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Ivry Gitlis (violin)
The Early Years, Birth of a Legend
with collaborating artists
rec. 1949-63, various venues
RHINE CLASSICS RH-011 [77:45 + 73:58]

If ever there was a maverick of the violin, it was Ivry Gitlis. I say 'was', in fact, at the time of writing this review, he's still alive at the grand old age of ninety-six.  He was born in 1922 in Haifa, Israel, to Russian parents, and took up the fiddle at the age of five. Early on he came to the attention of Bronisław Huberman, who arranged for him to study at the Paris Conservatoire, where he won first prize at just thirteen. His later teachers were George Enescu, Jacques Thibaud and Carl Flesch. Over the years he forged a distinguished concert career with his own distinctive and idiosyncratic artistry. A highly individual player, his interpretations were interpretively bold, getting straight to the heart of the work he was performing. There's a gypsy influence, too, which maybe derives from his contact with Enescu. Curiously, in contrast to other Flesch pupils such as Henryk Szeryng and Ida Haendel, Gitlis commands a lean and, at times, wiry tone, devoid of opulence. Yet his timbre generates a wealth of tonal colour and can never be termed monochrome.

Here we have a selection of broadcast performances made in Lausanne, Paris, Milan and Spoleto between 1949 and 1963. The earliest derive from acetates, with the later Italian inscriptions sourced from original masters. Gitlis is partnered by several pianists, all of whom are sympathetic. Audience presence has been conveyed by the retention of applause, adding positively to the spontaneity and emotion of the live event. There’s the occasional announcement, too. All are making their debut on CD and constitute a valuable addition to the violinist's discography.

Gitlis' gypsy leanings serve pieces such as the first Mythe 'La Fontaine D'Aréthuse' by Szymanowski, the Bloch Nigun (two versions) and Joseph Achron's Hebrew Melody  well, conferring an improvisatory feel and unique exoticism. The latter positively oozes passion and nostalgia. The violinist’s own brand of portamenti and position changes in this repertoire further add to the allure. On the reverse of the coin, the free-wheeling vibrato and occasional errant intonation can have a deleterious effect in some repertoire. The Brahms Violin Sonata No. 3 is problematic in this regard, where an arbitrary application of vibrato in lyrical sections robs the line of some of its richness and flow. The finale I don't care for either. It sounds like a mad scramble, rhythmically distorted, and would have benefitted from more classical restraint.

The virtuoso encore pieces fare very well indeed, with the violinist meeting the challenges with bravura and panache. Gitlis’ technical arsenal is impressive, harmonics, double name it, it's all there. Sit back and enjoy Moszkowski's Guitarre (arr. by Sarasate), the Wieniawski's Capriccio-Valse, with some seductive glissandi, and a gripping Polonaise No. 1.

There are two performances of Bartók’s Sonata for Solo Violin, an airing from Paris in December 1951 with an abridged Presto finale, which sounds boxy and a later live recording from Spoleto in July 1963 in much better sound. On both occasions, Gitlis rises to the challenge of this complex work admirably, keeping a tight rein throughout. His playing generates white-heat intensity. This is thrilling edge-of-the-seat stuff.

In June 1951, Gitlis competed in the 1V Long-Thibaud Competition, where he took 5th prize. To get a flavour of one of the sessions, we have a complete slow movement and a 1:40 minute torso of the finale, with piano accompaniment. It’s an intriguing glimpse into a significant event in the artist’s life.

Emilio Pessina has done a sterling job with the audio restoration and remastering, and his potted biography of the artist is warmly welcomed. Included in the booklet is an array of black and white photographs. There's also a colour plate of Gitlis' 1713 'Sancy' Stradivarius, one of several fine instruments that came into his possession over the years.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Violin Sonata (No.3) In E Major, IPH 175 (1935) [9:33]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882–1937)
Mythes, 3 Pieces for Violin and Piano, Op.30, M29: No.1 La Fontaine D'Aréthuse [5:27]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Baal Shem, Suite for Violin and Piano: No.2 Nigun [6:16]
Maurice Perrin (piano), rec. 1949, Lausanne
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D Major, Op.35; 2. Canzonetta [5:05]: 3. Finale. Allegro Vivacissimo - Fades Away at Letter C [1:40]
Odette Pigault (piano), rec. 1951, Long-Thibaud Competition, Paris
Béla BARTÓK (1882-1945)
Violin Solo Sonata, Sz.117, BB 124 [19:15]
rec. 1953 Paris "Concert Des Jeunes Musiciens Français"
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Počme For Violin and Piano, Op.25 [14:16]
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Guitarre, Op.45 No.2 arr. Pablo de Sarasate [2:44]
Odette Pigault (piano), rec. 1953, Paris
Joseph ACHRON (1886-1943)
Hebrew Melody, Op.33 [5:16]
Baal Shem, Suite for Violin And Piano: No.2 Nigun [5:48]
André Collard (piano), rec. 1953, Paris
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)
Sonata In G Minor, B.g5 "The Devil's Trill" arr. Fritz Kreisler [11:54]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Capriccio-Valse in E major, Op.7 (1852-53) [6:05]
Polonaise De Concert No.1 In D Major, Op.4 (1852) [4:27]
Antonio Beltrami (piano), rec. 1955 Milan
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Solo Partita No.2 In D Minor, BWV 1004: Chaconne [12:33]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No.3 In D Minor, Op.108 [18:12]
Violin Solo Sonata, Sz.117, BB 124 [19:23]

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