Songs your mother taught you, and an endless, exhaustive assortment of lightweight salon music, of the sort popular early in the century - these await the persistent listener who tracks down this compilation of recordings by America's first female violin virtuoso of note.
You will also find significant technical pieces and music by the greatest composers; the reflection of interpretive greatness, and in some instances full-blown immortality and excitement as you reach back across the cracks, squawks, surface racket and occasional "fast forwarding" of the music. Ears become adjusted to going "through the looking glass," as this really good and careful remastering yields a pleasurable, adventurous musical journey.In 1988, I reviewed the book "Maud Powell, Pioneer American Violinist," by Karen Shaffer and Neva Greenwood. These recordings are further evidence of Shaffer's devotion to Powell, for whom she has spearheaded a foundation; thanks to which "Maude Powell and her Legacy" of memorabilia and artifacts will be on display Aug. 29-Oct. 2, in conjunction with the 1994 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis.
Powell's name may be unknown today, but in the early teens and '20s of the century she ranked right alongside Kreisler, Thibaud, Elman, Heifetz and Zimbalist, as a recording star of the Victor label.
Born in Illinois, she was trained in Europe, where she had great success. But she desired to bring great music to agrarian America and toured frequently and extensively in solo recital, also with the Theodore Thomas Orchestra and John Phillip Sousa. In concert with major orchestras of her time she premiered 13 concertos in America, including Saint-Saens No. 2, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Arensky, Coleridge-Taylor and Sibelius, also Lalo's Concerto in F minor.
The plethora of short, light music here performed reflects the time in which she lived, when cylinders or early 78s could reproduce only 4 minutes and 55 seconds of music on a side. (Hence, one CD features her playing the fastest finale of the Mendelssohn concerto ever, to fit this time constraint.)
Powell's is a lovely tone, with innate musicality and impeccable musicianship and technique, suggesting a compelling artistic personality. And her repertory, while tuneful, is generally uncompromising.
There are charming, familiar airs by such as Bruch, Elgar, Drdla, Offenbach, Schubert, Massenet, Cadman, Grainger and Saint-Saens. Her arrangement of four American folksongs, including two by Stephen Foster, does not condescend, but gives added dimension to this music. There is the nobility of a Bach partita and two movements of a Bach Sonata, and airs of Handel and Gluck; the Romance from Wieniaswski's Concerto, and some breathtaking technical fireworks in a Caprice by Ogarew, and pieces by Raff and Sarasate.
In sum, it's the work of a woman bent on pleasing her audience while giving the finest music a first-class airing; and it makes you wish you had been there.