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alternatively Crotchet


Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major op. 77 [41:38]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in E minor op. 64 [29:54]
Gioconda De Vito (violin)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. live 7 March 1952 (Brahms), 11 March (or 6 June?) 1952 (Mendelssohn)

Experience Classicsonline

Oh dear, what a pity …

About fifteen years ago RAI began broadcasting in the early afternoons a long series of “Concerti DOC”, archive documents from their extensive vaults. For all I know they still do but my time schedules are rather different now. I taped a large amount of it and more recently put onto CDR the items I considered worth preserving, including these two. Neither my home-taping equipment nor my home-CD-making equipment was exactly of the highest professional standards, so what a pleasure, I thought, to be able to have these valuable performances professionally transferred and made to sound as well as they reasonably can.

The trouble is the Mendelssohn, in particular, sounds worse, much worse. Right from the beginning the opening orchestral bars have a husky, scrubbed sound, as though the recording has been de-noised and de-clicked and de-hissed and God-knows-what-elsed. The violin has a shrill, teeth-edging, dentist-drill penetration without a trace of quality. If these strings were made of catgut, the cat must have been still alive.

My copy is muddier, with a bit of rumble, but it has a certain fullness and the violin retains enough quality for you to hear that it is actually being played very beautifully.

The differences are smaller in the Brahms though at the beginning of the finale, for instance, I seem to hear a little more presence to the violin in mine. But surely a professionally-made thing you actually buy in the shops should sound better than something you tape at home.

There is no trace anywhere of the “RAI Trade” emblem so I take it these performances were home-taped by someone with equipment no better than mine, maybe worse, and have been doctored mercilessly. Though nothing will disguise the fact that these 1952 recordings were not state-of-the-art even in their day I am quite sure that sympathetic treatment by someone authorized to use the original tapes would yield reasonable results.

Under the circumstances it seems pointless to describe the performances beyond noting that they are fiery and incandescent. A discussion of interesting matters such as how Furtwängler adjusts to his different soloists in these recordings and the famous ones of the same concertos with Menuhin had better be left till we can enjoy them better.

I also query the given date of 11 March for the Mendelssohn. I noted down 6 June 1952, as given out by the radio announcer. He may have been wrong, but I know Furtwängler/Turin recordings from 6 June 1952 of the Flying Dutchman Overture, Siegfried’s Rhine Journey and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, and the Mendelssohn would slot into the middle of that well enough. If it was really played on 11 March – yes, I have checked that this is the same performance as I have – I should like to know what else was played at that concert. The Brahms, by the way, was followed by the First Symphony. Since the RAI orchestras gave their concerts weekly I should have thought it unlikely that there were concerts on both 7 and 11 March.

Since I seem to be finding fault all round, I’ll point out that the note by Danilo Prefumo is good but the translation is rather obviously not by a native English speaker, though it’s far from being the worst of its kind I’ve seen. Just one example, in Italian “autori” write books but also compose music and paint pictures. The translator evidently doesn’t know that in English “authors” only write books.

Some of you may be thinking – if you’ve got something better, why not duplicate a few CDRs, make a pretty cover and write some notes, set up a little record company in your garden shed and make a few bucks? It’s a question of honesty towards the music. These are performances of the highest level of artistry – just slightly compromised by the quality of the orchestra – and I know that my own resources will not show them at their best. The fact that other people whose resources do not show them at their best are happy to profit from them doesn’t affect my decision.

Christopher Howell 


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