KULENKAMPFF plays Beethoven and Brahms Concertos (1936/47) - PASC325

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KULENKAMPFF plays Beethoven and Brahms Concertos (1936/47) - PASC325

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BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61
BRAHMS Double Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor, Op. 102
Recorded in 1936 and 1947
Total duration: 79:39
Georg Kulenkampff, violin
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt,
Enrico Mainardi,
L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Carl Schuricht,

This set contains the following albums:

Kulenkampff's 1936 Beethoven Violin Concerto set the standard for years

Coupled with his late recording of the Brahms Double with Mainardi & Schuricht in wonderful new transfers

As the Gramophone reviewer noted (see Additional Notes), the 1936 Telefunken Beethoven recording played considerably sharp - at 78rpm the average pitch of the recording was A=456.57Hz. Here it is offered at concert pitch, A=440Hz. Some of those Telefunken sides were exceptionally long, resulting in considerable treble loss at the end of some sides. As my aim here has been to preserve as much top end as possible, this will be apparent in one or two places. Likewise the listener will hear a slightly raised level of hiss, left in order to preserve as much as possible of Kulenkampff's superb upper tone.

If it seems unfair to put a mid-30s German recording up against Decca's superb 1947 ffrr recording of the Brahms, well the Telefunken certain stands up well, even without the extended frequency range of the later recording. The Decca recording was Kulenkampff's penultimate session for the company, and may well have been his final orchestral studio recording - he was to go on to record three sonatas with Solti at the piano the following summer, just weeks before his untimely death.

The Beethoven recording was naturally very reverberant, and I have not added to this. By contrast, the Brahms seemed excessively dry, and a small amount of convolution reverberation has been added to compensate for this - in the absence of a suitably Swiss acoustic space I've used the fine sound of Birmingham Symphony Hall, England, albeit very sparingly.

Andrew Rose

BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt conductor

Recorded 25 June 1936, Berlin 
Transfers from Telefunken E2016-21 
Matrix Nos 021284-93, 021295 
All first takes except sides 4, 9, take 2

BRAHMS Double Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor, Op. 102
Enrico Mainardi cello
L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Carl Schuricht

Recorded 8 July 1947, Radio Studio, Geneva
Producer Victor Olof
Engineer Kenneth Wilkinson
Transfers from London 78rpm box LA-147
Matrix Nos SAR 274-291
All first takes except side 7, take 2

Georg Kulenkampff violin

XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, February 2012
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Georg Kulenkampff

Total duration: 79:39
REVIEW - Beethoven Concerto (1954 UK LP re-issue)

Kulenkampff made this recording for Telefunken before the war, and reviewers of modern versions of this concerto are constantly referring to it as the pinnacle of artistic achievement. Capitol made a LP transfer of the performance for America, and Supraphon also issued a set taken from the original. It was to be expected that the recording would eventually turn up in this country in LP form, and here it is on a Telefunken disc, having turned a full circle. How much it has lost or gained in the transference it is impossible for me to say, as this is the first time I have heard it. The Record Guide had issued a timely reminder that without some adjustment of speed it played almost in the key of E fiat—it still does. Comparing this LP issue with others in the February, 1954 number of THE GRAMOPHONE, I find a choice between it and Menuhin's H.M.V. ALP 100 a difficult one to make. Nothing so serenely beautiful as Kulenkampff's playing of the slow movement has come my way, and it is perhaps this quality of mature reflection which will most appeal to connoisseurs of instrumental style, and lovers of this concerto in particular. There is a great deal to be said for the H.M.V. record as regards finish and clarity of orchestral support, but I shall not be so foolhardy as to state categorically that buyers will derive most pleasure from Menuhin's performance—not without repeated hearings of the Telefunken disc which holds great promise as a source of lasting satisfaction. It did occur to me that Kulenkampff made rather heavy weather in the cadenza to the first movement, and the actual recording does not reveal the superlative technical finish of its competitors. What this interpretation undoubtedly has is the nobility of style one associates with the great virtuoso, and we can be grateful that this fine record has at last been added to our own LP catalogue.

I.C. - The Gramophone, April 1954 

Fanfare Review

Most strongly recommended.

Andrew Rose’s inset notes relate his challenges in remastering Georg Kulenkampff’s 1936 recording of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Concerto: The original recordings, as noted in the Gramophone review he cites from 1954, reached A = 456.57, and he has brought the pitch down to 440. In addition, he had to work around attenuated highs at the ends of the long original Telefunken sides, and accordingly left tape hiss intact in order to preserve Kulenkampff’s tone in the higher registers. He also adjusted the reverberation in Decca’s recording of Johannes Brahms’s Double Concerto from 1947, using the ambiance of Birmingham Symphony Hall in the absence of a “suitably Swiss” one. 

Whatever the engineering feats, he didn’t correct the pitch in one of the Beethoven concerto’s early arpeggios, the second note of which seems almost a half-step high. Nevertheless, the first movement makes a strong impression, not least for eschewing devices like portamentos that even some of the later Russians, like Heifetz and Milstein, still included in their expressive arsenal. The first-movement reading, in its general cleanliness and deftness, then, might have been recorded more recently. (Boris Schwarz thought Kulenkampff the most un-German of German violinists.) At about 19:16, a sudden change of timbre intrudes itself, and that may tell the tale of a difficult transition between the original discs. The above-mentioned Gramophone review suggests that Kulenkampff seems labored in the cadenza, but the passagework sounds brilliant nonetheless, with every attack cleanly—even sharply—articulated. On the whole, in fact, Kulenkampff’s general approach, to this concerto in particular and to violin playing in general, reminds me a bit of Leonid Kogan’s (in his 1957 recording with Kiril Kondrashin and the USSR State Symphony Orchestra of the same concerto). The purity of his tone and the chasteness of his trill, more than a simple ornament in his performance of the Larghetto, contribute to a reading generally clean in its style and timbre and serene in its repose (the middle section transcends in profundity the depth that simple relaxation connotes, studded as it is by moments of piercing insight; the Gramophone reviewer simply called it “serenely beautiful”). Kulenkampff may bring more character to the episode than to the rondo theme in the last movement, but the rondo nevertheless develops momentum, due in part to Hans Schmitt-Isserstedt’s and the orchestra’s granite and Kulenkampff’s incisive hammering at that foundation. But Kulenkampff does more than mindlessly hammer, however sharp his pickax, and occasional slight alterations in tempo seem more than usually subtle and expressive. 

Whatever disclaimers Rose may make about the adequacy of Telefunken’s recorded sound, Decca’s reproduction of cellist Enrico Mainardi’s tone in his opening solo make it clear how much the decade-and-a-half improved engineers’ technical capabilities; Rose relates that the Brahms concerto represented Kulenkampff’s second-to-last appearance in Decca’s studio. Mainardi sounds almost sweetly relaxed, if not leisurely, in the first movement’s solos; Kulenkampff matches him in Affekt, light years distant from Zino Francescatti’s and Pierre Fournier’s generally edgier reading, which explores vastly different territory. Carl Schuricht and the Suisse Romande Orchestra provide a richly majestic backdrop for Kulenkampff’s and Mainardi’s ruminations. Schuricht and the orchestra provide another meditative backdrop for the soloists’ discursive reflections in the slow movement. Mainardi again establishes a genially relaxed tempo in the finale, with the emphasis on geniality rather than on relaxation. If the recorded sound captures no warts (such as the wrong note in the beginning of Beethoven’s concerto), listeners may feel that the performance itself doesn’t contain so many moments of sheer transport as does that of Beethoven’s concerto. But if it’s movingly consistent, it’s consistently moving as well. 

Collectors of all kinds should welcome the unlabored way in which Kulenkampff made substantial statements (consider, by comparison, Anne-Sophie Mutter’s mannered timbral experiments) and celebrate what Pristine has been able to salvage from the recorded sound. Most strongly recommended. 

Robert Maxham 
This article originally appeared in Issue 35:6 (July/Aug 2012) of Fanfare Magazine.