Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.53 B108 (1880 rev 1882) [32:19]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré (1922) [2:38]
Pičce en forme de Habanera (1908) [2:35]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Saudades de Brazil: Ipanema Op.67 (1920) [2:06]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Nocturne and Tarantelle, Op.28 (1915) [10:36]
Johanna Martzy (violin)
Symphony Orchestra of RIAS, Berlin/Ferenc Fricsay
Jean Antonetti (piano)
rec. 1951, Beethoven-Saal, Hanover, except June 1953, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin (Concerto)
Johanna Martzy (1924-79) had a brief period in the international spotlight but for various reasons — a wealthy husband, inactive agents, and finally, rapidly, cancer — she never really attained the kind of prestige that she deserved. You would not necessarily realise if you came across this reissue but it contains her very first LP recordings, made in 1951 on a Micrograde DG disc and subsequently reissued by the company. Thus the Ravel, Milhaud, Falla and Szymanowski represent her art at the age of 27. She next made recordings of Beethoven Sonata Op. 30 No.3 and Mozart’s K376 - which I hope will be forthcoming from this source. Her first concerto recording was of the Dvorák, which is the other work in this welcome restoration, taped in Berlin with Ferenc Fricsay conducting the Orchestra of RIAS.
The concerto performance is a good one. In its day it was compared critically with the first Josef Suk LP and many preferred it for its more extrovert qualities. I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to endorse that view, as Suk’s recordings are amongst the best ever made of the concerto, but Martzy is certainly more idiomatic than many central European performances of the time. The fact that she was Hungarian may, or may not, have something to do with that. She responds to the folkloric episodes with enthusiasm, seconded by her compatriot on the rostrum, Fricsay. She indulges quite a bit of rubato, but she plays the slow movement with considerable warmth, building with lyric intensity admirably. Indeed in places her phrasing is almost operatic in its reach, unlike the deliberately smaller-scaled and more intimate Suk. The finale is perhaps the most centrally recommendable movement with its savvy sentiment and alert dance episodes. The recording itself is rather muddy and this vests the strings with a rather congealed tone, which is hardly ideal.
Still, Martzy’s recordings are rare because so few of them were ever reissued on cheaper labels. Thus she remains very much a specialist violinist and her LP recordings on the second-hand market are often hideously, indeed prohibitively expensive. Another reissue company has released expensive but well produced CD and LP performances — some live, but again these are very pricey. Japanese CD releases have been available but again these can be a little tricky and/or expensive to track down. Yes, a few downloads can be had, but most collectors will want an artefact not a download.
The small pieces show her at the very outset of her career. Her two Ravel performances are sensitively done, albeit they are not especially Gallic in orientation. The Milhaud was a rather unusual choice, though very much to be welcomed given its vitality. She shows a certain affinity with Falla but her Szymanowski is rather more interesting. It’s hard to say, from this limited evidence, whether she would have been adept at the composer’s First Violin Concerto but it would have been good to have had the opportunity to find out.
In any case, Martzy’s small discography is one that deserves re-discovery. She was one of the most assured and accomplished violinists of her generation.
Jonathan Woolf
One of the most assured and accomplished violinists of her generation.