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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77 (1878) [41:42]
Serenade No.2 in A, Op.16 (1858-59 rev 1875) [36:31]
Endre Wolf (violin)
Sinfonia of London/Anthony Collins
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Carlo Zecchi
rec. November 1958, Hammersmith Town Hall, London (Concerto) and May 1954, Grote Zaal, Concertgebouw (Serenade)

Handsome tribute has been paid to the Hungarian violinist Endre Wolf in a twofer from Danacord which I reviewed. That said, some elements of his discography – which is not huge – are still emerging in quality transfers, such as this one from Forgotten Records. The focus is Wolf’s November 1958 recording of Brahms’ Violin Concerto, taped in Hammersmith Town Hall, London with the Sinfonia of London directed by Anthony Collins. It was issued on World Record Club and on Columbia Musical Treasures LP and joined what was already a strongly competitive marketplace in which small and budget-priced labels had their part to play in disseminating music to a wide audience. For a player with limited opportunities to record concertos it’s noteworthy that he also set down the Brahms with Goehr and the LSO for Music Appreciation Records.

Wolf’s performance conforms to the kind of architecture frequently encountered today, which is relatively expansive, certainly in the first movement. For every (wartime) Menuhin, Huberman, Kogan, Busch and Heifetz, who took this concerto with decisive speed and intensity, there were numerous other fiddlers – many, naturally, less exalted - who took the Allegro non troppo several notch-markers slower. Whilst my own tastes are toward a fast basic pulse, which doesn’t drag for the lyric episodes – and this frequently turns the direction of the music rhapsodic – I can still appreciate more drawn-out readings that provide a nourishing sense of contrast and warmth. Wolf is just such a measured player and he was fortunate to be paired with the ex-violist Collins who brings out many a string line and counter-theme that tend to be obscured in more saturated readings. The Kreisler cadenza is well dispatched, and there’s a sense of refined elegance in the central movement, without excess of any kind. Again, it’s a touch slow if one’s ideal is a performer such as one of those mentioned earlier, but it’s well sustained. In the finale he catches the Hungarian swagger pretty well – as one would expect given his nationality – without a cosmopolitan gloss being put on things. Collins generates some heat from the Sinfonia of London – he directed them in Mozart’s last two symphonies around this time in a fine pairing later picked up by Classics for Pleasure. There have been many memorable recordings of this concerto, from Kreisler and Szigeti onwards. Wolf’s is finely realised, and highly musical. It’s a memento of a fine player rather than a truly outstanding performance as such.

The coupling is a 1954 Serenade No.2 with the Concertgebouw Orchestra directed by Carlo Zecchi. The Italian – just as well known to collectors for his earlier incarnation as a pianist – was clearly something of a dab hand at this work as he’d recorded it for Cetra. This Philips sounds pretty good, though its re-appearance on Epic later seems to have been in less flattering sound. The close-up perspective on the pizzicati and on the winds grants an intimacy to the aural picture, and some appropriately raw-sounding rustic winds add to the pleasures of the reading. It makes a good foil for the concerto, taking the playing time up to 78 minutes.

There are no notes, but a particularly fine transfer ensures that Wolf’s Brahms, in particular, is heard in the best possible light.

Jonathan Woolf



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