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Henryk Szeryng (violin)
Live in USA
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Poème for Violin and Orchestra, Op 25 (1896) [17:05]
Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Violin Concerto No 3 in E major (1826/28) [31:56]
Reynaldo HAHN (1875-1947)
Violin Concerto in D major, IRH 101 (1927) [29:40]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra/Louis Lane (Hahn)
rec. live, 17 January 1974, Symphony Hall, Boston; 20 November 1987, Symphony Hall, Atlanta (Hahn)

Whilst live performances by Szeryng are not uncommon it’s always exciting when hearing him perform works he never recorded commercially and that’s the case with Chausson’s Poème and Reynaldo Hahn’s Concerto.

The Poème and Paganini’s Third Concerto were recorded in a concert given on 17 January 1974 in Boston with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting. The Chausson receives a vivid, masculine reading which vests the music with a real sense of drama far removed from some rather more evanescent performances. Though oriented toward the Franco-Belgian school, Szeryng here marries tonal purity with expressive breadth and a real sense of theatrical flair. The orchestra, invariably tagged as the most Gallic of American ensembles, plays its role too as does Tilson Thomas whose accompaniment matches Szeryng’s in boldness, drawing out the music’s full complement of romantic fervour. There’s no question that Szeryng’s rich vibrancy is gloriously on show here.

The violinist was largely responsibly for bringing Paganini’s Third Concerto back to public performance, reconstructing it from the manuscripts given to him by Paganini’s great-granddaughters. He gave the first recording and retained the sole rights to it for some time but was generous enough to share the work with Salvatore Accardo – appropriately he gave it to Accardo as a birthday present – as Accardo wanted to record all the concertos (DG 4637542) and properly, perhaps, used his own cadenza, not Szeryng’s. Even so hardly anyone else has ventured into this concerto and when they do, such as Erno Rozsa on Naxos, the results can sound rather laboured in comparison.

The music’s fearsome demands are surmounted with evangelical bravura by Szeryng, and he and Tilson Thomas relish Paganini’s explicitly Rossinian élan. Rhythmically the results are biting and exciting, and Szeryng is just as fine in the graceful cantabile of the slow movement, as the violin spins its succulent line over accompanying orchestral pizzicati figures, as in the magnificently bowed Polacca finale, with a full array of soloistic colour.

The Hahn is an exceptional rarity on disc. Its première recording coupled it with the even less well-known Suite Hongroise as well as the fortunately admired Piano Concerto (see review) but otherwise you will have a much easier time finding recordings of the Violin Sonata. This 1927 concerto, dedicated to the doyen of French violinists, Jules Boucherit, received its North American première in this 1987 concert in Atlanta, directed by Louis Lane. The concerto’s operetta charm proclaims a Belle Époque work of long-breathed melodies, vocalised warmth, balletic elegance and the merest hints of Hahn’s South American birth, touches that Milhaud might have appreciated. Szeryng is especially effective in the intermezzo-like lyric beauty of the slow movement, where Hahn’s orchestration is both apt and precise, as he is in the vif et gai pirouetting of the acrobatic finale. Though he is on less Olympian form than in the Paganini and Chausson works, this is a fortunate survival as Szeryng was to die just over three months later.

Some applause and tuning (both cut short) have been included, the recorded sound in both concerts is very fine indeed, and the notes are good. Presenting two works new to Szeryng’s discography should prove to be a particular draw, not least in such handsomely accomplished readings.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank

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