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The Art of Yulian Sitkovetsky. Volume 1
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

Violin Concerto in D minor Op.47 (1903 revised 1905) [27.26]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Sonata for piano and violin No. 26 in B flat major K378 (1779) [20.56]
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)

Spanish Dances; Malagueña Op.21 No.1 (1878-82) [4.48]
Spanish Dances; Habanera Op.21 No.2 (1878-82) [4.01]
Nicolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)

La Campanella (1826) – arranged Fritz KREISLER [5.57]
La Campanella from Violin Concerto No.2 in B minor Op.7 (1826) [7.48]
Yulian Sitkovetsky (violin)
Bella Davidovich (piano) – Mozart, Sarasate
Vladimir Yampolsky (piano) – Paganini-Kreisler
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicolai Anasov (Sibelius)
USSR State Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mark Pavermann (Paganini)
Recorded1950 and 1953
AULOS MUSIC AMC2-054 [70.56]


I’d been hoping against hope that a company such as Doremi might release a chunk of Yulian Sitkovetsky’s legacy on disc. They’d certainly be easier to locate than has proved to be the case with previous editions such as that offered by SYD, whose five CDs didn’t get much coverage. I never even saw them. Doremi have a good line in Russian fiddle players; alongside such titans as Heifetz and Elman they also sport some Julian Olevsky (émigré, born in Germany, brought up in Argentina). But into the breach steps Aulos – praise be! – and admirers of what I shall have to stoop to calling "cult violinist" Sitkovetsky (1925-58) now have a wider base for the international marketing of these records, not least because Aulos has had access to the master tapes.

I suppose Sitkovetsky was one of the violinists for whom fiddle-journo platitudes like "jaw dropping" were invented. His status as a near legendary figure was compounded by a tragically early death at the age of thirty-three – his American parallel was Michael Rabin – and the rarity of his discs in the West. This first volume takes in a rather mix and match selection of recordings but admirers will have to spurn the niceties of selection principles and grab hold of these discs whilst they can. The major work is the Sibelius recorded in concert in Prague with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under Nicolai Anosov (father of Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. Ed.), a conductor I had reason to praise recently for his high class Liszt accompaniments for Ginzburg in Moscow. Here we are again – he’s splendid (Aulos – what about a disc of Anosov?) We hear the soloist’s very fast vibrato, especially in the upper two strings, and that characteristic nutty sound in the middle of his register. It’s a feature of his playing that the lower strings don’t sound as quickly and seem rather less responsive. Despite the recession of the live concert acoustic the orchestra is well marshalled and any brass blare is probably an acoustic matter. Try to listen out for those Dvořákian winds (no other word will do) in the first movement and also to the dazzlingly well-played left hand work in the cadenza. Brass statements are big and bold, the performance pretty speedy and very exciting (in truth a little too much so). Despite the fact that he has always been compared with Kogan Sitkovetsky was by now very much his own player; one or two moments at the climax of the first movement suggest a Heifetz influence, and indeed he takes a Heifetz kind of tempo throughout. Another characteristic of the performance is that he often attacks from slightly under the note and this compromised intonation recurs though it’s not overly problematic if you listen through it. It’s a young man’s performance from the teaky middle voicings to the fast upper ones, and he imparts tremendous varieties of colour and characterisation in the second movement – it becomes a kaleidoscopic character study in his hands in effect. This narrative gift serves him well – the fervour is unceasing and the graph of the movement is charted with feverish intensity. Certainly some tone production in the finale can be a touch glassy but he slashes into the harmonics and drives to the final bars with panache. It’s certainly not one for patrician Sibelians or those who admire Anja Ignatius’s wartime recording but the world can encompass a wide range of readings and this is certainly one of those.

There are some virtuoso warhorses here as well but let me just draw your attention to La Campanella, the piano accompanied version that seems to be derived from a 1950 78 disc. I say seems because whilst there’s no evidence that any air checks are here it sounds like one; it’s certainly by a long chalk the worst recorded of all these pieces. And yet it’s also the most outrageous. Cramped and congested though it may be and with quite a deal of overload Sitkovetsky unleashes the most astounding example of bowing I’ve heard in many a long, long year, the results of which can be compared to the whinnying of an agitated horse cloned with the time-lapse accelerated sound of a flock of starlings. Outrageous. I note he doesn’t dare replicate this in the orchestra-accompanied version, also here.

In Malaguena his tone is not especially attractive – it’s unusually tense and hoarsely over wrought as if he lacked the sensitivity to inflect subtly. Technically though he’s approaching the Kogan class as he is in Habanera, which is despatched with incredible panache though once again – his fatal flaw – with smeary lower strings and an air of almost incipient vulgarity. With his wife Bella Davidovich he recorded Mozart’s Sonata K378, a relaxed and leisurely Old School performance. Attractively limpid to begin with one notices as the performance develops a tendency to overplay accompanying figures in time honoured virtuoso fashion and a rather limited arsenal of inflections. It sounds rather one-dimensional. Compare older Mozartians such as Goldberg, with Lupu, or Shumsky with Balsam; both violinists were very much older than the Russian but recorded their Mozart sonata cycles a long while after his death. And both were sensitive, true chamber players.

So not everything is equally convincing in this, the first of what I hope will be an extensive and comprehensive edition of Sitkovetsky’s Melodiya recordings. If so we can look forward to the Glazunov Concerto with Kondrashin and the Lyapunov with Gorohakov, as well as Bach’s Partita No.2, his quartet work (with Sharoyev, Barshai and Slobodkin – Beethoven and Shostakovich), some Rakov, the Shostakovich-Tsiganov Preludes, Tartini’s Devil’s Trill and Ysaÿe’s Sixth Sonata, as well as much else. Note; the third (La Campanella) movement in this volume with Mark Pavermann conducting is extracted from the complete recording on Melodiya D1089/90 –so it looks as if we won’t be getting that complete. Otherwise it’s a warm, generous welcome to these well engineered and DSD transferred discs. More please – and soon.

Jonathan Woolf

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