Louis Zimmermann (1873-1954) was a lucky man. Not only did he
make the first electric recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto
but his 1940 live broadcast with Mengelberg has also been preserved.
This is a considerably better return for the Concertgebouw concertmaster
than many of the elite soloists of the day, who were never able
to record their interpretations once, let alone twice. The live
1940 performance is on Tahra 420/21 (review)
and in part I must cannibalise that review to introduce the
For thirty-five years, barring a small interruption, he was
leader of the Concertgebouw orchestra. He was also a chamber
player of repute whose only major chamber recording was of the
Ghost Trio. He did make two major concerto recordings
- the Bach Double for Decca in 1935 with his fellow leader Hellmann,
under Mengelberg, and of the work under discussion, Beethoven’s
Violin Concerto on which occasion he was accompanied by an unnamed
orchestra and conductor Charles Woodhouse, a set that, as I
noted at the time, I’d never seen or heard, but had been
released on Dutch Columbia. Zimmermann was fifty-three in 1926.
Many years before, his colleague Carl Flesch, then living and
teaching in Amsterdam, gave a musical snapshot of him as having
a "rounded somewhat weichlich tone" (“weichlich”
was glossed as "effeminate"). He also accused him of overdoing
his portamentos but noted that as an orchestral player "he was
experienced and quick-witted".
This studio recording sees Zimmermann in significantly better
technical and tonal estate than that rather disastrous 1940
live reading. There are however still moments of distinct executant
crisis, a number of garish downward portamenti, slack tonal
responses and an unwarmed tonal palette. The result is playing
of late nineteenth century character. Zimmermann employs plenty
of staccati, tempo fluctuations, and other expressive devices,
but he speeds up in faster passages, almost always indicative
of a loss of technical control. He also has some audible co-ordination
problems. His conductor, Charles Woodhouse, was an experienced
violinist and chamber player who had his own eponymous quartet.
He was also associated with Henry Wood, whose orchestra he led
for many years, in the same way that Zimmermann led for Mengelberg.
In fact Woodhouse used to conduct the orchestra in rehearsal
so that Wood could balance it. Both violinists probably met
many years earlier when Zimmermann had lived and taught in London.
Woodhouse sets a brisk cum stately tempo for the slow movement,
and Zimmerman controls his slides better here. The finale is
dry and workmanlike with insufficient rhythmic resilience all
round. The recording is also rather personalised. There’s
a very boomy bass, and considerable congestion in the tuttis.
The string section doesn’t sound overly large. In addition
to Zimmermann’s wandering intonation and the rather weird
sounding orchestra wind tuning - this was an ad hoc London orchestra
- there are a few fluffs along the way from the band.
Still, this recording has long escaped collectors. Recorded
in London, it was only ever issued in Holland by Dutch Columbia.
It hardly displaced the earlier acoustic performances of the
work by Juan Manén, Josef Wolfsthal and Isolde Menges,
except in terms of recording quality, and would soon be swept
away by Kreisler’s recording, amongst others.
It’s coupled with the Ghost Trio with his Concertgebouw
colleagues. This is a somewhat hollow-sounding 1930 Parlophone.
The ensemble is pretty solid and the performance a good one.
Expressive exaggerations are kept to a minimum, unless one includes
rallentandi. But the big, very noticeable slowing down at 2:55
in the first movement is not an index of the trio’s self-indulgence
but a preparation for the side change. This was part and parcel
of recording practice of the time, but on a CD transfer it can
sound somewhat baffling and structurally nonsensical. Listening
to things on 78 leaves one with a different impression; after
all, no performer at the time ever expected their recordings
one day to be ‘joined up’ in this way. Whereas Mark
Obert-Thorn transferred the Concerto, this trio is the work
of Rolf den Otter. The former has done a good job indeed, especially
in dealing with pitch problems. The latter is pretty good too,
but has a sticky side-join at 3:42 in the finale. Playing my
78 set of the recording against his transfer shows he’s
lost a touch of room ambience, though given that the Parlophone
concerned was rather noisy I can understand the decision.
This is certainly an archival novelty, and I suspect it won’t
be of much interest to most readers. I however found it fascinating!