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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in B flat major, K207 [23:54]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26 [25:02]
Tibor Varga (violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Walter Susskind
rec. 2-3 January 1953, EMI Studio No. 1, Abbey Road, London

My first acquaintance with Tibor Varga (1921-2003) was several years ago via a 4 CD set ‘Hommage à Tibor Varga’ on Claves in which he features both as violinist and conductor. Hungarian by birth, he studied at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, his teachers including Carl Flesch and Jenő Hubay. He went on to secure a successful career, primarily as a violinist, working with the likes of Furtwängler, Böhm, Bernstein and Solti, but also as a conductor. Amongst his most celebrated recordings is a Bartok Second with Fricsay and the Berlin Philharmonic, and a fine Nielsen Violin Concerto with Semkow and the Royal Danish Orchestra. The latter I have on a Heliodor LP; it is crying out for CD release.

Varga took the Mozart and Bruch concertos into the Abbey Road Studios in January 1953 and they were subsequently released on a Columbia LP. What is a plus, in my view, is that he chose the less recorded Mozart First Concerto rather than the usual Third, Fourth or Fifth. David Oistrakh was particularly fond of this work, and did a great deal to promote it, recording it on more than one occasion.

Tempi feel just right in all three movements, and Varga’s Mozart is dispatched with imagination and flair. I love the beautifully articulated phrasing and unforced lyricism. The Adagio is eloquent and sensitively put across. In the Finale, he injects some sparkle and youthful freshness. The cadenzas are unfamiliar to me, maybe they’re the violinist’s own, but they are idiomatic, though not the best I’ve heard. Susskind’s conducting is engaged and the orchestral sound is acceptable for its age. Both concertos are taken from a mono LP.

If the Mozart was good, the Bruch is even better, one of the best readings I’ve heard of this warhorse. His slow movement has all the qualities I found in Menuhin’s early recordings of this work – that ability to tell a story. Varga employs, albeit tastefully, Heifetzian slides, which I like, but seem to have gone out of fashion in some quarters. The Finale is brilliantly executed, with intonation spot-on in double-stop passages. Varga’s tone is soft-grained, rounded and warm. His playing throughout is informed with an intelligent and refined musicianship and this probably accounts for his success and effectiveness as a conductor.

Varga never achieved a high profile amongst the listening public, unjustly in my view. Maybe this excellent release will go some way in restoring his name and artistry to public consciousness. Forgotten Records have done a sterling job with the digital re-masterings from a pristine Columbia LP (SX 1017). No notes are provided but references to relevant websites for the enthusiastic are provided. This release is well-worth seeking out.

Stephen Greenbank

Masterwork Index: Bruch violin concerto 1