Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 [41:02]
Hungarian Dances: No. 5 in G minor [2:02]; No. 6 in D major [3:05]
Berl Senofsky (violin)
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Rudolf Moralt
rec. 21 December 1955, Brahms-Saal, Musikverein, Vienna (concerto); 1950s, venue unknown (Dances)

This 1955 recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto with Berl Senofsky has been greatly admired over the years. Its transfer to CD will be greeted with open arms by violin buffs.

Berl Senofsky (1926-2002) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was of Russian descent. His father was his first violin teacher. At the age of six he progressed on to Louis Persinger and at 12 to Ivan Galamian at the Juilliard School. After a spell of military service in World War II, he embarked on a solo career, coupled with a stint as assistant concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra. He was the first American to win the Queen Elizabeth International Music Competition held in Belgium, later becoming a permanent member of the jury. His career, however, didn’t fulfil its true potential due to the difficulties encountered by American musicians in their own country in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, with lack of sponsorship and interest. He later took up a teaching post at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore from 1965. Senofsky was the founder of the American Artists International Foundation, established to facilitate the preparation of young American musicians for international competitions.

The Senofsky Brahms Concerto is a nicely paced reading with Rudolf Moralt (1902-1958) at the helm. Moralt’s reputation as a conductor has been overshadowed by other more famous names yet, as this recording testifies, he was an inspirational conductor, offering the soloist sympathetic support. I have several recordings by him, most notably a compelling Salome which he recorded for Philips in 1952. He always strikes me as being an effective partner in concerto and accompanying roles. Maybe his early demise at the young age of fifty-six has contributed to his unjust neglect.

Senofsky has a noticeably fast vibrato, which can at times be a tad relentless. Nevertheless, he draws an opulent, silvery tone, which he projects well, and is sensitive to the tonal shadings of the music. I’ve always been impressed by this violinist’s technical mastery and the purity of his intonation. A live example of the Concerto exists from 18 January 1959, with the New York Philharmonic under Sir John Barbirolli. It is interpretively similar and an uplifting performance, in reasonable sound. It can be found in a 4-disc set from West Hill Radio Archives (WHRA-6033).

The cadenza Senofsky plays is by Fritz Kreisler, the same one he uses for the live Carnegie Hall performance of four years later.

Moralt gives us stylistic and colourful performances of two Hungarian Dances, which make a pleasing filler.

Forgotten Records have had access to pristine copies of Philips and Epic LPs for the Concerto, and a Fontana pressing for the two Hungarian Dances. Digital re-mastering has been expertly carried out, revealing the true glories of these wonderful recordings. There are no notes included with this release but pointers to relevant websites are included.

Stephen Greenbank