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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major Op.77 (1878) [41:01]
Double Concerto in A minor, Op.102 (1887) [33:54]
Gioconda de Vito (violin)
Amedeo Baldovino (cello)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Rudolf Schwarz
rec. 1952 (Double) and 1953 (Violin Concerto), London

Gioconda de Vito recorded the Brahms Concerto in the Kingsway Hall in 1953 with Walter Legge’s Philharmonia directed by Rudolf Schwarz. It’s a recording that has been in and out of the international catalogues – quite popular in Japan – but more out than in. A Japanese Angel/EMI boxed LP set in the 1980s was dedicated to de Vito and consolidated her commercial discs in an impressive fashion, which is where I caught up with the performance, in a transfer that has remained for me something of a benchmark. Archipel issued its own uncredited transfer and added a live Tchaikovsky from Turin given the following year, in 1954. Their Brahms transfer was a grave disappointment - see review.

Admirers of the violinist and of Furtwängler will know that the two collaborated on the Brahms, live, in 1952, a rather subfusc RAI recording and with a similarly sub-standard performance from the orchestra, one that gets progressively worse. It’s an important document for de Vito adherents and should be noted. She’s not as dashing with Schwarz as she was earlier with Furtwängler; her opening statements are curiously static and heavy with a deal of over-stretchy rubato, not a very fast vibrato, and also rather brittle when it comes to the bowing. Elsewhere however she is silvery and pliant with some wonderful poetically phrased lyricism, the greatest virtue in this performance, though some of her voicings and tone colours in the first movement are idiosyncratic; her intonation too. She enters the slow movement stealthily though her very first note is mostly covered by the winds and the patina of her playing is very reserved. This is the kind of musicianship that avoids all rhetorical show and expressive gestures. It's the polar opposite of the muscular Russian or Soviet schools in performances of this work. In the finale we can hear some metrical displacements, with Schwarz marshalling some questionable slowings down. It can become rather static.

De Vito and Schwarz had already been teamed for the Double Concerto the previous year, where they were joined by Italian cellist Amedeo Baldovino. Again, this was well served by that LP box in a fine transfer, and fortunately this Amare is an excellent one too. The two Italian string players had successfully performed the work with Malcolm Sargent, which emboldened EMI to record them. By one of those historical quirks they took it into the studios at almost the exact same time as Furtwängler, Boskovsky and Brabec were taped in their live performance in Vienna, a now oft-transferred performance. The now little-remembered cellist actually emerges as the stronger Brahmsian partner, his tonal resources richer and darker. De Vito is ardent but occasionally a little tremulous, and less forceful in unison passages where the cellist, as can sometimes happen, tends to dominate.

For admirers of the violinist, I would recommend her Furtwängler-directed live Concerto performance, interpretatively-speaking. The Double Concerto is not commonly transferred, and with excellent transfers both make for rewarding if occasionally quixotic listening.

Jonathan Woolf