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Ivry Gitlis (violin)
In memoriam "inédits et introuvables"
rec. 1937-2010
RHINE CLASSICS RH-019 [9 CDs: 661:19]

Ivry Gitlis almost made it to his hundredth birthday so this nine-disc box is both an appropriate in memoriam but also an anticipation of that centenary which will fall in August 2022. Much of the repertoire is concertos, a couple heard in different performances – Paganini, Sibelius – but all motored by Gitlis’ infallible instincts for personalisation.

I’ll go through disc by disc to give you a flavour of what’s here. The first disc couples Tchaikovsky with the Sibelius. They were performed on successive days in December 1959 in Luxembourg with conductor Louis de Froment. In the former work his quick, quivering vibrato and Heifetz slides are evident and so is his Slavic affiliation and his showy bowing in the excitingly dispatched finale. His recording with Horenstein of the Sibelius has many adherents. His speeds are very close to those Heifetz habitually took in the 50s and his playing has a fervid quality that can become rather scruffy in the cadenza. There are some solo and orchestral (winds specifically) oddities but it’s a fully committed reading. The first disc is completed by the Berg Concerto, recorded with the Orchestre national de la RTF, directed by none other than André Jolivet. Whether the soloist or conductor, or both, were responsible it’s noticeable how much more quickly Gitlis takes the work than he had just a few years earlier when William Strickland directed the Pro Musica Symphony in Vienna.

There’s a 1964 Sibelius concerto in the second disc (Orchestre philharmonique de l’ORTF and Gérard Devos). This seems a little more distantly recorded than the Luxembourg one which might be the reason that Gitlis seems rather less fervent in his approach but, in compensation, this later broadcast has the better orchestra. Gitlis doesn’t play the Intermezzo in Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole which comes from a 1968 Gothenburg performance with John Frandsen conducting. Balances aren’t wonderful and there’s quite some stomping on the platform, from the sound of it. The Scherzando is suavely dispatched but I’m no great admirer of Gitlis’ flautando entry in the Andante and subsequent obsessive changes of colour. Henry Merckel for me, thanks very much. Gitlis was a good interpreter of the Stravinsky concerto. A recording with the Colonne Orchestra and Harold Byrns in 1955 is now supplemented by this fine 1969 one with the attentive Zubin Mehta.

Disc three houses Nielsen’s Concerto and it’s interesting to hear Gitlis in this work. I actually find him more sympathetic in this concerto than in Sibelius; it seems to force him to reconcile certain elements of his resinous tonal armoury, given the essentially more placid and easy-going nature of the concerto. Marius Constant conducts in Paris in 1972. Gitlis was a formidable Paganinian. The First Concerto is here (Munich, Kurt Eichhorn, 1972) and one can hear prodigious feats of left and right hand technique. As always, he plays the Sauret cadenza in the first movement.

Rhine apologizes for what it terms the poor state of the tape of the Brahms concerto contained in disc four. It was recorded in mono in Bucharest in 1980 with Iosif Conta directing, and I was therefore expecting a rough aural ride, so it’s pleasing to report that it’s actually not so bad. A bit constricted, yes, in sonic bandwidth but really not terrible at all. It’s – thus far - the only surviving example of Gitlis playing the Brahms, so well worth hearing for his admirers. He’s at his best in the slow movement whereas he pushes the beat in the finale. There’s another Paganini No 1 in this fourth disc, this time with Leopold Hager and his Luxembourg forces in 1982. There’s a nicely spacious acoustic which finds Gitlis on slightly slower, though no less virtuosic form, than in Munich a decade before. Hager is a much wittier accompanist than Eichhorn, who sounds dutiful and craggy by comparison.

Disc 5 finds the globe-trotter in Suntory Hall, Tokyo for a single concert in 1985. Enterprisingly, he plays Viotti’s Concerto No 1. The NHK plays decently, though I’ve heard them play much better, but in any case it’s a quixotic and unfamiliar concerto to select. He plays the introspective slow movement well but there is some kind of page-turning incident in the finale so he must have been using a score. He plays the Beethoven Concerto afterwards. Some of the playing is good and some very scrappy. Orchestrally Yuzo Toyama directs in a rather stop-start way, which doesn’t help, nor does the fact that Gitlis goes out of tune in the Kreisler cadenza in the first movement. He doesn’t launch the finale well and sounds, frankly, tired with a fingerboard incident and rough tone. He plays the cadenza as if it were an etude. A charming improvisation on a Japanese song ends the evening’s entertainment.

You get some idea of his charm and personable, joking nature in disc six which finds him in Canberra with Richard Tognetti’s Australian Chamber Orchestra performing in the city’s School of Music in 2000. Doubtless the fiddle students were transfixed, as they should have been as Gitlis was unforgettably alluring and entertaining. The longer he wore his hair, the funnier he seemed to be. He plays Tognetti’s arrangement for violin and string orchestra of the Kreutzer Sonata and this vests the performance with a concertante element. There are some decidedly interesting colours to be heard in the variations in the second movement – and there’s a brief role for solo cello. I’d never heard this arrangement before and whilst it’s hardly for everyday listening, I’m glad I have. He introduces and plays the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso. Gitlis often joined Martha Argerich for her ‘Project’ concerts in Lugano and there are several examples here, gathered over the years. In this disc he plays Brahms’s D minor sonata with Polina Lischenko. Here, I’m afraid, things are not good. Gitlis was now 82 and his tone is thin, his phrasing short-breathed, and Leschenko responds by banging away in the finale.

CD7 presents a rehearsal of Richard Strauss’ sonata with discussion with partner Ana-Maria Vera. There’s a lot of conversation though it’s not always easy to pick up what they are discussing. At Wigmore Hall in 2002 he joined with Steven Isserlis and Nelson Goerner for a live BBC Radio 3 broadcast of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio. This has been released courtesy of the two surviving musicians. The reading is huge in personality but very shaky of ensemble, a heavyweight conjunction of three disparate talents whose practice time must have been minimal for so difficult a work as this. It’s best to buckle oneself in and hold tight.

The penultimate disc revisits the Argerich project. They play the Kreutzer sonata in 2003. Gitlis had heard the work first when Huberman had played it, a memory he never forgot. He isn’t as rugged as I’d anticipated and Argerich plays with great perception and sympathy. They play Mozart’s Sonata K301 well in 2006, Argerich frequently leading. The third piece is Bartók’s Rhapsody No 1 but this time with pianist Akane Sakai in 2004, a work appropriately suited for his resinous gypsy-orientated approach. In 2010, the most recent recording, he plays improvisations on pieces by Gershwin, Cole Porter and Harold Arlen. His spoken introductions, in French of course, are delightful. At 87 he had lost nothing of his personality and magnetism, but these are very brief performances, more aperçu than fully formed improvisations. The jazziest – and Gitlis could swing when younger, when he wanted to – is the Porgy finale (track 16).

The final disc offers some rarer examples culled from his commercial legacy. There’s a pre-war Lumen 78 where, at the age of 14, he joins fellow students of Marcel Chailley for a Baroque brace. Those others include Lola Bobesco and, boy, do they go in for some sliding. The Wilhelmj arrangement and reorchestration of the first movement of Paganini’s Concerto No.1 makes an appearance. He’s accompanied by the Austrian Symphony Orchestra under Kurt Wöss in a boxy Remington LP but he plays with typically engaged bravura. In Berg’s Chamber Concerto, he, pianist Charlotte Lois Zelka and the Pro Musica (ie the Vienna Symphony) wind ensemble are astutely directed by Harold Byrns. Finally, there’s Stravinsky’s Duo Concertant with Zelka once again, taken from a Vox LP – a bit of a Boxy Voxy but a good performance.

This is a compendious and valuable Gitlis box, a fitting memorial and retrospective. Its highlights include works, such as the Brahms, that are new to his discography and the opportunities for contrasts between performances of the same work. Some of the earlier broadcasts are in mono – all CD1, the Sibelius with Devos on CD2, the Brahms in CD4, and obviously the whole of CD9, but the remainder seems to be in stereo. The fine restorations are in 24bit 96 kHz. There’s a first-class booklet with full performance details, excellently reproduced photographs, and label reproductions. The booklet note is by the man who made this box happen, Emilio Pessina, and the Gitlis discography, accurate up to June 2021, is by the indefatigable Jean-Michel Molkhou. Discographies are moveable feasts so let’s hope he will be updating it before too long.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank

CD1 | 79:41
Violin Concerto in D major, Op 35
Grand orchestre symphonique de RTL | Louis de Froment | 8.XII.1959
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op 47
Grand orchestre symphonique de RTL | Louis de Froment | 7.XII.1959
Violin Concerto “To the Memory of an Angel”
Orchestre national de la RTF | André Jolivet | 12.XI.1959

CD2 | 75:35
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op 47
Orchestre philharmonique de l’ORTF | Gérard Devos | 15.X.1964
Symphonie espagnole in D minor, Op 21
Göteborgs Symfoniker | John Frandsen | 7.XI.1968
Violin Concerto in D major
Orchestre national de l’ORTF | Zubin Mehta | 21.I.1969

CD3 | 60:33
Violin Concerto, Op 33
Orchestre national de l’ORTF | Marius Constant | 25.I.1972
Violin Concerto No 1 in D major, Op 6
Münchner Rundfunkorchester | Kurt Eichhorn | 10.XI.1972

CD4 | 67:10
Violin Concerto in D major, Op 77 (Cadenza: J. Joachim)
Orchestra Națională Radio România | Iosif Conta | 24-I.1980
Violin Concerto No 1 in D major, Op 6
Grand orchestre symphonique de RTL | Leopold Hager | 21.X.1982

CD5 | 71:23
Violin Concerto No 1 in C major, G.32
Violin Concerto in D major, Op 61 (Cadenzas I & III: F. Kreisler)
encore/bis (announced by Gitlis):
Improvisation on the Japanese Song “Hamabe no uta” (“Song of the Seashore” by Tamezou Narita | version for Violin solo by Gitlis)
NHK Symphony Orchestra | Yuzo Toyama | 18.XII.1995

CD6 | 74:18
Violin Sonata No 9 in A major, Op 47 “ŕ Kreutzer” *
Introduction et Rondň capriccioso, Op 28 *
(* Arrangements for Violin and String Orchestra by R. Tognetti)
Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) | Richard Tognetti, leader | 20.X.2000
Violin Sonata No 3 in D minor, Op 108
Polina Leschenko, piano | 12.VI.2005

CD7 | 78:40
Violin Sonata in E-flat major, Op 18
(in rehearsal - working on the first two movements)
Ana-Maria Vera, piano | late-1990s
Piano Trio in A minor, Op 50 “In Memory of a Great Artist”
Ivry Gitlis, violin | Steven Isserlis, cello | Nelson Goerner, piano | 16.I.2002

CD8 | 79:34
Violin Sonata No 9 in A major, Op 47 “ŕ Kreutzer”
Martha Argerich, piano | 7.VI.2003
Violin Rhapsody No 1, Sz.86
Akane Sakai, piano | 26.VI.2004
Violin Sonata (No 18) in G major, KV.301/293a
Martha Argerich, piano | 14.VI.2006
George Gershwin - Cole Porter - Harold Arlen
Improvisations around “Porgy and Bess”
Cyril Barbessol, piano | 1.VII.2010

CD9 | 67:50
early 78 & 33 rpms | first CD release
Largo espressivo (from Violin Sonata Op 8 No 3 in D major)
Desplanes / arr. T.Nachéz
Intrada (Grave)
Pupils of Marcel Chailley (violins ensemble) | Céliny Chailley-Richez & Jacques Chailley, conductors | 11.II.1937
78rpm | Lumen 30.063 | ℗1937
Paganini / arr. Wilhelmj
Violin Concerto No 1 (reorchestration of the 1st movement - Cadenza: É. Sauret)
Austrian Symphony Orchestra | Kurt Wöss | 26-28.IX.1950
10” LP 33rpm | Remington RLP-149-20 | ℗1951
Chamber Concerto for Violin, Piano and 13 Winds
Charlotte Lois Zelka, piano | Vienna Wind Ensemble | Harold Byrns | 30.III.1954
12” LP 33rpm | Vox PL-8660 | ℗1954
Duo Concertant
Charlotte Lois Zelka, piano | Vienna | 1955
12” LP 33rpm | Vox PL-9410 | ℗1956

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