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Max Rostal (violin)
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Violin Concerto No. 2 (1938) [39:23]

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No. 9 in A, Op. 47, ‘Kreutzer’ (1803) [33:37]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Scherzo for violin and piano in C minor, III from F.A.E. Sonata, WoO posth. 2 (1853) [5:21]
Max Rostal (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent
Franz Osborn (piano)
rec. London 1949-51
RETROSPECTIVE 8400 [78:21] 


Experience Classicsonline

Rostal recorded strongly for Decca in the 1940s and early 1950s, first on 78 with his sonata partner Franz Osborn, and then on LP. Prominent amongst his recordings then was a sequence of Beethoven sonata recordings and his book on the sonatas is well admired (Toccata Press, 1985). Many of the pre-War discs have been re-released and the LP recordings of sonatas by Schubert, Elgar and Delius are also still available. A Symposium CD1068, which contained a live performance of the Second Bartók Concerto as well as concertos by Berg, Bernard Stevens and Shostakovich (No.1), has now, one hopes temporarily, been deleted by the company.

The recordings under discussion date from a reasonably prolific period for him – 1949 to 1951. The programme doesn’t make a great deal of sense considered in isolation but in terms of disc reclamation it fits nicely enough as an example of Rostal’s sonata and concerto strengths. His playing was never the acme of a beautiful tone. Though Boris Schwarz, who studied with him under Flesch in Berlin, was a great admirer and praised his playing in Great Masters of the Violin, he tends now to polarise listeners into a sort of mini-Huberman dilemma; intellect and tonal roughness versus rich tone, though Rostal’s playing as such was not technically anachronistic, as Huberman’s was. 

The Kreutzer marries these qualities of tonal abrasion with elevated ensemble perception.  Rostal’s view is essentially unhurried, deliberate, and conveyed via a brittle tonal armoury that stresses the combative elements in the music. Those moments of contrasting lyricism can sound – do sound, to me – somewhat queasily sentimentalised but there is, in defence of the performance, an explosive element that seldom short changes one. The pulse of the variational second movement is again measured but tempo relationships here are fluid. In the finale brittle attaca returns. This unvarnished, rosin-less tensile approach offers a challenge and so too do small moments of unsteadiness in the finale. That aside the drama is maintained. There’s a bonus of the Scherzo from the F.A.E. sonata in a rougher transfer. 

One might think that Bartók’s Second Concerto would be a good fit for Rostal. It was a work he clearly admired. He was paired with the LSO and Sargent, who does a rather better job than Furtwängler did for Menuhin when they recorded it very slightly later. The balance between solo violin and orchestra is immeasurably better here as well – in the Menuhin-Furtwängler it was fatally compromised. Still, there will be those who cavil at the broader tempi enjoyed by the Rostal-Sargent pairing which can sound laboured when set against fleeter and more fluent performances. Sargent was a premier league accompanist though and worked with Rostal on the Berg and acquits himself well enough. What Rostal doesn’t possess is the variegated sense of colour that many have espoused in this work (I’m a great admirer of the Menuhin-Dorati set of 1947). 

Previous issues in this new Retrospective line, from Brilliant’s stable, have made outsize claims for ‘first ever CD’ status, when a sober look would have led to no such conclusion. Here I have no cause to show that these three monos have been released on CD before, though Rostal is such a collectible artist and it’s not impossible that Japanese editions exist. Otherwise I’m happy to acknowledge their arrival on the stage in this way. The transfers are reasonable rather than exceptional, taken from commercial pressings almost certainly. 

Jonathan Woolf




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