Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 (1844) [26:44]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 (1878) [39:02]
Johanna Martzy (violin)
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Hans Müller-Kray (Mendelssohn); Günter Wand (Brahms)
rec. Liederhalle Stuttgart, 5 February 1959 (Mendelssohn); 6 February 1964 (Brahms)
Testament has reissued Johanna Martzy’s studio inscriptions of these two concertos, recorded with Paul Kletzki and the Philharmonia in London. She was a most impressive interpreter of both works as these and surviving broadcast documents continue to show. These German examples amplify the virtues.

The Mendelssohn was given with the SWR Orchestra under the experienced baton of Hans Müller-Kray in February 1959. This was a work she had first tried to record with Sawallisch and the Philharmonia in 1954 but for some reason it remained unissued, thus necessitating Kletzki to take the reins the following year. Tahra has released (TAH553) a broadcast performance she gave with Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt from January 1954, around the time of that abortive attempt with Sawallisch. It’s clear from the aural evidence that she responded avidly to the stresses and excitements of a live broadcast, as both with Schmidt-Isserstedt and, here, Müller-Kray, she plays with greater vitality and flexibility than with Kletzki, where she is that much more cautious. This is especially true of the finale, where she is significantly slower with Kletzki, but also in the slow movement where she is more emotive live.

Her flexible rubati with the SWR are very noticeable, but they never sound imposed, always sounding – to the contrary – part of a feature of her performances of this concerto: mature and convincing. Her pellucid tone quality is most apparent in the slow movement but throughout her playing is tasteful, sometimes free, and always communicative.

It is Günter Wand who directs her in the Brahms with the same orchestra in 1964. Once again, those who know only the Kletzki-directed LP traversal may be surprised - not necessarily by the particular differences in interpretative stance, but by the tightening of tempo relationships. Her approach in the studio with Kletzki is relatively broad, but with Wand it has become more malleably flexible, and the results are just as convincing albeit more intense. She doesn’t dig into the string excessively in this concerto and in the central movement that lends her performance a sense of gliding with refined elegance across the music. It is a very personal sense of refinement, very much at odds with the Russian school in this work. Thus in the finale, as with Kletzki, she doesn’t make an especially big thing of the Hungarian gypsy rhythms – she could had she wanted; she had studied in Budapest – preferring instead subtlety, elegance and purity propelled by fine rhythm and discreet slides. A performance of this concerto with Eugen Jochum in 1951 – shorn of its opening movement, alas – has survived and is on the Tahra disc noted above. It conforms to the approach taken well over a decade later with Wand.

The sound quality throughout is excellent and the documentation is helpful.

Discs that amplify or in some way qualify established studio recordings are always valuable. This one, because of the light it sheds on Martzy’s live performances, is particularly welcome, and valuable.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank

Masterwork Index: Brahms violin concerto ~~ Mendelssohn violin concerto

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