Biddulph 80217-2 71:13 (Distrib. Albany) ****:
Recordings for CBS made 1949-1954 by Hungarian violin virtuoso Joseph Szigeti (1892-1973), here restored quietly by David Hermann, which reveal the tensile strength and intellectual energy he still possessed, even as his great technical powers had begun to decline. Of the two major offerings, the Tartini Concerto from 15 January 1954 with George Szell and members of the Cleveland Orchestra is the second of Szigeti’s inscriptions; the first from 1937 was done with Walter Goehr. Szell himself recorded few Baroque works, like the Bach E Major Concerto with Francescatti, the Bach Third Orchestra Suite, and Handel’s suites fro the Royal Fireworks and Water Music. The CBS LP (ML 4891) transfer, despite Szell’s literalist approach, still communicates a wonderful pathos in the violin part, an aura similar to what Menuhin conveyed in his best records. The rasping, cat-gutty sound Szigeti projects, its chaste vibrato, manages to impart a host of poignant emotions, the sense of man’s precarious presence in the cosmos. The Grave perfectly exemplifies the nervous beauty Szigeti always created.
The other major entree on this disc is the 2 December 1949 inscription of Bach’s C Major Unaccompanied Sonata (ML 4286), whose movements display Szigeti’s long, sustained line and innate vocalization of Bach’s often punishing polyphony. The Fuga section alone warrants our admiration for the adjustments Szigeti makes to support the tempo and shifts of registration without permitting a melodic sag. The wiry Largo movement urges a combination of meditation and chromatic etude. The Allegro assai is a perpetual mobile whose double stops and syncopations bespeak a virtuosity of mind as well as fingers. The G Minor Concerto (arr. Schreck from the F Minor Klavier Concerto) comes from a collaboration with Szell (13 January 1954) conducted the same week they inscribed the Tartini Concerto. Szell uses a harpsichord continuo, for you purists, and the graduated momentum of the opening movement proves quite compelling. The famed A-flat Largo, with its simple, plucked accompaniment, is an instant sentimental favorite. The final Presto chugs along with ornamented energy, a dancing dotted rhythm and Szigeti’s patented angular, inimitable sound.
The D Major Handel Sonata (23 February 1954) was the most popular Baroque violin sonata on records, a showpiece for Milstein and Elman as well. Its stately, processional character soon yields to the coquettish impulse, lyrically buoyant. The zest and brilliance of Bussotti’s accompaniment fits Szigeti’s part like a glove. High minded and eminently poetic, the Szigeti Handel, especially the Larghetto, reminds us old record collectors of what was unique in this artist’s style. The totality of musical effect always weighs greater than the sum of its parts. The Tartini Sonata in G (22 February 1954) is in three movements, the first a noble Andante in slow tempo which pays homage to Corelli and that master’s trill. Strong chordal playing marks the ensuing Allegro, a Veronese march. The final Presto calls on Szigeti’s detached notes and spiccato effects, shades of Bazzini. Vivid sound restorations all around.
— Gary Lemco