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Johanna Martzy (violin)
Swiss Radio Broadcast Recordings 1947-1969
Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Romanian Folk Dances, Sz 56, BB 68 [6:02]
Josef SUK (1874-1935)
4 Pieces for Violin and Piano, Op 17, [14:59]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pičce en forme de Habanera [2:47]
Zoltán GÁRDONYI (1906-1986)
Rondo capriccioso for Violin and Piano [3:25]
Grigoras DINICU (1889-1949), arr. Heifetz
Hora Staccato [2:12]
Doris Rossiaud (piano)
rec. 17 March 1947, Geneva, Studio 2, Radio Genčve Radio Studio Recording
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, KV 218; III. Rondeau: Andante grazioso (1775) [7:04]
with piano accompaniment
Final round of the 1947 Competition ‘Concours international d’exécution musicale de Genčve’
rec. 1 October 1947, Geneva Grand Théâtre, Radio Genčve Live Recording
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op 26 [24:22]
Radio-Orchester Beromünster/Ludovit Rajter
rec. 19 October 1969 Zürich, Radiostudio SRF Radio Studio Recording
MELOCLASSIC MC2035 [60:56]

Johanna Martzy is one of a number of stellar female violinists whose careers peaked in the mid to late twentieth century. Her name can be uttered in the same breath as Ginette Neveu, Camilla Wicks, Erica Morini, Gioconda De Vito and Ida Haendel. Romanian by birth, she took up the violin at the age of six, later becoming a student at the Franz Liszt Academy, Budapest. Her teacher was Jenő Hubay (1858-1937), the Hungarian violinist and composer, whose students included Szigeti, Telmányi, Székely, Geyer and Sándor Végh. She made her début at the age of thirteen and graduated from the Academy in 1942. In 1947 she was a prize winner in the Geneva Competition. Starting her recording career with DG, she was later brought under the wing of EMI by Walter Legge. Her international career was short-lived. In 1969 she married the wealthy Daniel Tschudi and thereafter seemed to lack the financial incentive to continue in an active role. Largely forgotten, she died of cancer in 1979. This recent release of her Swiss Radio Broadcast Recordings, taped between 1947 and 1969, adds considerably to her slender discographical legacy.

The earliest document here is the Radio Geneva broadcast with pianist Doris Rossiaud. Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances are rhythmically fluid, tastefully nuanced and dispatched with true gypsy swagger. Ginette Neveu made a wonderful recording of Suk's Four pieces for Violin and Piano, Op. 17, and Martzy's efforts are equally convincing. My own favorites are the melancholic Un poco triste and the rhythmically energetic Burleska which ends the cycle. Ravel’s Pičce en forme de Habanera was later recorded for DG in 1958 with her regular accompanist Jean Antonietti. It's a delightful work which Martzy swathes in a sultry balm. Gárdonyi’s Rondo capriccioso is a light hearted morsel, charming in every way. The Hora Staccato is well done, but her staccato bowing doesn't quite match the superior crispness and bite of Heifetz.

The precious torso consisting of the Rondeau finale of Mozart's Fourth Concerto derives from the final round of the  October 1947 Geneva competition, in which Martzy took second prize (no first prize was awarded). The piano accompanist isn't credited. She was later to make a commercial recording of the Concerto with Eugen Jochum, which I would highly recommend.

The most substantial work here, and the only one with orchestra, is the Bruch Concerto No. 1, recorded in Zurich in October 1969. Martzy's collaborators are the Radio-Orchester Beromünster, under the direction of Ludovit Rajter. I’m surprised how much vitality there is from the orchestra, especially in the finale, where the timps are punchy and forwardly projected. The performance enters a very crowded field, yet this traversal fails to topple my favorite versions by Menuhin (1931) and Heifetz. The slow movement is especially fine, where Martzy moulds the lyrical line with expressive intensity.

Martzy's cult status lives on in these glowing transfers, which are full of warmth and depth. Michael Waiblinger's accompanying biography is the most detailed portrait of the artist I have read so far, supplying information I wasn't aware of. For violin mavens, this is an essential purchase.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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