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Ursula Bagdasarjanz - Volume 1
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonata in A minor for solo violin [20:10]
Pietro NARDINI (1722-1793)
Sonata in D major for violin and piano [15:33]1
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata in B flat major K378 for violin and piano [19:59]2
Bela BARTOK (1881-1945)
Rhapsody no. 1 for violin and piano (9:56)2
Ursula Bagdasarjanz (violin)
Luciano Sgrizzi (piano)1; Fernande Kaeser (piano)2
rec. 1960-1969, Swiss Radio
GALLO CD-1248 [65:59]

It was in 2008 that the Swiss Label Gallo originally released four volumes of recordings by the violinist Ursula Bagdasarjanz. Last year saw the release of volume 5 which contains works by Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms. Under review here is volume 1 which, I presume, has been re-released. When the first four volumes surfaced five years ago, I acquired volumes 2 and 3 which contain the violin sonatas and concerto of Othmar Schoeck, the sonatas being accompanied by the composer’s daughter Gisela. Some time ago, I heard on the radio a recording of Schoek’s Violin Concerto performed by the Hungarian violinist Stefi Geyer and, as it was a work I was unfamiliar with yet enjoyed immensely, I decided to explore the Bagdasarjanz recording (review); I never looked back.
 
She was born in Winterthur, Switzerland in 1934, to a mother who was a violinist of some stature, and a father who was born in Romania, hence the name Bagdasarjanz. Giving her first concert at the age of ten, she went on to study with Aida Sticki (who later taught Anne-Sophie Mutter), with Marcel Reynal at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris, where she won a first prize, and with Sandor Vegh in Basel. She later attended master-classes with Max Rostal, who had been a pupil of the great violin pedagogue Carl Flesch. An international career as a soloist and chamber musician lay ahead of her.
 
Bagdasarjanz’s playing is both highly polished and refined. Intonation is always pristine. This is especially evident in the Bach unaccompanied sonata, where the violin writing is very exposed. There is clarity of line in the contrapuntal passages of the fugue. Double-stops ring out with vibrancy. At all times the playing is technically secure, with a wonderful sense of phrasing. The Nardini Sonata is the only work in the programme that I am not familiar with. It’s an absolute delight, giving the violinist the opportunity to display her silvery, warm tone especially in the gorgeous Larghetto. The Rondo of the Mozart Sonata has, for some strange reason, been divided into two tracks, quite bizarre! In the Bartok Rhapsody, Bagdasarjanz utilizes an array of violinistic effects to project the music, and successfully captures the Hungarian gypsy folk idiom. Her vibrato, though quite fast, is never one-dimensional. She is able to use it to display a wide range of tonal colour. Her sound is never monochrome.
 
Biographical information in the booklet notes appears to be the same as that in Wikipedia. From what I can gather from the notes, which seem to be identical, at least in the three volumes I have, these are re-mastered radio and live recordings published by the violinist herself upon her retirement as an international soloist. It appears that she still continues to teach. I have not been able to discover whether or not she made any studio recordings. However, to violin enthusiasts like myself, what little we have of her on CD deserves a place on the shelves alongside other great female violinists like Erica Morini, Johanna Martzy, Michele Auclair, Camilla Wicks, Ginette Neveu, Ida Haendel and Wanda Wilkomirska. The list goes on.
 
Stephen Greenbank