By Gary Lemco, Jan 5, 2007
For many collectors, the inscription of the Sibelius Violin Concerto (18 February 1952) for Capitol Records by Camilla Wicks (b. 1926) and Sixten Ehrling remains one of the pinnacles of interpretation of this sinewy masterpiece. Two other women, Ginete Neveu and Guila Bustabo, achieved wonders with this Northern virtuoso vehicle, but the Wicks balanced virtuoso flair with a highly subjective warmth that ranked it among the great versions with Heifetz, Oistrakh, and young Isaac Stern.
Ehrling, too, was a natural Sibelius exponent, and his traversal of the Sibelius symphonies for Mercury Records needs to be restored to the active catalogue. After a hothouse Allegro moderato, the second movement, Adagio di molto, basks in a noble leisure that must be heard to define. Searching and poignant, the playing becomes feverish and yearning, with sighs and spasms of sound from the orchestra. The last movement is particularly earthy, the tympani parts complementing the violin’s demented shrieks in harmonics – truly a gavotte and rhumba for polar bears. A rhythmic freedom is no less perceptible that ingratiates this monumental performance, beautifully restored by Ward Marston.
The Concerto for Violin by Fartein Valen (rec. 1949) has its premier inscription with Oiven Fjeldstad. Cast in one large and one short movement, the piece has a rhapsodic feeling, but its syntax seems to owe much to the Violin Concerto by Alban Berg. Bartok may be an emotional kin. We tread through a dark, labyrinthine night, where the violin’s plaint has horn and woodwind wails or grumblings surrounding it. A degree of surface swish intrudes on the proceedings. The cadenza rises up in eerie harmonics over a bluesy horn call. A repeated figure gives the movement a through-composed quality. The huge sigh fades into the distance.
The HMV accompanied pieces (rec. 1949-1951) with Erhling as pianist reveals – despite some tinny piano sound – real musical surprises. Nigun, for instance, has a zither effect in the piano that gives the violin even more of an antiquarian, Hebrew-prophet sensibility. The application of ritards is exquisite. The Kabalevsky Improvisation is new to me: is begins in gypsy style, solo; then the piano lays down a modal riff of some extension. From there, the two instruments join and make a fine arioso, lyrically sentimental, which rises to a passionate climax. Striking March from Prokofiev, rather dazzling.
The mercurial set of Shostakovich pieces allows Wicks to indulge her capacity for lightly applied colors, her flute tone or spiccato, alternately winsome and brash. She plays No. 15 as an all-Soviet young workers’ song. No. 16 has a bit of the devil in it, or at least Paganini. Mis-banded, the Age of Gold Polka is No. 13 on the disc, not No. 9: it savors the incisive and acerbic attack Wicks applies.
The last set of five previously unissued pieces for CBS does not credit the pianist. Sarasate’s Malaguena from Spanish Dances, Op. 21 is a suave as anything Ricci did here (both were students of Persinger), crackly sound notwithstanding. Aguirre’s Huella is in the Heifetz arrangement, a parlando serenade redolent of the Alhambra.
Another Heifetz arrangement is Valle’s Preludio XV, a repeated riff that takes on varied registrations and bowings, pizzicati, etc. Benjamin’s From San Domingo begins like Kreisler’s Caprice Viennois, but quickly becomes percussive and willful – wildly Caribbean. Finally, Stravinsky’s piece for Samuel Dushkin, the delicate Pastorale in dreamy colors. Aristocratic playing always; but when Wicks cuts loose, the Queen, to quote Dylan Thomas, “can be had but not seen.”