Among the stellar female violinists whose careers peaked in the mid to late twentieth century, the Romanian Johanna Martzy, at the time of her early death in 1979 at the age of fifty-four, seemed to have vanished from the collective memory. This was never the case with the likes of Ginette Neveu, Camilla Wicks, Erica Morini or Gioconda De Vito. In this group I would also include Ida Haendel, who is still alive, though I’m not sure whether she’s still musically active in her eighties.
Yet, since her death, Martzy has achieved cult status, with her rare 1950s LPs fetching huge sums. The Japanese, as is fairly usual in these cases, proliferated her recordings before the West caught on. They initially issued a 6-CD set ‘The Art of Johanna Martzy’ some years ago, and the Koreans have more recently released her complete EMI and DG recordings in a 13 disc box. In the UK Testament have issued several recordings, well presented, as is usual with this label, with excellent documentation. Several years ago, Coup d’Archet produced five CDs of live recordings, now virtually unobtainable. Finally, there are two volumes of live airings on the Doremi label. So very welcome indeed are these two live concerto recordings from the archives of Southwest German Broadcasting Company (SWR), which expand a relatively slender discography.
Born in Timisoara, Romania in 1924, Martzy took up the violin at the age of six. She was later accepted as a student at the Franz Liszt Academy, where she studied under Jenő Hubay (1858-1937), the Hungarian violinist, composer and music teacher. Hubay had a notable roster of famous pupils including Szigeti, Telmányi, Székely, Geyer and Sándor Végh. She made her début at the age of thirteen and graduated from the Academy in 1942. In 1947 she won first prize in the Geneva Competition. Starting her recording career with DG, she was later brought under the wing of EMI by Walter Legge. Her commercial recorded legacy is relatively small and narrow. Likewise, her international career was short in comparison with others. In 1969 she married the wealthy Daniel Tschudi and thereafter seemed to lack the financial incentive to continue in an active role. She died of cancer in 1979 in relative obscurity.
The Mendelssohn Concerto is heard here in a vital and engaging performance, with the violin forwardly placed and the orchestra slightly recessed. Martzy displays a silvery and somewhat lean tone. There’s some flexibility in her fairly fast and tight vibrato, allowing a range of tonal shadings. Her approach, as I’ve often found, is one of forward propulsion, shunning the tendency to linger. This is rhythmically alert playing, with the soloist boasting technical command and precision coupled with immaculate intonation and detailed, pristine articulation. Some may find Martzy’s interpretations are more reserved than they may be accustomed to. There’s no lingering or emotional sentimentality, which can mar some performances. Müller-Kray is a responsive partner.
Günter Wand’s opening in the Brahms is soft-grained, and appears initially quite tentative. The qualities that are distinctive in Martzy’s rendition of the Mendelssohn are evident here, with the violinist summoning up tremendous imagination and flair. This is truly aristocratic playing. As things progress, Wand evinces an idiomatic and sensitive musicianship. Once again, the violin is forwardly placed, with some orchestral detail becoming obscured due to less than satisfactory microphone placement.
Quality of sound, for the period, is first-rate. Booklet notes in German and English by Christoph Schlüren provide adequate background. I must commend Hänssler Classic for re-mastering these valuable documents from the original SWR tapes. These live traversals are an ideal complement to the recordings of these two concertos which Martzy set down in the studio. For lovers of the art of Johanna Martzy, of which I am one, this is a valuable and desirable release.
Masterwork Index: Brahms violin concerto ~~ Mendelssohn violin concerto