Camilla Wicks  -  Retrospective       (6-Music & Arts 1282)
Item# S0678
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Camilla Wicks  -  Retrospective       (6-Music & Arts 1282)
S0678. CAMILLA WICKS: Five Decades of Treasured Performances, incl. Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, von Paradis, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Bjarne Brustad, Wieniawski, Ysaÿe, de Sarasate, Nin, Fauré, Chausson, Debussy, Ravel, Tailleferre, Bloch, Scarlatescu, Bartók, Shostakovich, Strauss, Kreisler, Benjamin, Barber, Gershwin & Ingwald Wicks. 6-Music & Arts 1282 , recorded 1946-95, primarily Live Performances. Notes by Nathaniel Vallois. Transfers by Ward Marston & Aaron Z. Snyder. Final Copy! - 017685128226


“Howard Taubman, reviewing the violinist Camilla Wicks’ New York debut at Town Hall in THE NEW YORK TIMES in 1942, had to admit that she had ‘a certain flair for the fiddle’. He was especially impressed by her handling of difficult passages in the Paganini D major Concerto, a work requiring an abundance of technical skill. By the way, Ms. Wicks at the time was, as the review’s opening sentence noted, ‘a pretty, flaxen-haired lass of thirteen and a half’.

She had already been impressing West Coast audiences for years, having made her debut with an orchestra at age 7 in Long Beach. But she was no flash-in-the-pan prodigy whose abilities don’t develop with age. Eleven years after that New York debut, now in her mid-20s, she played Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, and even the orchestra’s musicians were impressed. ‘The Larghetto was especially fine’, the review in THE TIMES said, ‘for here her playing was so rapt and serene that it fully justified her unusually slow tempo. The men of the orchestra joined with the audience in the hearty applause’.

Ms. Wicks had blossomed from prodigy into one of the finest violinists of her time, and she was among the few women in that era to achieve prominence as a violin soloist. Later she became a respected teacher.

Camilla Delores Wicks was born on Aug. 9, 1928, into a musical family. Her father, Ingwald, was a violinist, and her mother, Ruby (Dawson Stone) Wicks, was a pianist. A biography on her website said that she asked for a violin at 3 ½ and was playing Vivaldi’s a minor Concerto from memory at 4. Her father was her first teacher and recognized her innate talent; at 10 she was sent to the Juilliard School in New York to study with the noted teacher Louis Persinger, who was her accompanist at her Town Hall concert in 1942.

She played the Hollywood Bowl in 1946 while still in her teens and was heard frequently on the radio in the years after World War II. In 1952 she recorded the Sibelius Violin Concerto, an interpretation that has been admired ever since.

In the early 1950s, she married Robert Thomas, and in 1953 the first of their five children was born. For a time she was able to manage the demands of being both a mother and a professional musician. ‘I was always playing with one of my children inside of me’, she said in a 2017 interview with the auction site Tarisio, which that year sold the Arthur Smith violin she had played for half a century for $84,000. ‘I was pregnant with my first daughter for the Beethoven Violin Concerto at Carnegie Hall, and then I continued when I was pregnant with my son, and so on’.

In a 1987 interview with Louise Cavanaugh Sciannameo that the music site THE STRAD published last week, Ms. Wicks elaborated on the difficult balancing act. ‘I don’t think the difficulty of having a career, marrying, and raising children will ever be solved’, she said. ‘I didn’t dare tell management when I was pregnant. It was so hard. I wore special dresses and learned how to walk so I didn’t look pregnant’.

Eventually, in the late 1950s, she stepped away from performing for a time, even selling her prized instrument, a 1725 Stradivarius. But she returned to playing periodically. Her online biography recounts that in the early 1970s, when she settled in Washington state and taught at Wenatchee Valley College, she would sometimes play with a nonprofessional community orchestra there. But Ms. Wicks also performed in her later years with professional groups like the Detroit Symphony, as well as overseas, especially in Scandinavia. She taught at institutions including the University of Michigan, Rice University and the Eastman School of Music.

She made few recordings but gained a new appreciation among classical music aficionados in 2015 with the release of ‘Camilla Wicks: Five Decades of Treasured Performances’, a six-CD collection that compiled numerous live recordings [S0678].

In the Tarisio interview, Ms. Wicks recalled the difficulties she sometimes had in her younger days as a woman in the male-dominated field of classical music. ‘I was one of the few women who broke through to play in the big leagues’, she said, ‘and some of the conductors were really quite miffed about it. I won’t name names, but one of them was not following me on purpose and was a half measure behind me the whole time. I didn’t know then to pace myself to the stubborn conductor’s accompaniment. That would have been the answer, but I went ahead and played my speed!’

In the interview published posthumously by THE STRAD, Ms. Wicks reflected on the role of music. ‘We need something that is going to bring us hope’, she said. ‘All music can accomplish this. The greatest of pieces are those that say, ‘Yes, this is terrible, but there is hope’.”

- Neil Genzlinger, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 8 Dec., 2020

“This set is a treasure for so many reasons that it is difficult to enumerate (or even prioritize) them. I suppose that the most important reason for its significance is the expansion of our knowledge of the art of Camilla Wicks, who did not have the career she might have because of her own reticent personality and her decision to retire and focus on her five children. But it is also a treasure because it will introduce some people to some very important and under-valued pieces of music: Bloch’s First Sonata, Taillefaire’s Sonata, the tiny encore piece by Bjarne Brustad, and some of the other miniatures chief among them.

Camilla Wicks was born in 1928 and was, as of this writing (in May, 2015), still alive, having retired from teaching at the San Francisco Conservatory in 2006. She began her career as a child prodigy, débuting with the New York Philharmonic at age 13. In 1951 she married, and for many years after that performed only intermittently because of the demands of raising five children, and of being a wife in the climate of the 1950s. By the mid 1960s, Wicks had so convinced herself that she would not be able to maintain a career that she sold her Stradivarius. Then her marriage broke up and she was left to raise her children. She determined to rebuild her career for reasons probably as much financial as anything else. Her friend Ruggero Ricci gave her a violin, and she began to perform again and also took on more teaching. She never achieved the stardom she merited, though she did make a famous recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto with Sixten Ehrling. (It is out of print now, and one copy is available at Amazon for just under $400)!

What is revealed in this comprehensive survey of Wicks’s career is a front rank artist who merits a greater public reputation than was granted her. Her technique is as close to flawless as humans get, and her intelligence and interpretive breadth are clearly those of a major artist. Early in her career she may well have focused on her virtuosity—the 1946 Hollywood Bowl performance of Wieniawski’s Second Concerto finds her occasionally leaving even the alert Stokowski behind (the excellent notes indicate that Wicks and Stokowski did not get along). Nonetheless, her brilliance in the finale of the Concerto is thrilling to experience. Wicks’s sound is a focused tone, without the plushness of an Oistrakh; it is perhaps closer in sound to someone like Szigeti. She does use a wide range of color and vibrato for expressive purposes.

As she matured, her approach to music became more reflective, and the correspondence from Ernest Bloch that is reproduced in the accompanying booklet reveals the enormous respect he had for her. It is a shame that although she learned the Bloch Concerto, she never performed it. But she believed that the First Sonata was the greater work, and the performance here, with very sensitive and alert accompanying from Roslyn Frantz, leaves a major impression on the listener. Wicks is utterly committed to the score, and plays as if possessed.

Although it is spread out onto different discs, we do get what must be most or all of a 1986 recital Wicks gave in Ann Arbor, with one of the world’s finest collaborative pianists, Martin Katz. One sign of the musical intelligence of Wicks is the pair of performances of sonatas by Beethoven and Richard Strauss from that same recital. The rigor and discipline heard in the Beethoven G Major Sonata is never rigid, but nonetheless clearly a performance that emphasizes structure and rhythmic pulse. The Strauss Sonata has about it an appropriate freedom and flexibility that demonstrates an artist who digs deeply to get inside each piece of music, rather than slapping the same interpretive profile on everything. She must have loved the second movement of the Strauss (marked ‘Imrovisation: Andante cantabile’) because it appears 13 years earlier on a recital she gave in the state of Washington. These two performances are illustrative of the change in Wicks’ musical outlook, the earlier being more urgent and impulsive, the latter more reflective.

Wicks was consistent in her interest in contemporary music, and also Scandinavian music (given her father’s Norwegian roots). She made a brilliant recording of Bjarne Brustad’s Violin Concerto, and regularly performed works by other important Scandinavians like Klaus Egge, Harald Saeverud, and even her father (Ingwald Wicks) whose 'Ode to the Desert’ is heard here, and is quite attractive. The Grieg Sonata, assembled from two performances, is deeply communicative and compelling.

There are many other highlights here beyond those already mentioned: The Ravel and Debussy sonatas, the glorious reading of the Fauré, the absolutely unbuttoned ‘Tzigane’ from 1963 in Dallas, the delightful setting of Nin’s Spanish Songs, and the discovery of the early concerto recordings with Fritz Busch and William Steinberg conducting. The Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky concerti may well have had more reflective performances, but rarely more brilliant ones.

Wicks’ technical mastery means that she could concentrate on her interpretive view of the music, without having to worry about how to achieve her ends. Throughout these five discs, one never hears a ‘phoned in’ performance. You might agree or disagree with this or that detail, but you are aware consistently that this is music making that matters, music making where the performer is deeply committed to the idea of communicating her view of the music directly to the listener.

Ward Marston’s transfers, with some additional work by Aaron Z. Snyder, resulted in excellent sound, particularly for the earlier recordings, and a surprising consistency throughout given the wide variety of sources. As indicated, the accompanying booklet is up to Music & Arts’ usual very high standard of informative and insightful commentary. What a joy!”

- Henry Fogel, FANFARE, Nov./Dec., 2015

“Upheld by many as a regal presence amongst her peers, violinist Camilla Wicks cultivated a stellar career in the dozen years following World War II. At the peak of her fame she retired from the concert stage to devote herself to her family. Upon resuming her career, she remained an outstanding if intermittent performer for several more decades. This Music & Arts set spans five decades and a vast range of repertoire, the most comprehensive collection of her concert performances so far assembled, a major expansion of her extant discography and an excellent complement to the previous issue on Music & Arts (CD 1160) that features her Beethoven Violin Concerto with Bruno Walter from 1953.

The Swiss Ernest Bloch, befriended Camilla Wicks – much as he had violin leader Sidney Griller – whom he had met through the intermediary Louis Persinger, who had encouraged Wicks to master the BAAL SHEM Suite’s ‘Nigun’. The composer himself complimented Wicks on her ‘Nigun’ and upon the Sibelius Concerto, which he praised for its ‘color without any false sentimentality’. The recorded performance of Bloch’s Sonata #1 with Roslyn Frantz will bear fruitful comparison with any of the work in Bloch committed to record by Heifetz, Milstein, Gingold and other select artists of refined taste and immaculate technique.

The remaining works, which include a rare Ravel posthumous Sonata with Neal Kurtz and the Debussy g minor Sonata from the same program; wonderful Spanish showpieces by Sarasate in the best Ricci tradition, and two charming Chopin nocturnes in transcriptions by Milstein and Wilhelmj, each certify a violin player of noble first rank. The icing on this special cake comes in the form of a personal token: ‘Ode to the Desert’ by our artist’s own father, Ingwald Wicks (1892-1967), a piece of no small charm.”

—Gary Lemco, Audiophile Audition, 18 June, 2015

“It’s principally her recording of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto that has kept Camilla Wicks’ name fresh to record collectors, though in recent years a smattering of live and previously unreleased material has appeared to enhance her reputation still further.

Now from Music & Arts comes a bonanza for admirers of the American violinist in the shape of a 6-CD boxed set of previously unreleased material. It spans five decades of her performing career, which was interrupted because of family commitments. It’s the most complete index of her concert performances available and the good news for collectors who are long on choices but short on cash is that the six discs are priced ‘as for four’.

One of the most exciting things about the collection is the number of concerti and sonatas that are represented. Disc one houses a particularly interesting and early example of her art in the form of the Mendelssohn Concerto with Fritz Busch conducting (Copenhagen, 1949, and in good sound). Busch is a strong, purposeful collaborator and Wicks is sweet-toned and fast of vibrato, and just a bit over-hasty at the end of the first movement. Otherwise this is a youthfully vibrant reading. It’s followed by a performance of the Brahms Concerto dating from the mid-1990s. The conductor is the sympathetic Ari Rasilainen. This is a strong, powerful performance with her ‘forward’ vibrato strongly in evidence; extrovert, incisive, bright – and intonation a tiny bit flat only once or twice. The slow movement isn’t especially introspective but the finale is rhythmically fine. There are two excellent examples of her 1950 partnership with pianist Robert Levin – a saucy Brahms Hungarian Dance #7 and a lusciously voiced Mendelssohn ‘On Wings of Song’.

The second disc has two concerti from the years of her youthful brilliance. The first is a rousing traversal of the Tchaikovsky with William Steinberg (Hollywood Bowl Symphony, 1953) which makes its points without any recourse to audience-whipping-up or lurid colouristic devices. The same orchestra supports her in Wieniawski’s Concerto #2 in d minor with Stokowski directing in 1946. The succulent sweet tone is on show here but the collaboration with Stokowski doesn’t sound nearly as successful as that with Busch and Steinberg. Tempi are pushed here throughout and especially in the Romance there’s no room for rubati. The final concerto in this disc is Barber’s with Sixten Ehrling directing either the Stockholm Royal Philharmonic or the Stockholm Radio Symphony. Like the orchestra, the date is unknown. I like this performance. More than most players she distinguishes between the first two movements to stop them sounding like two slow movements bleeding into each other. The result is that she is much quicker in the opening – faster than the man who gave the work its first performance, Albert Spalding, and those who came after who tended to follow his tempi, from Isaac Stern through James Buswell. She’s also defiantly quicker in the slow movement – the quickest I think I’ve ever heard it taken. So, a very differently proportioned reading – and I’m sure many will dissent. It’s good to hear the fourth movement of Bjarne Brustad’s witty ‘Troll’s Windmill’, as Wicks was so fine an exponent of his music. It must have been her encore at the Tchaikovsky concert.

Sonatas are a feature of the third disc. There is Beethoven’s last sonata and the Strauss with Martin Katz from the University of Michigan in 1986. Katz is over-recorded in relation to Wicks and he tends to draw the ear too much for comfort. The collaboration sounds somewhat formal and arms-length to me, and rather too metrical. For some reason the Strauss doesn’t soar. Turn however to the earlier 1973 example of the first movement (only) from 1973 with pianist Horace Martinez and her tone is more expressive and honeyed, the performance is quicker, and the rapport palpable. She recorded the Shostakovich-Tsiganov Preludes commercially though it’s good to hear her perform them live; they’re from the same recital with Katz. She plays Heifetz’s arrangement of Gershwin’s Preludes in 1980 with the excellent Roslyn Frantz – very characterful readings. Disc four opens with a very intense Chausson 'Poème' with piano accompaniment by Albert Hirsch....The Tailleferre Sonata #1 that follows, however, is really rare repertoire. It dates from the same city only five years earlier with pianist Brian Connelly. Dedicated to Jacques Thibaud this work must incarnate much of his sunny and sensual character. It’s a work that warms and sometimes darkens but Wicks captures excellently its flirtatious qualities in the scherzo and plays throughout with security and strength Connelly, too, is excellent. This disc ends with another souvenir of that Michigan concert with Katz, namely the Nin-Kochanski ‘Spanish Songs’.

There are more sonatas in disc five, which begins with a powerful and passionate reading of Bloch’s Sonata #1. It’s very well worth reading the notes in detail because they contain quite a chunk regarding the professional friendship between Bloch and Wicks, and there is much to ponder. The recording quality is pretty good and once again Roslyn Frantz is an admirable pianist and contributes her fair share to the success of the reading. Wicks and Neal Kurz play the then little-performed Ravel Sonata Op.posth. and this is followed by the Debussy which, in the modern manner, is relatively slow; relative, that is, to Thibaud, to Dubois, and to Francescatti. Of its type it’s a good performance. The Bartók Rhapsody #2 comes from 1984 and is sufficiently resinous....It’s enjoyable to her self-announce a work by her father, Ingwald Wicks – the evocative ‘Ode to the Desert’.

There’s a bit of a mystery about the composite Grieg Sonata in c minor that opens the final disc. The first movement comes from a 1947 documentary film whilst the second and third movements come from lacquer discs, possibly deriving from live performances....Wicks and Levin are heard at their most youthful here. She was still performing slightly Old School recitals with piano-accompanied concertos as late as 1960. With Martinez she gives a dashing Wieniawski #1 dealing excellently with the torrential and here very much exposed technical demands.

Nathaniel Vallois has written the comprehensive notes and Ward Marston is responsible for the excellent transfers. I think it’s unlikely that there will be a box of this kind devoted to Camilla Wicks for some time, if ever, so her devotees should snap this up now.”

-Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International