all three of which are present in Biddulph’s disc - back in 2003 (review) so for brief details of the Russian violinist’s career and longer thoughts about the performances, especially the sonatas, I suggest you follow the link. In a sentence I find in most of Zimbalist’s recordings ‘clarity and refinement and a cool, sometimes dispassionate, objectivity.’ I also reviewed a Brahms and Sibelius Concerto off-air coupling a decade ago, a significant addition to his body of recordings.

He made a raft of 78s but not many were of significant music, most being vignettes and morceaux. Whereas Pearl focused largely on his Columbias, Biddulph have plumped for his Victors, most of which are acoustic (1911-18) though there is a Glinka-Chopin coupling from 1926 and then, of course, RCA Victor’s pioneering Ysaˇe sonata recording of 1939, the last commercial recording he made.

Zimbalist’s playing remains patrician, unruffled, virtuosic and limited in expressive colour and emotive candour. His own Hebrew Song and Dance is elevated in feeling and lacking in demotic drama whilst the Polish Dance is full of virtuoso flair, fast paced and good fun. Chopin’s ‘Minute’ Waltz, heard in his own arrangement, has droll stopping points and is laced with suave legato. He also plays the Waltz in G in his colleague Albert Spalding’s arrangement. There is, in fact, some similarity in their playing. Both were clean, crisp, tonally discreet performers, though Zimbalist exceeds Spalding in the virtuosity stakes. Saint-SaŽns’ Prelude from Le Dťluge rather makes the point for me; polished but introspective. If you want crystalline avian trills, tonal purity and intonational security you could do a lot worse than the 1926 Glinka Persian Song in Zimbalist’s buccaneering arrangement. The Yamada piece and the companion Improvisation were recorded in 1929 and attest to Zimbalist’s huge popularity in Japan.

There’s a typo in Bryan Crimp’s booklet note which refers not to Zimbalist’s ‘chaste’ tone but to his ‘chased’ tone: that really would be a fiddler worth hearing. Some of the track listing could be better. There’s a Tor Aulin mix-up; Zimbalist plays the Humoresque, the second of Aulin’s Aquarelles, not the Aquarelles from a non-existent Humoresque cycle. It would have helped if they’d included the fact, which I’ve added below, that the Hebrew Song and Dance and the Polish Dance come from Zimbalist’s set of Slavonic Dances (1913).

The transfers are good, drawing the frequencies more forward than was the case with the otherwise fine Pearl transfers. This has the paradoxical effect, however, of ensuring that we hear Zimbalist’s pressing, fast vibrato in all its glory and in the extended stretches of the Brahms Sonata, especially in the higher positions, this can be a wearying sound. It can be quite tiring listening to Efrem Zimbalist.

Zimbalist is a frustrating figure for collectors. His discography hasn’t really been properly explored and it’s understandable that the Brahms and Ysaˇe sonatas should loom so large. Even back in LP days, Melodiya’s Zimbalist offering contained the Aulin, Yamada and Improvisation, and the Chopin-Spalding Waltz, duplicating quite a bit of what’s in this Biddulph. A Rococo LP included the less-often transferred Aulin Impromptu as well as a Brahms Hungarian Dance brace and the sonata, amongst other things.

However, I’m sure hardcore collectors – all four of us – would welcome a dispassionate, comprehensive collection in individual volumes. I doubt we’ll get it, but we can hope.

Jonathan Woolf

Cesar Cui (1835-1918)
Kaleidoscope: Orientale, Op.50 No.9 (1893)
Tor Aulin (1866-1914)
Aquarelles: No.2 Humoresque (1899)
Efrem Zimbalist (1889-1985)
Slavonic Dances: No.2 Hebrew Song and Dance. No. 3 Polish Dance (1913)
Improvisation on a Japanese Tune
Camille Saint-SaŽns (1835-1921)
The Carnival of the Animals: The Swan (1886)
Le Dťluge: Prelude, Op.45 (1876)
Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
Waltz in D, Op.64 No.1 ‘Minute’ (1846-47) arr Zimbalist
Waltz in G, Op.70 No.1 (1833) arr. Spalding
Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857)
A Farewell to St Petersburg: No.10 The Lark (1840) arr Auer
Ruslan and Ludmilla: Persian Song (1842) arr. Zimbalist
KosÁakuy Yamada (1886-1965)
Kuruka, Kuruka
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No.3 in D minor, Op.108 (1888)
EugŤne Ysaˇe (1858-1931)
Violin Sonata No.1 in G minor (1923)
Samuel Chotzinoff (piano)
The Victor Orchestra
Francis Moore (piano)
Emanuel Bay (piano)
Harry Kaufman (piano: Brahms)

Published: October 27, 2022

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