SAMUEL DUSHKIN (1891 - 1976)
Dushkin, who went to the USA at an early age and became an American citizen, was enrolled in the New York Music School Settlement, becoming a protégé of Blair Fairchild. On Fairchild’s instructions he went to the Paris Conservatoire for instruction, although he was also numbered amongst Leopold Auer’s pupils in New York and, notably, was one of only two ‘official’ pupils of Fritz Kreisler. His recordings reveal a rich and powerful tone, very much in the mould of many players of the 1920s and 1930s. There is a powerful vibrato on the lower strings, but his playing is generally clearer and cleaner higher up, albeit with a rather thick sound (possibly attributable to the properties of early electric microphones).
Samuel Dushkin’s name became deservedly synonymous with that of Igor Stravinsky (as both friend and performance partner) after Dushkin was introduced to the composer by Willy Strecker, Stravinsky’s publisher. It was intended that Dushkin would give technical advice concerning violin composition and Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto was the first major work to benefit from this. The chord which begins each movement was discussed in a Parisian café. Dushkin initially proclaimed it unplayable but after further consideration told Stravinsky it could be managed, and it forms a pivotal element of the work. Stravinsky wrote in his Memoirs:
‘Far from having exhausted my interest in the violin, my concerto […] impelled me to write another important work for that instrument. I had formerly had no great liking for a combination of piano and strings, but a deeper knowledge of the violin and close collaboration with a technician like Dushkin had revealed possibilities I longed to explore.’
His 1931 recording of the Stravinsky Concerto possesses a heavily varnished sound, although with much rhythmic vitality. There is a slightly objective air to the performance, which (as in the 1933 recording of the Duo Concertant with Stravinsky) is neatly articulated on the whole. The appeal of Dushkin’s playing to Stravinsky can perhaps be seen in its evident intellect and demonstrative precision, especially rhythmically, although the Firebird Suite Scherzo transcription (1933) shows more aptitude for the atmospheric. His 1928 recording of Gershwin’s rarely performed Short Story is of historical significance, the work resulting from Dushkin having persuaded Gershwin to rework two novelettes he noticed when visiting the composer in 1924.
Dushkin demonstrates much of the ‘mainstream’ approach of younger players of the 1920s and 1930s. Whilst not exceptional in themselves, his strong links with Stravinsky make his recordings fascinating and important documents.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)