George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Violin Sonata in D major, HWV371, Op. 1 No. 13 [11:46]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Violin Sonata in G Minor, L 140 [12:47]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata Op. 12 No. 1 in D [20:25]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata No. 3 in D minor for Violin and Piano, Op. 108 [20:13]
Scherzo in C minor, WoO2 (from F-A-E Sonata) [5:31]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Intermezzo (from F.A.E. Sonata) [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]

Tibor Varga was born in Györ, Hungary in 1921. Joseph Joachim, Leopold Auer and Carl Flesch also hailed from the same region. He studied at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest with Carl Flesch and Jenő Hubay, and whilst there met Bartók. He went on to secure a successful career, primarily as a violinist, working with the likes of Furtwängler, Böhm, Bernstein and Solti, but also as a conductor. Amongst his most celebrated recordings is a Bartók Second with Ferenc Fricsay and the Berlin Philharmonic, and a fine Nielsen Violin Concerto with Jerzy Semkow and the Royal Danish Orchestra. He championed the Berg Concerto in Austria and Germany in the early days and, in November 1950, premiered Boris Blacher's Violin Concerto in Munich under Erich Schmid.

All of these radio recordings, taped between 1949 and 1960, are here receiving their first CD release. None have commercial equivalents, and all are new to the violinist’s discography. The Handel and Debussy Sonatas were set down in Stuttgart in September 1949. The Handel has been incorrectly apportioned the key signature and Lesure number of the Debussy work whereas, in fact, it is in D major. Also, for some strange reason, the gatefold mistakenly track-lists the first three movements of the Bruch Concerto No. 1, with the finale being the only movement correctly corresponding to the Handel. At this early stage in his career, Varga's tone is taut, vitiated by a relentlessly fast vibrato, imposing some limitations on his tonal palette. It also deprives his tone from a certain amount of warmth, and puts an edge on it. Later in his career his playing became noted for its beautiful tone and warmth of expression. His use of expressive slides and position changes is lavish by any standards. His portamenti are particularly effective in the Debussy Sonata, conferring a sensuous aura on the performance.

Fast forward ten years, and by the time the second batch of recordings was made in February 1959 Varga's tone has become more soft-grained, seductive and opulent. Maybe more advanced recording techniques have helped. A year later, when the Beethoven and Brahms were recorded, Varga acquired his Guarneri del Gesù violin dated 1733. We can't be certain whether this fiddle was used for the March 1960 inscriptions. The Schumann Intermezzo is wonderfully expressive and eloquent, and the Tartini/Kreisler Variations sparkle and delight, showcasing the violinist’s prodigious technical arsenal.

The two sonatas with Bernhard Ebert are the highlight of the disc for me. This is a true partnership of equals, chamber music at its most compelling. The outer movements of the Beethoven are spirited, and in the finale the players articulate the off-beat accents so as to achieve a buoyancy and rhythmic vitality. Brahms cast his Violin Sonata no. 3 on a larger dramatic scale than its predecessors. The slow movement is ardent and glowing with just the right amount of emotional weight. The Scherzo is light and delicate. In contrast, there’s plenty of energy and gusto in the tempestuous finale, with Varga’s double-stop passages ringing out clean and vibrant.

These expertly transferred radio recordings fill a lacuna in the violinist’s discography and are warmly welcomed. The booklet notes supply the background adequately, with photos an added bonus. Lovers of inspired violin playing shouldn’t hesitate.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf