VIVALDI: The Four Seasons, Op. 8; MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 “Turkish” – Southwest German Chamber Orchestra Pfozheim/ Henryk Szeryng violin and conductor – SWR Music SWR 19041CD, 68:49 (8/4/17) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Here’s a singular gem that escaped me at the time of its release, a 12 July 1969 recording of familiar violin staples from Polish-American virtuoso Henryk Szeryng (1918-1988), with whom I collaborated for the Atlanta Virtuosi (for their “Music in the Marketplace” series) during the early 1980s. While each of the four Vivaldi concertos exerts a direct, cleanly brisk momentum, the individuality of design emerges in the strict marcatos, staccatos, legatos, and tenutos that permeate these exquisitely etched performances. The C-sharp minor Largo movement from the opening “Spring” Concerto in E Major provides an excellent case in point for Szeryng’s poised and nuanced phrasing. The G minor Presto movement from the “Summer” Concerto, too, exemplifies Szeryng’s spitfire intonation and measured capacity for inflected rhythmic verve, without the least missing a beat in the various shifts of bow position.
The lilting marcato of “Autumn’s” opening F Major Allegro ushers in a vocal sensibility quite its own. The ensuing Adagio molto in D minor, gorgeously atmospheric, unfortunately does not credit the pliant harpsichord continuo, but the collaboration with the string orchestra lulls us into the wonderfully martial last movement, the F Major Allegro, in which Szeryng digs mightily into his Jean Bauer instrument. Can “Winter” be far behind? This F minor masterpiece seems to arise from a welter of strident discords and pungent accents, doubtless a blizzard’s swirl, into which Szeryng explodes with lyrically controlled dynamics. The ever-famous melody of the E-flat Major Largo may promise intimate “April showers,” over plucked strings, but the music delivers an F minor Allegro of serpentine, pedaled drama, then vehemently launches into a staggered but inexorable plummet into real, virtuosic aggression both on Szeryng’s and Nature’s part, and they both revel in their collaborative confirmation of the immortality of Beauty.
The Mozart A Major Concerto yields more of the piercing acuity of Szeryng’s attacks, meliorated by a fluid, flexible melodic line that allows his chosen Guarnerius to sing in the midst of a totally integrated ensemble. The extended Adagio achieves a serene, pastoral vision in which Szeryng shares the sound space with pairs of oboes and horns, an E Major evocation of unfettered, amorous bliss. The last movement enjoys a brisk sense of Mozart’s witty invention, combining as it does the staid minuet with the minor-key excursion into janissary figures by way of Hungary. Szeryng sets up the transition to the secondary ideas with a dazzling display of tonal color, leaning into his strings and cadences with renewed finesse. Szeryng adds ornaments ad libitum, a clear accession to the Mozart habit of not repeating any phrase exactly. The Pfozheim players keenly respond to the “windy” scales that wend their way around Szeryng’s tapestry. The col legno strings add to the martial spice of the occasion, so when we do return to the polite minuet, our sense of irony lingers, not the less for the fact that a nineteen-year-old Mozart allowed us a lasting imprint of his fertile imagination. Kudos to Sound Engineer Frank Richter for having captured Szeryng in ripe form.