Johanna Martzy (violin)
Track listing below review
Jean Antonietti (piano)
rec. 8 June 1953, Jesus-Christus-Kirke, Berlin-Dahlem (Dvorak); 4 May 1962, RIAS Funkhaus – Studio 7 (Bach, Brahms, Handel); 9 February 1964 (Vivaldi), 4 April 1966 (Kreisler, Fiocco, Ravel, de Falla) Siemensvilla, Berlin Lankwitz AUDITE 23.424 [58:22 + 46:49]
The violinist Johanna Martzy isn’t that well known
today. Other female violinists, like Erica Morini and Ida Haendel, whose
concertizing was contemporaneous, have maintained a higher profile.
Collectors, especially those from Japan and Korea, where Martzy has
been elevated to cult status, have been at the forefront of promoting
her legacy, with her LPs exchanging hands for large sums. Japan has
seen the issue of a six-CD set ‘The Art of Johanna Martzy’,
and a thirteen disc box of the complete recordings she made for DG and
EMI has been released in Korea. In the UK Testament have made a valuable
contribution, and Coup d’Archet issued six CDs of live recordings
several years ago, long since deleted.
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 slender,
and her international career was short-lived. 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, largely forgotten.
Martzy’s brief recording career began with DG, and lasted only
three years. On 8 June 1953 she was scheduled to make a RIAS studio
radio broadcast recording of the Dvorak Concerto with the Hungarian
conductor Ferenc Fricsay. In addition, due to worries about the future
of the orchestra at the time, a commercial recording was made for DG
two days later (10-12 June), with the same forces and in the same venue,
in order to strengthen its finances. A projected Tchaikovsky Concerto
with the conductor was also on the cards for 1953, but never materialized.
Like Martzy, Fricsay was not blessed with a long life, succumbing to
cancer at the young age of forty-eight in 1963.
The Dvorak Concerto is the most substantial offering on this set. It
is a compelling performance, technically accomplished, standing comparison
with the best in the catalogue, especially that of Josef Suk/Czech Philharmonic/Neumann
which heads my list of favourites. The work is an amalgam of Czech national
music and folksong. In the first movement, Martzy lovingly caresses
the more lyrical moments, imbuing them with a sense of longing. In the
slow movement, which forms the emotional heart of the Concerto, there
is fervour without over-sentimentality. The Finale is rhythmically engaging,
and permeated with a Czech flavour. Everything is kept buoyant and dance-like.
Comparison between the DG commercial recording and this version reveal
no interpretive divergence, however the violin is more forwardly positioned
and consequently more prominent in the former.
The violinist’s only solo contribution in this set is the Bach
Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001. Martzy recorded the complete
Sonatas and Partitas for Columbia in 1954-55 at Abbey Road Studios in
London. This radio broadcast from 4 May 1962 has had a previous incarnation
on Coup d’Archet (COUP CD007). Comparing the two side by side,
the Audite transfer is a slight improvement. Noticeable is some slight
background distortion on the Coup d’Archet transfer. Another live
performance of the Sonata from the Redpath Hall Montreal dated 1960
on the Doremi label (DHR-7753) is in less than ideal sound. I have always
enjoyed Martzy’s solo Bach for the beauty of tone, spotless intonation
and richness of colour she draws from her Carlo Bergonzi fiddle. Especially
distinctive is the precision of the counterpoint and clarity of articulation
she brings to the fugue.
It was when performing at the Dutch Radio Station VARA that Martzy met
Jean Antonietti (1915-1994), the director of music there. He is the
pianist in the remaining works, and became a regular partner. Though
starting off as a soloist, Antonietti’s career eventually became
concentrated in accompanying, working with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and
the cellist Tibor de Machula. Martzy and Antonietti appeared for the
first time together in February 1949 in Amsterdam.
The Brahms and Handel Sonatas were set down at the same session as the
Bach, in the RIAS Funkhaus – Studio 7. The Brahms Sonata is marked
by warmth and elegance and the outer movements never sag. It’s
a lyrical work, and the players are expressive in the account they deliver.
Beauty of tone is a distinctive hallmark of the Handel Sonata. It is
a performance of refinement and nobility, with both players demonstrating
a great affection for the music.
The Vivaldi Sonata has, surprisingly, been arranged by Respighi, and
is a piece new to me. Nevertheless, it is a tastefully performed delight.
The remaining four small encore pieces from April 1955 have already
seen the light of day on Coup d’Archet (COUP CD006). The Beethoven/Kreisler
Rondino is loaded with Viennese charm, without sounding in any way schmaltzy.
The de Falla Danse Espagnole was recorded commercially for DG by Martzy
and Antonietti in 1951. Again it is a Kreisler arrangement, dispatched
brilliantly with suavity and elan.
This is a smartly presented, elegant gatefold digipak. Excellent, informative
booklet notes by Rüdiger Albrecht, in German and English, provide a
biographical portrait of the violinist and discuss the context and provenance
of the recordings. Audite have done a wonderful job re-mastering these
original analogue tapes from the RIAS archives, and sound quality throughout
is top-notch. Though not stated, all the recordings are in mono.
Stephen Greenbank Track listing Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53 [32:34] Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major, Op. 78 [25:43] Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001 [16:52] George Frederick HANDEL (1685-1759)
Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 1 No. 3 [8:12} Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Violin Sonata in D Major, RV 10 (arr. Respighi) [9:03] Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Rondino über ein Thema von Beethoven [2:44] Joseph Hector FIOCCO (1703-1741)
Suite No. 1 in G Major (Allegro) (arr. Bent O’Neill) [3:20] Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Fauré [2:54] Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
Danse Espagnole (from La vida breve) (arr. Kreisler) [3:35]