MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Support us financially by purchasing from

Joseph Szigeti (violin)
The Complete Columbia Album Collection
rec. 1938-1956
SONY CLASSICAL 19075940352 [17CDs: ca 930 mins]

In 1992, to mark the centenary of Szigeti’s birth, Sony Masterworks released a series of single discs that surveyed that part of his recorded legacy over which they had rights. Meanwhile Biddulph made its own significant contribution (LAB 064, LAB070-71), which, whilst still focused heavily on the Columbias, branched out to include the recording of Ives’ Fourth Violin Sonata made for New Music Quarterly in 1941.

Now, it’s time for a ‘Complete Columbia Album Collection’, 17 CDs’ worth of recordings made between 1938 and 1956. Some of these are so famous that they have been multiply reissued (the Bartók pieces, for example), others are similarly well-known and can also be found in the same restorations in recent Sony mega sets – the concertos with Bruno Walter and Eugene Ormandy. Some are less tractable. Everything has been transferred from the master discs and tapes using 24 bit/96 kHz.

The combination of a failing – but sometimes inconsistently failing – technique and Columbia’s quite resinous studio recording quality means that this period of Szigeti’s recording career fills even his greatest admirers with a certain amount of alarm. It’s tempting to divide his career into the pre-war and post-war and to a great extent this is true, but the interregnum period reflects the difficulties of making sweeping judgements; I’d put the problematic years later than that, from around the late 40s onwards. We know from something written by Bill Newman in his Biddulph sleeve note – Newman began working for EMI in London in the late 50s – that Szigeti was keen to record into the 1960s, though anyone who has ever heard the 1959 Mercury Brahms Violin Concerto with Herbert Menges will be mighty glad he didn’t.

The first disc covers the Bartók Contrasts and Rhapsody No 1, with the composer, and Benny Goodman added in Contrasts. They both sound better in these remasterings than I’ve heard them before; Szigeti’s fiddle has a more folkloric edge, and Bartók’s piano is more centred and clarified in the balance whilst in Contrasts the dynamics are far more audibly calibrated and Szigeti’s pizzicati sound more subtly deployed than in the more ochre-coloured transfers I’ve heard before, including the Naxos. Bloch’s Baal Shem reminds one of Szigeti’s work propagating the Violin Concerto whilst the arrangement of Milhaud’s Sumaré illustrates how works could be revitalised by questing musicians. That sort of happens in the 1938 recording of Mozart’s Divertimento in B-flat major where Szigeti takes a (originally non-existent) concertante role – the work is repurposed as a quasi-concerto – with the spirited support of Max Goberman and a chamber orchestra.

The strikingly ‘present’ transfers are equally audible in the second disc, a miscellaneous collection of pieces that include two Dvořák Slavonic Dances and some beautifully played pieces by his teacher Hubay, and Kodály. Szigeti’s own arrangement of the latter’s Közjáték from Háry János emphasises the cutting edge to his tone, made that much more graphic by virtue of the excellence of the transfer. Szigeti was hardly a tonalist in the accepted Kreisler-Elman-Thibaud sense but it’s instructive to hear how very personal was his tone in these recordings. The major works in this second disc however are the Debussy Sonata and Stravinsky’s Duo concertant. Whilst this is in no way a Franco-Belgian reading along the lines of those by Thibaud, Francescatti or Dubois, I love Szigeti and Andor Foldes’ tempo in the Debussy recording of 1942; firefly and ebb and flow held in excellent balance at crisp, forward-moving tempos. The Duo concertant saw Szigeti added to Samuel Dushkin’s name as an elite string partner to Stravinsky. The two versions of the Pastorale – Szigeti and pianist Harry Kaufman, and Szigeti in the violin and wind quartet version (an all-star cast with Stravinsky directing such as Mitch Miller and Sol Schoenbach) - are also here, sounding memorably good.

The Beethoven Concerto with Bruno Walter is the same transfer as in the recent Walter box. The disc replaced the earlier recording the two men made with the British Symphony Orchestra in 1932. If I said the tempi were the same in both recordings I’d be lying by only a gnat’s crotchet. The Brahms Concerto with Ormandy and the Philadelphians occupies disc four and it too is in the very recent Ormandy-Sony 120-CD box. This replaced Szigeti’s personality-packed recording with Hamilton Harty and the Hallé. There could be no more fascinating conjunction of performers than the astringent Szigeti and the silken Phily strings – well, perhaps Huberman. Ormandy was on a Brahms kick, recording the Fourth Symphony and the Second Piano Concerto with Serkin at around the same time. There was a filler to the final side of the Brahms, the slow movement of the composer’s D minor sonata where Szigeti is joined by Leonid Hambro and it shows how wide his vibrato could oscillate to the music’s considerable disadvantage.

The fifth disc introduces Horszowski as an accompanist in Beethoven’s First Violin Sonata where Szigeti’s intonation problems are audible and in No 7 where his bowing is very erratic. Though he was a master of deliberate ‘pathetic’ intonation, it’s sadly technical inability that bedevils this brace of performances, the earlier sonata dating from 1942 and No 7 – the worse performance - from 1949. Szigeti never left a studio cycle of the Beethoven sonatas so I suggest you stick with the Library of Congress cycle with Claudio Arrau (No 10 is my favourite – a deeply powerful reading), to be found on Vanguard Classics. The Schubert Sonatina D384 is trimly done (with Foldes).

Disc 6 is very much different; both Prokofiev’s Sonatas with Joseph Levine (No 1) and Hambro (No 2). I’ve written about these elsewhere (see at the foot of this review) but it’s as well to point out Szigeti’s affinity with Prokofiev, the case of the First Concerto most obviously, but also for establishing a credibly acerbic approach to the solo line, though I should add that he is often under the note in the second movement of the First Sonata, in particular.

It’s a great shame that Szigeti didn’t record the complete cycle of Bach Sonatas and Partitas in the late 1920s or early to mid-30s, but things were different then and it took the young Menuhin a number of years to make his first 78rpm cycle. Szigeti’s Vanguard cycle is a noble edifice but this mid-50s set came far, far too late. Turn the clock back to the First and Second Sonata recordings of 1931 and 1933 respectively – you can find them on Pristine Audio - and you’ll see what we missed. In 1949 he got around to the Third Sonata, nobly conceived but profoundly compromised by frailties. Back in 1940 he made a really engaging reading of the reconstructed concerto after the Harpsichord Concerto, BWV1052. Fritz Stiedry accompanies with the Orchestra of the New Friends of Music.

The major items on disc eight are Schubert’s Fantasia with Levine – though it’s rather vitiated by the violinist’s thinning tone - and Corelli’s La Follia in the familiar Léonard arrangement. This was the first time he recorded it, though you can find a live recording with Klemperer, of all people, accompanying in the orchestral version. Jumping ahead to disc ten one finds Schubert’s Rondo with Carlo Bussotti and Beethoven’s final sonata with Horszowski, recorded in Prades in 1952; pitch problems and tonal thinness, with an almost total absence of vibrancy mean that one listens rather more avidly to the ever-excellent pianist. Myra Hess joins Szigeti for Schubert’s Sonata, D574, a collegiate reading by players whose friendship went back almost to the very earliest days of their careers. Mention of Prades draws one back to disc nine for 1950 recordings of the Bach Concerto for flute, violin and keyboard and the same concerto Szigeti recorded with Stiedry a decade earlier. Note however that due to the ‘original sleeve’ rubric the first-named Concerto doesn’t feature Szigeti; instead, it’s Alexander Schneider with John Wummer, Horszowski and Casals, as ever, directing. Szigeti is present for the final item in this disc, the Brandenburg Concerto No 5 with Wummer and Eugene Istomin, who plays wonderfully well. The performances are of the Big Bone school. I just don’t like Casals conducting Bach; sorry.

Disc 11 is all-Brahms and all-Prades. I have written about the Piano Quartet recording elsewhere (see at the foot of this review) and the Piano Trio in C major is something of a classic meeting; Szigeti, Casals, Hess. And despite the disparities and incongruities of the two string players, ones that could be better submerged in a piano quartet, and despite Casals’ grunting, the slow movement possesses ineffable and moving breadth of utterance.

Disc 12 is a faithful original jacket representation of Columbia’s ‘Modern American Music Series’. Szigeti and Bussotti play Cowell’s Violin Sonata No 1, which was dedicated to the violinist. Szigeti does his best but Cowell’s instruction ‘with intense tone’ in the opening movement is clearly beyond him. The vibrato is very wide, his sense of pitch is approximate and tonal thinness is here endemic. By this stage in the game this was made for someone like Louis Kaufman, not Szigeti. Szigeti and Cowell himself play the latter’s very brief How Old is Song? where the composer turns the piano into a kind of zither. There is also Harold Shapero’s Sonata for piano four-hands; those four hands belonging to Shapero and Leo Smit.

Disc 13 is all-Beethoven, where the Fifth and Sixth Violin Sonatas once again find Szigeti joined by the astute, sensitive Horszowski. I’m afraid though that the Spring is a washout with the opening movement unbearably sleepy. In the Sixth the ear is drawn time and again to the pianist and though the variations in the finale are well characterised Szigeti’s battles with pitch are graphically to be heard. I’ve had my say regarding disc 14, a Baroque affair. The Bach Concerto recording with Szell still sounds terrible (Szell’s fault) and the Handel is a disappointing remake of a pre-war triumph. Disc fifteen presents Szigeti in major twentieth century works. His Ravel Sonata is stylistically apt and perceptive – the Blues movement is underplayed and shorn of the kind of archness that can kill it stone dead - and it makes a fine match for his Debussy even if it was recorded in 1953. Though he’s too often flat in the Hindemith it’s otherwise a convincing traversal. Prokofiev’s Sonata for solo violin is more an exercise for massed student violinists than anything and the Columbia acoustic is unhelpfully chilly. And though Szigeti’s bowing is clearly compromised in the Five Melodies it’s a finely chiselled piece of playing.

Szigeti was devoted to the music of Busoni. I reviewed the 1941 Commemorative Concert at which Szigeti played the Concerto (see review) in New York with Mitropoulos where his tone was steely but not as compromised as it was to become. His 1954 recording is therefore something of a heroic undertaking that once again came too late for him to give a true account of himself. It is bedevilled with problems. This applies even more in the Sonata No 2 (with Horszowski) where, whilst it might be touching to hear the Chorale played with such obvious fragility, the fugal passage is almost impossible to listen to and the performance as good as self-destructs technically.

The final disc has two Brahms Sonatas, again with the powerful support of Horszowski. The G major was recorded in April 1951 but it wasn’t one of Szigeti’s good days. Much of the phrasing is admirable, of course, but it is a pretty saddening experience to hear this. The D minor Sonata with Egon Petri was one of the glories of his pre-war sonata discography but a slackening vibrato, deeply wayward intonation and a much more emphatic and leaden slow movement mean that once again this 1956 recording illustrates a devitalised, ill and compromised Szigeti. With the same pianist he completed his Brahms sonata LP cycle with the Second, for Mercury in 1959, about which the least said, the better. Obviously, it’s not included here.

Finally, some housekeeping. A number of Szigeti’s HMV recordings released on Columbia LP are not included in this 17-CD box set as the rights remain with Warner. Szigeti and George Szell recorded two Mozart sonatas and they were released on a Columbia Masterworks LP, but they now form part of Vanguard’s Complete Mozart Violin Sonata box set, with Horszowski predominantly, but Szell too, accompanying. The Bach solo sonatas and partitas are also on Vanguard. The 78s Szigeti made in Japan in 1931 are owned by Denon. Similarly, the 1946 coupling of Bartók’s Portrait No 1 and Berlioz’s Ręverie and Caprice, made with Constant Lambert and the Philharmonia, does not form part of this new box.

There’s also the question of attribution briefly to note. In the small sticker on the front of the box Sony claims that no fewer than ‘30 recordings [are] released for the first time on CD, mastered from the original analogue discs and tapes using 24bit/96kHz’. I’ve queried that with Sony as the problem presumably lies with Biddulph which did excellent work reissuing a number of these recordings back in the early 90s: not all, by any means, but a good swathe, though certainly not things like the Cowell Sonata. I suspect Sony has simply overlooked the Biddulph discs, as a rough tally makes it near enough 30 individual works on their discs that were not on the previous Sony Masterworks reissues.

I mention this so people aren’t misled. I certainly don’t want to downplay how good it is to hear these recordings in the best possible sound, sourced from the masters. They have never sounded so good, with admirable clarity of detail, and it’s a tribute to Sony’s dedication to the cause that they have gone to the technical trouble of doing this and getting it right.

The succinct booklet notes are by Tully Potter and the notes reprint Szigeti’s article ‘Joseph Szigeti on Schubert’, as did a Biddulph release. It also includes excellent photographic reproductions of the violinist and confreres as well as his contract cards and matrix details and full discographic information.

Szigeti was a great musician, a true artist. Everyone who loves him and his art knows full well what to expect in this box; the great – the concertos – and the near pitiful (the Brahms and Busoni sonatas) exist side by side in this element of his discography. If you admire Szigeti and buy this box - and I think you should buy this box – you must accept that there are a number of discs that you will probably never listen to again. If the attrition rate is too high, and I would judge that maybe only eight or nine discs are truly indispensable, then you must pass by. But given the relatively modest cost of this box, the exceptionally fine remasterings, and the fact that a number of these recordings have been unavailable for very many years, then maybe you will accept the frailties as the price one must pay for greatness.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous reviews:

Brahms Violin Sonata No 1 and Piano Quartet No 3 in C minor Op 60 (review)
Bach Violin Concerto in G minor with George Szell (review)
Bach Brandenburg Concerto No 5 (review)
Prokofiev and Stravinsky (review)
Bach, Handel and Tartini (review)

Track listings & performers:
Bartók; Violin Rhapsody No 1, Sz. 87
Bartók: Contrasts for Clarinet, Violin and Piano, Sz.111
Bloch: Three Pictures of Chassidic Life for Violin and Piano
Milhaud: Saudades do Brasil, Op 67: No 9, Sumare arr Claude Lévy
Falla: El Sombrero de Tres Picos, Parte I, Danza de la molinera arr Joseph Szigeti
Mozart: Divertimento No 15 in B-flat Major, K. 287, '2. Lodronsche Nachtmusik' -
CD 2
Mussorgsky: Sorochintsy Fair, Gopak arr Sergei Rachmaninov
Dvořák: Slavonic Dance in E Minor, Op 46, No.2 arr. in G Minor by Fritz Kreisler
Dvořák: Slavonic Dance No 3 in A-flat Major, Op 46, No 3 arr. in E Minor by Fritz Kreisler
Hubay: Scenes de la Csarda No 4, Op 32, 'Hejre Kati'
Kodály: Közjáték; Háry János Suite, Izk 26 arr Joseph Szigeti
Brahms: Hungarian Dances for Orchestra, WoO 1: No 5 in G Minor arr by Joseph Joachim
Debussy: Violin Sonata in G Minor, L.140
Hubay: The Zephyr, Op 30, No 5
Tchaikovsky: Pieces, Op 51: No 6, Valse sentimentale arr David J Grunes
Schubert, F: Bagatelle Op 13, No 9, 'Die Biene'
Stravinsky: Pastorale, Song without Words for Violin & Piano arr Igor Stravinsky and Samuel Dushkin
Stravinsky: Duo Concertant for Violin and Piano
Stravinsky: Pastorale, Song without Words for Violin & Woodwind Quartet
Stravinsky: Russian Maiden's Song arr Igor Stravinsky and Samuel Dushkin
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op 61
CD 4
Brahms: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op 77
Brahms: Violin Sonata No 3 in D Minor, Op 108: II. Adagio
Beethoven: Violin Sonata No 1 in D Major, Op 12, No 1
Beethoven: Violin Sonata No 7 in C Minor, Op 30, No 2
Schubert: Violin Sonata in D Major, D.384
Schubert: Piano Sonata No 17 in D Major, D.850: IV. Rondo. Allegretto moderato arr Carl Friedberg
Prokofiev: Violin Sonata No 1 in F Minor, Op 80
Prokofiev: Violin Sonata No 2 in D Major, Op 94bis
Johann Sebastian Bach: Violin Sonata No 3 in C Major, BWV1005
Johann Sebastian Bach: Keyboard Concerto No 1 in D Minor, BWV1052
Schubert: Fantaisie for Piano and Violin in C Major, Op Posth 159, D.934
Corelli: Violin Sonata in D Minor, Op 5 No 12 'La Folia' (Variations Serieuses) arr Hubert Léonard
Debussy: Suite bergamasque, L.75: No 3. Clair de lune arr Alexandre Roelens
Lalo: Aubade From 'le Roi D'ys' arr Joseph Szigeti
Tchaikovsky: 6 Pieces, Op 51: No 6, Valse sentimentale arr David J Grunes
Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita for Solo Violin No 1 In B Minor, BWV1002: Tempo Di Borea
Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto for Flute, Violin And Keyboard in A Minor, BWV1044
Johann Sebastian Bach: Violin Concerto No 1 in D Minor, reconstr. BWV1052/1056
Johann Sebastian Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in D Major, BWV1050
Schubert: Rondo in B Minor for Piano and Violin, D.895 (Op 70) 'Rondeau brillant'
Beethoven: Violin Sonata No 10 in G Major, Op 96
Schubert: Violin Sonata in A Major, Op 162 D.574 'Grand Duo'
Brahms: Piano Quartet No 3 in C Minor, Op 60
Brahms: Piano Trio No 2 in C Major Op 87
Cowell: Sonata No 1 for Violin and Piano (1945)
Cowell: How Old Is Song?
Shapero: Sonata for Piano Four Hands (1941)
Beethoven: Violin Sonata No 5 in F Major, Op 24 'Spring'
Beethoven: Violin Sonata No 6 in A Major, Op 30, No 1
Johann Sebastian Bach: Violin Concerto in G Minor, BWV1056
Handel: Violin Sonata in D Major, HWV371
Tartini: Violin Concerto in D Minor, D.45
Tartini: Violin Sonata in G Major, B.G19
Ravel: Violin Sonata in G Major, M.77
Hindemith: Violin Sonata in E Major (1939)
Prokofiev: Sonata for Solo Violin in D Major, Op 115
Prokofiev: 5 Melodies for Violin and Piano, Op 35bis
Busoni: Violin Concerto, Op 35a, BV243
Busoni: Violin Sonata No 2, Op 36a, BV244
Brahms: Violin Sonata No 1 in G Major, Op 78 'Regen'
Brahms: Violin Sonata No 3 in D Minor, Op 108

Béla Bartók (piano); Benny Goodman (clarinet): Andor Foldes (piano): Chamber Orchestra/Max Goberman: Harry Kaufman (piano): Igor Stravinsky (piano): Mitch Miller (oboe): Robert McGinnis (clarinet): Bert Gassman (cor anglais): Sol Schoenbach (bassoon): Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/Bruno Walter; Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy: Leonid Hambro (piano): Mieczyslaw Horszowski (piano): Joseph Levine (piano); Orchestra of the New Friends of Music/Fritz Stiedry: John Wummer (flute), Alexander Schneider (violin), Mieczyslaw Horszowski (piano): Eugene Istomin (piano)/Prades Festival Orchestra/Pablo Casals: Carlo Bussotti (piano): Myra Hess (piano): Milton Katims (viola): Paul Tortelier (cello): Harold Shapero and Leo Smit (pianos): Henry Cowell (piano): Columbia Symphony Orchestra/George Szell: The Little Orchestra Society/Thomas Scherman

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing