Arbiter Records 128

Morini in concert with Zino Francescatti

Erica Morini, with Zino Francescatti, Leon Pommers, Frederic Waldman & Musica Aeterna

Track List

  1. Tartini Violin Sonata in G minor: I
  2. Tartini Violin Sonata in G minor: II
  3. Tartini Violin Sonata in G minor: III
  4. Tartini Violin Sonata in G minor: IV
  5. Tartini-Kreisler Corelli Variations
  6. Beethoven Violin and Piano Sonata in G, op. 30, no. 3: I
  7. Beethoven Violin and Piano Sonata in G, op. 30, no. 3: II
  8. Beethoven Violin and Piano Sonata in G, op. 30, no. 3: III
  9. Prokofiev Violin Sonata in D op. 94a: I
  10. Prokofiev Violin Sonata in D op. 94a: II
  11. Prokofiev Violin Sonata in D op. 94a: III
  12. Prokofiev Violin Sonata in D op. 94a: IV
  13. Vivaldi Double Concerto in D minor: I
  14. Vivaldi Double Concerto in D minor: II
  15. Vivaldi Double Concerto in D minor: III
  16. Bach Double Concerto in D minor: II
  17. Bach Double Concerto in D minor: II
  18. Bach Double Concerto in D minor: III

Gaps in knowledge about the life and career of Erica Morini continue to be filled in through the discovery of taped interviews and information provided by her long-time musical partner Leon Pommers. According to one source, Morini claimed to have been born in 1908, whereas later in life an earlier date, 1904, had been accepted as authentic. Morini confuses matters further by mentioning that her American managers wished for her to be known as an older artist and thus added on several years to her age. As Morini had to leave Vienna before the Second World War, her early papers remained there and were subsequently lost.

According to Leon Pommers, the family name had been Morgenstern, later Italianized into Morini [This was later contested by Morini’s brother Frank who claimed to have their birth certificates.] The young violinist’s first appearances began at age five when her father took her to play at prominent spas in Karlsbad and Marienbad, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Her Viennese debut took place in a recital shared with the singer Joseph Schwarz. In her eighth (or twelfth if born in 1904) year, Morini was invited to appear with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Nikisch: she recalled how Nikisch embraced her after the rehearsal, proclaiming to the orchestra, “She is not a wunderkind, she is a wonder and a child.” One conductor reluctant to appear with a child was Karl Muck, active in Germany after having been forced out of the United States due to the anti-German sentiment of the First World War. Before their rehearsal, he ordered her to follow him out onto the stage at the concert: after their run-through, he said “You go out first.” Her first performance with Bruno Walter took place in Germany; after the concerto, Walter unexpectedly sat at the piano and insisted they play a series of works by Kreisler for the public.

Morini’s American debut took place with Artur Bodansky at the Metropolitan Opera, which led to four more appearances with the orchestra, immediately establishing her in the United States. On one of her earliest tours, Morini played a Viextemps Concerto with Ysaye, then based in Cincinnatti.
An early mentor was the violinist Bronislaw Huberman, who performed with her in both Vienna and Budapest the Bach Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, (a lifelong favorite which she recorded with Milstein, heard on this disc with Francescatti). At one orchestral rehearsal, he spoke aloud to the players – “She played that so beautifully, that I have a hard time to play it like she does.” Morini also recalled having played other works for two violins with him and gave a concert in his memory in Israel.

Morini’s enthusiasm for playing chamber music began in Budapest, where she worked with the composer Leo Weiner, coming annually for five years to play through the literature with him and others. Morini encountered the young pianist Erwin Nyiregyhazi and began performing with Ernst von Dohnanyi, once playing the Brahms Double Concerto and Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with him and Piatigorsky.
It was also in Budapest that the 25-year-old Morini acquired her Stradivarius, a remarkable instrument which was stolen shortly before her death and remains lost. The violin had been chosen by her father and became her favorite throughout her career. She believed it depended entirely on the player to develop its unique tone, regarding it as a human being that adapts itself to whomever plays upon it. Morini noticed how other violinists would try her instrument and fail to get the response she achieved.

In her repertoire, Morini played little contemporary music. Leon Pommers recalls how her approach to Prokofiev was overly Viennese, missing the sarcastic undercurrent. Morini was introduced to the composer in Poland by the conductor Gregor Fitelberg and later met him in Russia, when she toured with pianist Artur Balsam and appeared with Erich Kleiber. By phone, Prokofiev mentioned that he was about to complete a concerto and wished to dedicate it to her. Although she had played through some of his works, Morini hesitated to accept it. Her refusal, although vaguely stated at the time, troubled her years later as she came to enjoy his music. Morini did however take up Stravinsky’s Duo Concertante: the composer became a friend in New York and once led Morini and the New York Philharmonic in a performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto. She recalled his piety, how each time before they went on stage Stravinsky would kiss her forehead, saying ‘Gott mit dir.’ [God be with you.]
Divine intervention was certainly absent when Morini’s career was forcibly ended. While she diplomatically attributed her retirement to a heart condition (angina pectoris) A more mundane factor seems to have put an end to her career. While Morini did develop heart trouble, it was due to her management ordering her to lower her artist’s fee. Morini, proud of her musical accomplishments and stature, humiliated and devastated by this penurious intrusion on her artistry, refused to compromise herself. While all could have enjoyed her great musicianship for many more years, we may at least hear these rare documents of her finest playing coming alive before listeners in a way not possible inside the recording studios.

Leon Pommers performed with Erica Morini from the mid 1940s up until her farewell recital some thirty years later. His understanding of her musicianship was such that he could predict how Morini would interpret a work before she had even learned it. Having made a daring escape from Nazi-invaded Poland while a student at the Warsaw Conservatory, Pommers traversed Siberia in six months to reach safety in Manchuria before reaching Tokyo. He briefly studied with Ignaz Friedman in Australia and arrived in Canada, where he was immediately sought after by instrumentalists and singers. In New York he met Moriz Rosenthal, Severin Eisenberger, and for decades frequently performed with Menuhin, Martzy, Milstein, Ricci, Starker, Szigeti, Garbusova, and many other eminent performers in recitals. He has recorded with Morini, Milstein, Benny Goodman, Janos Starker and other artists. Pommers currently teaches piano and chamber music at the Mannes College.
-Allan Evans ©2001