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Anja Ignatius – Emil Telmanyi. The Great Violinists Volume XVII
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

Violin Concerto Op. 47 (1903 rev. 1905)
Anja Ignatius (violin)
Städtisches Orkester Berlin/Armas Järnefelt
recorded Berlin, January 1943
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)

Violin Concerto Op. 33 (1911)
Emil Telmanyi (violin)
Copenhagen Royal Opera Orchestra/Egisto Tango
recorded Copenhagen, June 1947
SYMPOSIUM 1310 [67.22]

The cover has the works transposed.


This coupling seems so perfectly logical that one wonders why no-one has thought of it before. One reason maybe is the relative scarcity of the Ignatius Sibelius and its obscurity in the face of the legion of recordings that gained more international currency. From Heifetz onwards generations have looked to such as he and Oistrakh, Neveu, Francescatti, Stern, Haendel and Perlman, not to mention numerous contemporary recordings that have so swollen the catalogue. More out of the way items, such as this wartime commercial recording or the contemporaneous off-air Kulenkampff-Furtwängler constitute more specialist fare. But as with Symposium’s Příhoda disc, in which they resurrected his wartime Berlin recording of the Dvořák Concerto, so they do it again with this performance. The two performances stand in compelling parallel; native musicians fully conversant with the repertoire, indeed committed exponents of it (Ignatius toured the Sibelius in America with Koussevitzky amongst others) whose authority seems only to deepen on retrospective analysis. This is equally, indeed marvellously true, in the case of the Telmanyi Nielsen. The violinist became Nielsen’s son-in-law in 1918, by which time he had already premiered Dohnányi’s Violin Concerto (presumably No. 1) and become one of the earliest exponents of the Elgar. After the first soloist, Peder Møller, Telmanyi became the Nielsen’s most faithful exponent, introducing it to Berlin, Vienna, Berlin and London and performing it with Nielsen conducting on at least five occasions. As with Ignatius he was a noted Sibelian, recording the Concerto for Tono with Jensen conducting.

Ignatius’s Sibelius is unusually intimate. She doesn’t make a big sound, doesn’t dig frantically into the strings or indulge in luscious finger position changes. Her opening paragraphs are cool with one notably cool slide (though she’s a fairly clean player when it comes to portamenti). There is nothing here of the barbed wire intensity of Heifetz or the muscularity of Stern or even Ginette Neveu’s concentratedly profound drama. What Ignatius develops instead is a compelling sense of narrative. She shapes and unfurls, muses and drives with a sure sense of weight and structural acuity; these are long-term architectural ambitions and can leave colourists and exploiters of incidental felicity seeming lesser musicians in the light of her surer understanding. How well Järnefelt supports her, as well, underscoring those recurrent running orchestral pizzicati and providing her with the elasticity of tempo to inflect. She sways with the first movement double stops, has a strong affinity with Sibelian rubati, and is introspective and frequently musing in tone. The orchestral tuttis aren’t as hammered and forceful as they often can be (there is a little blasting and wear on the copies) and that is consonant with their interpretation as a whole. She isn’t out to impress in the cadenza; doesn’t engage in colouristic effect but instead demonstrates the value of subtly holding back the rhetoric thereby implying far more.

The slow movement emerges in Ignatius’ hands – compellingly I have to say – not as an entity in and of itself but rather as a kind of consoling culmination of the earlier movement’s constantly elastic volatility. Her passion is followed by an almost expressionist brooding, winds following the solo line’s ascent with something approaching solemn catharsis. There is something wounded at the core of this music-making – easy, though not necessarily true, to attribute this to the circumstances of the recording – but it’s conveyed at a flexibly flowing tempo. The finale is all elegance and drive but it encompasses far more than these two. It moves with surety and direction to a darkened vista; her harmonics are excellent, the conclusion strong, determined, not grim but not overwhelmingly triumphant either. It is a performance that forces one to reassess the work, even in the light of so many performances heard and admired.

The Nielsen is a post-war Tono and sounds resonant and clear. It’s not a particularly rare set, unlike the Sibelius, which is, and consequently we can listen with few distractions, even though there’s the usual ration of Tono surface noise (owners of British Deccas of this period will know what to expect though the Nielsen has been sympathetically edited and re-mastered). Telmanyi was a famous exponent of Bach and it’s not I think fanciful to suppose his affinities were stimulated by the classicist ethos that runs through the Nielsen. He’s more of a romantic than Ignatius – he was a Hungarian by birth – and his Hubay training equipped him with greater weight of colouration but also an occasionally troublesome vibrato characteristic of that school. I have to say it’s not in evidence here. He brings a limpid tone to the Praeludium, has a wonderfully fast trill, phrases lyrically and magically and is marvellously effective throughout. The Italian Egisto Tango brings buoyant energy to the Allegro Cavalleresco and the soloist is warm and openhearted in his response, lyrical and effusive; he drives out of the cadenza with real elegance. In the Poco Adagio he is expressive without recourse to any smeariness or italicisation and I thrilled to the Rondo finale, which becomes one big chamber music exchange in these masterful hands. There is real tonal confluence between solo violin and wind principals and choirs; exchanges are apt and musicianly, the witty and humorous pointing before the slashing sureties of the final bars giving us even more to admire.

My enthusiasm for these two performances is exceeded only by my admiration for them. As with the Dvořák I recommend them not as examples of past performance practice or historical documents, or as fine performances to be suffered because of their relatively early sonics – I recommend them as still vital and living embodiments of tradition, as selfless and sympathetic interpretations, and as necessary acquisitions for those whose interest in these two works lies beyond the merely contemporary.

Jonathan Woolf



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