George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Violin Sonata in D major, HWV371, Op. 1 No 13 (c. 1750) [11:46]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Violin Sonata in G Minor (1917) [12:47]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata Op. 12 No.1 in D (1797-98) [20:25]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata No. 3 in D minor for Violin and Piano, Op. 108 (1886-88) [20:13]
Scherzo in C minor, WoO2 (from F-A-E Sonata) (1853) [5:31]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Intermezzo (from F.A.E Sonata) (1853) [2:21]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Variations on a theme by Corelli (Tartini/Kreisler) [3:32]
Tibor Varga (violin)
Heinz Schröter (piano: Handel and Debussy)
Hubert Giesen (piano: Schumann, Brahms Scherzo, Kreisler)
Bernhard Ebert (piano: Beethoven, Brahms Sonata)
rec. September 1949, Stuttgart, Studio No.1, South German Radio (Handel and Debussy): February 1959, Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, Krone (Schumann, Brahms Scherzo, Kreisler): March 1960, Hamburg, Studio NDR
MELOCLASSIC MC2027 [76:38]

Meloclassic's previous release devoted to Tibor Varga concentrated on Beethoven and Bartók. Here the span runs from Handel and Tartini to Debussy and turns up trumps as everything here is new to his discography. He never set down studio inscriptions of any of the Brahms or Beethoven sonatas so these radio performances, given over the period of around a decade, will be immensely attractive to Varga collectors.

Opening a 1949 recital in Stuttgart with Handel’s D major sonata was comfortingly Old School – even if Meloclassics has failed to identify it correctly, given it the wrong key and misordered the movements in the track listing. Varga’s characteristically fast vibrato is embedded into his musical arsenal, and his slightly finicky dynamics inhibit appreciation in the second movement but there’s a full expressive gamut elsewhere in this hit-and-miss reading. The Debussy – most intriguing repertoire for Varga – receives a reading of razory intensity in the upper strings. This, coupled with his terse vibrato, creates an aura very much removed from the Gallic sensualist Jacques Thibaud, or the Belgian aesthetic of Alfred Dubois. Over-emoted in places and a bit smeary too, this is a reading given to exaggeration, not least the Gypsy acrobatics of the finale – and the rather chilly studio acoustic doesn’t help. Heinz Schröter is the dutiful pianist.

A decade later he was taped with elite accompanist Hubert Giesen and we hear three brief examples. The sound is warmer and the programming is certainly thoughtful, given that they play two movements – those by Schumann and Brahms – from the FAE Sonata. They finish with a suavely dispatched Tartini-Kreisler Variations on a Theme of Corelli. The following year, this time in Hamburg, Varga teamed up with Bernhard Ebert for Beethoven’s Op.12 No.1 and Brahms’ D minor sonatas. The neatly characterised variations in the second movement of the Beethoven would have been projected even more successfully had Varga been able to resist those little moments of localized exaggeration that seem to have been endemic to him. The obverse is that he is seldom dull, and manages to vest the finale with considerable buoyancy. The Brahms is sensible and well-paced and there’s a good balance between the instruments. The widening vibrato in the slow movement again courts overstatement but this is communicative playing, and the finale is commensurately bold.

The restoration has been excellently realised and there’s the usual fine booklet with good photographic reproductions. And with 78 minutes of music wholly new to the violinist’s catalogue of recordings, admirers of the Hungarian player would be remiss in overlooking this release.

Jonathan Woolf