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Johanna Martzy
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Violin Sonata No.3 Op.108 (1888) [21.43]
Jean Antonietti (piano) recorded live, October 1953
Violin Concerto Op.77 (1879) - second and third movements only [16.45]
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Eugen Jochum, recorded live, December 1951
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Violin Concerto in E minor Op.64 (1844) [27.32]
NWDR Symphony Orchestra/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, recorded live, January 1954
Johanna Martzy (violin) with accompaniments as above
TAHRA 553 [66.21]

Martzy is, quite rightly, something of a cult figure. Her early death followed a truncated recording career (squeezed out by Walter Legge it seems) and a consequent reputation that has rested in a degree of limbo. The cult has been strongest in Japan where all her Columbia recordings were issued on TOCE CDs but Testament have begun to reissue her discs and Tahra, amongst others, has had access to live broadcast performances.

The most important document here is the Brahms Op.108, which she never recorded commercially. Jean Antonietti was a regular sonata partner of hers of their broadcast was given in October 1953. It takes Martzy just a while to settle down and to control her vibrato – there are some obtrusive swellings in the opening movement and a certain one dimensionality in her vibrato usage – but when she relaxes we hear some real buoyancy and rhythmic incision in her playing. The slow movement is warm without undue effusion and both she and Antonietti combat the slightly chilly studio acoustic well enough to convey affection and drama in fairly equal measure.

Martzy was no certainly automaton when she gave her concerto performances as the Mendelssohn and the Brahms (a torso – the first movement is missing) amply demonstrate. Testament have brought out her Columbia recordings of both these works with the Philharmonia and Paul Kletzki (Brahms 1954, Mendelssohn, 1955) and the differences between these almost contemporaneous live performances and the commercial discs are unusually significant for a top-flight artist. Her Mendelssohn is considerably broader in the NWDR performance in the first two movements whereas the finale really takes off with Jochum. With Kletzki there’s a much more clearly stable sense of tempo relationships but the extra expression in the studio broadcast attests to her spontaneity and willingness to accommodate a conductor’s view. She certainly takes an elastic view of the first movement and is only slightly heavy rhythmically (but enough to notice) but it’s the finale that bears the most weight of adrenalin. There’s still a touch of over emphasis here but it’s certainly exciting – though a contemporary such as Leonid Kogan would never have taken it at this tempo.

Her 1951 Brahms Concerto reinforces these traits in her live performances. She’s dramatically quicker in the slow movement than she was to be a few years later with Kletzki and a shade quicker in the finale. Since the first movement has been lost we can’t tell if it stretched to the full twenty-three minutes that it did with Kletzki though I’d be surprised if it did. She employs rather a rapid vibrato throughout and a couple of very quick, but not slick, portamenti. Whilst there’s some rather blowsy bass spread in the studio the performance was clearly an engrossing one, notwithstanding a few intonational slips in the finale.

The notes consist of a brief biography of Martzy but adherents will go directly to the music making; enough has been written about her in specialist magazines and journals – and doubtless more will emerge in the long promised biography. Live Martzy is valuable and we find her here in her youthful prime. What’s more Tahra promises more live performances.

Jonathan Woolf



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