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Ivry Gitlis (violin)
Nicolň PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in B minor Op. 7 [26:29]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108 [20:10]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor [12:17]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Introduction and Rondo capriccioso Op. 28 [8:53]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Nigun (No. 2 from Baal Shem), Improvisation [5:46]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Polonaise for Violin and Piano D Major Op.4 [5:42]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Violin Concerto (1939) [25:38]
Roman HAUBENSTOCK-RAMATI (1919-1994)
Séquences. Music for Violin and Orchestra [12:12]
Belá BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Violin Concerto No. 2 Sz 112 [38:55]
Daria Horova (piano)
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/ Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (Paganini)
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg/ Hans Rosbaud (Hindemith; Haubenstock-Ramati)
Orchester des Nationaltheaters Mannheim/ Wolfgang Rennert (Bartók)
rec. live, 1972 (Paganini); live, 1986; studio 1962 (Hindemith; Haubenstock-Ramati);
live, 1985 (Bartók)
SWR MUSIC SWR19005CD [79:02 + 76:38]

Welcome indeed are these live and studio radio recordings, mined from the SWR archives, and digitally re-mastered from the original tapes. They feature the violinist Ivry Gitlis who, in August this year, will celebrate his ninety-fourth birthday. He was born in 1922 in Haifa, Israel, to Russian parents. Taking up the fiddle at the age of five he made rapid progress, impressing Bronisław Huberman, who arranged for him to study at the Conservatoire de Paris. There he won first prize at the age of only thirteen. He later went on to study with George Enescu, Jacques Thibaud and Carl Flesch. Over the years he gained legendary status, being viewed by many as a maverick for his highly idiosyncratic playing.

Curiously, unlike other Flesch pupils, such as Henryk Szeryng and Ida Haendel, Gitlis commands a lean and, at times, wiry tone. It’s a sound devoid of opulence, and in no way titillates the ear. Yet his timbre generates a wealth of tonal colour and can never be termed monochrome. Some detect a gypsy influence and this maybe derives from his contact with Enescu. When I listen to his recordings, I always feel that he makes bold interpretative choices, and though these may not be to everyone’s taste, they certainly provoke thought. With Gitlis, originality coupled with individuality are the name of the game.

Some of the violinist’s finest recordings were made for Vox in the 1950s, and it’s been interesting doing comparisons of the Hindemith and Bartók concertos we have here with his earlier commercial traversals. It’s difficult to explain away the Hindemith Concerto’s relative neglect, especially having listened to Ivry Gitlis’s persuasive account of this compelling work. This 1962 studio/radio recording with Hans Rosbaud is perhaps the highlight of the set. It’s every bit as fine as the 1962 Vox recording with the Westphalia Symphony Orchestra and Hubert Reichert (Vox 7818), though the violinist states in an interview in the notes that he considers this Vox recording ‘terrible’. The violinist’s athletic virtuosity is impressive on all counts, and the second movement is distinguished by some delicious lyrical playing. Gitlis's intuitive rendering is marked by his own distinctly individual voice, and the performance stands shoulder to shoulder with Oistrakh’s enthralling rendition. The Bartók Concerto with Jascha Horenstein and the Vienna Symphony (CDX2 5505) is a brisker affair than this live 1985 airing with the Orchester des Nationaltheaters Mannheim under Wolfgang Rennert. Listening to the two performances side by side, the narrative tends to sag a little in this later recording. Under the more inspirational baton of Horenstein Gitlis draws more passion, fire and intensity from the score.

Roman Haubenstock-Ramati's Séquences, written especially for Gitlis, is an imaginative 12 minute work. This well-managed reading is sympathetically partnered again by Hans Rosbaud. Gitlis draws on his prodigious technical arsenal to deliver a scintillating virtuosic account of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in B minor Op. 7. Throwing all caution to the wind, he serves up a high-octane performance, underpinned by immaculate intonation. Stanislaw Skrowaczewski provides admirable support.

The 1986 collaborations with Daria Horova are not as successful. The two sonatas disappoint in that the violinist stamps his personality too much on the playing. Generally, the performances are marred by excessive rubato. The Saint-Saëns Introduction et Rondo capriccioso is mannered, self-conscious and too highly personalized for me. Once again overly liberal application of rubato impedes the flow, and results in an uncomfortable listen. Likewise, the Wieniawski Polonaise is afflicted with awkward tempo relationships. The most successful piece is Bloch’s Nigun, given a subtly nuanced reading of powerful intensity.

All in all this is a mixed bag but guaranteed to deliver some edge-of-the-seat listening.

Stephen Greenbank



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