Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Incomparable Emanuel Feuermann

Emanuel Feuermann
Today I present three recordings featuring the man whom many, myself included, consider the greatest cellist of all time, the tragically short-lived Emanuel Feuermann (1902-1942).  He really should have lived into the era of stereo recording, but he died at age 39 of complications from an operation for hemorrhoids; Toscanini, who was one of the pallbearers at his funeral, is said to have wept during the procession, saying, "this is murder!"  At the time of his death, Feuermann was planning to take up the viola da gamba, so that he could present Bach's three sonatas for that instrument as authentically as possible.

Despite the short time available to him, he left a precious recorded legacy.  But, alas, no unaccompanied Bach suites - I suppose these works were perceived at the time as belonging to Casals, so Feuermann never got to record one - so the closest we can get to what that may have sounded like is via his 1938 set of a Reger suite, and this unaccompanied sonata by his friend, Paul Hindemith:

Hindemith: Sonata for unaccompanied cello, Op. 25, No. 3
Emanuel Feuermann, cello
Recorded January 27, 1934
Japanese Columbia S-1032, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 22.17 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 9.3 MB)

Feuermann left us several concerto recordings, including a wonderful Brahms Double with Heifetz, and this one of the Haydn D major:

Haydn: Cello Concerto in D major, Op. 101
Emanuel Feuermann with orchestra conducted by Dr. Malcolm Sargent
Recorded November 25, 1935
Columbia Masterworks set MM-262, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 76.38 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 37.26)

On a personal note: this is the third copy of MM-262 that I have owned; the first one I had as a boy of ten, inherited from the discarded 78 library of Emory University, where my mother was teaching music at the time.  It was my introduction to Feuermann's art, and to this day the Haydn D major is my favorite of all cello concertos, largely on the strength of this recording.

Finally, for fans of Eugene Ormandy, another of his early Victor recordings, featuring Feuermann - the first of four recordings Ormandy was to make of Strauss' "Don Quixote," but the only one with a cellist other than first-desk Philadelphia players:

Richard Strauss: Don Quixote, Op. 35
Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Emanuel Feuermann, cello
Samuel Lifschey, viola
Alexander Hilsberg, violin
Recorded February 24, 1940
Victor Musical Masterpiece set DM-720, five 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 87.25)
Link (MP3 file, 45.26)


  1. thanks a lot, Bryan! i love Feuermann's playing in Haydn Concerto. his solo in Don Quixote shares the first place in my ranking with that of Mainardi. and, to my shame, i have never heard Hidemith Sonata in his rendition. i even didn't know about its existence.
    thanks once more.

  2. Trois enregistrements splendides, très bien restaurés! Merci beaucoup!


  3. Sometimes the Fidelity of recordings from the 30s and 40s just surprise the heck out of me. Glad to have all of these to listen to! And I love the cover designs once they got out of the dull library "just the facts" editions and learned that record cover design was an art form. Thanks Bryan.

  4. I've been curious about Feuermann ever since a cellist friend raved about him years and years ago. But so few of his recordings seem to be 'in print'. Thanks so much for the opportunity to hear him at length!

  5. Bryan: Thanks for this as well as so many treasures--I particularly appreciate the Feuermann Don Quixote. And, do you have the Feuermann/Stokowski Schelomo, also recorded on Victor 78s? Years ago I had that set and it was spectacularly good sounding--a model of its period. Unfortunately the CD versions (and old Lp transfer) sound really bad, with too much echo, loss of presence, and unnatural frequency response. The 78s were terrific and I regret that I no longer have them. They no doubt would sound marvelous via your 'purist' and very accurate & authentic transfer techniques!

    Steve Waldee-San Jose, CA.

    1. Steve - I do have that Schelomo set but I don't remember what kind of shape it's in. I'll put it on my "to do" list.

  6. Thank you!
    I know this recordings and I have an over-filtered reissue of the Strauss on Pristine Audio.
    Your transfer seems to be more conservative, which is a thing that I happen to like very much because it preserves the wonderful tonal palette and variety of nuance in Feuermann's playing.
    Even if I am not an admirer of Ormandy, this is surely one of the greatest recordings Don Quixote.

  7. Thank you so much for the DQ. I've been without ANY copy for a couple years now. Since I made the librarians at Interlochen drag it off the shelves for me - they even had to teach me how to use the player - I've loved that performance, and have listened to it hundreds of times. And I've listened to many incarnations - tapes of broadcasts, of LPs from the library, LPs, and CDs, and I've really enjoyed your transfer. It sounds like an honest and straightforward playing of very nice discs. I appreciate that approach far more than what I consider the approach that tries to get "more" out of a disc.
    Off to thank you for the Nielsen.

  8. Like your blog on donquixote by strass and opus do u know it's approximate value??