was a violinist whose individuality and very personal approach not only sparked controversy but polarized opinion among violin performers, teachers and aficionados. As well as his detractors, he had many advocates. Some of these were influential, like the music critic Hans Keller, who was asked by Carl Flesch’s son to provide an appendix to his father’s Memoir
s (Rockcliff, 1957). This helped to give a more balanced assessment after the rather negative analysis of Huberman’s technique by the distinguished pedagogue. Flesch’s son justifies the inclusion of the appendix by saying ‘the fact that there can be opinions on Huberman which are so diametrically opposed shows that his was a strong personality of many facets’.
Huberman was born in Poland in 1882 and started playing the violin at the age of six. At the age of ten his father took him to Berlin where he met Joachim, who was duly impressed. He had some lessons both with Markees, Joachim’s assistant, and later with Marsick in Paris. He took to the road at the age of eleven. Early on in his career he was given a Strad ’The Gibson’, which was twice stolen whilst in his possession. The violin subsequently became the property of Norbert Brainin, and is now owned by Joshua Bell. In 1936 Huberman founded the Palestine Symphony Orchestra - later to become the Israel Philharmonic in 1948 - for Jewish musicians who would have had an uncertain fate at the hands of the Nazis, had they stayed put. No less a musician than Arturo Toscanini conducted the orchestra’s first performance. Huberman died in 1947.
This CD brings together, for the first time, Huberman’s complete Bach and Mozart concerto recordings. This is the second time Mark Obert-Thorn, the restoration engineer, has visited these studio recordings on disc. Twenty-five years ago, in 1988, he produced a disc featuring the Bach Concertos and the Mozart K216 for Pearl. For this Pristine issue these have been newly restored with the addition of a live CBS broadcast performance of K218, featuring the violinist partnered by the New York Philharmonic under Bruno Walter. He explains that he has eliminated clicks and pops and corrected discrepancies in pitch from this live airing, and given it with a warmer ambience. For the studio recordings, he has chosen American Columbia pressings, considering them the quietest available.
There is no doubt that listening to Huberman alongside such contemporaries as Josef Szigeti (1892-1973), his playing sounds ‘old fashioned’ and firmly rooted in the 19th
century. Unlike the aforementioned violinist whose playing evolved and adapted to new trends, the new standard of violin playing brought about by Heifetz in the 20th
century, did not impinge on Huberman in any way. Sophisticated and vibrant violin tone does not appear to me to be in Huberman’s violinistic arsenal. Rather it sounds dry and uneven, a combination of an old-style finger vibrato and a bow arm not conducive to sustained tone and sonority. Ungainly, anachronistic slides and position changes abound, much evident in the slow movement of the Bach E major Concerto.
Yet, I find the two Bach Concertos engaging, with Huberman delivering music-making that is intelligent and compelling. He obviously had a great affinity for these works and communicates them well. The Mozart K216, on the other hand, lacks charm and grace, with the violinist failing to find his centre of gravity. The first movement cadenza sounds strange and unidiomatic. The opening bars conjure up images of a hen in the throes of an apoplectic fit. The third movement is rushed and lacks character. The D major K218, finds Huberman on better form and more spontaneous, inspired, no doubt, by the sense of occasion of a live event.
The first three items on the disc are marginally more satisfactory than Obert-Thorn’s Pearl transfers. There’s less surface noise and the general ambience appears warmer.
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf
Masterwork Index: Bach violin concertos