Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Violin Sonata No.2 in D minor, Op.121 (1851) [26:19]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Op. 45 (1887) [22:04]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No.2 in D minor, Op.108 (1886-88) [18:24]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Violin Sonata in G minor, Op. post.137 No.3, D408 (1816) [12:40]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No.1 in D Op. 12 No.1 (1797-98) [15:55]
Jenö HUBAY (1855-1937)
Sonate Romantique in D major, Op.22 (1884) [22:27]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Violin Sonata in E flat major, Op. 18 (1887) [28:57]
Wanda Luzzato (violin)
Hans Priegnitz (piano)
rec. 1955-56, Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, Krone, South German Radio and February 1960, Stuttgart, Villa K, South German Radio (Hubay and Strauss)
MELOCLASSIC MC2026 [79:29 + 67:20]

There’s an excellent biography of the Italian violinist Wanda Luzzato on this site written by Gianluca La Villa (see article), and I’d recommend anyone interested in this shamefully little-known musician to give it a read. ‘After Vecsey, none of my pupils were as talented’ wrote her teacher, Jenö Hubay and given that he referred to the meteoric and brilliant Franz (Ferenc) von Vecsey that is saying something.

It is fortunate that broadcast material exists as Luzzato never made any commercial recordings and this twofer is the start, I hope, of a restoration process from this and other labels that will present material from German and Italian archives. Only when this has been done can we get to grips with her legacy – one that has hitherto been confined to newspaper reviews, hearsay and, of course, the performances of her students.

All the broadcasts here come from Stuttgart. There are items from 1955 (two separate broadcasts), one 1956 recital, and two items from broadcasts on consecutive days in February 1960. The pianist throughout is the redoubtable Hans Priegnitz. The hallmark of Luzzato’s playing is exceptional subtlety. In the Schumann she is expressive and full of refined coloration and control of vibrato speed. She has a magical right arm capable of myriad inflections of weight. She has the discretion to vest the slow movement with melancholy lyricism but always to control the width of her vibrato. In the Grieg C minor, rubati are well judged, and the music-making is disciplined but never straightjacketed. Colour flecks the central panel of the sonata, so too deft finger position changes, and the few heat-of-the-moment imprecisions in the finale are of little account. The playing is personal and personable, and the tone is never forced at the apex of phrases, as it so often can be in the Russian manner. Similarly, her Brahms sonata is rich in unforced lyricism: this is playing of selfless musicality. There’s gusto in the Schubert, and she finds just the right mood for each movement.

She and Priegnitz enjoy the banter in the opening of Beethoven’s A major sonata, as indeed they do the pathos in its slow central movement. Her classical credentials are clearly as sharp as her romantic ones. It’s especially valuable to hear her play the 1884 Sonate Romantique of her teacher, Hubay. Lyrically spun, this is a work that rewards a player able to assimilate its admixture of folklore, Brahms and Beethoven – and its many individual moments too. Luzzato triumphs in a reading that remains warm-hearted, unexaggerated, playful, and pithy. The finale is especially successful – and the music is characterful and enjoyable. Finally, there’s the youthful Strauss sonata. Purity of tone is always audible, but there’s no speed for its own sake, so it’s not at all similar to the diverse readings of such titans as Kaufman, Heifetz, or Neveu – to cite just three. Instead you’ll notice the subtle textures and colours she finds in the lied that is the slow movement; note the variegated dynamics too, and the total lack of the nannying vibrato that afflicted some Hubay students.

It brings to an end all that we currently have that embodies the art of Wanda Luzzato. It helps no end that the recording quality is so fine, that the booklet documentation is excellent and that the photographs are so evocative – including the famous 1935 one with Luzzato and Edith Fernadi playing for Hubay, surrounded by students including Loránd Fenyves and Ede Zathureczky.

Inquisitive violin collectors should on no account hesitate.

Jonathan Woolf