Johanna Martzy (1924-1979) was one of a group of female violinists whose careers peaked in the mid- to late-twentieth century. Ginette Neveu, Erica Morini, Gioconda de Vito and Ida Haendel have all remained favourites with collectors. Martzy, at the time of her early death in 1979 at the young age of fifty-four, had been largely forgotten. Thanks to the potent advocacy of far-eastern collectors, most notably the Japanese, she has now been elevated to cult status, with her LPs fetching large sums. Some years ago a six-CD set ‘The Art of Johanna Martzy’ emanated from Japan, and more recently a thirteen disc box of the complete recordings she made for DG and EMI has been issued in Korea. Testament have made a valuable contribution, and Coup d’Archet issued five CDs of live recordings several years ago, long since deleted. So, it is gratifying to have this release from Doremi, volume 3 in their continuing series.
Romanian by birth, Martzy took up the violin at the age of six, later becoming a student at the Franz Liszt Academy, Budapest. Her teacher was Jenő Hubay (1858-1937), the Hungarian violinist and composer, whose students included 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.
Martzy set down the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3 for EMI in the Kingsway Hall, London in June 1954, with the Philharmonia under Wolfgang Sawallisch in what, for me, is a compelling reading. The two live versions we have here, both from 1961, are very welcome. Whilst interpretively very much akin to the studio version, I find the violinist responding more positively to the live situation in performances characterized by more impulse and spontaneity. Her Mozart is not prettified or perfumed and, indeed, Martzy has been criticized for being interpretively cold by some. I rather like her approach. This is refined playing, realized with technical polish and instinctive phrasing. These are buoyantly extrovert readings, with a no-nonsense approach. In the first movement she eschews the Sam Franko cadenza, the one most favoured for this concerto, for one I couldn’t identify. Of the two performances here, I think the one with Müller-Kray has the slight edge, with the violin more prominent and the conductor more engaged with the soloist.
The Bach Concerto was never recorded commercially by the violinist, and the live performance here with Cluytens offers an alternative to the radio recording from two years later with the Bavarian State Radio Symphony Orchestra under Eugene Jochum on Coup d’Archet (COUP CD 002). Both versions are similarly paced with the Doremi under Cluytens being in clearer sound and the violin in sharper profile.
Three of the items in the 1959 Johannesburg broadcast, namely the Szymanowski, Ravel and de Falla were recorded in the studio by the artist in 1951 for DG. The accompanist in this instance was Jean Antonietti, one of her regular partners. These live versions offer a pleasing alternative. In the Szymanowski Martzy conjures up a smoky, exotic flavour in the Notturno, with the Tarantella being rhythmically incisive. She achieves pinpoint intonation, with the playing showcasing her accomplished technical wizardry. The de Falla has real Iberian zest and the Bartók Romanian Dance true gypsy swagger. It is regrettable that only the last three movements of the Brahms exist, yet there is a complete version from October 1953 on Tahra (TAH 553), again with Antonietti. Martzy’s Brahms is noble, big-boned and architecturally well thought out.
István Hajdu is the accompanist in the Suk Four pieces. These are the latest recorded items, dating from 1969. Once again they are polished performances, awash with tonal color. The Bartók Rhapsody, new to the Martzy discography is sympathetically partnered by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra in a performance from November 1960.
This ‘twofer’ is a feast for violin buffs. Having enjoyed Doremi’s two previous volumes, this third further expands the discographical legacy of this great violinist. Recorded sound throughout is ideal, and John Haley and Jacob Harnoy have done a sterling job with re-mastering and restoration. A biographical portrait by Jack Silver is provided in English only. I wonder if Doremi have more in store for yet another volume? I hope so.
Masterwork Index: Bach violin concertos
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Violin Sonata in D major, RV. 10 [9:21]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Nocturne and Tarantella, Op. 28 [10:12]
Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959)
Arabesque No. 1 [1:51]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pièce en forme de Habanera [2:39]
Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Rumanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56 [5:54]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108: Mvts 2, 3, 4 [12:46]
Manuel de FALLA
(1876-1946) (arr. Kreisler)
Spanish Dance from La Vida breve [3:22]
Adolph Hallis (piano)
Live broadcast, SABC studios, Broadcasting House, Johannesburg, 1959
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 216 [24:12]
Netherlands Radio Orchestra /Willem van Otterloo
live performance, Stuttgart Liederhalle, 1961
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in E major, BWV 1042 [19:58]
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/André Cluytens
live performance, 10 Nov 1957
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 216 [22:45]
Stuttgart Radio Orchestra/Hans Müller-Kray
live performance, 25 November 1961
Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Rhapsody No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra, Sz. 87 [10:44]
Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell
live performance, Cleveland, 20 Nov 1960
Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Four pieces for Violin and Piano, Op. 17 [17:24]
István Hajdu (piano)
live broadcast, Frankfurt, 17 Nov 1969