Joseph Szigeti: The European Recordings, Volume 3 – Pristine Audio

by | Feb 16, 2023 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Joseph Szigeti: The European Recordings, Volume 3 = works by BERLIOZ: ; MENDELSSOHN; BRAHMS; DVORAK; HUBAY; RIMSKY-KORSAKOV; FALLA; CHABRIER; ELGAR; KREISLER – Pristine Audio PASC 682 (2 CDs: 2:27:05, complete listing below) [] *****:  

The third of Restoration Engineer and Producer Mark Obert-Thorn’s seamless installments of the recorded legacy of Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti (1892-1973) includes two major concertos, those of Mendelssohn and Brahms, led by a pair of eminent British conductors, Sir Thomas Beecham and Sir Hamilton Harty, along with the Berlioz Reverie et Caprice under Constant Lambert, the latest of these documents from 1926-1946.

The opening place of honor belongs to Hector Berlioz, whose 1841 Reverie et Caprice, with Szigeti and Lambert (26 August 1946) represents the composer’s effort to salvage an aria from his failed 1838 opera Benvenuto Cellini. The cavatina, “Ah, que l’amour une fois dans le coeur,” from Act 1 had itself been expunged from the original production because singer Julie Dorus-Gras objected to its sentiment. The aria here becomes the main theme of a romance styled after the two by Beethoven, though its meandering, episodic style remains well within the Berlioz cast. Szigeti’s whiny, piercing tone captures the Gallic nasal sonority, while Lambert carries off the orchestral tissue with studied aplomb. There is little evidence of the degenerative bone disease that would ruin Szigeti’s playing in his late years. The coda from our principals well resonates with the sonority of the waltz from the Symphonie fantastique.   

The hearty collaboration between Szigeti and Sir Thomas Beecham in the Mendelssohn E Minor Concerto (27-28 September 1933) enjoys a lush resonance and forward drive, with Szigeti’s tone emanating a sweetness that has immediate allure. The first movement Allegro molto appassionato – Presto evokes intimacy as well as technical brilliance, with a flexible melodic flow that benefits from the LPO’s wind section coloration. Szigeti’s articulation in the cadenza proves striking for its tension and realization in bariolage and ricochet technique, with Beecham’s entry a model of smooth transition. The last pages, fiercely driven, arrive at a grand coda that, as we know, recedes, attaca, into the bassoon solo, Andante. 

The C Major Andante, a perpetual song without words, finds both principals in an exalted state, a beautifully balanced, nuanced antiphon for violin and orchestra, the central A Minor section softly dramatic. Szigeti staggers the E Minor entry into the last movement, with its frenetic, dancing impetus in E Major seeming to be an extension of his music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The bustle of low strings and winds from Beecham’s forces provides immediate, gratifying color to the stream of rapid arpeggios, ascending and descending, from Szigeti. The final pages bloom in energized glory, a real and gripping conclusion to a performance well-wrought.

The weight of profundity that characterizes this first disc finds testimony in the Brahms Violin Concerto of 3-5 December 1928, led by Sir Hamilton Harty (1879-1941) and his chosen Hallé Orchestra, once deemed “the best orchestra in England.” Szigeti blazes into his first movement entry, then weaves his figurations in and out of a superb woodwind ensemble and a halo of strings. The central melody, over pizzicato strings, emerges with fond nostalgia, before Brahms indulges in his penchant for sequences. The colors bask in seriousness as well as grand lyricism, with the sudden eruptions of dark menace flowing in broad periods, which seems ironic, since Brahms loathed the same procedures in Bruckner. That Harty occasionally introduces a ripe portamento – as does Szigeti, intermittently – does not detract from the stylish elegance of the performance. When Harty accelerates the tempo, sparks fly. The momentous impetus to the Joachim cadenza drives resolutely, and then Szigeti commands the stage with alternately slashing and lulling gestures. Harty’s re-entry with his Manchester forces comes after a lovely, elongated trill, an exquisitely nuanced progression to a thrilling finale.

Again, irony abounds when we consider the beauty of the F Major Adagio, and how Sarasate objected to the whole Concerto on the basis that he would have to stand and wait for the oboe to play the only melody in the entire work! Harty’s oboe is a nasal, French affair, but no less arioso for that, and he (and the French horn) invites Szigeti for an extended love song that has long disabused Sarasate of his skepticism. Szigeti’s tone in his “flute” register sails in rapture, and the surrounding tissue from the Manchester players no less provides a serene sanctuary. A whiplash attack sends off the last movement, Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace, with gypsy abandon, a residue of the composer’s early association with violinist Remenyi.  Muscle and grit define this movement, driven to the emotional limits Brahms provides, suddenly interrupted by a semi-cadenza and pizzicato strings with winds, only to gather its momentum over a pedal point to engage us in a jaunty march. Lyrical flourishes on the opening tune and a resounding series of cadences later, we end a colossal reading of an epic concerto.

Disc 2 features, as its 5th track, the Adagio from the Violin Sonata No. 3 (1 July 1927), with Szigeti and Ruhrseitz from the Petty France Studio, London, offered as a filler to the release on Columbia of the Concerto.  The D Minor Sonata, proper, derives from the 8 December 1937 document previously issued in 1989 by Dutton (LAB 007-8) that features pianist Egon Petri (1881-1962), whom Szigeti first met in Berlin,1912. The violin Szigeti plays, a Petrus Guarnerius of Mantua, had belonged to Petri’s father. Petri and Szigeti, along with conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos, held a kind of triumvirate dedication to their common idol, Ferruccio Busoni. The Brahms D Minor Sonata enjoys the studied application of two musicians thoroughly versed in the subtleties of the Brahms style, its dramatic pushes and retreats, and the maintenance of a high, singing line. The parity of the instruments allows a true sense of dialogue throughout, especially in the tenderly pert third movement, Un poco presto e con sentimento, which Szigeti once described as a moment of light dalliance that suddenly erupts into passionate ardor. Our two artists cut loose, both in the latter half of the opening Allegro and the last movement, Presto agitato, composed in the thoughts of professional retirements but rife with passions that had simmered a long time.

Of the series of 13 miniatures, one of the Hubay pieces, the Hungarian Csardas “Maros vize,” Szigeti recorded in Tokyo, Japan (with his son-in-law, Nikita Magaloff) in June 1931, played with the fervor of the native-born musician. Recall that Hubay had been Szigeti’s esteemed teacher. So, too, does the flashy rendition of the Kreisler arrangement of the Falla Danza from La vida breve at the same Tokyo session. Obert-Thorn has taken the trouble to issue both versions of the Kreisler arrangement of Dvorak’s E Minor Slavonic Dance (20 September 1926 and 6 June 1928), accompanied by Ruhrseitz, simultaneously; the later take broadens the tempo significantly after the trio section, and Szigeti’s use of double-stops in both versions to inflate the sonority of his violin no less proves effective.  Commentators have applauded the “tremendous flair” of Szigeti’s playing of Chabrier’s Scherzo-valse from his Picturesque Pieces as arranged by Charles Loeffler (rec. 31 May 1933). Its series of upward, sweeping motions and quick runs in various bowings remains a lesson in itself. 

The final group of five miniatures warrants special mention. The two Elgar items date from 27 February 1934 and appear in Szigeti’s own arrangements. The “Adieu” projects a drooping, nostalgic sensibility, a cavatina whose middle section becomes ardent. The “Serenade” enjoys a folk-like simplicity of expression that defines Elgar’s persuasive capacity for salon melody. The composer had died a mere four days prior. The Kreisler triptych, 1926-1928, opens with one of Kreisler’s “reverse-plagiarism” works, the Sicilienne and rigaudon in the style of Francoeur, a semi-gavotte and its variations, some of which demonstrate a smooth, bravura technique. The tune “Love’s Sorrow” proffers a waltz in old, Viennese gestures, with Szigeti’s leaning heavily into its plaints. The final work, the infectious Chinese tambourine, Szigeti flourishes like a brilliant, musical sword, swathing his way through the phrases with the panache of Cornel Wilde. The coda twinkles and winks at us with suave irony.

—Gary Lemco             

Joseph Szigeti: The European Recordings, Volume 3

BERLIOZ: Reverie and Caprice, Op. 8;
MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64;
Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77;
Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108; Adagio from Op. 108;

DVORAK (arr. Kreisler):
Slavonic Dance in G Minor, Op. 46/2; Slavonic Dance in E Minor, Op. 72/2 (2 recordings);

Zephyr, Op. 30/5; Scenes from the Csardas, No. 3: “Maros vize”, Op. 18;

RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (arr. Hartmann): Flight of the Bumble Bee;
FALLA (arr. Kreisler): Danza espanola No. 1 from La vida breve;
CHABRIER (arr. Loeffler): Scherzo-valse;
ELGAR (arr. Szigeti): Adieu; Serenade;
Sicilienne et Rigaudon; Liebeseid; Tambourin chinois, Op. 3

Philharmonia Orchestra/ Constant Lambert (Berlioz)/
London Philharmonic Orchestra/ Sir Thomas Beecham (Mendelssohn)/
Hallé Orchestra/ Sir Hamilton Harty (Brahms)/
Egon Petri, piano (Brahms Op. 108)/
Kurt Ruhrseitz, piano (Brahms Adagio; Dvorak, Hubay Zephyr; Kreisler)/
Nikita Magaloff, piano (Hubay Csardas; Falla; Chabrier; Elgar) 

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