Emanuel Feuerman: Unexpected Discoveries. HAYDN: Concerto
in D -- Adagio & Allegro.
CHOPIN: Nocturne in E-flat, op. 9/2. SARASATE-FEUERMANN: Zigeunerweisen. SCHUMANN: Träumerei.
Abendlied. BACH: Orchestral Suite in D -- Adagio.
BACH-GOUNOD: Ave Maria. DVORÁK: Rondo, op. 94. Concerto,
op. 104 (complete and excerpted movements). Silent Woods. ANON.:
Alt-italiensches Liebeslied. CUI: Cantabile, op. 36/2. POPPER: Serenade,
op. 54. Hungarian
Rhapsody, op. 68. BLOCH: Schelomo. D'ALBERT: Concerto, op. 20. J. REICHA:
Concerto in A, op. 4/1. BEETHOVEN: Sonata in D, op. 102/2 (excerpts).
FALLA: Jota. STRAUSS: Don Quixote, Op. 35.
Members of the Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Frieder Weissmann, Michael
Taube; Max Saal (harp); Frieder Weissmann (piano); Carl Stabernack (Mustel
organ); Fritz Ohrmann (Dominator harmonium & harmonium); Albert Hirsch
(piano); Theodore Saidenberg (piano); Mischa Mischakoff (violin); Carlton
Cooley (viola); Members of the Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Frieder Weissmann,
Michael Taube; Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Hans Lange; National Orchestral
Association/Leon Barzin; Members of the Berlin Philharmonic/Paul Kletzki;
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Frank Black, Arturo Toscanini.
West Hill Radio Archives WHRA-6042 TT: 297:00 (4 CDs, for the price of
BUY NOW FROM AMAZON
Elegant. B. H. Haggin, the influential American music critic, was,
to say the least, supremely confident in his opinions. He once challenged
a friend: "What's
so great about Pablo Casals anyway?"
The friend asked, "Who would you put in his place?"
"Feuermann," Haggin answered.
Certainly Feuermann had better technique and tone than Casals, but such things
don't guarantee a greater cellist. Actually, I don't have a dog in this fight,
since of that era, I prefer Pierre Fournier to both.
Feuermann recorded often, from the acoustic era to his death in 1942, not quite
making it to his 40th birthday. I'm normally not a huge fan of "historic" recordings
(generally, recordings made before 1950). It's too hard to pull the performance
out of the schmutz of snaps, crackles, pops, wow, flutter, and "dead rooms." However,
the digital era has given rise to sound restoration to levels previously unknown.
You probably don't get the latest electronic Valhalla as a result, but you
do get a noticeably cleaner sound. Indeed, the technology has improved so much
restorers sometimes run into ethical issues. How much should you clean up or
improve the ambience or even the performance? Should you correct the pitch the
violinist didn't quite make? Furthermore, technology alone doesn't guarantee
a good recording. You still need a human engineer with a great ear. Two of my
favorites over the years have been Andrew Rose and Lani Spahr. Spahr, an oboist
who happily also became interested in digital editing, has restored the recordings
Successful results vary, depending on the quality of the base recording. Acoustic
recording had players playing into a gigantic horn, the closer to the horn, the
better. Even the largest horn couldn't accommodate the standard symphony orchestra.
Furthermore, certain instruments didn't record especially accurately. Dynamic
range was often severely curtailed, especially at the softer end. Consequently,
producers submitted orchestra works to severely chopped-down arrangements, often
adding a small organ or large harmonium to fill out the sound. All of these things
often contributed to stiff, monotonous performances.
Feuermann stands as an exception. Even though, early in his recording career,
kitsch attracted him (e.g., Träumerei arranged for cello,
harp, and organ), his own pristine, classically cool performance took the curse
at least in Spahr's restorations, you get at least some of the subtleties of
Feuermann's playing -- his mastery of dynamics, for one thing. Never in doubt
is his virtuosity. Just listen to him rip through the fiendishly difficult
Popper pieces. The orchestral music, like the Dvorák excerpts, are for
me a total loss. The orchestra playing sounds scrappy, and coordination between
and conductor is sometimes iffy. That acoustic horn put off many performers
from going near it.
For me, the set picks up interest with the recordings from radio broadcasts.
We at least have arrived in the microphone era. The set gives us two complete
performances of the Dvorák cello concerto, with an additional broadcast
of the slow movement only. They convince me that a star soloist alone doesn't
make a performance. He must have strong, sympathetic support from the conductor.
The three conductors and their orchestras are Hans Lange (Chicago Symphony),
Léon Barzin (National Orchestral Association), and in the excerpt Frank
Black (NBC Symphony). The National Orchestral Association ran a training orchestra
(which, I believe, still exists). Barzin did immense good with that orchestra.
It was open to Black musicians and to women. The only requirement was how well
an applicant played. Furthermore, he performed not only the classics, but contemporary
American scores, and he had a national radio audience. Top soloists appeared
with the group, Feuermann obviously one of them (several times). The reading
is businesslike and crisp, but that's not really what I want in Dvorák.
Frank Black's performance is so bad, I couldn't believe he was conducting Toscanini's
orchestra. It reminded me of a substitute teacher in front of a bunch of students,
indifferent once the teacher was away. On the other hand, Hans Lange and the
Chicago give warm, dynamic, and sensitive support to Feuermann, and the recording
A favorite work, Ernest Bloch's Schelomo also drew my attention. Again the reading
by Barzin and Feuermann is businesslike and careful. It should have been passionate,
almost to the point of over-the-top. Feuermann himself admitted that he never
could get the score into his head. The same problem afflicts Toscanini's reading
of Don Quixote by Richard Strauss -- to my mind, his greatest instrumental work.
Toscanini does okay but fails to make magic, especially in the reflective parts
of the score (e.g., the death of Quixote), unlike his soloists -- Feuermann,
Cooley, and Mischakoff. Feuermann gets the nobility as well as the frustration
The stuff I hadn't heard before -- the Eugène d'Albert and Josef Reicha
concerti -- intrigued me, but I doubt I'll listen to them again anytime soon.
I liked the d'Albert better than the Reicha. Despite all that, Feuermann and
Barzin do both of them up proud.
The most entertaining radio broadcasts for me come from Bing Crosby's Kraft
Hall. In addition to the expected pop of the day, Crosby also had on great
classical musicians. The format usually consisted of scripted banter with the
der Bingle or Bob "The Arkansas Traveler" Burns, followed by the
music. Burns was the compère to Feuermann in this set. Feuermann
got the biggest laugh when he departed from the canned (and pretty corny) script.
the "jata by Feela." "That's HOta by FAya," Feuermann shot
For those of you worried about sound quality, I have to say, given the base material,
it's quite fine. You're in Lani Spahr's very talented hands.
NOTE: For some reason I don't know, this release is not available in the United
States. What's up? The Yankee dollar not good enough?
S.G.S. (August 2014)