Johanna Martzy – SCHUBERT: 3 Violin Sonatinas & other works – Johanna Martzy, violin/Jean Antonietti, p. – Testament (2 CDs)

by | Jul 12, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Johanna Martzy – SCHUBERT:  3 Violin Sonatinas; Rondo brilliant in B Minor, D. 895; Fantasie in C Major, D. 934; Violin Sonata in A Major, D. 574 – Johanna Martzy, violin/Jean Antonietti, piano – Testament SBT2 1468, (2 CDs) 55:12; 69:19 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Romanian violin virtuoso Johanna Martzy (1924-1979) retains a cult status among cognoscenti of the instrument, who have always lamented the dearth of recorded materials in her legacy. Testament resurrects Martzy’s complete Schubert inscriptions made at Electrola Studios between 26 September and 13 November 1955, which actually mark the end of her commercial recordings made under the auspices of EMI’s “capricious, dictatorial and unpleasant” Walter Legge, EMI’s producer. With her devoted accompanist Jean Antonietti (1915-1994), Martzy establishes herself as a potent interpreter of Schubert’s works, which balance sincerity of expression with often deft and virtuosic prowess.
Certainly the striking sweet tone of Martzy’s chosen instrument, her 1733 Carlo Bergonzi, the “Tarisio,” impresses us for the plaintive but consistently ardent allure it projects. The 1816 Violin Sonata in A Major, the so-called “Duo” D. 574, moves in plastic contours–sometimes in antique galant gestures–that become emotionally effusive but always within a strict sense of demure taste. The entire work evinces the propensity for song and lyric outpouring, except perhaps for the dramatic Scherzo which takes its cue from Beethoven, employing leaps and cross-rhythms with ample energy.  The last two movements justify the term “Duo” for both the sonata and the musical partnership before us. In 3/8, the Andantino plays like a song without words, while the Allegro vivace last movement invokes–after a fiery opening–the spirit of the early form of the waltz, Martzy and Antonietti’s exchanging filigree in easy harmony.
The Rondeau brillant, D. 895 has had its acolytes despite its showy nature; violinists Szigeti and Menuhin have plied its unabashed bravura for its occasionally stirring fioritura. After a noble opening in dotted rhythm, Martzy and Antonietti break out into its pseudo-martial flurries, the double stops and wide chromatic leaps not at all daunting for Martzy, who then invokes its big melody as a plum gained by having negotiated intricate vines.  The truly Herculean opus remains the 1828 C Major Fantasia, D. 934, conceived as an unbroken movement that subdivides into four sections, just as do his Wanderer Fantasy and F Minor Fantasia for 2 Pianos, each a model for Liszt and then Schoenberg. Based on his own lied, Sei mir gegruesst (I hail to thee), difficult to play and often too long to appeal to some tastes, the work has borne mixed reviews despite its grand eloquence of design and innate nobility of spirit. Those “watery” impulses at the opening could keep us in thrall all day. Martzy relishes the music’s shifts between C Major and A Minor, and she gives the variants (originally in A-flat Major) on the lied broad lines. At the last, violin and piano break out in to a chorale-like theme of heroic proportion–certainly transcending the staid conventions of the salon–a technique Saint-Saens would embrace.
Disc one devotes itself to the three Classical sonatas or “sonatinas” that reflect Schubert’s close imitation of Beethoven models. These pieces were published posthumously, though Schubert composed them when he was nineteen, likely as vehicles for his brother Ferdinand. The D Major flows so effortlessly we might miss the suave artistry that conceals art. The Andante enjoys pellucid articulation of its motto theme, and then Martzy breaks out into a seamless legato statement that expands its natural lyricism. More than one commentator has remarked on the exquisite tone she elicits from her G and D strings. No small contribution emanates from Antonietti’s delicate but firm keyboard support.
The A Minor Sonata, D. 385 presents largest of the three canvases: though delicate in its opening motto for the Allegro moderato, its emotional tenor has a sturm und drang affect, troubled waters below an otherwise balanced surface. Martzy projects an edgy violence into the melos that will bear repeated hearings. Marty’s expressive control then invests the  wonderful Andante with an exquisite melancholy, restrained but ardent. A no less anxious Menuetto leads to the final Allegro, whose dark color and demure sense of tragedy find an eloquent realization whose capacity for visceral passion must be heard–those last chords!
Finally, the impassioned G Minor Sonata, D. 408, clearly a Beethoven clone but nonetheless revealing Schubert’s idiosyncratic dramatic sense. Playing in something of the “gypsy” tradition Martzy imbibed as a student of Hubay, Martzy invests the piece with dazzling personality, and Antonietti can be heard clearly warming to his own task. The purity of line in the Andante induces us to want to hear Martzy’s Mozart, Schubert’s spiritual model extraordinaire. Martzy and Antonietti appear to relax in the Menuetto and Allegro moderato movements, though Martzy’s razor-sharp intonation drives the music into our collective imagination.
I would place these enduring inscriptions alongside those of Szymon Goldberg and Radu Lupu as monumental efforts on behalf of great Schubert playing.
— Gary Lemco

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