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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Violin Sonata in E flat major, Op. 18 (1887) [25:31]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Violin Sonata in D major, Op. 11, No. 2 (1918) [17:28]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Sonata for two violins, H.213 (1931) [12:02]
Five Short Pieces H.184 (1929): Nos. 2 and 5 [4:49]
Louis Kaufman (violin)
Artur Balsam (piano)
Peter Rybar (violin: Martinů)
Pina Pozzi (piano: Martinů)
rec. 1952

It’s always a pleasure to see an admired artist’s old discography expand still further. It’s Louis Kaufman – liquid, emotive, expressive, a romanticist to his fingernails – who is the focus of this restoration of LP recordings made around 1952 for Concert Hall and Capitol.

First up is the Strauss sonata with the elite collaboration of Artur Balsam. This is Strauss playing as one seldom hears it today – compulsively sweeping and energised, with big-hearted, instantly communicative warmth both of tone and also of sentiment. The playing is buttressed with a quota of deft and charismatic slides. The characteristic intensity of Kaufman’s vibrato – which will not be to the tastes of the more vegetarian of listeners – adds an element of heroism to proceedings. The legato pathos and colour of the central movement, with its almost perfumed cantabile, is artfully brought out by Kaufman – though both men can and do play softly too – as is the vibrancy, and the allure, of the finale. You’d expect no less of this fiddler. The Concert Hall recording was not kind to Balsam’s piano, proving somewhat splintery in the bass in particular.

Hindemith’s Sonata Op. 11 No. 2 was recorded by the prestige Capitol label and no technical strictures need be laid, retrospectively speaking, at their door. Both men play this sonata with taut decisiveness and tart accents. Kaufman reserves that rich vibrato for the central movement but is suitably terpsichorean in the finale. It’s programmatic pleasure to continue with Martinů, in which he’s joined for the Sonata for two violins by Peter Rybar, and pianist Pina Pozzi. We’re back to a dryish Concert Hall studio set-up but not even that can impair pleasure in Kaufman and Rybar’s quicksilver dance around each other, or in their firm unison playing. Pozzi plays the decorative piano lines in the slow movement with a relish matched by the two string players who go on to dash off a finale full of verve and excitement. It’s a shame that Kaufman and Pozzi only recorded the second and fifth of the Five Pieces, H.184 but the violinist shows that the divisions between the romanticist and neo-classicist need not be as remorseless as all that - like Mischa Elman who performed the composer’s Concerto No. 2 in 1943. Kaufman brings plenty of carnal heat to this music in a way that modern-day players would probably find alarming. However, when greater linear clarity and tensile propulsion is needed, Kaufman triumphs too, as he does in the Allegro, No. 5.

With fine transfers – which couldn’t have mitigated the inherent limitations of the Concert Halls – this can be warmly recommended to admirers of the vivid art of Louis Kaufman.

Jonathan Woolf



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