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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin
Sonata No.1 in G minor, BWV 1001 [17:58]
Partita No.1 in B minor, BWV 1002 [25:04]
Sonata No.2 in A minor, BWV 1003 [23:14]
Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004 [28:52]
Sonata No.3 in C major, BWV 1005 [25:14]
Partita No.3 in E major, BWV 1006 [19:29]
Johanna Martzy (violin)
rec. 1954-55, Abbey Road, London
HÄNSSLER PROFIL PH15036 [66:39 + 73:53]

When I received this set for review my immediate thought was that it may be a newly discovered live cycle unearthed from some dusty vault. In fact it is the EMI mono studio recording Martzy set down in London in the mid-fifties. It has had numerous incarnations over the years. I first encountered it in a 5 CD set from EMI France (89179), sitting alongside Janos Starker’s Cello Suite cycle. In 2011, Testament released it (SBT 2 1467). I also have it on a Korean release (72211), which boasts 24 bit re-mastering.

Johanna Martzy has never received the acclaim accorded to female violinists like Erica Morini and Ida Haendel whose careers were contemporaneous. Yet, in Japan and Korea she has been elevated to cult status with her LPs changing hands for large sums. They have been at the forefront of promoting her legacy. Japan has seen the issue of a six-CD set ‘The Art of Johanna Martzy’, and a thirteen disc box of the complete recordings she made for DG and EMI has been released in Korea. In the UK collectors have been able to savour her artistry thanks to the Testament and Coup d’Archet labels, and from across the pond Doremi have also been in on the act.

Romanian by birth, Martzy 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, whose students included Szigeti, Telmányi, Székely, Geyer and Sándor Végh. She made her début at the age of thirteen and graduated from the Academy in 1942. In 1947 she won first prize in the Geneva Competition. Starting her recording career with DG, she was later brought under the wing of EMI by Walter Legge, whose amorous advances she rebuffed. This may explain why her commercial recorded legacy is slender. Her international career was likewise short-lived. In 1969 she married the wealthy Daniel Tschudi. Around this time ill health set in and, after years of becoming steadily weaker, she died in 1979, aged only fifty-four.

For those, like myself, who prefer their solo Bach played on a modern instrument, with a modern bow and vibrato to boot, this cycle has much to offer. Martzy generally favours broad tempi, and draws a rich fulsome tone from her Carlo Bergonzi fiddle. Some may find her vibrato too insistent but, for me, the tonal opulence she achieves in no way sounds out of place, and positively enhances her performance. Her well-grounded technique, secure intonation and grasp of structure and architecture make these rhythmically adept readings compelling. Added to this, her playing never sounds mannered or idiosyncratic in any way. Slow movements are expressive and eloquent and suffused with poetic insights, but more lively movements can seem a trifle severe at times. In the fugues, polyphonic lines are cleanly articulated. The opening theme of the Chaconne is bold, confident and noble, and the variations that follow are stylistically characterized. When the theme returns at the end, there is a sense of inevitability and fulfilment. These are magnificent readings, and stand up favourably with the best.

For those wishing to explore further, a radio broadcast of the Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001 from 4 May 1962 has been released on Audite (23.424), which I have reviewed. This same performance is coupled on Coup d’Archet (COUP CD007) with the Partita 3 (20 June 1955) (nla). There’s also a live performance of the Sonata No. 1 from the Redpath Hall, Montreal dated 1960 on Doremi DHR-7753.

Stephen Greenbank



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