TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35; BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in g minor, Op. 26 – Tibor Varga, v./ Festival Orchestra/ J.M. Auberson – Claves CD 50-9313, 63:30 (6/30/15) [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Hungarian violin virtuoso and pedagogue Tibor Varga (1921-2003) enjoyed a spectacular career that included master classes at Sion, Detmold and Darmstadt, as well as various competitions and festivals in his name in string instruction and conducting. Varga’s chief influence for his podium work came from the Rome maestro Franco Ferrara, who “used to hypnotize his musicians.” I have been recently berated for my own failure to mention the Varga inscription of the Bartok Violin Concerto No. 2 with Ferenc Fricsay as among the fine treasures included in the 45-CD set devoted to Fricsay in the DGG retrospective.  The Claves label currently offers the “Tibor Varga Collection,” of four CDs, of which this installment is Volume III.

The pairing of two familiar Romantic violin staples derives from 1965 studio sessions with conductor Jean Marie Auberson. Besides the sheer technical bravura and musical instinct Varga brings each of these white-hot performances, the quality of his instrument, a 1735 Guarnerius del Gesu, provides a sonorous depth in the manner of gifted, high baritone with soprano capabilities. In the first movement of the 1878 Tchaikovsky Concerto, the timbre of the individual wind instruments and tympani impart no less a resonant interplay of wondrous balance in forward motion. The first movement cadenza conveys a demonic, rasping power we associate with the likes of Milstein, Marcovici, Haendel, and Ferras. When the Festival flute solo joins Varga for the move to the recapitulation, the effect becomes another instance of Russian soul magic. The breathed phrasing, aided by alert color points from conductor Auberson, realize an elongated arch of poignant melodic beauty, whose visceral as well as aesthetic impact will prove a ready tonic for those who wish the Tchaikovsky Concerto divested of undue sentimentality.

Much like the famed Francescatti/Mitropoulos or Milstein/Abbado inscriptions, this interpretation – replete with a muted solo instrument – brings a fulsome distinction to the Canzonetta: Andante, in which the flute once again makes an affecting appearance. The segue to the rustic Allegro vivacissimo having been carried off with explosive aplomb, the two principals enter into an agile, fiery dance that soon invites a trepak of even more primitive power.  The Festival oboe, clarinet, and bassoon each make their color contribution to the collaborative mix, with idiomatic elan.  After the relatively serene episode, we await with baited breadth the return of the demonized folk dance that will catapult us to the flamboyant, even manic, coda.

The 1866 Concerto No. 1 by Max Bruch remains his most defining composition, and its list of esteemed interpreters includes virtually every stellar personality in the violin pantheon.  Besides Varga’s exquisite tonal and energetic drive in this reading, once more we recognize conductor Auberson’s attention to the interior color details. Very much in the lush tradition of the famed Martzy/Fricsay reading, this performance soars and trembles with voluptuous power, making the forceful segue into the Adagio with requisite fanfare.  Once the tempests of its early pages move on, the music settles into Varga’s patented bel canto rendition of lyric expression.  The warm body of strings and winds Auberson elicits for Varga’s support enchants as much as Varga’s solo work. When the horns accompany Varga’s lofty song, the effect, adding the tympani, beguiles – I dare say hypnotizes – the ear. If Varga’s creamy Guarnerius del Gesu hadn’t already, completely melted your listening space, its applied heat in the Allegro energico should dispel the remains. Certainly in the Heifetz tradition, Varga’s performance urges an inflamed precision and panoply of persuasive colors upon the score, supported and uplifted at every turn by a splendid orchestral ensemble.

—Gary Lemco