Louis Kaufman (violin) Violin Sonatas Biddulph

Louis Kaufman (violin)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Violin Sonata in A, D574 ‘Duo’ (1817)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Violin Sonata in A minor, Op.105 (1851)
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No.1 in G, Op.78 (1878)
Ernest Bloch (1880-1959)
Violin Sonata No.1 (1920)
Artur Balsam (piano: Schumann)
Hélène Pignari (piano: Brahms)
Pina Pozzi (piano: Schubert, Bloch)
rec. 1950 (Schumann), 1954, Paris and Zurich
Biddulph 85032-2 [83]

Three of the sonatas here were recorded for Chamber Music Society LPs whilst the Schumann was made for Capitol. Their restoration is welcome as they’ve not been the easiest of Louis Kaufman’s recordings to find, and they fit snugly into an 83-minute release. 

Kaufman shares with Bronislaw Gimpel the ability to vest phrases with striking warmth and allure, though few could match Kaufman for the sheer opulence of his tonal resources. Sometimes it can come at the expense of stylistic probity, which is something that I feel happens in the Schubert ‘Duo’, recorded with Pina Pozzi in 1954. The violinist was recorded close-up and can hear his charismatic expressive playing at full voltage, full of nudges, heightenings and a battery of other devices that contribute an almost overwhelming avalanche of vibrancy and voluptuousness. Arthur Grumiaux, this is not. On its own terms sheerly as violin playing it’s magnificent, of course, but stylistically it’s one-of-a-kind and a throwback to the grand manner of personalisation. 

The Bloch First Sonata comes from the same recording session and offers a very different collection of more appropriate attributes. Kaufman and Pozzi dig into the sonata’s Bartókian barbaro elements with unflinching directness, the playing remaining rhythmically taut, even brutal. Whether one finds the Tibetan calm of the slow movement too shocking a contrast or not – I don’t – there’s no doubting both musicians’ tensile grip on the music nor the way they deal with its veiled and agitated mid-section. As the finale relinquishes its acerbity in favour of more lucid writing, Kaufman is at the apex of his powers, ably partnered by Pozzi, who was an eminent chamber player.     

The third of the Chamber Music Society LPs was devoted to Brahms’ Sonata in G, recorded with Hélène Pignari, an example of ripe Romanticism in action. Kaufman is passionate, his intensity overpowering, and his fast vibrato magnificently obtrusive – love it or hate it, it’s part of Kaufman’s DNA. From passion to pathos, warmed by nervous intensity and rich vibrance and texture, this is another of those indelible Kaufman performances that never misses opportunities to stress sweetness and lyricism. If you want to hear how a violinist can generate organ-like density of tone and how he ensures slides function optimally, lend an ear.

The odd-disc-out is Capitol’s Schumann Sonata in A minor, recorded in 1950 in Paris with Artur Balsam, the only non-Zurich recording here. Biddulph doesn’t include details of the cities in which these sonatas were recorded but they’re in Kaufman’s autobiography, so I’ve added them in the headnote. This is one of the most fervid recordings the sonata has ever received and makes for a riveting contrast with that made by Adolf Busch and Rudolf Serkin. The emotive intensity also marks them out from an earlier recoding on 78 by the elegant Leo Petroni and Michael Raucheisen, an altogether more constrained duo. One could certainly argue, as with the Schubert, that this is all a bit much and that it embraces the music in treacle but one can’t help admire the passion: it’s the opposite of dull and listless, uncommitted playing.

This accomplished release brings a quartet of Kaufman’s sonata recordings back to the catalogue in some style. The booklet also includes a reproduction of a delightful portrait of Kaufman as a young man by the painter Milton Avery.

Jonathan Woolf

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