Louis Kaufman sonatas Biddulph

Louis Kaufman (violin)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

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

Many in the know will be familiar with the name Louis Kaufman from his tireless contribution to the film score industry. He performed on the soundtracks of as many as 500 movies and made over 100 musical recordings. His featured solos can be heard in such immortals as Gone with the Wind, Modern Times and The Diary of Anne Frank. He studied under Franz Kneisel in New York City at the Institute of Musical Art, later to become the Juilliard. In addition to his solo career, he was a much sought-after chamber music player, joining forces with the likes of Pablo Casals, Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Efrem Zimbalist and Gregor Piatigorsky. From 1926-1933 he was violist with the Musical Art Quartet. His recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in 1947 won the French Grand Prix du Disque.

Kaufman commands a fast, almost relentless vibrato. His employment of expressive portamenti recalls both Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz, more so the former. His performances are romantically charged.

These inscriptions were set down in 1950 and 1954. Biddulph don’t state in their booklet where the recordings took place, but Annette Kaufman’s book A Fiddler’s Tale – Louis Kaufman, a publication I would highly recommend, boasts an excellent comprehensive discography. The earliest is a Capitol recording of the Schumann Sonata recorded in Paris in 1950. Artur Balsam is the pianist. The opening movement is one of sustained and ardent intensity. The second movement, by contrast, casts its spell by virtue of its tender lyricism and much calmer demeanour. The rhythmically alert finale displays some impressive crisp spiccato bowing from Kaufman.

The remaining items date from 1954 and were recorded for Chamber Music Society LPs in Zurich. In the Schubert and Bloch Sonatas Kaufman is partnered by Swiss pianist Pina Pozzi. The Schubert is a sunny work and infused with outpourings of beguiling melodic largesse. The third movement Andantino, especially, is elegantly sculpted and basks in sun-soaked lyricism. The punchy finale has energy and a potent rhythmic drive. The other work from this session is the three-movement Bloch Sonata. Kaufman and Pozzi deliver a deeply passionate reading. The work is very Bartókian in style and the opening movement particularly is brusque, brutal and, at times, raging. An element of sustained calm soothes the senses in the central movement. Here, Pozzi’s accompaniment is notable for its refined delicacy. The Sonata ends with a punchy and spiky finale. For me, the Bloch Sonata is the highlight of the disc.

Also for the Chamber Music Society LPs is a warm, radiant Brahms’ Sonata No. 1 in G. This time the pianist is Hélène Pignari. The opening movement’s bucolic charm is eloquently conveyed. The Adagio is heartfelt and has affected sincerity and fragility. The finale is both noble and fervid.

At 83 minutes this is a generously filled disc. Biddulph’s transfers and remasterings are superb in every respect. These are bolstered by first class booklet notes by Wayne Kiley. I haven’t come across any of these particular Kaufman recordings before, and am very pleased indeed to have made their acquaintance. They’re certainly required listening for those with a keen interest in top tier American-born violinists.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf (September 2023)

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