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Great Violinists: Szigeti
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)

Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra, BWV 1043* (arr. Rust from BWV 1062) (1720) [15.39]
Carl Flesch, second violin
Orchestra/Walter Goehr
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, England, 30 August 1937.
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in d, BWV 1052R* (arr. Reitz) (1721) [23.06]
Friends of Music Orchestra/Fritz Stiedry
Recorded: New York City, NY, USA, 24 April 1940.
"Arioso" [Concerto in g BWV 1056R: Largo] (arr. Szigeti) (1721) [3.41]
Orchestra/Walter Goehr
Recorded: EMI Abbey Road Studios, London, England, 6 December 1937
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in g, BWV 1056R (arr. Schrek/Szigeti) (1721) [11.48]
Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell
Recorded Severance Hall, Cleveland, Ohio, USA, 13 January 1954
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692 - 1770)

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in d, D.45 (c.1735) [13.04]
Recorded: EMI Abbey Road Studios, London, England, 6 December 1937 ADD
Joseph Szigeti, violin
Restored from first edition 12" 78 and 33 rpm American pressings my Mark Obert-Thorn.
notes in English, including detailed recording information and track list.
NAXOS 8.110979 [67.19]

Comparison recordings

Concerto BWV 1043: Ayo, Michelucci, I Musici. ADD Philips 426 075-2
Concertos BWV 1043, 1052R, and 1056R: Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zuckerman, Barenboim, [ADD] ECO EMI CDC 47856-2
Concerto BWV 1052R: Karl Suske, Max Pommer, Leipzig Musicum Collegium, Capriccio "1 plus" 51051.
Concerto BWV 1056R: Isabelle Faust, Helmut Rilling, Bach Collegium Stuttgart Hänssler CD 92.138.

Donít be afraid of the name Szigeti. The Z is silent; rhyme it with the Ďettií of "spaghetti".

The star of this disk is the Bach d minor concerto, an instant sensation upon its release, forming the backbone of any 78rpm Bach collection, and never long out of print since then. This restoration is from 12" 78rpm commercial release disks. But in 1940 American Columbia was starting to record masters on 16" acetate disks which allowed a longer continuous playing time in a single take. If this recording is from one of those masters, it would partially account for the continuous sound of this performance, a strenuous perpetuum mobile by the violin who in this work can never for a second merge into the ripieno for a rest, in contrast with the numbered Bach solo violin concerti. Perhaps some day we may have direct from Sony a true ADD restoration of this recording from the original 16" acetate master if one exists.

Comparison of the 1936 version of the slow movement from BWV 1056R with the 1954 version shows Szigeti in the later version paying a lot more attention to what has since become known as original performance practice. The 1937 performance is a 19th Century version, in the original key of the keyboard concerto, played by the strings only with "expression" at a slow tempo; the 1954 version would not be out of place today, with authentic ornamentation, restored key signature, and harpsichord continuo.

The first movement of the Tartini concerto has a rich lyrical mood with the usual "nostalgic" sense imputed to music of this period when played in 19th century Romantic concerto style; it sounds odd to us now, forcing this Classical concerto into an anachronistic aesthetic. The slow movement is, as expected, very slow, and very sweet. Szigeti sounds somewhat baffled by the last movement, never quite figuring out how it should go, but trying to avoid too steady a beat. The harpsichord is nicely forward throughout.

Perlman gives us modern, emotional performances with clear respect for the original aesthetic, perhaps the best stylistic compromise between old and new for this music, although with works recorded as often as these, everyone will have favourite performances. The Ayo/Michelucci recording is a living fossil, a true 19th century version, with waves of throbbing passion, a delicious, lingering ecstasy of sound. That might not have been quite what Bach had in mind, but even he would have been drying his eyes at the end of the slow movements. This is a rare, precious look at the way it was in 1875. Not for everyone: the Gramophone critic, his head stuck way up his authenticity, was viciously contemptuous when this CD issue appeared, so you may have trouble finding the disk, but itís worth any effort to obtain.

Probably the very best and most convincing performance ever done of BWV 1052R, in modern digital sound and thoroughly authentic, idiomatic style is by Karl Suske and Max Pommer conducting the Neues Bachiches Collegium Musicum of Leipzig on Capriccio "1 plus." Likewise for BWV 1056R, Isabelle Faust and Helmut Rilling shine brightly for us on Hänssler Classics.

*The letter "R" means "restored." Only librarians and musicologists will be interested in the historical reasons why BWV 1052R does not have a BWV number all its own in the 104X series, even though it is actually no less authentic than "BWV 1062R," which is known to us in Rustís transposed transcription as BWV 1043, as published in the BGA. BWV 1056R is a bit longer of a shot, but probably no less authentic, the question here being whether perhaps it was really an oboe concerto rather than a violin concerto.

Paul Shoemaker

see also review by Jonathan Woolf


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