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The Huberman Week Festival = Works of BACH, VIVALDI, BEETHOVEN, MENDELSSOHN, TCHAIKOVSKY, ELGAR, SIBELIUS & BARTOK – violin soloists/ Israel Philharmonic Orch./ Zubin Mehta – Helicon (4 CDs)

The Huberman Week Festival = BACH: Concerto in D Minor for 2 Violins, BWV 1043; Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B-flat Major, BWV 1051; VIVALDI: Concerto in A Minor for 2 Violins, RV 522; Concerto in F Major for 3 Violins, RV 551; Concerto in B Minor for 4 Violins, RV 580; BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61; TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35; MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64; ELGAR: Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op. 61; SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47; BARTOK: Violin Concerto No. 2 – Daniel Benyamini, violin/ Ivry Gitlis, violin/ Ida Haendel, violin/ Schlomo Mintz, violin/ Itzhak Perlman, violin/ Shira Ravin, violin/ Roy Shiloah, violin/ Isaac Stern, violin/ Henryk Szeryng, violin/ Chaim Taub, violin/ Pinchas Zukerman/ violin/ Israel Philharmonic Orch./ Zubin Mehta – Helicon 02-9667 (4 CDs) 70:14, 77:53, 75:41, 68:36 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (1/14/14) ****:

“During the early part of 1982, I had the idea of organizing a Festival Week to celebrate the centenary of Huberman’s birth, and I was fortunate that some of the outstanding violinists of our time were able to join us at this celebration. Now, a little more than 30 years later, we are making many of these legendary performances available to the general public for the first time.”  —Zubin Mehta

Bronislaw Huberman (1882 -1947) remains esteemed for his superb violin artistry and his political and artistic activism, having worked to establish the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra – later, after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the Israel Philharmonic – in 1936 as a direct denial of the racial and cultural practices of fascism and anti-Semitic organizations. Huberman felt deeply that “we must once more regain faith and belief in destiny in order that our innermost emotions may become worthy of being purified and exalted by music, that most mystic of all arts.” This healing spirit of music – which Nietzsche referred to as the Apollinian power of music – manifests itself in the assemblage of concert violinists who had for too long been subject to the administrative hegemony – if not outright tyranny – of Isaac Stern and his relationship to Columbia Artists Management, which had prevented several of these artists from establishing themselves in New York concert life. Zubin Mehta, to his credit, found a means to bring their extraordinary talent and commitment – as had been Huberman’s – to Zionism a more creditable factor than their potential threat to Mr. Stern’s autocracy.

Disc one (13-19 September 1982) celebrates cooperative harmony from the outset of Bach’s Double Concerto in D Minor, with Isaac Stern and Shlomo Mintz in the duo part.  Each of the successive Vivaldi concertos matches and then increases the soli by one part: the A Minor Concerto for 2 Violins (Henryk Szeryng, Chaim Taub); the F Major Concerto for 3 Violins (Stern, Roy Shiloah, Shira Ravin); the B Minor Concerto for 4 Violins (Stern, Mintz, Ida Haendel, Ivry Gitlis). The Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 features Pinchas Zukerman and Daniel Benyamini. The B-flat Brandenburg Concerto communicates a particular, romantic poignancy and warm breadth of expression.  We are assured the charming geniality of the Vivaldi diverse concertos.

Discs 2-4 offer the major concerto repertory, as performed by virtually peerless veterans. Itzhak Perlman – one of the original “kosher nostra” of him, Mehta, and Zukerman – joins the IPO for a grandly mounted Beethoven Violin Concerto, played for exalted, genial sweetness and elegance of vocal line. For lithe power, Perlman’s cadenza by Kreisler packs a requisite emotional punch. The IPO bassoon adds to the striking colors of this performance, particularly in the glassy-smooth Rondo finale.  Henryk Szeryng (1918-1988) performs the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in a realization that exudes sparks from the outset.  Szeryng brings his own hearty energy to the score, infusing just enough of the Slavic lilt to balance visceral power with rasping, nervous zal. The third movement of this sterling rendition is available on YouTube. The audience response, for once preserved, roars with elation.

Schlomo Mintz and Mehta collaborate for another exercise in lyrically epic perfume, the Mendelssohn E Minor Concerto. The performance, seamless and infinitely sympathetic to Mendelssohn, provides another pearl – especially Mintz’s soaring tone in the C Major Andante –  for this stunning necklace of violin concertos. The ensuing applause here, too, communicates an affectionate reception. Pinchas Zukerman plays the E Minor Concerto by Edward Elgar – and I might quibble that I have always found Zukerman as a viola player superior to his persuasiveness on the violin – but Mehta’s contribution in the opening tutti, broadly resonant, ably convinces us that an outstanding collaboration awaits us. Still, my preferences for Haendel and Menuhin in this noble work do not cloud my aesthetic judgment to deny a reading of great power and humanity. The nobilamente theme of the B-flat Major Andante stands out, as it meant to, in the composer’s openly affectionate words about this music. The big test for Zukerman doubtless reveals itself in the accompanied cadenza of movement three, an introspective episode whose song recalls the wistful refrain from the opening Allegro. The success of Zukerman’s efforts still resounds long after the closing chord. 

For sheer excitement, Disc 4 stands out, opening as it does with yet another Ida Haendel reading of the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor, a work she knows well and expresses with soaring confidence. The Allegro moderato seethes with impulsive, vibrant energy, the Northern Lights infused with her Polish fervor. The moody gravitas of the low strings of IPO likewise throb with an explosive current, melancholy but defiant. How the audience refrains from exploding at the coda of the first movement mystifies me. The splendidly aristocratic Adagio di molto warrants the price of admission. The polar bears dance and strut for the last movement. The fiery elder statesman of the violin, Ivry Gitlis (b. 1922), concludes the festivities with a lusty performance of the 1938 Violin Concerto No. 2 of Bela Bartok. That Gitlis and Mehta can make a lyrical the often heavily declamatory, darkly pesant character of Bartok’s verbunkos (military recruitment) style testifies to a strong conviction of the work’s essentially cantilena essence, a song of struggle and reconciliation. The splendid set of variations that comprises the second movement Andante tranquillo shines here, with their six paraphrases of the original melody. The last movement, yet another series of variations and paraphrases of movement one, receives a wild interpretation requisite to the Magyar and Balkan sensibility that created it.

—Gary Lemco

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