Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Violin Sonata No.2 in D minor, Op.121 [26:19]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Op. 45 [22:04]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No.2 in A major, Op.100 [18:24]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Violin Sonata in G minor, Op. post.137 No.3, D408 [12:40]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No.1 in D Op. 12 No.1 [15:55]
Jenö HUBAY (1855-1937)
Sonate Romantique in D major, Op.22 [22:27]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Violin Sonata in E flat major, Op. 18 [28:57]
Wanda Luzzato (violin)
Hans Priegnitz (piano)
rec. 1955-56, Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, Krone, South German Radio; February 1960, Stuttgart, Villa K, South German Radio (Hubay and Strauss)
MELOCLASSIC MC2026 [79:29 + 67:20]

It's regrettable, listening to these wonderful live airings, that Wanda Luzzato (1919-2002) never made any commercial recordings. MusicWeb International has an interesting biographical portrait of the artist by Gianluca La Villa. I shall just outline a few salient points of Luzzato's life. She was born in Varese, Italy and started her musical studies at the Conservatory in Milan. In 1932, aged only thirteen, she entered the first International Violin Competition in Vienna and took joint fourth prize with the twelve year old Ginette Neveu; Gioconda de Vito took joint first with Karl Szenassy. Amongst the jurors was the Hungarian violinist and pedagogue Jenő Hubay, who was so impressed with her playing that he offered her a place in his class. She relocated to Budapest for the duration - from 1932 until 1937 the year Hubay died. His pupils included Franz von Vecsey, Joseph Szigeti, Zoltán Székely, Gerhard Taschner and André Gertler; her classmates were Johanna Martzy and Tibor Varga. Her subsequent career had its high points. In 1933 she performed the Sibelius Concerto in the presence of the composer. Later she appeared under the batons of Willem Mengelberg, Erich Kleiber, Felix Weingartner, Otto Klemperer and Carlo Maria Giulini. In 1948 she gave the Italian premiere of the Khachaturian Concerto. Her career had been halted for the duration of the war, and she remained in Hungary, during which time she had to hide in a cellar for two months. Her later career focused on teaching in Turin and Milan, where she died in 2002.

These radio broadcasts, taped during several sessions between 1955-1960 in Stuttgart, showcase Luzzato at the height of her powers, in fairly wide-ranging repertoire. She commands outstanding technical facility, most notable in the more virtuosically challenging Grieg and Strauss Sonatas. She’s fortunate to own a very flexible vibrato, giving her the distinction of an elite colourist. In the third movement of the Schumann Sonata, for example, the double-stops are intensely vibrant. Her tone is bright, yet warm, and her intonation has an arresting purity. Expressive portamentos play a part in her violinistic arsenal, are convincing and tastefully applied, except perhaps in the Strauss Sonata where they are somewhat overdone.

Luzzato is fortunate to have a sympathetic and engaging partner in the person of Hans Priegnitz, and their singularity of vision permeates these compelling performances. Matching phrasing and dynamics reveals a sense of shared purpose. I love their infectious rhythmical audacity in the opening movement of the Beethoven Op. 12 No. 2, with the violinist’s crisp staccatos supported by Priegnitz’s buoyant piano accompaniment, their exchange of themes has a truly conversational manner. In the lighthearted finale, the syncopated rhythms just carry you along. The opening movement of the Schumann, whilst being dramatic, has a wealth of melodic sections, which are conveyed with burning intensity. She plays the opening chords very short and accented, not spreading them like most - a novel effect. The Grieg Sonata is as high-octane as I've ever heard, with the first movement bold and assertive. In contrast, the slow movement is notable for its simplicity and tender moments. Energy returns in the finale, and the 'big tune' boldly imposes itself. The idyllic Brahms, with its radiant lyricism and innate warmth, is a performance that glows appealingly. Elegance and charm are a hallmark of the seductive Schubert work. Although Heifetz is unmatched in the youthful Strauss Sonata, Luzzato and Priegnitz offer a reading of exuberance and passion. The Hubay Sonate Romantique is a new one for me. Composed in 1884 when he was a young man, it pays homage to both Beethoven and Brahms. Tuneful, melodious lines abound, which Luzzato savours to the full. She injects plenty of passion and energy into the thrilling finale. A delight from beginning to end, it’s certainly a work that deserves more outings.

I’m amazed how fine these sixty year old recordings sound; they’ve obviously been well-preserved. This release must surely be one of the highlights in the Meloclassic catalogue, and we must certainly be grateful to them for this introduction to Wanda Luzzato. Jenő Hubay described the thirteen year old at the 1932 Vienna International Competition as 'the most brilliantly gifted young Italian violinist I have heard for many a day'. On the evidence here one can understand fully his comment, and why he was to declare later that 'After Vecsey, none of my other pupils were as talented'.
Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf