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Myriam Solovieff & Julius Katchen

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Myriam Solovieff never achieved quite the reputation she deserved. She strikes us an artist we should like to know better, here paired with pianist Julius Katchen. Solovieff made few commercial recordings. This release was carefully considered and this French radio recital has never been published before and aims to bring her artistry back into the present.

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MYRIAM SOLOVIEFFand JULIUS KATCHEN play Bach, Mozart and Brahms

1. BACH: V.Chaconne, Partita for Solo Violin No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004 [15:39]
Myriam Solovieff · solo violin

2-3. MOZART: Violin Sonata in E minor, K.304 [12:09]
4-7. BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No.3 in D minor, Op.108 [21:07]

Myriam Solovieff · violin
Julius Katchen · piano

Recorded: 13 January 1963 in Paris, Studio 107, Le Livre d’Or, Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (Radio Studio Recording)

Additional Information

Article number: MC 2007
Release date: 02 May 2014
UPC barcode: 0791154050293
Total time: 49:06

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek and U.S. Newspaper
With special thanks to Allan Evans and Christof Honecker
From the Original Masters · © 2014 Meloclassic

Miriam Solovieff was born in San Francisco on November 4, 1921. When she was 3 years old, the family lived in an apartment directly above the studio of a piano teacher, Ela Rittisin, Miriam earnestly listened to the students at their lessons, and soon made known her desire to made music herself. When Rittisin heard of this she gladly gave the child a few lessons. In a few months she realized that the child had remarkable ability which called for greater teaching skill. Adolph Ryss, who had guided the early steps of several prodigies, became interested in Miriam and taught her for the next 3 years. As his pupil she appeared before various musical organizations, on one notable occasion, as a 5-year-old debutante in the junior section of the Pacific Musical Society. Her father Aaron Solovieff was born in Russia, of a strictly orthodox Jewish family, and was an assistant cantor at Beth Israel temple in San Francisco. He studied the Talmud until he was 16. In 1914, as a young man of 21, he had been conscripted into the Prussian Army; but he escaped to the United States, and came to San Francisco where he met and married Miriam’s mother another Russian.

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On November 15, 1928, 10-year-old Ruggiero Ricci made a sensational debut in Scottish Rite auditorium in San Francisco. In the audience was Miriam who had just passed her seventh birthday. The child violinist’s performance made a deep impression on her. For days afterward she heard in memory the sustained legato singing of the violin and compared it tally with the cooler detached voice of the piano. Soon she begged her parents to be allowed to change. They objected, and pointed out that she was doing unusually well with the piano. Eventually a compromise was reached, Miriam could have violin lessons but must continue her study of the piano. She became a pupil of Robert Pollack, head of the violin department of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. When Pollack left for Tokyo, the young violinist came into the able hands of Kathleen Parlow’s assistant Carol Weston, she progressed so rapidly that it was not long before she went to Parlow with whom she remained for 4 years. Five years after her first appearance before the Pacific Musical Society as one of a group of children, Miriam again played for this organization. Although but 10 years old she was now a member of the senior section and her playing of the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 was the outstanding performance of the program. Among those present was Mr Mason, dean of Pacific Coast critics, who said: “Miriam must be added to our little circle of San Francisco prodigies.” A few months later on December 17, 1931, she made her debut in the Community Playhouse, playing a Handel sonata, the Mendelssohn Concerto, the Bruch arrangement of Kol Nidrei and a group of short pieces. Her list of sponsors resembled a “Who is who of San Francisco Patrons of Music.” The concert was a pronounced success. A few months later she made her first appearance with an orchestra when she played with the San Francisco Symphony on the occasion of the fourth Young People’s Symphony concerts, conducted by Basil Cameron, February 26, 1932, in the Tivoli Theatre. Her interpretation of two movements of Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole was judged by Alexander Fried as “remarkably able and just”. When Artur Rodzinsky heard her play, he invited her to be a soloist at one of the regular concerts of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, He is quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, February 5, 1933, as writing: “Never in my previous experience have I heard any child who offers such wonderful possibilities: for the future. She has so much already – tone, technique, and understanding – that I qualify her without hesitation as a matured artist now and it was on this basis that I selected her to play with the Philharmonic. The fact that her personality is that of a normal healthy child enhances her genius as a musician.”

After a successful Los Angeles appearance Miriam’s parents decided that she should go East to study with Louis Persinger who had gained extraordinary prestige as the teacher of Yehudi Menuhin and Ruggiero Ricci. In order to secure sponsors for Miriam, Philip Bush of San Francisco arranged a private recital in this house. It was attended by a number of patrons prominent in San Francisco musical life and was successful in its purpose. In September 1933, Miriam, her mother, and her baby sister left for New York, where she began study with Louis Persinger, which continued until 1937. During a brief return visit to California in 1934 she appeared in August with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Ossip Gabrilowitsch, in a summer concert in the Hollywood Bowl, where an audience of thousand listeners went to hear her play the enchanting Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. By that time she had already achieved a fantastic reputation as one of those miraculous child prodigies from San Francisco, birthplace of wonder children.

No other noteworthy performance was recorded until her debut in Town Hall, New York on January 3, 1937. The New York Times, on January 4, stated: “Miriam Solovieff made her local debut in a recital last night in Town Hall, her playing possessed sufficient warmth, vitality and technical address to evoke a ready and strenuous response from her many hearers. Though only 15, she seemed thoroughly at home on the concert platform and played with the poise of a veteran of the bow.”

San Francisco acquaintances of the family had been collected $ 10.000 to send her abroad for study after the triumphant appearance in New York. She went to Europe and studied with Carl Flesch in Belgium. After a year’s study with Flesch, she went on a tour of Holland, making her debut at The Hague, November 21, 1938. Shortly after she made her London debut, December 15, drawing a capacity audience to Wigmore Hall. The enthusiasm she aroused on this occasion led to 22 engagements in England from January to March 1939. A criticism in the London Times, December 17, reported: “Neither Brahms’ D minor Sonata, with Gerald Moore’s valuable aid”, nor Bach’s Chaconne, without it, suggested a fully awakened sense of style, or even a very lively regard for the finer points of interpretation, but gifts of temperament and an unusual technical development were remarked in both performances .As it was, Glazunov’s A minor Concerto served best to display an admirable tone production and a measure of skill and animation well above the average.” Of the many young artists who presented concerts in London, only a few achieved the honor of a review in the Times. The cautious, qualified praise of the above review represented honestly strong approval. She continued her study with Flesch until November 1939, when because of the war, she returned to America.

On December 28, 1939, Solovieff dodged two bullets and escaped injury when her father, shot and wounded her mother Elisabeth (38) and sister Vivienne (12) and killed himself in their fashionable Riverside drive apartment in New York. Her father (41), who had been estranged from his wife for 5 years died a few minutes after the shooting. Her mother was wounded in the abdomen and was expected to die and her sister was struck in the neck and had an even chance to survive.

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Police Capt. William Hughes thus described the affair after a preliminary investigation: “Mr. Solovieff, who I understand is an artist and has been living in San Francisco for many months, arrived in New York this morning. He had been writing threatening letters to the family ever since the separation five years ago. This morning, he came directly from the train to the apartment and began to argue with them apparently he terrorized them all day long. Tonight, apparently realizing the futility of his argument, he drew the gun, shot first at Miriam and missed. He shot the little girl (sister) and then shot his wife. Then he shot himself in the head. Miriam, who planned to make concerts and recitals next month was hysterical and that it was difficult to get a coherent story from her. As her father opened fire in the apartment she ran screaming into the corridor and into the nearby suite of a registered nurse. Mr. Solovieff himself rushed into the corridor, where he put the pistol to his head and fell.” About an hour later Miriam described as a dark, slender girl whose lips trembled, went away silently to the hospital where her mother and sister were taken. She clutched a violin which was police said was a Stradivarius valued at $ 25.000. Her mother paid a monthly rental of $ 150 for their suite and had registered from San Francisco, as they had once in 1939 when they were en route to Europe, where Miriam studied. Detectives said “Mr. Solovieff’s coat pocket contained two notes, one in English and one in Jewish. The English one said “They gave me a rough deal. When they wrote, they ignored me. I’ll get revenge. Too bad she is not here. She would be the first to go.” Police expressed belief “she” meant a relative or acquaintance whom Mr. Solovieff blamed for his family separation. Miriam was quoted by police as saying that her father had come to the apartment about 10 a.m. and insisted upon living with the family. He argued with her mother until 2.45 p.m., the left to rent a furnished room. At 5.20 p.m., he returned and, after another argument with her mother and girls, suddenly drew a pistol from his coat and began firing. A box of 44 cartridges also was found in the coat.” Her mother and sister died of the wounds the day after. Vivienne, was already being praised as a precociously competent pianist when she was 4. Left as the only surviving member of a family, Miriam’s life was forever marked by this tragedy and it was a vain effort to continue her career.

Her international career was interrupted due to WW II. She had to serve for the U.S. Army where she met and married William Rubin, an infantry lieutenant at that time, and she had gone with him through desert maneuvers. He was stationed in Tennessee and she visited him, whenever her concert schedule permitted. In August 1945, Solovieff set out on the first interracial USO tour of American military bases in Europe. For the next two months, during thirty-two appearances in France, Germany and Czechoslovakia, she brought vibrant spirit to the troops. During her subsequent concerts in Buchenwald and Dachau, the performance was halted, announcing that the German prisoners of war in the back of the halls would have to leave because Solovieff was Jewish and refused to play in their presence.

Miriam Solovieff 2 1952


A highly successful USIS-sponsored concert of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the young American Jonathan Sternberg, was presented in Vienna in March 1946 in which she was the soloist. During an interview after a performance in 1947 she said that her name when translated from the Russian into English means “Nightingale” and that she tried to make her violin sing like a nightingale whenever she played. And had a message for young people: “I don’t know of one person today who studied music in childhood and then later gave it up, who did not regret it. I would suggest that every child who has the opportunity to study music, stick with it, and while everyone cannot become famous in this field, it is a wonderful source of amusement and comfort to boys and girls when they reach their twenties!

In the 1950s she moved to Paris where she taught and many gifted young artists came to her for advice. Solovieff recorded in the early-mid 60’s all of the Brahms Violin Sonatas with Julius Katchen and then had a breakdown that ended the session. While there are private tapes and copy CD’s around, the sessions were never released commercially as far as we know.

Myriam Solovieff died in Paris on October 3, 2004 at the Georges Pompidou European Hospital.

© Michael Waiblinger 2014

MusicWeb International Classical Review July 2014

Published November 2014

Miriam (or Myriam) Solovieff (1921-2004) had an extraordinary life. She was born in San Francisco and began to study the piano but after the epiphany of hearing the ten-year old wunderkind Ruggiero Ricci in 1928, she asked to be able to learn the violin. She was a pupil of Robert Pollak, then Carol Weston – who was the teaching assistant of the leading Canadian fiddler, Kathleen Parlow – and then, for four years, Parlow herself. Her first appearance with orchestra came in 1932 when she performed two movements of Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole with the San Francisco Symphony conducted by Basil Cameron. Artur Rodzinski duly invited her to Los Angeles. Further studies followed with Louis Persinger, the teacher of Ricci and Menuhin, and then a year in Belgium with Carl Flesch. She returned home to America, to the family apartment, now in New York, in November 1939. A few weeks later, between Christmas and New Year, her father, estranged from her mother, shot and killed his wife and Miriam’s twelve-year old sister Vivienne and then killed himself. He had begun the spree by shooting at Miriam but had missed. The war curtailed her career but she married and resumed playing and touring in late 1945, playing across Europe, including visits to concentration camps to play there. She moved to Paris in the 1950s, taught, performed, but had a breakdown in the early 1960s. Thereafter her performing career seems to have trailed off although she did teach. She died in Paris in 2004.

The story is thus one of initial brilliance, a charmed childhood prodigy in the mould of Guila Bustabo or of Ricci, her fellow San Franciscan, followed by years of study with two of the world’s great teachers – Persinger and Flesch. Thereafter came family tragedy and the disruption of the War, followed by exposure to European horrors, and a traumatic breakdown.

Solovieff made few commercial recordings. So far as I’m aware she did make one 78, with sweetmeats by Chaminade, Kreisler and Debussy, on the Cupol label. In Vienna she taped the Lalo Concerto in F with Swoboda, with whom she also recorded Schubert’s Rondo. The one LP that does crop up fairly often is Scheherazade, made once again in Vienna with Rossi conducting. She recorded the three Brahms sonatas with Julius Katchen in the early 1960s but it was at these sessions that she suffered her breakdown. There is some conflicting information about this. Both Meloclassic’s notes and Eric Shumsky – who studied with her and admired her greatly – suggest that these recordings were never issued. They may, however, have been assigned a catalogue number as I’ve seen Decca SXL6209 mentioned in relation to these Solovieff-Katchen recordings. Ironically, whilst Katchen’s recording of the three sonatas with Josef Suk is very well known, he also recorded Nos. 2 and 3 with Solovieff’s one-time violinistic spur, Ruggiero Ricci, again for Decca.

Which, at last, brings us to this 1963 Paris studio broadcast. She plays the Bach Chaconne in a measured, precise, stylish way, very different from, but at a similar tempo to, Oscar Shumsky’s later performance. It, therefore, stands at a remove from the Franco-Belgian approach propagated by Grumiaux or Enescu who took a far more tensile approach. The playing here is characterised by dignity and control, not by overmuch drama in the contrastive passages. Rubati are languid at points. It was a work she had played often – she had played it pre-war at the Wigmore Hall in London, where critics felt her technical gifts ahead of her interpretative ones. The two-movement E minor Sonata of Mozart, K304 reveals a deft ensemble with Katchen. She evinces good tone colours and a well-equalized scale and plays with musicality and style. The D minor Brahms Sonata alerts the listener as to what these two musicians did with their Brahms. I should note that their studio cycle of the three sonatas, alluded to above, whether issued commercially or not does still exist. Perhaps it is time for it to be definitively released. The playing of Op.108 is sensitive and without expressive exaggeration. It is not nearly as personalised as the Ricci recording with Katchen but is on a par with the Suk, though she lacks his range of tone colours. She essays one or two quite eager portamenti and can float her tone with sufficient body. There is no lack of rapport here. The interpretative approach is pretty consistent with the Suk-Katchen.

This 50-minute recital will be particularly intriguing to violin collectors, for whom Solovieff may be no more than a name, if that. The broadcast sound is excellent.

© Jonathan Woolf

Audiophile Audition Classical Review October 2014

Published on October 19, 2014

Myriam Solovieff strikes us an artist we would like to know better, here paired with pianist Julius Katchen.
Myriam Solovieff (1921-2004) was a San Francisco musical phenomenon who had been mightily impressed by the 1928 debut of the young Ruggiero Ricci, aged ten, at the Scottish Rite Auditorium. A natural prodigy, Myriam came to the attention of both Basil Cameron and Artur Rodzinski, the latter of whom pronounced her “a child who offers wonderful possibilities for the future. She has so much already – tone, technique, and understanding – that I qualify her without hesitation as a matured artist now, and it was on this basis that I selected her to play with the [Los Angeles] Philharmonic.”

The present recital from French Radio (13 January 1963) in Paris opens with a colossally suave reading of the Bach Chaconne for solo violin. Solovieff’s tone and articulation prove resonant and strikingly accurate. Her pacing absorbs the many changes ofregistration and timbre of the instrument, never losing the thread of the basic pulse. The fleet passages move with vigorous resonance, more than reminiscent of the facility and drive Szigeti or Menuhin could bring to this monument.

We next have an intimate rendition of the Mozart 1778 Sonata in E Minor in collaboration with Julius Katchen (1926-1969). Though in two movements, Alfred Einstein called the sonata “one of the miracles among Mozart’s works.” One aspect of that miracle must be attributed to the keyboard part, which Katchen executes with a combination of lightness and power. The partners interchange unison elements with moments of counterpoint, with Solovieff’s resonant double stops to provide a “third” instrument. The second movement bears the marking Tempo di Menuetto, but its somber cast points more to the late Mozart of the Piano Concerto No. 24. The music takes adolce turn into E Major, one of those moments when Mozart glimpses serene Eternity. Consider that the work is contemporary with Mozart’s mother’s last illness, and we might account for its lyrical tragic beauty.

The modest recital concludes with the Brahms 1887 D Minor Sonata, Op. 108, a work Katchen would inscribe commercially for Decca. The music projects its somber drama with Solovieff’s playing in double stops and imposing an eerie sensibility on the often virtuoso figures. With its darkly passionate affect, it comes as little surprise that Brahms spreads the melodic tissue over three octaves, which Solovieff and Katchen traverse with collaborative authority. The final cadence in D Major prepares us for the segue to the Adagio. Almost a processional in their realization, the Adagio moves in a lilted 3/8 that Solovieff infuses with thoughtful melancholy. When the music rises up an octave, the effect from Solovieff becomes quite poignant.

The little interlude or intermezzo, Un presto e con sentimento, proceeds with restrained dalliance, weaving in and out of theminor mode. In one burst of ecstatic passion, Solovieff and Katchen sing a most rapturous duet. The last movement, Presto agitato, moves in the manner of a tarantellain 6/8. Here, Solovieff and Katchen appear to compete for supremacy, each inspiring the other to a higher level of passion. The music suddenly develops, sonata-form, into a startling declaration of ardent nostalgia, elevated by Solovieff’s sweet-toned Stradivarius. The last pages ring in our minds long after the final cadence, a sure indication that Solovieff has been under-represented in our collective consciousness.

© Gary Lemco

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