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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77 (1878) [40:17]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Nutcracker Suite Op.71a (1892) [21:56]
Berl Senofsky (violin)
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Rudolf Moralt
rec. 1954 (Tchaikovsky) and 1956 (Brahms)
HISTORIC RECORDS HRCD01010 [62:19]

It was hard work being an American violinist in the 1950s and 1960s. After the death of Albert Spalding, and Menuhin’s move to Europe, it was Isaac Stern who became the most internationally recognised American fiddle player. Even elite musicians such as Oscar Shumsky, admittedly something of a prickly customer, found it difficult to carve out a solo career, and it was just as tricky for fine players such as Berl Senofsky, about whom I’ve written a number of times during reviews of his recordings. A couple of them can be read here; review review.
 
Briefly, Senofsky was born in Philadelphia in 1926 and died in 2002. He studied with Louis Persinger, one of the first American-born teachers to further the cause of native-born fiddle players, and afterwards with Ivan Galamian. He became the first and so far only American violinist to win the Queen Elizabeth Violin Competition, which he did in 1955. In the wake of his win he made what was for many years his only relatively well-known recording, and here it is. Like others before him, Spalding most obviously just a few years before, and Elman at roughly the same time, Senofsky went to Vienna. There he teamed up with one of Europe’s most hard-working recording units, the Vienna Symphony. If it was tough trying to find a niche as an American soloist, it was hard being in the Vienna Symphony, who worked flat out to bring in the dough.
 
In charge was Rudolf Moralt, and he gives Senofsky good support. The orchestra too plays well enough. Senofsky himself proves a capable tonalist and stylist and in every way this is a refreshingly straightforward but not unsubtle performance. Rubati are thoughtfully deployed, and whilst his vibrato can, on occasion, be a touch fast and unvaried, his technical adroitness here is not in question. Quick slides illuminate the slow movement, and a tautly centred tone brings lofty expressivity to it. Requisite snap and brio are brought to bear on the finale and this good performance, very reasonably recorded for 1956 Vienna, is a credit to all concerned. On the basis of this Philips disc it’s certainly a surprise that Senofsky didn’t go on to receive more contracts to record.
 
For Moralt admirers there is the bonus of his 1954 recording of the Nutcracker Suite. There were so many internationally glamorous LP performances becoming available at the time, and still many an admired 78 set to be had, that this Vienna traversal would have had a limited impact at best. In any event, it’s pleasingly done and makes an enjoyable adjunct to the return of Senofky’s Brahms.
 
Jonathan Woolf

Masterwork Index: Brahms Violin concerto