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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonata No.1 in G minor BWV 1001 (c.1720) [15:36]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No.8 in G, Op.30 No.3 (1801-02) [16:23]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Sonata No. 2, BB 85, Sz76 (1922) [21:20]
Romanian Folk Dances (1926) [4:35]
Tossy Spivakovsky (violin)
Robert Cornman (piano: Bach, Beethoven)
Artur Balsam (piano: Bartók)
rec. 1947 (Bartók) and 1950 (remainder), New York

Tossy Spivakovsky was a regular divider of opinions. The passage of time, though, has allowed one more clearly to recognize that his generation was pretty much the last to which one could ascribe significantly divergent techniques and tonal qualities. In both these areas Spivakovsky stood apart.

The Bach and Beethoven sonata recordings were made for Columbia in New York in 1950. It’s quite possible that he is using the curved bow that he habitually employed to play three-note chords which produce that rich, organ-like quality. Allied to his propensity for heavily romanticised vibrato usage this gives a decidedly backward-looking approach – even for the time - to tone production, but it does enable admirers of the violinist to feast on his charismatic playing, not least of the fugal movement. He flashes through the Presto finale with technique to burn. On the subject of his curved bow, I’ve never been quite sure of the chronology. If he used the Dane Knud Vestergaard’s curved bow – called the Vega, after the maker’s name - did he do so before Emil Telmányi famously did so, or after? Surely after? Which makes it debatable if he used that bow in this recording.

No such curvature of the bow conundrums affects the Beethoven sonata which is played with his characteristic intensity of sound. Robert Cornman accompanies diligently, finding a way to accommodate Spivakovsky’s silvery-toned and communicative playing even when, at points, his phraseology is inclined to be a touch over-voluptuous. Famously he was the violinist who introduced Bartók’s Violin Concerto No.2 to America, so it’s valuable to hear this c. 1947 performance of the Sonata No.2 in a Concert Hall disc. The composer and Szigeti were recorded live at the Library of Congress during the War in this work but their performance wasn’t released until long after, so this Concert Hall is the first commercial taping of the work. Artur Balsam, ever reliable, is the pianist. The recording here is more recessive than the Columbia, Concert Hall not being known for plush state-of-the-art recording quality. Spivakovsky’s tightly focused tone survives through some of Balsam’s pianism gets muddied in the recording mix. This is a particularly impressive example of the violinist’s art – stylistically apposite, brightly rhythmic. He plays the Romanian Dances with a similar concern for colour and dynamics and characterisation.

There are no notes but it's a warm welcome back for these vitalizing examples of Spivakovsky’s art.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank



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