were three great commercial recordings of the Sibelius Concerto
by women violinists in the decade between 1943 and 1952.
The first was by Anja Ignatius in wartime Berlin (Symposium
1310). The second followed two years later when Ginette Neveu
made her celebrated recording, one that has been multiply
available over the years. And this is the third of the great
triumvirate, happily restored to circulation. The slightly
earlier 1940 Guila Bustabo traversal with the Berlin State
Opera Orchestra and Fritz Zaun was on A Classical Record
ARC37 and is also a stunner. Talking of which the hair-raising
1943 and very male Kulenkampff/Furtwängler on Music & Arts
CD799 - try to hear it - was a live broadcast.
Sibelius is the stuff of legend. Absence from the catalogues
has only increased enthusiasm for its return. And all three
of these recordings bring powerfully different approaches
to bear; the cool reserve of Ignatius, the fiery, digging-into-the-string
passion of Neveu and Wicks’s expressive but not overblown
drama, architecturally magnificent in its completeness.
had the advantage of collaboration with Sixten Ehrling, with
whom she gave numerous concerts. Ehrling also proves an adept
and highly accomplished pianist in their more intimate recordings
here. In the Concerto, with Ward Marston’s transfers that
seem successfully to have stabilised pitch problems on earlier
issues, we can savour their commanding strengths. The opening
is full of the subtlest tonal colour. Orchestral counter
themes register with naturalness and surety. The agitated
little string figures that are often subsumed are here present
as part of the living fabric of the orchestral life force
of the music. In the slow movement we find Wicks melancholic
without ostentation – no overtly externalised finger position
changes or timbral disparities. She remains unaffectedly
direct, and strongly moving. Power and momentum characterise
the finale. Wicks is no metronome, of course, and her rubati
are finely judged and thoroughly convincing. Personalised
phrasing adds immeasurably to a performance that remains
as laudable now as the day it was recorded.
Valen’s pocket concerto of 1940 is a real rarity. I’m not
aware that it’s been reissued since 1949. A work of concision
and immense power it owes a strong debt to the Berg in its
accommodation with serialism. Only thirteen minutes in length,
and that includes a cadenza, it manages to coalesce a tense,
slightly clotted feel with more openly sprung lyric sections.
The reappearance of the chorale-like them – finally on the
brass – is a deeply moving one and adds to a feeling of lament
and loss. For an up to date disc Arve Tellefsen has recorded
the Valen on Sony Classical SK 89621, coupled with the 1997
violin and piano pieces divide into the commercial HMV recordings
with Ehrling recorded between 1949 and 1951 and unpublished
Columbias with an unknown accompanist made in 1951. I assume
this latter collection – five pieces – derives from Wicks’s
own archive but as usual with Biddulph these days we get
minimal discographic information.
Nigun has a burnished reserve – not as full
of Hebraic fervour as many. Her Kabalevsky Improvisation is
excellent at underscoring alternately its brittle and more
reflective elements. The
Shostakovich Preludes are in the familiar Tziganov arrangements – hear
her silvery wit in the Tenth.
unpublished pieces are a notable bonus. They’re in very slightly
muffled sound but otherwise very presentable indeed. Her
Sarasate is suave rather than dashing, and the pieces associated
with Heifetz show a laid back charm. This represents a cache
of real significance for the Wicks collector.
of which collectors should not overlook a CD devoted to rare
Wicks material - Music & Arts 1160 which contains a broadcast
performance of the finale of the Sibelius, coupled with a
splendid Bruno Walter directed Beethoven Concerto. There
are other important things here as well, including Nigun.
noted above Ward Marston’s transfers are top class, with
the pitch question in the Sibelius happily resolved, to my
ears. Notes are by Nathaniel Vallois and equally classy.
In fact this is a class act all round.