Joseph Szigeti: The European Columbia Recordings, Vol. I – Pristine Audio

by | Feb 18, 2021 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Joseph Szigeti: The European Columbia Recordings, Vol. I = Works by BACH; HANDEL; VERACINI; TARTINI; EXAUDET; MOZART – Joseph Szigeti, violin/ Nikita Magaloff, piano/ Kurt Ruhrseitz, piano/ Walter Goehr, conductor/ London Philharmonic Orchestra/ Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor [complete list of compositions below] – Pristine Audio PASC 621 (2 CDs) 7313; 65:57 [] *****:

Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti (1892-1973) enjoyed a reputation as an “intellectual artist,” given his tutorship with Bela Bartok and Ferruccio Busoni, and his penchant for esoteric and demanding repertory, both classic and modern. Szigeti remains controversial for his tone quality, which, with cat-gut astringency, could be piercing, despite the warmth and passion in his playing.  But true to his mentors, Szigeti’s musicianship had the benefit of a “guiding idea” or grundgestalt that directed his interpretations for their logic and architecture – his purposefulness and constant momentum. The rigors of advancing bone disease in his hands took away what accuracy there had been in his playing, so by the time he made recordings in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the results could be what he himself called “posthumous.”     

This first volume of Szigeti recordings, 1927-1937, focuses on Baroque and Classical repertory, much of its having been assembled prior on labels Biddulph, Opus Kura, and Naxos. Almost needless to say, the Pristine sound remastering by the indefatigable Mark Obert-Thorn provides a luster that proves penetrating and vivid.  The Bach Violin Sonata No. 1 (2 February 1931) literally shimmers with elastic tension, a richly acerbic tone, and well articulated double stops and three and four note chords. The second movement, Fuga, maintains an incisive motion and buoyancy of effect. The succeeding, slow Siciliana and 3/8 Presto, fluent and rhythmically alert, engage us both as musical and emotionally tinted. The latter’s 16th notes flurry by with a finesse pointed and dramatically resolved.

The opening Grave of the Violin Sonata No. 2 (2 June 1933) exudes sweetness in its intensely rich improvisation, leading directly to the massive Fuga.  Here, Szigeti’s biting tone adds a colorful, poised dimension to writing that seems appropriate to organ figuration.  The flow of the Andante reminds us of a Vivaldi piece whose seamless eighth notes lull our senses. Occasionally, more voices appear to fill out the harmony. Both echo effects and a “perpetual” motor impulse assault us in the blazing Allegro, a real moment of dervishness from Szigeti.  

The earliest recording, the Bouree from the Partita No. 1 (1 July 1927), belies its age by virtue of its energy and wit. The Gavotte from the Violin Partita No. 3 (18 June 1931) derives from sessions in Japan.  As piano buffs know, this movement was no less adapted by Rachmaninoff for transcription. Szigeti himself arranged the Arioso from the Cantata No. 156 for recording (6 December 1937) with Walter Goehr’s leading a studio ensemble in what most of us know as the second movement from the Klavier Concerto No. 5 in F Minor.  Hungarian pedagogue and virtuoso Carl Flesch (1873-1944) joins Szigeti in the familiar Bach Double Concerto in D Minor in London 30 August 1937. The reading does not dawdle with sentiment even as the wonderful Largo unfolds from the Old World, and the entries prove crisply driven. For the Handel Sonata in D Major from 2 Mach 1937, Szigeti has the able assistance of his son-in-law Nikita Magaloff (1912-1992), a fine protégé of Isidor Philipp and the finely wrought French School. Elegance, verve, and a true sense of galant nobility suffuse this reading,
Disc 2 opens with a brief Largo from Sonata No. 6 in A by “transitional,” pre-Classical composer Francesco Veracini (rec. 1 July 1927) recorded in France with pianist Kurt Ruhrseitz.  Giuseppi Tartini (1692-1770) also conforms to the sense of musical transition, and his three-movement G Major Sonata (rec. 29 June 1927) with Szigeti and Ruhrseitz projects a salon delicacy whose ornaments ring and whose strong, double note chords declaim with vigor. The Adagio (arr. Ondricek) of Tartini (6 March 1936) enjoys some of the clearest projection in this present set. The Tartini Concerto in D Minor (rec. 6 December 1937) performed with Walter Goehr’s conducting is a work Szigeti obviously championed: he arranged the score that Pente had edited, and he would record the concerto once more, with George Szell at the helm. With harpsichord continuo, this rendition has an air authenticity to help in realizing its sadly demure affect, especially in the second, Grave movement.   

The famed 1751 Minuet of French violinist Andre-Joseph Exaudet (1710-1762) gives us a classic instance – with drone effects in full force – of a composer’s “singular success.”  The recording comes from the same session that produced the Veracini.  The 1778 Violin Sonata in E Minor by Mozart (rec. 2 March 1937) with Szigeti and Magaloff realizes what Alfred Einstein calls “one of the miracles among Mozart’s works.” Highly compressed into two movements, the music conveys a forceful tension in the parts, moving from a unison theme to clear equality of parts. The second movement, marked Tempo di Menuetto, bears a pathos that belies its courtly dance character. Any lover of this work will acknowledge that the middle section in E Major, as performed here, marks a special moment in chamber music recording.

Last, Szigeti and frequent partner Sir Thomas Beecham perform (8 October 1934) Mozart’s 1775 Violin Concerto No. 4 in D.  The first movement Allegro, buoyant and light, betrays some old-style mannerisms in Beecham’s conducting, but Szigeti cuts a lovely series of melodies, and he plays a strong cadenza by Joseph Joachim. The glory of the work lies in its Andante, which in this performance has that typical marcato “drag” in it that only one rendition that I know of – that by Jiri Novak and Vaclav Talich – avoids. Still, as a moment of tender lyricism from a composer of nineteen years, the music keeps its awesome magic. The last movement, a Rondo: Allegro in the French courtly taste, which Mozart deemed a “Strasbourg” style, features a musette episode that anticipates the diversity of style we find in Mozart’s next violin concerto, the “Turkish.” 

This tribute to Joseph Szigeti finds him in fine mettle and comes highly recommended.

Joseph Szigeti: The European Columbia Recordings, Vol. I = 
BACH: Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001; Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Minor, BWV 1003; Bouree from Violin Partita No. 1 in B Minor, BWV 1002; Gavotte from Violin Partita No. 3 in B Minor BWV 1006; Concerto in D Minor for 2 Violins, BWV 1043; 
HANDEL: Violin Sonata No. 4 in D Major, Op. 1, No. 13; 
VERACINI: Largo from Violin Sonata, Op. 2, No. 6; 
TARTINI: Violin Sonata in G Major, Op. 2, No. 12; Adagio; Violin Concerto in D Minor; 
EXAUDET: Minuet and Dance of the Auvergne; 
MOZART: Violin Sonata No. 21 in E Minor, K, 304; Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K. 218

—Gary Lemco

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