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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No.4 in D K.218 [24:14]
Violin Concerto No.3 in G K.216 [23:29]
Johanna Martzy (violin)
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Hans Müller-Kray
rec. 1956, Villa Berg (K.218); 1962, Liederhalle, Stuttgart (K.216)
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 94.230 [47:51]

This is the second release from Hänssler Classic of SWR archive recordings by Johanna Martzy that I have reviewed in the past twelve months. Very welcome they are too, in expanding a relatively scant discography.

Martzy (1924-1979) can be counted amongst a group of elite female violinists whose careers peaked in the mid- to late-twentieth century. Others include Gioconda de Vito, Erica Morini, Ginette Neveu and Ida Haendel, the only one still alive today. Yet, unlike the others Martzy, at the time of her early death in 1979 at the young age of fifty-four, has faded in the collective memory. Despite this, she has remained a favourite amongst far-eastern collectors, most notably the Japanese and Koreans, and has now assumed something of a cult status with her LPs commanding large sums.

Born in Romania, she 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. She made her début at the age of thirteen and graduated in 1942. In 1947 she won first prize in the Geneva Competition. Early on she embarked on a recording career with DG, but was later brought under the wing of EMI by Walter Legge. Her commercial recorded legacy is relatively slender. Likewise, the duration of 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.

Of the two items we have here, the Violin Concerto No.4 in D K.218, positioned first on the disc, was a studio production made in the SDR Villa Berg in 1956. In contrast, No. 3 in G K.216 is a live performance. Martzy made a commercial recording of K.218 in November 1952. This was one of only a handful she made for DG in the early fifties, before she transferred her allegiance to EMI. This 1956 airing from Hänssler Classic is of great value, as it constitutes the only alternative version of this concerto, to date, in the violinist's discography. It is a rhythmically buoyant performance in exceptionally good sound for its age, and the balance between soloist and orchestra is ideal.

Martzy's discography offers no fewer than five recordings of K 216. The violinist made a commercial recording of the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3 for EMI in the Kingsway Hall, London in June 1954, with the Philharmonia under Wolfgang Sawallisch. The live airing we have here was taped on 12 April 1962, in the Liederhalle, Stuttgart with the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR, under Hans Müller-Kray. I recently reviewed a 2 CD set from Doremi (DHR-8034/5), which also contained two recordings of this concerto, one of which had exactly the same forces and conductor, also from the Liederhalle, Stuttgart and dated 1961. The other was with the Netherlands Radio Orchestra under Willem van Otterloo. This was dated 25 November 1961, with no venue given. From 19 June 1955 comes a radio recording with the Bavarian State Radio Symphony Orchestra under Eugene Jochum on Coup d'Archet (COUP CD 002). It's mistakenly labelled as being in D major.

Martzy's Mozart may seem interpretively cold to some, and the lack of warmth in her playing is a criticism I have heard levelled against her. It is true that her playing is unsentimental. For me it is the epitome of refinement, sophistication and good taste. Instinctive phrasing and articulation, with precision of intonation are hallmarks of these captivating and aristocratic performances. Having a fairly fast vibrato, she projects a silvery and somewhat lean tone. Slow movements are expressive, lyrical and fervent. Finales have a joie de vivre, and truly smile.

Setting aside the commercial recording, of the several 'live' recordings of K216, I tend to favour Doremi's 1961 recording with the Netherlands Radio Orchestra under Willem van Otterloo, which is in the most satisfactory sound and balance. The Munich acoustic of the Coup d'Archet version with Jochum sounds over-resonant to my ears, and the Liederhalle, Stuttgart for Hänssler comes across as dry and somewhat cramped.

Incidentally, the Hans Müller-Kray/Liederhalle, Stuttgart event featured here and on the Doremi CD set, though dated a year apart seems to me to be one and the same. Listening to them on two separate CD players, side by side, they remained perfectly synchronized throughout.

Excellently presented with well-produced documentation, there's plenty here for the violin junkies to enjoy.

Stephen Greenbank


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