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Ossy Renardy. The Great Violinists Volume XVIII
Niccolo PAGANINI (1782-1840)

24 Caprices Op. 1 arr Violin and Piano Ferdinand David
Alexsander ZARZYCKI (1834-1895)

Mazurka Op. 22
AntonŪn DVOŘŃK (1841-1904)

Ballad in D minor Op. 15
Heinrich ERNST (1814-1865)

Hungarian Airs Op. 22
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)

Adios montaños mias Op. 37
Danzas Españolas No. 6 Op. 23 No. 2
Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713)

Sonata No. 8 in E minor
Ossy Renardy (violin)
Walter Robert (piano) except the Corelli where the pianist is Leo Taubman
Recorded (c1940)
SYMPOSIUM 1311 [75.40]


The meteoric career of Ossy Renardy and its tragic denouement could stand as a paradigm of gilded youth, silenced. Born Oskar Reiss in Vienna in 1920 a peripatetic, essentially untutored, boyhood career saw him starring in variety shows alongside showmen and strongmen until, like the Czech virtuoso PřŪhoda, he was discovered in Italy and a career was launched. He made a New York debut at the age of eighteen and in anticipation of the centenary of Paganiniís death he played the 24 Caprices at Carnegie Hall. The impact must have been substantial because the following year he was asked to record them, the first integral set ever committed to disc, albeit in Davidís anachronistic piano accompanied version. From then his career was American based and after war service he resumed touring in 1947. He died in a car crash in 1953 having shortly before re-recorded the Caprices. His pianist in the earlier recording and steadfast accompanist Walter Robert survived the crash. [see footnote]

The focus of Symposiumís disc, rightly, is the 1940 set of the Caprices. Predating Ricciís recording of them, the Renardy has a few nips and tucks in addition to the skeletal piano part Ė some repeats are omitted, and a number of very small cuts are made. In comparison with Ricciís febrile playing and his daredevil persona Renardy is very much more elegant and Viennese and much less inclined to emotive and tonal volatility. The technique is not transcendental but it is certainly astonishing enough; and nothing is for show with Renardy lavishing great care and affection on them. There is not much to choose between this transfer and that by Biddulph a decade ago on their double CD tribute to Renardy. Maybe the Symposium has rather more surface noise but it sounds bright nevertheless.

That Biddulph disc, which I assume will be reintroduced to the market as the label gets into reissuing its back catalogue, also contained the Zarzycki, Ernst and DvořŠk as well as Saint-SaŽnsí first Violin Concerto in piano reduction form. Symposium includes a fine Corelli Sonata. Elsewhere he is dashing in the Zarzycki, not quite tonally adept enough in the DvořŠk, and though convincing in the Ernst does tend to thinness Ė that intense vibrato and piquant playing and the devilishly good pizzicati canít quite efface a lack of sophistication in vibrato usage. There is a definite change in recording quality in the two Sarasate morceaux which sound decidedly less good as recordings but are played with cavalier bravado.

The notes are useful and full matrix details are given but not issue numbers or recording dates. Brief as his career was and circumscribed though it necessarily had to be Renardyís is a name that, like Hassidís or Weisbordís or Hochsteinís will always be tinged with a sense of loss and of promise unfulfilled.

Jonathan Woolf

Hello ~

I was delighted to come across a Symposium recording of performances by Ossy Renardy (Great Violinists series, Vol. XVIII) listed on MusicWeb International (2003) , complete with a review by Jonathan Woolf:

Renardy (b. Oskar Reiss) was a remarkable violinist who is much too infrequently heard today. I'm so pleased that a sampling of his art is still available. I bought the old Biddulph transfer on 33rpm many years ago and gave it to my friend and mentor Walter Robert, who was Renardy's collaborator on many selections. Walter was delighted--he wasn't even aware that those early recordings had been reissued. I will probably buy the Symposium CD for myself, not only for Renardy's playing but also as a memento of the playing of Mr. Robert, who has since passed on.

I do not know if you are in contact with Mr. Woolf, whose review you feature, but if you are, I would respectfully request that you pass this message on to him so he can correct certain misinformation contained in it. It's absolutely true, as Woolf notes, that Walter Robert was Renardy's "steadfast accompanist", especially from about 1937-41. Renardy made quite a number of recordings for the Columbia and RCA-Victor labels with W. Robert (see the link below): and if I'm not mistaken, the two played many concerts together through the old Columbia Community Series. It is also true that Renardy, the first violinist to record the 24 Paganini Caprices in an integral set, died tragically in a car crash in Dec. of 1953 at the young age of 33.

However , when Woolf writes that Renardy's "accompanist Walter Robert survived the crash", he not only misstates the facts, he perpetuates a misconception that has lingered on for 60 years. The pianist who was with Renardy, and was in fact driving the car when it crashed, was not Walter Robert (real name Robert Walter Spitz, b. 1908 Trieste, d. 1999 Bloomington IN), who took a post at the Univ. of North TX shortly after the war and then from ca. 1947-1975 was a mainstay of the artist piano faculty at the Indiana University School of Music. It was George Robert (b. 1919 Vienna, d. 2006 Albuquerque NM), professor of music at the University of NM and Renardy's accompanist of the moment.

Renardy and Geo. Robert had given a concert in Las Cruces, N.M. and were driving to their next engagement in Colorado; they never made it out of NM. The accident at Tres Piedras.

I submit for your perusal this account of the incident by Ross Rarmenter, from the 1953-54 archives of the New York Times (sorry I do not have the complete reference, found it on a violin website): "Perhaps the saddest happening in the musical world during the local news stoppage was the death of Ossy Renardy, 33-year-old violinist, who was killed in an automobile accident the afternoon of Dec. 3. The accident occurred in northern New Mexico while George Robert, the violinist's accompianist, was driving him to a concert that night in Monte Vista, Colo. Their car skidded on an ice slick and, while out of control, was hit by another car coming in the opposite direction. The other motorists were not seriously injured, and the violinist's Guarnerius was not damaged. But many, knowing how fine an artist the young Viennese-born musician was, must feel so great a talent could be less well spared than even so precious an instrument."

In 1955 Renardy's splendid Guarneri was acquired by collector Henri Hottinger, who sold it a decade later to Rembert Wurlitzer Inc.. Subsequently it passed to Dr. Ephraim Engleman, and then in 1976 to David Fulton. Fulton sold it in 2007 to an anonymous Australian buyer for $7 million US. Renardy would seem to have been the last artist who played it regularly in concert until it's current owner (allegedly a very wealthy businessman), loaned it long-term to Richard Tognetti, concertmaster of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. The A.C.O. has been the beneficiary of three exceptional instruments lent to it long-term by patrons of the arts, the others being a 1759 Guadagnini violin and a 1729 'cello by Giuseppe Guarneri filius Andreae.

Walter Robert, Ossy Renardy's "regular" pianist, was a truly remarkable man, musician and mentor. He was a performer of some stature in his younger years, partnering not only with Renardy, Josef Gingold. Jaime Laredo, Fredell Lack and other violinists, but also with a bunch of Metropolitan Opera stars of yesteryear who toured on the old Columbia community concert circuit. For sev. summers in the 40s he was also the official staff accompanist for Galamian's summer course at Meadowmount, where he performed with Michael Rabin, Laredo, James Buswell and other young prodigies whose careers would soon take off.

Robert was an outstanding teacher, and one of the most erudite musicians I ever met. He had an amazing gift for languages and a wicked wit, which he turned on himself as often as on others. Having been born in Trieste when it was still the major port of the Habsburg Empire, he had a perfect command of Italian and German from youth (he and violinist Franco Gulli, another Triestine who found his way to I.U., had a habit of lifting a glass to Kaiser Franz Josef each year on the Emperor's birthday); he had near-native fluency in English and a good command of both French and Russian. (Russian he learned in his fifties, "so I could read Dostoevsky in the original"). In the course of his long career he held guest professorships at the Florence, Bologna and Naples conservatories, at Tunghi University (Taipei) and at his alma mater, the Vienna Hochschule. He singlehandedly designed IU's D.M./Piano Pedagogy--one of the first (and hardest!) piano pedagogy doctorates in the country--and taught many of its required courses though he himself didn't have a doctorate. That brings me to a little example of his wit: he and I were walking down the Music School hallway one day when he was buttonholed by a student who needed a signature from him. The student came running up, calling "Dr. Robert, Dr. Robert!" Walter turned around with a grin and quipped: "I don't play that badly." :)

Unlike many performers of his day, W. Robert received a very solid academic formation as a youth alongside his piano studies. He attended a prestigious gymnasium (secondary school) and already had 9 yrs. of Latin and 8 yrs. of Greek under his belt before entering the Vienna Hochschule für Musik. Although he was a brilliant music student and won the Bösendorfer Prize (the award in those days being a Bösendorfer grand!), he retained a lifelong love of classical languages. One of his first publications after emigrating to the US was a translation into English of Rene Descartes' Compendium musicae. The moment he retired from the Music School, he started enrolling in classes. At 70+ he earned an M.A. in Classical Studies from I.U. alongside students a third his age.

When he came to Bloomington in the late 40s, IU was not the world-class school it has since become. In in those early years he taught not only piano but piano lit., general music lit., chamber music, teaching methods, whatever they needed. One year he was even drafted into teaching history--not music history, world history. :) By the time I met him around 1973, he wasn't playing many solo recitals. He suffered intermittently from pretty bad stage fright when performing solo. Sometimes he played like an angel, while other times his recitals were marred by memory slips. I have no idea whether performance anxiety was always an issue with him. I think not. In the early years of his tenure at IU he performed many solo recitals, and was a fairly adventurous programmer, giving the "Indiana premiere" of sev. dozen compositions including works by Hindemith, Krenek, Bernhard Heiden, Elliott Carter and many others. He gave the IN premiere of the Bartok Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion with pianist/composer Alfonso Montecino and percussionists George Gabor and Richard Johnson; I would imagine he performed that work with music, LOL. But Walter steadfastly refused to use the music when playing solo repertoire. I think that was a generational thing: for many of his era (Richter being a notable exception), playing by memory in solo performances was a "point of honor"--and non-negotiable.

By the late 60s, most of Robert's performances on and off campus were as duo partner to legendary violinist and pedagogue Josef Gingold, who in 1960 had been lured to IU from his position as concertmaster of the Cleveland Orch. under Szell, or in trio with Gingold and 'cellist Fritz Magg. He was a fabulous accompanist in the old style, with one of the most beautiful sonorities I ever heard--rich and characterful, but far more mellow than that of most concert pianists today. He was formed in an era when it was commonly held that a fine accompanist should not act like a second soloist or try to "one-up" his partner. Rather, in Walter's words, s/he "should do everything in their power to show their soloist to best effect, make them sound great." That's a somewhat different philosophy than prevails these days, isn't it? :) But it made him the ideal partner for Gingold, whose silky sound had countless captivating colors and inflections, but was somewhat small by today's standards.

Of course even in Walter Robert's youth there were great pianists who seem not to have subscribed to the view that an accompanist should be slightly subservient to his/her soloist. Alfred Cortot is one who immediately comes to mind. Whether playing with Casals, Thibaud or in trio with both, it doesn;t seem to have entered Cortot's mind that he should subordinate himself to his string partners. He went at it "no holds barred"--and a good thing, too, in my opinion as the results were often magical. (On the other hand, it seems to me that Cortot did assume a slightly more "deferential" attitude when collaborating with Maggie Teyte in the 1936 recording of Debussy songs that was so crucial to the revival of her career.)

Karen M. Taylor Indiana University Jacobs School of Music



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