S0527. MISCHA ELMAN, w.Joseph Seiger (Pf.): Bach, Vitali, Handel, Beethoven, Brahms, Espejo, Smetana, Achron & Kreisler. (England) 2-Testament SBT2 1475, BBC Broadcast Recitals, 1961, published for the first time. Final copy! - 749677147525
"Violinist Mischa Elman rarely played for radio broadcasts, even in America, but he did so occasionally for the BBC. The two recitals on these compact discs were pre-recorded on a visit to England in 1961 and feature pianist Joseph Seiger. This Testament release marks their first appearance on disc. For the Elman enthusiast, two pieces stand out: the Brahms G major Sonata is the only one of the three that the violinist did not record commercially. Also, the Gavotte en Rondeau from Bach's E major Partita is important because we have virtually no unaccompanied Bach from Elman. Other repertoire includes a Handel Sonata, the Vitali Chaconne and Beethoven's 'Spring' Sonata.
American Record Guide, July/August, 2012
“At his epoch-making Berlin début on 14 October, 1904, Mischa Elman (1891-1967) showed the world what wonderful sounds you could draw from a Stradivarius violin. Before Elman, the only well-known violinists with a more concentrated, modern tone were Eugene Ysaÿe and Fritz Kreisler, but they didn’t produce the sound that Elman was to get from the succession of Stradivarius violins that he owned. An early contemporary of Elman claimed that the sound flowed from Elman’s violin ‘like lava’. Listening to his recordings, especially his later ones like the present release, you can hear how Elman knew how to mine the various layers of harmonics that a good Stradivarius has and how to balance them. Before Elman, most violinists did not exploit the weight of their bow arms to draw a sound from the violin; instead, they pressed from their wrists, often leaving their right arms literally dangling at their sides. Elman played with a high right elbow, allowing the weight of his arm to be channeled naturally onto the bow, thus producing a full, solid sound. Listen to the recordings made by Joseph Joachim and Pablo de Sarasate, two of the greatest violinists of the 19th Century, around the time of Elman’s Berlin début, and then listen to Elman’s first recordings. The difference in the sound that these two men and one boy coax from their violins, even in these early acoustics, is striking. Joachim and Sarasate sound thin and pale, and the tone they draw from their G strings is hollow, while Elman’s tone is full and vibrant and projects like a laser beam, and his G-string tone had remarkable depth and substance. Elman set the standard for the 20th Century in the department of tone production. He left nothing to be desired, has never been surpassed, and has rarely been matched.
Elman’s tone is still in good shape in these recordings made for the BBC sometime in 1961. His technique was fraying, but he could still do justice to some demanding scores. There is some baroque music here: a sonata by Handel, Vitali’s Chaconne, and Bach’s Air for the G String and the Gavotte en Rondeau from the Partita 3 for Solo Violin. Elman’s style in these works is typical of the time, but these performances have aged better than others because Elman stays true to his instincts. The two slow movements of the Handel sonata are lovely; he plays with a degree of tenderness that you would not hear today. Because Elman was pushed into a concert career prematurely and his education was halted in his midteens, he had a reputation as more of a violinist than a musician. Listening to the Beethoven and Brahms sonatas he plays here, I think this should be revised. He seems to have good instincts about how to interpret serious works. For the second subject in I of Beethoven’s ‘Spring’ Sonata, he has the sense to speed up, as Szymon Goldberg and Lili Kraus do in their definitive recording of it. In Brahms’ Violin Sonata 1, Elman shows what a range of colors and expression is possible in dynamics ranging from mezzo piano to pianissimo. Few violinists these days have the courage to play long passages at these dynamics, fearing that they will lose the audience’s attention. Another gem in this set is Joseph Achron’s ‘Hebrew Melody’. I have never heard this piece played so well, which should come as no surprise because Achron was studying violin with Leopold Auer in St Petersburg at the same time Elman was and they both came from Jewish backgrounds in the Russian empire.
The hi-fi monaural sound is very clear and good for its era. I just wish that Elman’s accompanist Joseph Seiger had been given more presence. The quality of the recording and the inclusion of the Beethoven and, especially, the Brahms sonata, which Elman never recorded commercially, are the main reasons to get this release.”
- Joseph Magil, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, July/Aug., 2012