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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77 [39:04]
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Symphonie espagnole, Op. 21 [26:46]
Julian Olevsky (violin)
The Washington National Symphony Orchestra/Howard Mitchell (Brahms)
Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Julius Redel (Lalo)
rec. 18-20 December 1953, Holton-Arms School Auditorium, Washington DC (Brahms);
June 1959, Mozart-Saal, Konzerthaus, Vienna (Lalo)
Mono and stereo

It was Julian Olevsky’s recording of the Mendelssohn and Bruch Violin Concertos on a Music for Pleasure LP that first introduced me to these two war-horses of the repertoire back in the early 1960s.  I still have that recording, though it is now very much worse for wear, and those who know it will vividly recall the stark black cover with central red rose. The orchestra and conductor there are the same as that for the Lalo here, so were probably set down around the same time.

Although he spent a good proportion of his life in America, Julian Olevsky (1926-1985) was born in Berlin. His father was a professional violinist and was responsible for his son’s early lessons. In 1935 the family moved to Buenos Aires, where they remained for about twelve years. Here Julian took lessons from Aaron Klasse and Alexander Petschnikoff, both former pupils of Leopold Auer. In 1947 he relocated to the United States, making his New York debut at Town Hall in 1949. This was followed a year later by his Carnegie Hall debut. In 1967 he took up a teaching position at the University of Massachusetts, remaining there until his premature death from a heart attack in 1985, aged fifty-nine.

Olevsky’s limited discography is confined mainly to the Westminster label, and includes the recordings here, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the Mendelssohn and Bruch Concertos, Wieniawski’s Second Concerto and Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas. The Doremi label has issued a fair proportion, and the Bach solo works I would highly recommend for their technical finesse, refined musicianship and inspired vision.

This performance of the Brahms Concerto I would single out as being one of the half-dozen best I've ever heard, headed by Oistrakh and Perlman. Olevsky’s magnificent technique and innate musicianship are only part of the story. The conductor, Howard Mitchell, must take some credit too. He has an instinctive grasp of the architectural structure of the work and the tempi he sets seem just right. When accompanying the soloist he is acutely sensitive to the nuances and inflections of the solo line. In the first movement Olevsky uses the Kreisler cadenza, which is my favourite. I’ve always found it preferable to the Joachim, which is the one employed most often. The slow movement is exquisitely contoured, and in the Hungarian finale you certainly won’t feel short-changed on passion and fire. Added to that the soloist is ideally balanced in the mix.

In the 1959 recording of Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole, Olevsky omits the Intermezzo as was customary at the time. I’ve never understood why this movement was routinely omitted, as its lyricism is beguiling. Thankfully Henry Merckel and Yehudi Menuhin both restored this movement in their early recordings of the work in 1932 and 1933 respectively. This practice doesn’t seem to have fully filtered through even as late as 1959. The performance truly captures that distinctive Iberian flavour, and Olevsky demonstrates how this perennial work is more than just a vehicle for technical prowess. He savours the generous melody and radiant lyricism which suffuses the work. In the final movement, there are fireworks, which he nonchalantly ignites with unruffled ease.

The Westminster LP copies, from which these transfers were taken, provide agreeable sources. The audio quality is excellent for recordings of this age. No notes are provided.

I hope that Forgotten Records will reissue Olevsky’s Mendelssohn and Bruch Concertos at some point, for old time’s sake.

Stephen Greenbank



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