Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in B flat major, K207 (1773) [23:54]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26 (1868) [25:02]
Tibor Varga (violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Walter Susskind
rec. 2-3 January 1953, EMI Studio No. 1, Abbey Road, London

Tibor Varga was in his early thirties in 1953 when he was selected for a prestigious coupling on an English Columbia LP (SX 1017). He was joined by one of the country’s best orchestras under the experienced Walter Susskind who invariably offered sympathetic accompaniments to his soloists.

Varga was an interesting but inconsistent player. His Bruch is undermined by a quivering vibrato, possibly a product of his studies with Jenő Hubay, a number of whose pupils were afflicted with the dreaded Hubay wobble. The insistence with which it is projected robs the music of nuance and renders it more hectoring, at least in the opening movement, than meaningful. He’s rather better when the music is faster because he has less latitude for indulgence in this respect. The many slides and expressive devices that buttress his reading do, however, keep the music alive and alert, albeit some are more blatant than subtle. His chewy vibrato continues to limit variety of tonal production as the concerto develops – albeit, once again, it’s playing of wholehearted commitment. The finale would have been better had he not fallen back on generic tonal production. The ear is often drawn to those Olympian practitioners in the Philharmonia, not least the winds and horns – the latter led by Dennis Brain, I assume.

The companion disc, on the flip side of the Bruch, was Mozart’s Concerto No. 1 in B flat major, K207. There wasn’t much competition in the catalogue of the time for this work but stylistically Varga lacks the kind of Mozartian elegance and purity so effortlessly assumed by a player such as Szymon Goldberg (though he never recorded this concerto). Varga’s restless, incident-heavy playing is constantly on the move, seeking opportunities for expressive gesture: he simply does too much, too often, and his nervous energy can be sapping. The slow movement is probably the most convincing through passages when upper and lower strings are heard in conversation invariably lead to exaggeration. It’s interesting to hear his own cadenzas.

Mixed feelings interpretatively, therefore, but the transfers are excellent. Crisp and clean copies of the LP seem to have been sourced and the recording date is no impediment at all.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank