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Roman Totenberg (violin)
Violin Recitals in Germany
rec. 1958-1970
MELOCLASSIC MC2041 [2 CDs: 75:19 + 76:01]

It’s amazing to think that Roman Totenberg (1 January 1911 – 8 May 2012) made his debut aged 11 and performed his last concert in his mid-nineties. What’s equally remarkable is that he continued teaching until the time of his death aged 101. In 1928 he was fortunate to encounter Carl Flesch, and spent the next four years studying with him. Later George Enescu and Pierre Monteux applied the finishing touches. He toured South America with Artur Rubinstein in the 1930s, and gave recitals with Karol Szymanowski. Eventually emigrating to the States, he received his American citizenship in 1943. In addition to extensive concertizing, he was a sought-after pedagogue. My first encounter with his playing was many years ago via a Heliodor LP featuring Bach’s two Violin Concertos, and later on a CD of the Brahms and Lipinski Violin Concertos published by the Titanic label.

Totenberg recorded J.S. Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin in 1960, and the cycle appeared on 3 LPs (Musical Heritage Society MHS-1460-1462). The set is very rare and highly sought after, fetching large prices. To my knowledge it’s never been graced on silver disc. I was so pleased that the Sonatas 1 and 2 feature here in live recordings from 1958 and 1963. Both Sonatas are comfortably paced, nicely articulated and free of idiosyncrasies. The fugues are carried off superbly, with double and triple stops clean and well-managed. Totenberg’s tone has a warmth and bloom to it and intonation is faultless.

I don’t have the same enthusiasm for the opening movement of Schubert’s Sonata in A major, D574 which drags its feet and remains strangely earthbound. Things improve in the later movements, especially the lyrically mellifluous Andantino. Yet, on the whole, I missed Kreisler’s warmth and ardent projection. A lovely balance is struck, though, in the recording process, with the violin on the left and piano on the right, which gives the impression of the artists in the room with you. The Szymanowski from the same session is equally balanced. Both works were recorded in 1970 with pianist Konrad Richter.

Dvořák’s Sonatina is a delightful work, bursting with melodic inspiration, into which Totenberg and pianist Nora Klenk fully buy into. The performance couldn’t be improved on for its sheer freshness and verve. Brahms technically challenging Third Sonata receives the dramatic intensity it pleads for. Totenberg and Konrad Richter fully address the stormy narrative and convincingly pull off the work’s cumulative sweep. Debussy’s last major work was his Sonata in G minor, penned against the backdrop of World War 1. The violinist employs some sensuous position changes and colourful sonorities which add to the success of the performance. The optimistic finale is illuminated with some luminous gossamer textures.

From Hamburg 1958, there’s an idiomatic Suite popular Espańola by Falla in an arrangement by Paul Kochański, imbued with the flavor and fragrence of Iberia. Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances are stylistic nuanced and invested with an appealing gypsy spirit. The Wieniawski Polonaise is dispatched with assurity and ease.

It’s regrettable that Totenberg’s star hasn’t shone as brightly as some of Flesch’s top rank students. His repertoire embraced a wide spectrum ranging from Bach to William Schuman, yet his representation in the catalogue is minimal. Thanks to Meloclassic, the balance is somewhat redressed with this fascinating cache of live radio recordings in agreeable sound. I sincerely hope that more of the violinist’s art will surface from this label in the future. Totenberg was an admirable violinist, and his refined artistry is certainly deserving of wider currency.

Stephen Greenbank

CD 1 [75:19]
BACH: Violin Solo Sonata No 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001
Recorded ∙ 05 March 1958 ∙ Hamburg ∙ Studio 10 ∙ NDR ∙ Radio Studio Recording
BACH: Violin Solo Sonata No 2 in A Minor, BWV 1003
Recorded ∙ 23 February 1963 ∙ Stuttgart ∙ Villa K ∙ SDR ∙ Radio Studio Recording
SCHUBERT: Violin Sonata in A Major, D 574
SZYMANOWSKI: La Fontaine d’Aréthuse (from Mythes), Op 30
Konrad Richter ∙ piano
Recorded ∙ 26 January 1970 ∙ Hamburg ∙ Studio 10 ∙ NDR ∙ Radio Studio Recording

CD 2 [76:01]
FALLA: Suite popular Espańola (Arr. by Paul Kochański)
Richard Beckmann ∙ piano
Recorded ∙ 05 March 1958 ∙ Hamburg ∙ Studio 10 ∙ NDR ∙ Radio Studio Recording
DVORÁK: Violin Sonatina in G Major, Op 100, B 183
Nora Klenk ∙ piano
Recorded ∙ 08 January 1964 ∙ Stuttgart ∙ Villa K ∙ SDR ∙ Radio Studio Recording
BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No 3 in D Minor, Op 108
DEBUSSY: Violin Sonata in G Minor, L 148
BARTÓK: Romanian Folk Dances, Sz 56 (Arr. by Zoltán Székely)
Konrad Richter ∙ piano
Recorded ∙ 31 May 1968 ∙ Ettlingen ∙ Schloß Asamsaal ∙ SDR ∙ Live Recording
WIENIAWSKI: Polonaise brillante in D Major, Op 4
Maria Bergmann ∙ piano
Recorded ∙ 22 February 1963 ∙ Baden-Baden ∙ Studio 5 ∙ SWF ∙ Radio Studio Recording

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