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William Primrose – the 1947 RCA Recordings
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Air from Suite No.3
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Divertimento arr. Piatigorsky
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Notturno in D Op.42
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

May Breezes Op.62 No.1
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Andante Cantabile
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

The Swan
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)

Schön Rosmarin

Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)

Lema arr Levy
Ipanema arr Levy

Ao pé da Foguera arr Heifetz
Julian AGUIRRE (1869-1924)

Huella arr. Heifetz
Efrem ZIMBALIST (1889-1985)

William Primrose (viola)
David Stimer (piano)
Recorded 17 December 1947
BIDDULPH 80147-2 [72.25]


Biddulph is back. The label’s relaunch is good news for all admirers of string playing and also of piano and orchestral music in which areas the company is building a fine catalogue. The renewed availability of this Primrose disc brings a valuable slice of his immediate post-War recordings into the public domain in cogent and effective ways. What’s remarkable is that all the sides here were recorded on a single day, 17 December 1947 – though some remained unissued on 78 they all appeared on 7" 45 rpm discs. Some of these sides are tricky to collect especially as not many received British releases, so their collation here is a boon for admirers of the great Glasgow-born violist.

These discs reveal Primrose in all his technical and expressive glory. The range of tone colours he brings out is phenomenal, the left hand performing feats of digital dexterity sufficient to depress even the toughest professional, and the bow arm capable of seductive slowness or biting incision. There are plenty of sweetmeats here and rumbustious tropical fare (courtesy of Milhaud, Vale and Aguirre) and dextrous finger busting fireworks in the form of the Zimbalist. But there is also the Bach – clean, no portamenti, a sustained bronzed legato – and the Piatigorsky arranged Haydn in which his upper string playing sings out with crystalline purity and the finale of which is dispatched with marvellously articulated left hand work. The Notturno, with which he took some textual liberties, shows the handsome range of tone colours he could elicit and his Mendelssohn dances joyously.

His Andante Cantabile is taken at a good flowing tempo and features some discreet echt Romantic slides before he unleashes his Kreisler; infectious brio and style informs Schön Rosmarin and Liebesleid is rhythmically right inside the genre (Primrose had been an eloquent Kreisler playing back in his violin playing days). He played his friend Myronoff’s Caprice from the score – quirky, slightly mordant with some excellent work from pianist David Stimer, the violist’s first class accompanist. His Milhaud is decisive and swaying and one listens spellbound to the subtle variations in vibrato usage, the supercharged pizzicati and salty, knowing phrasing. Tully Potter’s notes relate that he wanted to scrap his recording of Zimbalist’s confection but, thankfully, was dissuaded. Years later he acknowledged it had turned out all right – and no wonder. This is scintillating playing, virtuosic and theatrical and brilliantly dashing.

The transfers are vital and lifelike; no over-cleaning sounds to have been used so there’s some inevitable surface noise but Primrose’s tone emerges naturally and without hindrance. A splendid salute: assuming that he made two takes of everything that’s two and a half hours in the can on one day - some stamina, some playing.

Jonathan Woolf


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