Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major, Op. 77 [38:07]
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Violin Concerto in D minor [35:41]
Henryk Szeryng (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/Antal Doráti
rec. 18 July 1962 (Brahms), 4 July 1964 (Khachaturian), Watford Town Hall, London
PRESTO MERCURY LIVING PRESENCE 4343182 [72:46]
Many, like myself, will be pleased that this 1992 release from Mercury Living Presence is available once again via Presto’s manufacture-on-demand service. Quite why Szeryng has fallen from favour since his death in 1988 puzzles me. One reason may be that he never cultivated an individually distinctive sound, instantly recognizable, that couldn’t be mistaken for any other. I am here thinking of his colleagues like Heifetz, Menuhin, Oistrakh and Stern, who still remain popular. I remember watching a documentary in which Itzhak Perlman made the ‘tongue in cheek’ remark that if he heard a recording of a violinist and didn’t recognize who it was, he assumed it must be Szeryng. That said, the Polish violinist, a star pupil of Carl Flesch, can be counted among that elite group of twentieth century violinists who are termed ‘great’.
Szeryng made three commercial recordings of the Brahms Violin Concerto. Chronologically, this one sits in the middle. The earliest dates from June 1958 with Pierre Monteux and the London Symphony Orchestra (BMG/JVC), and the latest was set down in April 1973 with Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw (Philips). It has been interesting doing a head-to-head of all three; I restricted my comparisons to the studio recordings, and have not included the excellent live version on Orfeo with Kubelik. Whilst all three are distinguished readings, it is the early Monteux collaboration that, for me, is the most compelling. It is vital, inspired and intensely dramatic. Tempi are a fractionally tighter, which gives it that extra spark. No longer available, I see that Sony Japan are re-releasing it as part of a twofer next month. The version with Haitink is my least favourite. Adopting broader tempi, it never really catches fire and doesn’t possess the same immediacy as its rivals.
All the qualities which attract me to Szeryng’s artistry are present in these two performances with Dorati. His grasp of the structure and architecture of the work gives it a logical sense of cohesion. The flawless technical command, pristine intonation and scrupulous attention to detail, with phrasing and articulation carefully considered, seal the performance’s success. His tone is notable for its warmth and radiance — indeed it is seductive. His ability to vary the speed of his vibrato enables him to achieve a myriad range of colour. He employs the all too familiar Joachim cadenza, which he dispatches with technical brilliance and refinement. The slow movement is fervent, and the oboe solo at the beginning is beguiling. The finale is propulsive, and is delivered with rhythmic punch. Antal Doráti secures favourable results from the LSO and there is clearly a sympathetic understanding between conductor and soloist, due to a single, shared vision.
The unfettered optimism of the Khachaturian Violin Concerto is captured to good effect in this 1964 recording. The outer movements, suffused with an exotic Armenian flavour, have muscularity, energy and drive yet, unlike some performances I’ve heard, in no way sound brash. In the second movement, Szeryng’s fulsome and ravishing tone is sensual and deeply appealing. The finale is informed by spirited nuance and inflection. Doráti is a skilful and responsive partner. Szeryng made another commercial recording of it twelve years earlier in mono with Pierre Dervaux and L’Association des Concerts Colonne. Interpretively along the same lines, this later recording has the added advantage of being in stereo. The performance is every bit as good as David Oistrakh’s account from 1954 with the Philharmonia, under the direction of the composer himself.
The sound in both concertos has an attractive bloom. The Watford Town Hall confers space and depth on the overall sound-picture, with orchestral detail readily discernible. Balance between soloist and orchestra in both concertos is as it should be. The booklet notes are faithfully reproduced from the original.
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