Mischa Elman (violin) 
Wolfgang Rosé (piano)
Jan Peerce (tenor) and Wolfgang Rosé (piano)
Risë Stevens (mezzo-soprano) and Brooks Smith (piano)rec. 1951, New York for RCA
Biddulph 85037-2 [74]

When Mischa Elman recorded music for his first LP for RCA in 1951 one wouldn’t necessarily have expected Mozart’s Violin Sonata in B flat, K454, though the companion work, Elman’s own arrangement of Paganini’s Caprice No.24, was a touch more predictable. Mozart and Elman fit together like a horse and a 20hp outboard engine and when one considers that the young Grumiaux made his own first LPs in Boston in 1951-52, and included two Mozart sonatas, it’s rather as if two different types of humanoid co-existed in time and space but not aesthetics or stylistic nicety.

That’s to do the pioneering Elman a great disservice, of course, and I don’t care for Heifetz’s Mozart (any of his Mozart) any more than I do for Elman’s but at least Elman was and remained a generous and expressively ripe performer. RCA’s studio is typically dry and unhelpful, especially to pianist Wolfgang Rosé, and the rich, masculine, romantic allure of Elman’s fabled tone is certainly audible in the Andante. Elman isn’t especially slow in the sonata – he’s on a par with the later Goldberg-Lupu recording for example – but it’s rather his tonal mass that makes the performance sound heavier than it is. Of course, purely as violin playing – well, he still had it.

The Paganini is largely intact but he substitutes his own variation 11 and coda and, of course, there is the anachronistic piano accompaniment. Some of the playing in the slower variations can sound a touch laboured but it’s a fighting performance and may remind one of his alleged comment when he heard William Primrose’s performance of Paganini on a 78: ‘Hmm. Must be easier on the viola.’

For his RCA release on DM1328 he unleashed a stream of Elman Chestnuts that he had recorded years before or was indeed to return to in years to come. For instance, for Vanguard later in the 50s he returned to at least four of the six. For the essential Elman you should get Biddulph’s recordings of his 78s from the teens and twenties but these April 1951 monos are heard in good sound. His Cui is stylish and droll, his Drigo full of warmth and communicative brio though lacking the full tonal body of his best years, whilst he is as ever unhurried and generous in Drdla. Though he had recorded it for Victor and was again to do so for Decca there’s pleasure to be had in his own Tango, a charming genre piece and a favourite encore morsel of his.

This leaves Elman the Obbligatist, first to Jan Peerce and then to Risë Stevens. These sides, in part, and very deliberately, evoke his fabled collaborations on disc with Caruso and with Frances Alda. He lends his ripe tone to his collaborators though I suspect the notorious headline-stealer would have considered them his sonic inferiors. He and Stevens are accompanied not by Rosé but by Brooks Smith.

Biddulph is doing good work by mopping up trinkets from Elman’s discography that have not seen the light of reissue day for many years, if at all. So it is here. Elman admirers, of whom I am one, will welcome this disc with its decent notes and unproblematic transfers.

Jonathan Woolf

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Violin Sonata in B flat, K454
Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840)
Caprice, Op.1 No.24 arr Elman
François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829)
Gavotte in D from Rosine arr Burmester
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Minuet in G, WoO 10 No.2 arr. Burmester
César Cui (1835-1918)
Orientale, Op.50 No.9
Anton Arensky (1861-1906)
Serenade in G, Op.30 No.2 arr Elman
Riccardo Drigo (1846-1930)
Serenade from Les millions d’Arlequin arr Elman
František Drdla (1868-1944)
Mischa Elman (1891-1967)
Wolfgang Rosé (piano)
Gaetano Braga (1829-1907)
Angel’s Serenade
Teresa del Riego (1876-1968)
O Dry those Tears
Jan Peerce (tenor) and Wolfgang Rosé (piano)
Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)
Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffmann
Jules Massenet (1842-1912)
Elegie, Op.10 No.5
Risë Stevens (mezzo-soprano) and Brooks Smith (piano)