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“Berl Senofsky in Concert” – Works of RAVEL, RACHMANINOFF, BARTOK, BACH, BRAHMS & Others – Bridge

A happily unearthed treasury from 1958 Belgium adds to the cult status of Philadelphia violinist Berl Senofsky.

Berl Senofsky in Concert” = RAVEL: Piece en forme de Habanera; BARTOK: Roumanian Dances; RACHMANINOFF: Vocalise; YSAYE: Sonata No. 6 in E Major; CRESTON: Suite for Violin and Piano, Op. 19; WIENIAWSKI: Polonaise No. 1 in D, Op. 4; BACH: Chaconee from Violin Partita No. 2 in d minor, BWV 1004; BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100: Allegretto grazioso; Hungarian Dance No. 7 – Berl Senofsky, v./ Marie Louise Bastyns, p. – Bridge 9470, 59:51 (8/8/16) [Distr. by Albany] ****: 

Recorded at the American Theater, Brussels (6 October 1958), this recital from the World’s Fair Expo ’58 features esteemed American violinist Berl Senofsky (1926-2002), who in 1955 became First Prize Winner of the 1955 Queen Elisabeth International Competition. For this recital, Senofsky has as his collaborator Belgian pianist Marie Louise Bastyns, a pupil of Carlo Zecchi. For Senofsky acolytes, the opportunity to add to his sadly limited recorded discography should motivate their purchase of this distinctive recital.

Senofsky demonstrates both the broad range of both in musically international taste and his command of his instrument. The Ravel Habanera oozes a Basque sensibility, palpably erotic. Senofsky then joins Bastyns for the 6 Roumanian Dances (c. 1915) of Bela Bartok. Bartok took authentic Roumanian folk tunes and augmented them to his own taste for speed, color, and character. At least two of the dances derive from flute melodies. Bartok favors the interval of the second, either augmented or diminished. Even in their brief compressed energy, Senofsky manages to make the occasion flirt, sing, or prance with a combination of peasant and aristocratic grace.

To counter the raw, even raucous, energy of the Bartok dances, Senofsky intones a sweetly extended song in Rachmaninov’s familiar Vocalise from Op. 34. A musical contemporary, to a degree, Paul Creston (1906-1985) was born Giuseppe Guttoveggio in New York City, son of immigrants from Sicily. An auto-didact, the young musician trained on various instruments and earned a job as an organist for silent movie accompaniments. Despite a general love for exotic instruments, the self-named Paul Creston composed an effective three-movement Suite for Violin and Piano whose “Air” allows his two principals to sing ardently.

The Belgian violin virtuoso created in 1923 a set of six solo violin sonatas, each dedicated to a contemporary virtuoso. The sixth (for Manuel Quiroga) is written in the style of a Spanish habanera, with a turbulent middle section, notable for its rich texture, chromatic harmony, and scale passages. Cast as a one movement work, it bears the marking of “Allegro giusto non troppo vivo.” Double stops, slides, and passing dissonances abound, along with jabbing accents and quick shifts of register. Senofsky here pays tribute to his adoptive city of Brussels while preserving his own fiery personality.

The Bridge label erroneously identifies the familiar D Major Polonaise No. 1, Op. 4 by Henri Wieniawski as “Grand Dou Polonaise, Op. 8.” No matter: the performance comes off as pure brilliance in dazzling Polish-gypsy colors. The major work on this disc remains the massive Chaconne from the Bach d minor Partita, distinguished by Senofsky’s carefully articulated and poised maintenance of the various periods of the work – tautly executed without emotional or dramatic sag in the musical line – as they evolve over a ground bass. The palpable level of concentration becomes literally grueling in the sheer intoxication of the moment.

Senofsky rejoins his fine accompanist Bastyns for two Brahms compositions: the last movement from the genial A Major Violin Sonata No. 2 “Thun” and the Hungarian Dance No. 7 in A Major. The warmth of the collaboration suffuses both Brahms pieces. When the music does indeed demand those moments of unbuttoned passion, we can feel the same heat that Senofsky achieves in his one 1956 commercial record of the Concerto, with Rudolf Moralt and the Vienna Symphony (on Historic-Records HRCD 01010).  The suave, Vienna-bistro luster of the Hungarian Dance makes a fitting encore.
We owe producers Dr. Noel Lester, RoseAnn Lester, and Becky and David Starobin a debt of thanks for this addition to the Senofsky legend.

—Gary Lemco

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