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Johanna Martzy, Vol. 3 = Music of VIVALDI, RAVEL, SYMANOWSKI, BARTOK, BRAHMS, FALLA, MOZART, BACH, SUK & others – with var. orchestras – Doremi (2 CDs)

Johanna Martzy, Vol. 3 = VIVALDI: Violin Sonata in D Major, RV 10; SZYMANOWSKI: Notturno and Tarantella, Op. 28; MARTINU: Arabesque No. 1; RAVEL: Piece en forme de Habanera; BARTOK: Rumanian Folk Dance; Rhapsody No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra;  BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108: 3 movements; FALLA: Spanish Dance from La Vida Breve; MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216 (2 performances); BACH: Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major, BWV 1042; SUK: Four Pieces, Op. 17 – Johanna Martzy, violin/ Adolph Hallis & Istvan Hajdu, piano/ Stuttgart Radio Orch./ Hans Mueller-Kray/ Netherlands Radio Orch./ Willem van Otterloo/ New York Philharmonic/ Andre Cluytens/ Cleveland Orch./ George Szell – Doremi DHR-8034/5 (2 CDs) 80:10 & 70:20 [Distr. by Allegro] (5/13/14) *****:  

Doremi assembles more concert materials from the otherwise limited archives of Romanian violin virtuoso Johanna Martzy (1924-1979), embracing the years 1957-1969.  While a few of the selections repeat her concert staples – the Ravel, the Szymanowski, and the Bartok folk dances – we inherit several major additions to her recorded repertory, augmented by her association with esteemed musicians like Andre Cluytens, George Szell, and Willem van Otterloo.  The two-disc recital opens with a live recital from 1959 in Johannesburg. The Vivaldi Sonata in D proceeds with aristocratic elegance, the line elongated and luxuriantly inflected in the manner we know from Nathan Milstein.

After a moody, modally harmonized Notturno, the Szymanowski Tarantella chants, soars, and whirls with snapping affection, especially as assisted capably at the keyboard by Adolph Hallis. The Martinu Arabesque, marked Poco allegro, affords Martzy a martial affect that barely lasts two minutes, but its wit and polish easily reminds us of the Parisian side of Stravinsky. Hallis’ keyboard adds a definite sultriness to the Ravel study in Spanish dance rhythm. Bartok, of course, places Martzy in her natural element, especially in her upper register. The fluidity she brings even to ostensibly stomping rhythms and the eerie melos of her harmonics perpetually catch our ears.  The Brahms D Minor Sonata, unfortunately, lacks its first movement, but what we do audition testifies to a strong affinity to the composer’s late style. The double stops in the Adagio enjoy a throaty expressivity. The flirtatious Un poco presto third movement scampers easily until it reaches one moment of unabashed passion. That same emotional turmoil – in double stops – seethes into the galloping Presto agitaato, countered by a chiseled, classical refinement. Lastly, on this occasion, Ms. Martzy performs the lusciously jaunty Falla Spanish Dance in the famed Kreisler arrangement, rife with alternations of arco and pizzicato attacks and a soaring melodic line.

The first of the two Mozart 1775 G Major Concerto performances derives from the Stuttghart Liederhalle, 1961, with the orchestra led by Hans Mueller-Kray (1908-1969), perennial favorite of soloists. A somewhat distant acoustic applies here; but once I raised the volume, I also raised the musical temperature. The interplay of the double exposition in the first movement finds a nice balance between Mueller-Kray’s forces and the often explosive Martzy, who breezes through filigree that echoes an aria from Il re pastore, “Tranquil air and serene days. . .”  Mueller-Kray’s strings, oboes, and horns, deliciously add to the color mix that renders this concerto aerial magic.  The muted upper-string second movement Adagio injects the rare sonority of flutes and pizzicato low strings against Martzy’s arioso violin. Mozart’s inventive genius colors the Rondeau, a happy 3/8 tune that contrasts with the duple time middle section, a rustic song, a gavotte in the minor mode.  Martzy negotiates chromatic triplets against left-hand pizzicato with nary a care, the musical line a series of color flourishes rife with youthful ardor and blessed fancy.

Announcer Jim Fassett introduces the two guests of the New York Philharmonic (10 November 1957) for the Bach E Major Concerto, Martzy – her American debut – and French maestro Andre Cluytens (1905-1967).  The fine electric energy amongst the principals communicates a leisurely, intimate, and aristocratic Bach, touched by two artists of romantic persuasion. The 25 November 1961 Mozart G Major Concerto with Willem van Otterloo (1907-1978) captures the same spirit as the prior performance with Mueller-Kray, though a bit flashier, faster, and utilizing a variant cadenza.  For all of his championship of Bartok’s music, George Szell (1897-1970) never commercially recorded the Rhapsody No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra, so this Severance Hall performance 20 November 1960 with Martzy rests easy on the record shelf. Martzy’s fiery Hungarian temper perfectly suits this music, whose alternately raucous and idiosyncratically melodious expression mirrors Martzy’s own character. We can well imagine how sessions with teachers Hubay influenced her musical approach. The likeness of the friss section to Copland’s “Simple Gifts” treatment only intensifies our identification with this music. Szell’s contribution remains spry and rhythmically acute, despite his noted difficulties with Bartok’s penchant for askew agogics.

With Suk’s Four Pieces, Op. 17 (17 November 1969) Martzy collaborates with expert pianist Istvan Hajdu is a signature work, her association with Suk as strong as another wizard of her ilk, Ginette Neveu. The “presence” of the Frankfurt performance likely recreates as authentic a sound for Martzy as we have ever heard.  The technical and affective confidence of Martzy’s interpretation strikes us “definitive,” if that term has any meaning at all. A pungent, authoritative Ballata moves to pure bravura, Appassionato, which sparkles with jaw-dropping accuracy.   The dirge-like Un poco triste throbs with intensity, while the last movement, Burleska, relishes wizardry cross-fertilized by Puck’s own irony. As a concluding set of pieces or “encore,” the Suk merely confirm Martzy as a violin phenomenon who thoroughly deserves her cult acclaim as an under-heralded genius.

—Gary Lemco

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