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Vása Příhoda. The Violin Volume 10
Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Violin Concerto (1880 rev. 1882)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Sonata No.3 BWV 1005 – Adagio and Fugue
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)

Sonata in G minor Devil’s Trill
Nicolo PAGANINI (1782-1840)

Variations on the theme Nel cor più non mi sento (from La Molinara by Paisiello arr Příhoda)
Antonio BAZZINI (1818-1897)

La Ronde des Lutins Op.25 (1852)
Vása Příhoda (violin) with
Otto A Gräf (piano)
Orchestra of the State Opera Berlin conducted by Paul van Kempen (Dvořák)

Recorded 1935-43
SYMPOSIUM 1266 [75.59]


Vása Příhoda was the most internationally successful Czech violinist of his generation and also the most controversial. After Jan Kubelík’s career petered out the superior Jaroslav Kocian should have become the leading representative of the Czech School but he soon tired of touring and settled instead for teaching in Prague. He trained two generations of native violinists, among them the most eminent Czechoslovak players. So into this apparent void burst Příhoda as a Paganini redivivus. Down on his luck in Milan and heard and admired by Toscanini, engagements and a recording contract followed. Soon he was an international artist recording prolifically for Fonotipia, Edison, Deutsche Grammophon and Cetra and making repeated re-recordings of his warhorses for new generations under ever better recording conditions. His marriage to - and divorce from - Alma Rosé, Arnold Rosé’s daughter, has become a cause of disquiet (she died in Auschwitz), as was his conduct during the War when he played, taught and recorded in Germany.

Aside from matters of biography however this disc collates the DG-Polydors, splendidly recorded, made between 1935 and 1943. The most imposing is the magnificent Dvořák Concerto from 1943, a true benchmark recording that has not reached the paradigmic heights of the Casals-Szell 1938 Cello Concerto because of its restricted wartime provenance, the earlier Menuhin set and also, I suspect, because the Violin Concerto has long lagged behind the Cello in esteem. If you have either the Suk/Ancerl or the Suk/Neumann you will perhaps need some persuading to consider this recording and that would be a mistake. Sound quality is vintage 1943 but that is vintage DG 1943 and means splendidly defined and quite able to capture the soloist’s tonal qualities with refinement, depth and frequency response. What makes Příhoda’s performance so persuasive are his elastic lyricism, his control of rubati, his crystalline upper register playing and the panoramic sweep and cogency he brings with a concomitant emotive generosity. This is no metronomic traversal and it’s remarkable how flexibly he phrases, seemingly across the bar lines but in the slow movement one hears with undiluted admiration the fabulously tight and centred trill and the beautifully modulated and natural sounding diminuendi (compare and contrast with many of today’s players whose application of diminuendo is accompanied by knee sagging "here it comes" theatricality). There are even times in the slow movement when the lyric sweep and swoop brings to mind a Bohemian Lark Ascending (did VW hear the Concerto?). If you have either of his other surviving performances (Prague Radio conducted by Krombholc at the 1956 Prague Spring on Multisonic or the SDR Symphony/Hans Müller-Kray from the same year on Podium Legend) you will note that he is much more leisurely and expressive in 1943 than for Krombholc, though he adopts the same basically slowish tempo for Müller-Kray. Maybe the tension-ridden return to Prague accounted for the relative haste of that, in any case technically rather impaired, performance. The finale is driving, wonderfully rustic and it’s a fascinating study in itself to hear the variety of colours across the strings he can elicit; the lower two not quite so sounding as the pellucid upper two This is the epitome of idiomatic panache, a real poet and peasant drama, the best of his Concerto performances and a must-have for informed listeners. It’s doubly fortunate that this Symposium is in such good sound quality; there are a few minor scuffs in the slow movement but these are fine copies, sensitively treated. The Concerto was also on A Classical Record, now deleted, but only the Concerto performance was by Příhoda.

His Bach is also most impressive. Those who think of him, due to his Paganinian exploits, as a string gymnast will doubtless have cause to reconsider in the light of this disc. It’s by no means an intellectual’s Bach but it possesses a compelling drama and theatrical trajectory. Maybe some of the swellings in the Fugue and a few of the voicings do not convince but this is real and vital playing nevertheless. His Devil’s Trill makes for an interesting comparison with the recording by Albert Spalding also on Symposium and also reviewed by me. Spalding’s classicist imperatives are very much to the fore whilst the Czech player is much more the subjectivist romantic. He opens very calmly in a stately detachment, employing a reduced terracing of dynamics. Apart from one rather gauche slide early on his playing is relatively clean and deeply expressive and almost caressing in its intimacy. His passageworks in the Tempo giusto is exceptionally delicate, his articulation splendid, pianist Otto A Gräf’s little harmonic fill-ins apposite and tasteful. There’s a patch of poor intonation at 3.50 but it’s of passing account (usually his harmonics and double stopping are right on the button intonationally speaking unless he chooses to flatten for expressive potential). It’s true he rather rushes at the start of the Allegro assai but he makes up for it in expertly deployed rubati and whilst his own cadenza isn’t as appealing as the usually played Kreisler it makes a fine change.

The disc is rounded out by a Paganini finger buster, a favourite of Jan Kubelík’s before him, the Nel cor più non mi sento variations. The left hand pizzicati here are dizzying in their exactness and in the Bazzini the meltingly lyrical episodes are followed by immediately resinous hyper-drive; fantastic control and a fizzing pizzicato end. There are a few moments of blasting on the disc used but they pass.

The success of this disc is cemented by Tully Potter’s excellent notes. Full matrix details are given but, strangely, not commercial issue numbers. Leaving aside the extensive Podium Legend series, which is generally dedicated to surviving German off air recordings, this is now the most important single issue Příhoda disc in the catalogue. Sound quality as I said is of the finest and I urge all Dvořákians who have yet to hear it to acquaint themselves with his Concerto recording; it’s special, very special.

Jonathan Woolf

Warner have just issued a 3CD set of all Příhoda’s Cetra recordings 5050466-3248-2 to be reviewed



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