Shumsky/Balsam's 1978 MOZART Violin Sonatas in-depth

Started by Scion7, March 13, 2012, 12:56:38 AM

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    as always, click the images

           After reading the interview with Shumsky, and Derrick Henry's review of this six-LP box set in 1978,
I ordered it - handsomely packaged, surfaces were pretty good, just under Philips/DG.   Some MHS
sides can be noisy - but not these.  One of those minority recordings done originally for the Musical
Heritage Society.  The performances are marvelous - especially compared to many "stars" attempts
to record them, often with horrific, incredibly un-Mozartian prima-donna approaches.   Most of the time,
these sonatas are not Mozart's greatest works, but all of them are good and enjoyable.  It's interesting
that with the Andante opening in K.547, Mozart almost seems to be pulling a musical prank, so sing-songy
is the melody - as if to make the listener wonder if he'd reverted back to his early work in his mature
era (the sonata is from 1788.)  But, having made us frown in confusion, the last two movements are
back in form - even though this one was meant as a musical "lesson" for beginners.  An example of
Mozart's sense of humor, I think.  Listened to three of the records (6 sides) while preparing this post!
     :)   :)   :)

            Derrick Henry's review from 1978:

NOTE-in a later issue, Henry revealed he'd been given a faulty set for review, and after hearing the released version,
         stated that the sound quality was very good indeed.

         from Gramophone Sept 1983

MOZART. VIOLIN SONATAS—Volume 1. Oscar Shumsky (yin); Artur Balsam (pno). ASV ALH930 (f5-50); LEIZCALH930 (f5-50)
No. 17 in C major, K296; No. 18 in G major, K301; No. 19 in E flat major, K302; No. 20 in C major, K303; No. 22 in A major, K305.

Oscar Sbumsky's London recital in October last year received enthusiastic critical acclaim ... This new record is the first instalment to be issued here by ASV of a complete recording of Mozart's music for violin and piano, made in the USA by the Musical Heritage Society with that veteran Mozart player Artur Balsam, and it whets the appetite for future releases. It is devoted to the five sonatas Mozart composed in Mannheim in the early months of 1778, the first four of which (K301-5/293a-cf) were included in the set of six that were published in Paris in November 1778 with a dedication to the wife of Carl Theodor, Elector Palatine, as Mozart's Op. I (l), and the last of which (K296) he wrote for Therese Pirron, the IS-year-old daughter of his landlord in Mannheim. This was published in 1781 as the second of six sonatas, Op. 2. Köchel 296 is in three movements, whereas the other four sonatas recorded here are all in two, a la J. C. Bach— though the way Mozart brings imaginative variety to the two-movement sonata is nothing short of masterly.
The playing by Shumsky and Balsam is highly accomplished: virile, authoritative, beautifully shaped (as in the Andante of 1(296) and with a marvellous sense of rhythm (listen to the violin's first entry in the Tempo di Menuetto second movement of K303); and the recording is clean and lifelike. Mozart's sonatas for violin and piano have fated well on disc, with outstanding interpretations by such artists as Grumiaux and - Haskil, Goldberg and Lupu, and Szeryng and Haebler, to name only three partnerships; but this first taste of Shumsky and Balsam promises great things, and I look forward keenly to further instalments.

              from Gramophone Feb 1985

MOZART. VIOLIN SONATAS, Volume 4. Oscar Shumsky (yin); Artur Balsam (pno). ASV C) ALH954; ZCALH954.
F major, K377/374e; E flat major, K380; A major, K402/385e; C major, K403/385c. Andante and Allegretto in C major, K404/385d.

Volume 4 of the Shumsky/Balsam Mozart sonatas contains two full-scale works and three that Mozart left in an unfinished state. The two completed sonatas are K377/374e in F and K380 in E flat, which date from the summer of 1781, and which complete the set of six published in Vienna by Artaria in November 1781, with a dedication to Mozart's talented pianist pupil Josepha von Auernhammer (the other four, which are included in Volumes 1-3, are K296, 376/374d, 378/317d, and 379/373a). The F major Sonata, K377 has an exceptionally lively and fluid first movement, a striking variation-form slow movement in D minor, and a Minuet-style finale; the E flat, K380 an expansive, Beet hovenish initial Allegro, a rather nervous and chromatic Andante in G minor, and a brilliant rondo finale. The three other works all date from August or September 1782 and were intended as part of a set of six sonatas to be dedicated to Mozart's newly wedded wife, Constanze, but none of them was finished. The Sonata in A (K402/385e) extends to two movements, the second a complex fugue which was subsequently completed by the Abbe Stadler; K403/385c in C is in three short movements, again completed by Stadler; and K404/385d in C consists or two very short movements, the second of which was rounded off by Johann Andre, who published the piece in 1804 as a 'sonatina'. Einstein described it as "simply a joke—Mozart gently poking fun at his wife".
The playing is as fresh, alert and musical as ever (listen to how subtly Shumsky alters the inflections when he repeats the variations in the second movement of K377, for instance), and conveys the sense of spontaneity that was so notable in previous issues. These are, indeed, performances to treasure, vividly recorded.

        Gramophone's review of the CD re-issue:

MOZART. SONATAS FOR PIANO AND VIOLIN. Oscar Shumsky (vn); Artur Balsam (pf). ASV (I) CDDCS404 (four discs, nas: 288 minutes: ADD).
Sonatas—C major, K296; G major, K301 /293a; E flat major, K302/293b; C major, K303/293c (all from ALH930, 9/83); E minor, K304/300c (ALH944, 2/84); A major, K305/293d (ALH930); D major, K306/300/ (ALH944); F major, K376/374d (ALH950, 9/84); F major, K377/374e (ALH954, 2/85); B flat major, K378/ 31 7d (ALH944); G major, 8379/373a (ALH950); E flat major, K380/387/ (ALH954); B flat major, K454; E flat major, K481 (both ALH964, 5/86); A major, K526; F major, K547 (ALH967, 10/86). Variations—G major, K359/374a, "La bergere Celimene"; G minor, K360/374b, "1-161asl, j'ai perdu mon amant" (ALH950).

... the players involved are of a very high calibre and display a level of musicianship throughout that is never less than thorough. Balsam and Shumsky have rather contrasting personalities: the pianist is so much used to taking a supportive role that he only makes very mild forays into playing assertively. Shumsky, on the other hand, whilst also being a very experienced chamber player, has a stronger personality, and yet is able to restrain this to suit Balsam's style. And what style Balsam has in this repertoire! The ornamentation is so finely integrated into the passagework that the music achieves a truly impressive fluency. Even when the duo are at their less inspired, as in the first movements of K306 and 378, the standard of playing is sufficiently high to command authority.
The Balsam and Shumsky recording was originally released by the Musical Heritage Society in the USA and the sound-quality is quite uneven
(maybe on CD, not on the LPs!!). Whereas the fiddle is usually acceptable, the piano can be very wooden; listen to K376 and 454, for instance. However, the consistently high standard that these American artists achieve will satisfy the majority of tastes, I think, with the most successful sonatas, such as K305 and 379, coming off especially well.     ~J.M-C.

        I've scanned the Shumsky interview and will post it at a later time for those interested to download.
(Bruckner's) is the career of a poor village boy ... The one and only really surprising thing about him was that after completing his career as an organist he suddenly began to compose music with a range of vision which in such a man would appear quite incongruous.


Btw, if there is an example of the Classic period in classical music, these are it!

The difference in approach by the time of Beethoven's Fourth violin sonata is pretty striking.  And by his Sixth, the cord to Mozart and Haydn is pretty much broken.

Anyway, that's what I think, and I'll set a pack of ravenous Rottweiler on those who disagree!   >:D   Grrr.  Growl.
(Bruckner's) is the career of a poor village boy ... The one and only really surprising thing about him was that after completing his career as an organist he suddenly began to compose music with a range of vision which in such a man would appear quite incongruous.