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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 (1903 rev. 1905) [28:21]
Manuel PONCE (1882-1948)
Violin Concerto (1943) [28:28]
Tomaso Antonio VITALI (1663-1745)
Chaconne arr. Léopold Charlier [9:47]
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)
Variations on a theme of Corelli arr. Zino Francescatti [4:38]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Grave, after WF Bach [3:40]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Scherzo-Tarantelle  Op. 16 (1856) [4:23]
Henryk Szeryng (violin)
Orchestre de l’Association des Concerts Colonne/Ernest Bour
Tasso Janopoulo (piano)
rec. 1951, Paris (Sibelius and Ponce): c.1949 (remainder)

This isn’t Henryk Szeryng’s relatively well-known recording of the Sibelius Concerto with Rozhdestvensky and the LSO. Service on Philips, Mercury and Melodiya took that record on a worldwide tour. Much earlier, however, he set down a version c. 1951 for Odeon with Ernest Bour directing the Orchestre de l’Association des Concerts Colonne, and this is it, released with its disc mate, the Ponce Concerto.

It shares the later recording’s expressive predilection for romantic intimacy. It doesn’t therefore share many of the qualities evinced by others of the time or earlier - the muscularity of Stern, the streamlined legerdemain of Heifetz, Neveu’s heat, the ice-chastity of Ignatius, the panache of Telmányi, the reverence of Oistrakh or the quasi-improvised gypsy allure of Spivakovsky. Szeryng occupies his own ground here, full-toned, with immaculate intonation and a confiding quality that is almost confessional. With phrasing that aspires to the vocal, and with introspection in cadential passages – projected with the utmost clarity - subtle finger positions do the work that with others is often left to mere heft. Szeryng was a considerable virtuoso but he never saw the Sibelius as a virtuoso exhibition piece. For him, clearly, it was a canvas for the exploration of self-expression, or indeed a search for the hidden cloisters of the heart. Even in a recording where the finale’s fortes could do with some more bulk, Szeryng’s highly personal and thought-provoking reading will continue to haunt the open-minded Sibelian.

For most violin collectors the mathematical statement applies: Szeryng = the Ponce Concerto. Ponce dedicated it to him and Szeryng first recorded it about eight years afterwards. With such a superb exponent the concerto wants for nothing except, obviously, for the benefits of a contemporary sound that is now impossible. Szeryng plays with vivid tenderness in the slow movement but plays the beautiful second subject of the finale with ravishing cantilena. Here again there is something daring about his intimacy, a quality that is often overlooked or ignored when discussion turns to this violinist. Those who write off Szeryng as interpretatively bland or tonally one-paced, albeit stylish, should listen harder.

The c.1949 Odeon recital pieces with Thibaud’s old partner Tasso Janopoulo are impressive. He re-recorded the Vitali Chaconne later but this early version is buoyant and communicative. The Corelli-Tartini in the Francescatti arrangement (not the Kreisler) is commanding, confident and masculine. Kreisler’s WF Bach confection is warmly textured and the Wieniawski a suitably dashing way to end things.

Something has gone wrong with the printed timings of the recital pieces on my copy but that’s easily fixed. The transfers are first class. Szeryng himself is always first class.

Jonathan Woolf



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