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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 [28:10]
Mélodie, Op. 42, No. 3 [3:29]
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Symphonie espagnole, Op. 21 [25:10]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op 64, No. 2 (arr. Huberman) [3:15]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Hungarian Dance No. 1 in g (arr. Joachim) [3:01]
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)
Romanza andaluza [4:39]
Aleksander ZARZYCKI (1834-1895)
Mazurka in G major, Op. 26 [4:22]
Bronislaw Huberman (violin)
Siegfried Schultze (piano)
Staatskapelle Berlin/William Steinberg (Tchaikovsky)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/George Szell (Lalo)
rec. 28 and 30 December, 1928, Beethovensaal, Berlin (Tchaikovsky); 20 and 22 June, 1934, MittlererKonzerthaussaal, Vienna (Lalo); 1929-1932, Columbia Petty France Studio, London (shorter works); (Brahms) – venue not given

Huberman’s striking individuality and ‘old fashioned’ approach may not appeal to everyone, but there’s no doubting that, in life, he was a man of immense sincerity, integrity and humanity. Although his style has courted controversy, these higher qualities have been admired and have stamped his interpretations.

He was born in Poland in 1882 and took up the violin at the age of six. At the age of ten his father took him to Berlin where he met Joachim. He had some lessons with Carl Markees, Joachim’s assistant, and later with Martin 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 stolen twice whilst in his possession; it is now owned by Joshua Bell. In 1936 Huberman co-founded the Palestine Symphony Orchestra - later to become the Israel Philharmonic in 1948 - for Jewish musicians who would have had an all too certain fate at the hands of the Nazis, had they stayed put. Arturo Toscanini conducted the orchestra’s first performance. Huberman died in 1947, aged sixty-four.

It was with this Tchaikovsky Concerto that Huberman made his first electrical recording with the Columbia label. The year was 1928. He didn’t venture into the studio all that often, finding it generally a stressful experience. The recording has been widely acclaimed over the years. It has had several outings on CD – Naxos (8.110903), in an EMI Classics 4 CD set titled Tchaikovsky Historical nla (764855), and Opus Kura (OPK2007), where it is paired with the Lalo Symphonie espagnole. The Lalo can also be found on an APR disc (5506). There is a live Tchaikovsky performance from March 1946 with Eugene Ormandy on Music and Arts (CD 1122) but, not having heard it, I can’t offer a comparison.

The violinist is partnered by William Steinberg and the Berlin Staatskapelle. It was with Steinberg that Huberman co-founded the Palestine Symphony Orchestra. What we have is an edge-of-the-seat performance imbued with drama and passion. Admittedly, there are some big swooning portamenti in the first movement, which are not to modern tastes, but the cut and thrust make for a compelling listen. The Canzonetta is sensitively sculpted and ravishingly played. The finale is a whirlwind from start to finish, and Huberman’s formidable technique is in no way under strain. Scintillating spiccatos are the order of the day. There are some noticeable cuts in the finale, but unfortunately he doesn’t make the Auer cuts which, to my mind, are an improvement on the original, rescuing the movement from much unnecessary repetition.

Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole was taped in Vienna in June 1934 and, of all his recordings, was the violinist’s own personal favourite. Following the established practice of the time, Huberman omits the Intermezzo. Quite why this central movement was routinely omitted puzzles me, as it’s delightful, and includes some of the composer’s most compelling music in terms of virtuosity and lyricism. Henry Merckel and Yehudi Menuhin both restored this movement in their early recordings of the work in 1932 and 1933 respectively. The Lalo makes an apposite coupling with the Tchaikovsky as, after listening to his favourite pupil Iosif Kotek play the Symphonie, the Russian composer was spurred on to write his own violin concerto.

Listening to this glorious recording I can see why the violinist was so fond of it. Szell sets a robust pace for the opening. There’s a convincing boldness in Huberman’s playing of this movement, where his ‘go for broke’ technical brilliance is displayed in sharp contrast to the suaveness and elegance of the more lyrical sections. He truly brings the music to life. There’s some heartfelt playing in the hauntingly beautiful Andante. The finale fairly sparkles in a display of thrilling pyrotechnics, enhanced by salvos of crisp and incisive spiccato bowings.

The short pieces were set down at the Columbia Petty France Studio, London, with the exception of the Brahms, where the recording venue is unknown. The Tchaikovsky Mélodie is exquisitely phrased and ardent in its expression, but let down slightly by some ungainly slides. The Chopin Waltz, in an arrangement by Huberman himself, is a little on the schmaltzy side, and the middle section’s over-indulgent rubato make this the least successful of the ‘encore’ pieces. There’s plenty to admire, in terms of scintillating virtuosity, in the Brahms Hungarian Dance. The tempo does seem to drag in the Romanza andaluza by Sarasate, but any limitations are truly compensated for in the magnificent Zarzycki Mazurka. Huberman summons all his resources to deliver a ravishing, virtuosic tour de force. It almost outdoes Oistrakh’s rendition.

This is the third release in Pristine Audio’s Huberman series that I have reviewed, and it has certainly lived up to my expectations. Mark Obert-Thorn and Andrew Rose have worked wonders with these restorations. Throughout, the violin sits comfortably in the aural perspective. This release gets my wholehearted endorsement.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: John Whitmore




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