TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in E Op. 35; Melody Op. 42 No. 3 – Tossy Spivakovsky / London Symphony Orchestra / Walter Goehr – Dual Disc from 35mm master: CD + DualDisc of DVD-A/DVD-Video, 2 or 3-channel, Everest/Classic Records HDAD 2031 [Distr. by Naxos], 39:11 ****:
Tchaikovsky wrote his only violin concerto in but a month in 1878 in Switzerland while he was recovering from his disastrous and brief marriage. At the same time, he wrote “Souvenir d’un lieu cher”, three pieces for violin and piano, the first of which, “Méditation,” started off as the slow movement of the concerto later replaced by the “Canzonetta”.
The ease of composition was replaced by a raft of difficulties later. Madame von Meck didn’t like the concerto, Leopold Auer, its dedicatee, pronounced it unplayable, and its première by Adolph Brodsky, Hans Richter and the Vienna Philharmonic was a disaster. Under-rehearsed and with parts littered with errors, the orchestra accompanied quietly throughout, and the reception by the audience and later, the critic, Hanslick, was hostile. Everest’s excellent sleeve-note is reprinted for this reissue and quotes Hanslick fully. Ah, well. Works have recovered from early disasters and have become hugely popular with audiences and players.
Nathan Tossy Spivakovsky (1906-1998) made, sadly, all too few commercial recordings, but those of the Tchaikovsky and Sibelius (reviewed here) concertos made for Everest in the late 1950s remain diamonds in the catalogue. Spivakovsky’s distinctive vibrato, wider than Heifetz’s, and tone are evidence why he is still held in such high regard today. He had his own ideas about phrasing, too – there are passages in the first movement sounding like no other, and the concerto comes across with a powerful combination of passion and restraint. He is less romantic than Anne-Sophie Mutter, whose recording coupled with Korngold’s is still available on SACD from DGG, and will be compared more with Jascha Heifetz and Vadim Gluzman on SACD from RCA and BIS respectively. All perform the “Canzonetta” supremely well, and the last movement’s fireworks impress hugely. Heifetz, accompanied by the Chicago Symphony under Fritz Reiner in 1957 nonetheless still produces the more imposing first movement, with peerless aristocratic tone. The fine Living Stereo SACD offers nothing less than a rivetingly performance of the Brahms concerto with its arrestingly quick first movement, in excellent 1955 stereo.
Spivakovsky is accompanied sympathetically and sensitively by the London Symphony Orchestra under Walter Goehr. Sound quality from the CD is very good; the high resolution stereo on the accompanying DVD sounds rather better. However, the three-channel recording, as engineered and balanced by Bert Whyte at the Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, back in 1959, impresses immediately with its wide range and very much greater sense of depth. There is none of the feeling of a multi-miked multi-mono production here – the simplicity of the miking remains a fine example of simple recording techniques used by a recording expert. The recording was made on 35mm film which turned out not to be as long-lived as hoped, and apart from a fraction of a second’s wow at the very start of tracks, there is no other sign of degradation. The Melody Op. 42 No. 3, orchestrated by Glazunov, follows far too quickly on all the DVD programmes, though not the CD.There are very few reminders of Tossy Spivakovsky’s playing.
Apart from these two Everest recordings, the Menotti Violin Concerto with Charles Munch is available from Naxos Archives as a download, though not in the US, and the première recordings of Bartok’s Second Violin Sonata in a very good transfer from the 1947 Concert Hall originals from Neal’s Historical Recordings. A collection of recital pieces should still be available from Pearl. Just out on West Hill, in a box devoted to Pierre Monteux’s 1950s live recordings with the Boston Symphony, is a performance of Bartok’s Second Violin Concerto, whose US première he’d given in 1943. His account of the Paganini Caprices in Schumann’s arrangement for violin and piano is out of print.
Hardly out of boyhood, aged 18, Spivakovsky was appointed by Furtwängler as concert master of the Berlin Philharmonic, and, when most think about retiring to the garden, he joined the staff of the Juilliard aged 68 remaining there until 1989. In between, this native of Odessa, birthplace of so many fine musicians including Spivakovsky’s four brothers, spent some years teaching in Australia until 1940 when he moved to the U.S., his reputation lingers on in the memories of those who heard him in the flesh.
Despite a short LP’s playing time, this fine reissue deserves consideration alongside Heifetz and Gluzman, the latter in very fine and modern high resolution sound.
— Peter Joelson