Player's passion comes through Violinist: Bronislaw Huberman's early 20th-century style may seem unrefined, but his conviction and honesty are transcendent.

Classical Sounds

August 04, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Beethoven, Violin Concerto, Lalo, Symphonie Espagnole, performed by violinist Bronislaw Huberman and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, George Szell conducting (APR 5506)

Huberman (1882-1947) was one of the 20th century's greatest violin personalities -- and one of its most controversial. For most modern listeners -- whose idea of early 20th-century violin-playing is based on the refined beauty of Kreisler's style or that of Heifetz -- Huberman's playing may seem impossibly dated. Even in his own time, he was misunderstood -- he never was able to make a success in America -- and his explosive temperament often led to misjudged attacks with the bow that could produce sounds neither beautiful or even polite. But he impressed the great Joseph Joachim, Brahms' great friend and chosen interpreter; and Huberman's performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto in 1896 -- when the violinist was only 12 -- brought the great composer to tears. And in his mature years, Huberman was just as popular with several great conductors -- Furtwangler, Toscanini and Walter, among them -- all of whom sought the violinist as a partner.

The trick to listening to Huberman -- as with several other great violinists of an earlier day -- is to listen with a filter that permits one to hear beyond the old-fashioned mannerisms, the different approach to vibrato and the occasional violinistic flaws of an age that was not attuned to the expectation of sanitized perfection that was to be developed by repeated exposure to recordings.

These 1934 recordings are transcendental interpretations. If at times Huberman comes close to thrashing his instrument, in the majority of both performances he produces a tone that moves nTC from the most ethereal pianissimos to the most generous, golden-throated sonorities. His use of vibrato is most imaginative; unlike either Heifetz or Kreisler, he eschewed the use of continuous vibrato, choosing to use it for moments of heightened expressiveness.

Huberman was an intuitive and passionate player, and in the Beethoven concerto, his volcanic temperament and poetic insights produce a performance that is not only intense, but that also -- in the slow movement especially -- reaches ecstatic, even visionary, heights. The interpretation of the the Lalo showpiece produces a performance that reveals it as much more than just a showpiece. When music, which most listeners condescend to as being merely virtuosic, is played with this much conviction and honesty the results can be -- as they are here -- astonishing.

Szell's accompaniments in both concertos are sensitive and supportive; it is scarcely an accident that so many of the greatest recordings of the century's greatest soloists -- from Huberman to Oistrakh, Schnabel to Gilels, and Casals to Rostropovich -- were made with this conductor.

Both performances have been issued before on other labels, but never in a mastering that revealed so much of the bloom of the original sound as this does.

Hear the music

To hear an excerpt from the Beethoven recording, call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6190. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

Pub Date: 8/04/96

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