Johanna Martzy, violin = Works of BACH, HANDEL, VIVALDI, KREISLER, FALLA, RAVEL, DVORAK, BRAHMS & others – Audite (2 CDs)

Johanna Martzy, violin = BACH: Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001; HANDEL: Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 1, No. 3; VIVALDI (arr. Respighi): Violin Sonata in D Major, RV 10; KREISLER: Rondino on a Theme of Beethoven; FIOCCO: Allegro from Suite No. 1 in G Major; RAVEL: Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Faure; FALLA (arr. Kreisler): Danse Espagnole; DVORAK: Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53; BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major, Op. 78 “Regenlied” – Johanna Martzy, violin/ Jean Antonietti, p./ RIAS Sym. Orch./ Ferenc Fricsay – Audite 23.424 (2 CDs) 58:23, 46:49 (3/10/15)  [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

The art of Romanian violin virtuoso Johanna Martzy (1924-1979) enjoys a major addition to her recorded legacy in these RIAS inscriptions, 1953-1966, performed on her preferred 1733 Carlo Bergonzi “Salabue” instrument and supported by her reliable pianist, Jean Antoniettti.  The inclusion of the Dvorak Violin Concerto under Ferenc Fricsay (8 June 1953) derives from the live radio concert that preceded DGG commercial inscription by several days. The absolute security of Martzy’s playing shines in a manner that thoroughly eschews glossy or sentimental effects. The Largo of the Vivaldi Sonata (9 February 1964) provides a refined case in point: a chiseled arioso, it moves with a simplicity that transcends any special coloring that an affected vibrato or portmento could offer.

The truly outstanding “salon” item in this collection has to be the Bach Solo Sonata in G Minor (4 May 1962), which quite astonishes us with its directness and pungency of expression.  The rich variety of Martzy’s bowing in the Fuga creates an elastic tension among the distinct voices of the emergent tapestry, mesmerizing in its precision. Some may criticize Martzy for a surface austerity that she soon belies through the ardent poised musicality of her line.  The plastic line of the Fiocco Allegro (4 April 1966) rivals Grumiaux for its suave colors and flexibility of rhythm. The Kreisler Rondino, suave and elegant, adds a wide spectrum of color to the essentially Viennese affect. Delicate tenderness defines Ravel’s homage to Faure, augmented by Antonietti’s haunted, modal chords at the piano. The fluted E string sails into some unearthly realm beyond words.  The Falla arrangement seduces every violin virtuoso who loves Spanish rhythm and lilted tempos. Playful as it is erotic, the Falla basks in the alternately Andalusian strumming and percussion of its ardent gypsy affect.

The 1879 Sonata in G Major of Brahms derives from the same 4 May 1962 session as the Handel F Major Sonata and the Bach solo. To Brahms, Martzy brings a soft, expressive inwardness, given the impetus of the Op. 59 songs of 1873 – especially Nachklang – which engender its three-note, first-movement propulsion in dotted rhythm. The seamless transitions among the various tempo fluctuations prove Martzy’s strong suit, all the emotional intensity subdued by a liquid control.  The E-flat Adagio – with its B Minor central dirge – may well serve as a requiem for Felix Schumann, the composer’s godson who died at age twenty-four. Whether the delicate staccato notes from Antonietti indicate raindrops -from the Regenlied of Op. 59 – or tears ceases to matter, given the plaintive honesty of the music. The E-flat melody of the Adagio manages to appear in the course of the last movement, a rondo in G Minor that concedes to the major mode only after our hearts are broken by the fierce intimacy Martzy applies in double notes and noble phrasing.

For pure impact, the opening of the 1879 Dvorak Concerto from Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963) should startle afresh even the most hardened auditor of this familiar virtuoso vehicle. The elastic movement of the music – contrapuntal as well as it is fluently melodic – seems molded by the conductor’s special character, while Martzy establishes a technical and color contour that demonstrate her total command of the score. “Flawless, unsentimental warmth,” uttered one critic of Der Tag. The entire Concerto emerges from a single block of Michelangelo’’s preferred Carrara marble, tensely refined and lavishly colored, at once. Besides the RIAS strings and winds, Fricsay has a tympanist of nuanced sensitivity, whom we well recall in selected works like the Liszt Les Preludes and the RIAS version of Dvorak’s  Aus der Neuen Welt. The nostalgia of the Bohemian countryside haunts the Adagio movement, with Martzy’s sharing marvelous harmony with the French horns.  The combination of furiant and dumka that characterizes the last movement finds a responsive interpreter in Martzy, whose sound graciously integrates itself into the pageant with magical enchantment.

Any devotee of great violin playing and kindred instrumental partnerships will treasure this Martzy set with unbounded affection.

—Gary Lemco

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