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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)
American premiere (Hahn)

Henryk Szeryng (1918-1988) is one of an elite group of twentieth century violinists who can be termed ‘great’. His rise to international recognition was unusual. It was a chance encounter with Arthur Rubinstein in Mexico in 1954, following a guest performance the pianist gave, that sealed his fate. The pianist introduced him to American impresario Sol Hurok, and from there his international career was launched. A gifted pupil of Carl Flesch, he’d fled to London in 1939, where he was supported by the Polish Prime Minister in exile Wladyslaw Sikorski before both relocated to Mexico. He fell in love with the country and accepted a professorship at the Faculdad de Música of Mexico City University. He took Mexican citizenship in 1946.

His playing demonstrates the virtues of the Franco-Belgian violin school, with its elegance, beauty of tone and clean-cut virtuosity and polish. The beauty of his sound is one of the aspects of his art that draws me to it. Henry Roth speaks thus of his violin tone “...that, at its best, radiated a sort of inner warmth calculated to seduce the listener”. One can only marvel at “his sovereign instrumental mastery and the depth and perception of his musicianship”.

The earliest of the two concerts featured on this disc dates from 17 January 1974 at Symphony Hall, Boston. Szeryng performs the ever-popular Poème by Ernest Chausson and Paganini’s Third Violin Concerto. The orchestra is the Boston Symphony under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas. What an exquisite work the Poème is. Written for Eugène Ysaÿe in 1896 it brims over with sensuous and seductive harmonies. Szeryng delivers a rhapsodic account. His opulent tone is the perfect match for this impressionistic score. How well he confronts the long cadenza at the beginning, with intonation dead of centre. Tilson Thomas handles the dreamy and ruminative sections exceptionally well. It’s certainly a performance which ranks with those of the teenage Menuhin, and my particular favorite by Jascha Heifetz.

The booklet notes set out the history and circumstances behind Niccolò Paganini’s Third Violin Concerto. It was premiered by the composer in Vienna in July 1828. After Paganini’s death it languished in obscurity until it was rediscovered in the late 1960s. The score was confided to Szeryng by the composer’s granddaughters. He painstakingly spent three months reconstructing it for performance. He made the first recording and gave its first public performance in 1971. I vividly remember seeing a TV documentary at the time, where he discussed and performed it, and then buying the LP when it was first released, which I still have to this day. The Concerto is Italianate in style with animated outer movements and a central slow movement cast in operatic vein, where a discreet pizzicato accompaniment accompanies Szeryng’s luscious lyrical line. The Polacca third movement has buoyancy and swagger and, again, Tilson Thomas provides flexible and engaging support.

Fast forward thirteen years and the second concert, dated 20 November 1987, features the Violin Concerto of Reynaldo Hahn. Here, Szeryng is partnered by Louis Lane at the helm of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The performance is the Concerto’s North American premiere. Penned in 1927, the score disappeared after its Parisian premiere in 1928, only to resurface after the composer’s death. The work is suffused with lyricism. The first movement Décidé sounds rather like Korngold, its rhythms military sounding and in parts jazzy. The slow movement is titled Chant d’Amour and is clearly influenced by his composition teacher Jules Massenet in its outpouring of lush melody and dreamy haze. Szeryng’s warm, radiant tone is ardent and yearning. After a brief pining slow introduction, the finale becomes animated and filled with verve. Szeryng’s crisp, incisive bowing adds spice and sparkle to the proceedings.

These are live recordings and the applause has been retained to evoke the live concert experience. The sound quality cannot be faulted, and one can only assume that Emilio Pessina, the producer and audio restorer, has had access to fine source material. The booklet is written by Gary Lemco who discusses both Szeryng’s art and the background and context to the works performed. It’s certainly a disc to treasure.

Stephen Greenbank

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