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Jonathan Woolf
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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Violin Sonata No. 2 in D minor Op. 121 (1851) [27:22]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata for Piano and Violin in B flat major, K. 454 (1784) [20:05]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Violin Sonata in G minor (1916-17) [12:28]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No.3 in E flat, Op.12 No.3 (1797-98) [18:04]
Henryk Szeryng (violin)
Wolfgang Rudolf (piano) (Schumann); Heinz Schröter (piano) (Mozart, Debussy); Günther Ludwig (piano) (Beethoven)
rec. 1955 (Schumann), 1957 (Mozart, Debussy) and 1959 (Beethoven), Frankfurt, Hessischer Rundfunk, radio studio recordings
MELOCLASSIC MC2002 [78:02]

Henryk Szeryng was a welcome and repeat visitor to the studios of Hessischer Rundfunk in Frankfurt. This release charts three visits, and presents four sonatas, though I doubt that any of the broadcasts is complete. Selective highlighting of certain performances, however, is often a better way to get to grips with an artist’s legacy than wholesale reproduction of every bow scrape, chair squeal and every note played.

The first recital dates from May 1955 and is devoted solely to Schumann’s Second Sonata in D minor, Op.121. This is a valuable restoration precisely because Szeryng didn’t record it commercially. He did record the Concerto, with Dorati and the LSO, and in the chamber realm he set down the Trio in D, Op.63 with Rubinstein and Fournier, but there was otherwise precious little Schumann. He’s accompanied here by Wolfgang Rudolf. This is a probing and confident reading. Doubtless Perlman, who always has a Szeryng joke up his sleeve, would pronounce it lacking in identifiable tonal personality but that doesn’t seem fair. His intonation is fine, the double-stopping precise, and the style elegant and assured. His bowing in the slow movement is undoubtedly charismatic but unshowy. Those third movement pizzicati, sounding here more than ever like a guitar, act as an apt prelude to the warmly textured lied that Szeryng unfolds without excess or demonstrative self-consciousness. The finale, meanwhile, is stormy and dramatic.

Two years later he teamed up with Heinz Schröter for performances of Mozart’s Sonata in B major, K454 and the Debussy. He recorded the Mozart commercially with Ingrid Haebler for Philips. Szeryng was a stylistically astute Mozartean, perhaps not quite as natural-sounding as his contemporary Arthur Grumiaux, but an elegant interpreter without quirks in this repertoire. He exhibits just a degree of succulence in the slow movement in his finger position changes but this lively, unperfumed performance is otherwise wholly satisfying on its own terms. He never recorded the Debussy, another important reason for admirers of the violinist to consider acquiring this disc. I only know of a recording of La plus que lente – otherwise the Szeryng-Debussy cupboard is bare. His playing here is very much in the modern manner, more elastic than early performers of the sonata – such as Alfred Dubois and Zino Francescatti, who were significantly faster and willing to contrast its quixotic elements more nakedly. I am very much in their camp, interpretatively, as it seems to me that one short-changes the sonata if one strips its plosive qualities, but Szeryng’s performance would certainly strike a listener today as admirable in every way.

The last work is Beethoven’s Op.12 No.3 sonata, another work he recorded with Haebler in their complete survey of the sonatas for Philips. He forms an especially productive team with Günther Ludwig in this May 1959 performance. Accents are crisp, ensemble is tight and the slow movement, whilst expressive, is not indulged. It is thoroughly fine Beethoven playing, and technically elevated.

Szeryng so often proved a stylistically apt performer of the repertoire he chose to promote. One seldom if ever felt that he was out of his milieu. There are two especially important preserved works – the Schumann and the Debussy – but his sonata partners aid fine performances of all four works, all most sensitively recorded and presented here.

Jonathan Woolf