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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041 (1717-23) [15:36]
Violin Concerto in E major, BWV1042 (1717-23) [19:24]
Concerto for two violins in D minor, BWV1043 [15:44]
Henryk Szeryng (violin)
Gerard Poulet (violin: BWV1043)
Orchestre Philharmonique de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française/Jean Martinon, Dimitri Chofaras (BWV1043)
rec. live, June 1962 (BWV1041) and March 1963 (BWV1042), Paris, and September 1963 (BWV1043), Besançon

The focus is on Henryk Szeryng in these live French broadcast performances from 1962-63. His credentials as a Bachian were considerable. His 1950s set of the solo sonatas and partitas is one of most recommendable of all, even if it’s not one that these days first springs to mind, given the greater publicity accorded to other recordings, changes in styles, and obviously given the ins and outs of the catalogue. Still, there is a noble probity to his reading that compels admiration irrespective of the fads of performance practice.
So, too, in the case of his concerto performances. The A minor, heard in slightly wiry sound, was directed by Jean Martinon in June 1962. Szeryng’s noble and patrician unfolding of the slow movement is a highlight and so is its gleaming cantilena and well sprung finale. A year later he and Martinon joined again for the E major drawing similar virtues. There is a sense of logic in the violinist’s articulation, devoid of show, fully concentrated. Once again in the slow movement he varies his tone with exceptional refinement, the music’s depth being revealed through the most subtle shift of accent and vibrato speed. Perlman may have made jokes about Szeryng – he implied blandness – but perhaps for the rest of us what Szeryng communicates is the virtue of subtle adjustment: of weight, colour, texture and breadth – small adjustments along a generally fairly circumscribed road.
The Concerto for Two Violins was taped in Besançon in September 1963. The conductor is Dimitri Chofaras who directs the same orchestra as Martinon, the Orchestre Philharmonique de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française. He encourages some angular bass lines in the opening movement and takes his soloists – Szeryng and the excellent Gerard Poulet – at a faster tempo than that adopted just under a decade later by Francescatti, Regis Pasquier and Paumgartner in their more romantic performance for DG. Both solo parts are clearly differentiated and the soloists dovetail very well indeed. The result is a no-nonsense but not unfeeling account.
For Szeryng admirers the question is one of duplication. He recorded all these works, often multiply. Both solo concertos were recorded for Odeon with the Pasdeloup Orchestra (directed by Bouillon), reprised with the Collegium Musicum, self-directed, and finally with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields and Neville Marriner. I’m not sure whether these last Marriner sessions weren’t the ones where Szeryng enjoyed a leisurely bottle of claret with his lunch before returning perfectly composed to continue recording. He recorded the Double with a trio of fiddlers – Rybar, Hasson and Garcia, the last live.
Duplication will obviously be an issue, so too the occasionally thorny sound. The performances themselves, when focused on Szeryng, reveal him in all his aristocratic assurance.
Jonathan Woolf
Masterwork Index: Bach violin concertos