Classical Reissue Reviews

Ruth Posselt, American Violinist = Works of BLOCH, HINDEMITH, HILL, VILLA-LOBOS, PROKOFIEV, ARBOS, KHACHATURIAN, BARBER, TCHAIKOVSKY – WestHillRadioArchives (3 CDs)

West Hill Radio Archives rediscovers an unfairly-neglected American violin virtuoso, a major artist in Ruth Posselt, whose live concert collaborations testify to an international-caliber talent.

Published on July 29, 2013

Ruth Posselt, American Violinist = Works of BLOCH, HINDEMITH, HILL, VILLA-LOBOS, PROKOFIEV, ARBOS, KHACHATURIAN, BARBER, TCHAIKOVSKY – WestHillRadioArchives (3 CDs)

Ruth Posselt, American Violinist = BLOCH: Baal Shem; HILL: Concerto for Violin, OP. 38; HINDEMITH: Sonata in E for Violin and Piano; Violin Concerto; VILLA-LOBOS: Premiere Sonate-Fantasie; PROKOFIEV: Five Melodies, Op. 35; ARBOS: Tango, Op. 6, No. 3; KHACHATURIAN: Violin Concerto in D Minor; TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35; BARBER: Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 14 – Ruth Posselt, violin/ Florida State Ch. Orch./ Richard Burgin (Bloch)/ Boston Sym. Orch./ Koussevitzky (Hill) & R. Burgin (Khachaturian and Barber)/ Harvard-Radcliff Orch./ Russell Stanger (Hindemith)/ Springfield Sym. Orch./ Richard Burgin (Tchaikovsky)/ Allan Sly, piano – WHRA-6016 (3 CDs) 78:42, 72:56, 60:28 [www.westhillradioarchives.com] ****:

Violin virtuoso Ruth Pierce Posselt was born either in 1911 or 1914, depending on the source, in Medford Massachusetts, and she died in 2007. Although Ms. Posselt has not had the “immortality” of contemporary virtuosos Erica Morini, Joanna Martzy, Guila Bustabo, or Giaconda da Vito, she had been hailed in her time as “one of the great violinists of our time” (Koussevitzky) and “the Child Wonder Violinist” (Boston critics). A pupil of Emmanuel Ondricek, Ms. Posselt became well know in New York and Boston, making her debut with the New York Symphony under Walter Damrosch in 1928 with the Tchaikovsky Concerto. Posselt engaged in further study with Jacques Thibaud. As a mature artist, Posselt dedicated her talents to the works of Hindemith, Dukelsky (aka Vernon Duke), Piston, Barber, Hill, and Khachaturian. She helped to found the Bel Arte Trio, recording for Decca Records. She married Richard Burgin (1891-1982), violinist and concertmaster of the Boston Symphony, on 3 July 1940.  After 1964, Posselt taught at the Florida State University School of Music, also founding the Florestan String Quartet. WHRA assembles a series of live-performance major violin concertos associated with Ms. Posselt’s long and active career, here extending from 1938-1967. The group of violin-piano pieces that fills out CD 1 of this set derives from the Album of 20th Century Violin Music on the Academy label (ALP 304).

My own interest in this artist centers on Posselt’s work with Serge Koussevitzky, particularly in the ‘unknown’ 1937 Concerto for Violin by Edward Burlingame Hill (1872-1960), given its premier in this performance in Boston 11 November 1938. I do not find the twenty-three minute work especially compelling, but we can sense the devotion of the performers, and we can assume that Richard Burgin, who advised Hill on the violin part, acted as an agent to bring Posselt to the score. The second movement, Lento, projects an earnest sense of color indebted to the French school, much Chausson or Loeffler. Occasionally, the melodic tissue reminds us of the slow movement of the Prokofiev G Minor Concerto. The final movement, Allegro moderato; Allegro molto does grant us some real hustle, though the secondary tune seems fragmentary and slight. Posselt mentions both Walter Piston and Hill, who come under discussion in an interview given on Disc 2, from Florida State University (14 April 1969). Cleanly efficient, Posselt’s playing proves more energetic in Hill than it does in the opening selection, Bloch’s Baal Shem suite under Richard Burgin from Florida State (17 October 1967). The most potent rendition I ever heard came in Atlanta, when Franco Gulli played it with that city’s orchestra.

Hindemith and Posselt became close friends, to the extent of his baking Posselt a cake in appreciation of her performances of the Hindemith Concerto, given its American premier with Burgin, but soon passed on to Posselt, who championed it, along with his last two violin sonatas. You have to love Posselt’s Boston accent in her interview, with the stretched “ahs” in her dialect. Since Posselt gave the first Boston and Tanglewood performances of the Khachaturian Concerto in D Minor, it proves most fitting that WHRA includes a driving, riveting account with Burgin from Boston’s Symphony Hall (28 October 1955), certainly competitive with inscriptions from Kogan and Fuchs, if not Oistrakh.  Posselt possesses a real flair in her attacks and a sterling intonation, though her rubatos can be sentimental. Her cadenza, however, packs a musical bite, beautifully paced, and her entry into the orchestral tutti with Burgin should have heads and ears bobbing. The second movement is all Armenian syrup, and the last, appropriately, letting loose Armenian and Slavic dervishes.

The 1939 Hindemith Concerto (25 March 1951) is led by Russell Stanger with the Harvard-Radcliff Orchestra. The Hindemith musical syntax moves fluently through Posselt, who plays with directness and sincerity. A product of the European political upheavals of the times, the music seems to offer a stately chastity and earnestness as a tonic to the raging convulsions and cataclysms that beset the lyric expression in this work. Despite some antique sonics from swishy shellacs, the Tchaikovsky Concerto in D ( May 1944) with Burgin and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra reveals Posselt’s long familiarity with the score – she performed it some thirty times in her career – executed with an ease and plastic fluency that might recall Milstein, though lacking in his nervous electricity. Posselt leans into the first movement main melody with unabashed ardor, and her shifts in registration remain musical at all times, even if there are occasional finger-slips. The Canzonetta permits Posselt some old-world portamentos that do not detract from the emotional authenticity of the playing. In the last pages of the finale, the ensemble becomes hectic and ‘iffy,’ but the audience certainly relishes the sheer enthusiasm of the performance.

Posselt gave the premier of Barber 1948 revision of his A Minor Concerto, but here presented in performance in Boston under Burgin (13 April 1963). Her collaboration with Serge Koussevitzky in the original premier of the revision (7 January 1949) is available through Pristine Audio (PASC 217). The recorded (stereo) sound here with Burgin proves the most satisfactory of the preserved broadcasts, and the rendition itself has broad lines, reminiscent of interpretations from Louis Kaufman and Jaime Laredo.  We sense a profound kinship between Posselt and this concerto, clearly affectionate and molded with eminently lyrical sympathy. The slow approach to the first movement may negate the dramatic contrast with the lyrical Andante for some auditors, but the slow movement has an undeniable, passionate breadth. Burgin elicits a consistently warm big resonance from his fellow Boston players. An effective conductor, about whom Joseph Silverstein had good things to say, Burgin impresses me in this broadcasts, my having known him as a conductor from only one piece, his Poulenc Organ Concerto with E. Power Biggs on a CBS LP (ML 4329).

Of the undated recordings from Academy, they confirm Posselt as an ardent Hindemith acolyte, despite some telephone-booth acoustics and crackle from Allan Sly’s piano. The 1912 Premiere Sonata-Fantasie of Heitor Villa-Lobos combines sultry harmony and Gallic (after Cesar Franck) elegance, rather than the hothouse Brazilian rhetoric of which the composer is capable. Posselt has a natural affinity for Prokofiev’s Five Melodies of 1925, music she added to her repertory in 1938. Like Szigeti, Posselt imbues the character-pieces with fervor, angular nostalgia, canny wit, and exotic charm, as required. Her signature piece, Enrique Arbos’ Tango, dedicated to Sarasate, serves as the perfect vehicle to bid a bientot to Posselt, since her suave verve in this stupendous moment of bravura will doubtless bear repeated hearings.

Informative notes (by Diana Burgin) and impressive photos grace this set, a fine tribute to an artist who deserves a wider audience in our collective musical consciousness.

—Gary Lemco




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