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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major Op.77 [40.21]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Violin Concerto in D major Op.35 [38.20]
Gioconda de Vito (violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Rudolf Schwarz (Brahms, recorded in 1953)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI/Mario Rossi (Tchaikovsky, recorded live in 1954)
ARCHIPEL ARPCD 0249 [76.39]

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De Vito recorded the Brahms in the Kingsway Hall with Legge’s Philharmonia. It’s a recording that has been in and out of the international catalogues – quite popular in Japan – but more out than in. Japanese Angel/EMI was dedicated to de Vito and consolidated her commercial discs in an impressive boxed LP set in the 1980s, which is where I caught up with the performance, in a transfer that has remained for me something of a benchmark. Now Archipel has issued its own uncredited transfer and added a live Tchaikovsky from Turin given the following year, in 1954.

Admirers of the violinist and of Furtwängler will know that the two collaborated on the Brahms, live, in 1952, a rather subfusc RAI recording and with a similarly sub standard performance from the orchestra, one that gets progressively worse. But it’s an important document for de Vito adherents and should be noted. She’s not as dashing with Schwarz as she was earlier with Furtwängler; her opening statements are curiously static and heavy and also rather brittly bowed. Elsewhere however she is silvery and pliant though some of her voicings and tone colours in the first movement are idiosyncratic: her intonation too. She enters the slow movement stealthily though her very first note is mostly covered by the winds and the patina of her playing is very reserved. This is the kind of playing that avoids all rhetorical show and expressive gestures. In the finale we can hear some metrical displacements with Schwarz marshalling some questionable slowings down.

As for the transfer I have to admit, once again, great disappointment with this company. Artificial boosting seems to have projected both solo line and winds and there’s a synthetic quality to the sound that is not appealing. Unlike the EMI disc there is no hall ambience at all and you wouldn’t guess that this is Kingsway Hall – or anywhere else for that matter. Sound compression and lack of air are compounded by a two second gap between first and second movements.

The Tchaikovsky is a rarer affair but the sound is again problematical – distant and once more with compressed sonics. The orchestra is lacklustre, the violin spotlit and de Vito seems small scale here, as she was in the Brahms; unadventurous in her passagework and careful. A climactic missed note shows the tension of the moment toward the end of the first movement but of greater concern is the air of ponderousness and lack of commitment. Yet again there’s a two second gap between first and second movements. She plays this movement with a degree of lyric effusion but she ultimately lacks tone colours here but she at least gives us some chewy tone in the finale, though she’s so closely miked that counter themes are frequently inaudible (which is probably best, given the orchestra’s contribution). There are a few coughs but otherwise the recording is acceptable.


Jonathan Woolf


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