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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
12 Violin Sonatas with basso continuo, Op.2 (1709) [89:59]
Il Cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione; Violin Concertos, Op.8, Nos 1-4 Four Seasons, RV269, 315, 293, 297 [41:44]
Dénes Kovács (violin)
János Sebestyén (harpsichord); Mária Frank (cello)
Hungarian Radio Chamber Orchestra/Lamberto Gardelli
rec. Budapest 1967-68
Kovács Edition Volume 4
DOREMI DHR-8145-6 [75:14 + 56:29]

Doremi’s releases devoted to violinist Dénes Kovács (1930-2005) are rattling along at a fair pace (see volume 1 for some biographical information regarding him) and this latest example is an all-Vivaldi disc.

The Op.2 Sonatas interested a number of violinists at around this time, Salvatore Accardo, Ruggiero Ricci, Elisabeth Belmas and Piero Toso amongst them. Kovács’ set, recorded in 1968, appeared on Qualiton LP and featured János Sebestyén (harpsichord) and cellist Mária Frank. Kovács is typically long breathed in his phrasing and the three instruments are relatively well-balanced with the caveat that the harpsichord is slightly backwardly placed. Dynamics are shapely and the Hungarian violinist cannily varies his vibrato – notably so in the Preludios, though he can sound just a touch glutinous in one of two of the slow movements, particularly in lower positions. He takes Allemandes with a lithe sense of direction without rushing and best of all, perhaps, are the Gigues which are so often full of dynamism. One of the most impressive performances is of the D major sonata (No.11) where Kovács realises the fantasque quality enshrined in its central movement. Sebestyén was in the early stages of what was to be a long and distinguished career as harpsichordist and organist and acquits himself with discretion, avoiding flourish and ornaments, whilst Mária Frank was equally proficient in the baroque repertoire. She and Sebestyén provided continuo support for György Pauk when he recorded the Handel Violin Sonatas for Hungaroton.

The Vivaldi Sonatas are still available on Hungaroton CD but the Four Seasons is seemingly only available from the label as an mp3 download. The Hungarian Radio Chamber Orchestra is directed by Lamberto Gardelli which, given his operatic prowess, may seem to be somewhat unlikely casting but he was, after all, Venetian-born and during his successful stint in Budapest directing the opera and symphony orchestra, he earned a real reputation as a leading conductor of the baroque repertoire. He and Kovács give a solid, occasionally slightly beefy reading, with no exaggerations of tempo or phrasing but also, perhaps, not much in the way of fantasy of colour or inflection. One can faintly hear the harpsichord strategically filling in, but the famous Loveday-Preston-ASMF-Marriner reading of just a couple of years later seemed to usher in a new and much more charismatic and vital way of approaching the work.

There is some residual LP noise in the transfer but it’s not particularly obtrusive. This twofer is a good souvenir of Kovács’ art in the late 1960s but its appeal will be restricted to his admirers.

Jonathan Woolf

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