Biddulph 80204-2, 73:41 (Distrib. Albany) ****:
Restorations long-awaited, I would say, of these inscriptions made 1945-1949 by Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti (1892-1973) for CBS and RCA, of which several Szigeti recut for Mercury in the early 1960s. Prokofiev’s surly 1946 F Minor Sonata, (rec. 4-9 March 1949) written for David Oistrakh, receives a boldly aggressive treatment, with Szigeti’s wiry tone in good form, none of the wobble present which he later developed as a result of bone disease. The pulverizing ostinati of the second movement, along with the double stops, are still cause to ponder the darkly savage ethos of the composer, here in a spirit akin to Bartok’s assessment of the world of 1938. The gnarly effects take a hiatus in the Andante, where Levine’s high register arpeggios yield to the violin’s haunted song, Szigeti‚s tone more suggestive of a plaintive viola. Was my first experience of Szigeti Bartok’s Contrasts with Benny Goodman and the composers? No matter; I have always found an idiosyncratic purity in Szigeti’s playing, an acquired taste. Prokofiev occupies a special place in Szigeti’s output; witness his deft handling of the 5/8 and 7/8 rhythms in the Allegrissimo, the rapid alternations of arco and pizzicato passages, all while maintaining the basic, pseudo-Roumanian pulse.
The better-natured D Major Sonata is a recasting of its charming original for flute and piano, again made for Oistrakh in 1944. Szigeti’s recording (7 & 8 December 1945) is taken from noisy CBS acetates which engineer Rick Torres has cleaned up considerably. The lyrical Moderato with Szigeti is all neo-classic good taste, almost an adumbration of the Stravinsky Duo that follows. I used to own the original 78s – my first experience with pianist Leonid Hambro – who gained fame through his record of Saint-Saens‚ Carnival of the Animals with Noel Coward’s narration. A skipping, light-hearted Scherzo: Presto ensues, with some E string gymnastics precedes a long-limbed Andante in modal harmonies. The jaunty Allegro con brio might suggest a knife thrower’s set of tricks, all edges and glinting angles. The second subject recalls Prokofiev’s earlier piano pieces, like the Op. 17 Sarcasms.
Szigeti cultivated a working relationship with several composers, among them Bartok, Ives, Cowell, Honegger, Busoni, and Stravinsky. For the 9 February 1946 inscriptions of Stravinsky’s Christmas lullaby Pastorale, the composer assembled a wind quartet to accompany Szigeti, consisting of Mitch Miller, oboe; Robert McGinnis, clarinet; Bert Gassman, English horn; and Sol Schoenbach, bassoon. Stravinsky’s considerable keyboard talents accompany Szigeti in the 1933 Duo concertante (11-13 October 1945), a piece hewn along the lines of neo-Hellenic and neo-Roman colloquys in five brief movements for violin and piano. Effective rasping sounds in Eclogue I followed by a stately, semi-martial aria. The Gigue is a rustic dance of some length, sparkling with techniques only a stone’s throw from Sarasate. While the Dionysian Dithyramb opens elegantly, it soon assumes a more passionate utterance even within its strict rhythmic confines. The 9 May 1946 Russian Maiden’s Song is a Samuel Dushkin transcription of Parasha’s aria from the 1922 opera Mavra, where the shoulders move in a bobbing rhythm akin to Zorba’s eyes-closed gestures. All very elegant restorations and highly recommended. So, Mr. Torres–how about reissuing the Szigeti Brahms legacy?