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Johanna Martzy (violin)
Her Columbia Graphophone Recordings
Johanna Martzy (violin)
Jean Antonietti (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Paul Kletzki,Wolfgang Sawallisch
rec. 1954-1955, London; Berlin (Schubert)
WARNER CLASSICS 9029648857 [9 CDs: 401:23]

Aficionados of the art of violin will welcome with open arms this newly released 9 CD set of Johanna Martzy’s Complete Columbia Graphophone recordings, fully remastered, which date from 1954-1955. Last year, Eloquence released her Complete Deutsche Grammophon Recordings, which were enthusiastically reviewed in these pages.

Johanna Martzy (1924-1979) was one of a group of female violinists whose careers peaked in the mid-to-late twentieth century. Ginette Neveu, Erica Morini, Gioconda de Vito and Ida Haendel have all remained favourites with collectors. Martzy, at the time of her early death in 1979 at the young age of fifty-four, had been largely forgotten. Thanks to the advocacy of far-eastern collectors, most notably the Japanese, she has now been elevated to cult status, with her LPs fetching large sums. Some years ago a six-CD set ‘The Art of Johanna Martzy’ emanated from Japan, and later a thirteen disc box of the complete recordings she made for DG and EMI was issued in Korea. Testament have made a valuable contribution, and Coup d’Archet issued five CDs of live recordings several years ago, long since deleted.

Romanian by birth, Martzy took up the violin at the age of six, later becoming a student at the Franz Liszt Academy, Budapest. Her teacher was Jenő Hubay (1858-1937), the Hungarian violinist and composer, whose students included Szigeti, Telmányi, Székely, Geyer and Sándor Végh. She made her début at the age of thirteen and graduated from the Academy in 1942. In 1947 she won first prize in the Geneva Competition. Starting her recording career with DG, she was later brought under the wing of EMI by Walter Legge. Her commercial recorded legacy is relatively small and narrow. Likewise, her international career was short in comparison with others. In 1969 she married the wealthy Daniel Tschudi and thereafter seemed to lack the financial incentive to continue in an active role. She died of cancer in 1979 in relative obscurity.

The recordings of the Brahms and Mendelssohn Concertos with Kletzki were recorded in 1954 and 1955. The latter was a remake; she’d recorded the Mendelssohn and Mozart Concerto No. 3 with Sawallisch in June of 1954. The sessions didn’t go well, with much friction between the two artists. The Kletzki pairing showcases Martzy’s free and expressive style. Intonation is occasionally off the mark, but this is small price to pay for two distinguished interpretations. The Mendelssohn Concerto is vital and engaging. The violinist’s tone is silvery but lean, and the vibrato is fast and tight. The Brahms reveals some aristocratic playing. The slow movement is exquisitely contoured, and the Hungarian finale won’t leave you feeling short-changed with its passion and fire. The Mendelssohn Concerto with Sawallisch I didn’t feel was interpretively that different. The Mozart overflows with joie de vivre and youthful joy. The slow movement is particularly alluring with its elegance and poise. The Polish conductor Paul Kletzki teams up with her once again for the two charming Beethoven Romances. Both works are melodically rich, and Martzy truly savours each, playing them with ardent fervour.

Martzy was the first female violinist to record the complete Bach Sonatas and Partitas. They were set down between May 1954 and May 1955 in the Abbey Road Studios, London. The accompanying notes suggest that the recording sessions didn’t go that smoothly, with Walter Legge making unwanted advances towards her. She vowed never to work with him again. The cycle has had numerous incarnations over the years. I first encountered it in a 5 CD set from EMI France (89179). In 2011, Testament released it (SBT 2 1467). I also have it on a Korean release (72211), which boasts 24 bit re-mastering.

I’ve no problem with solo Bach played on a modern instrument, with a modern bow and vibrato to boot. Martzy generally favours broad tempi, and draws a rich opulent tone from her Carlo Bergonzi fiddle. Her technique fully addresses the difficulties these works present the performer. There’s a fine sense of architecture and structure, with the playing never lapsing into manner or idiosyncrasy. Intonation is generally spot on. The slow movements seem to come off the best, expressive, eloquent and suffused with poetic insights. There are times, however, when the faster movements sound a tad severe. In the fugues, polyphonic lines are cleanly articulated. The opening theme of the Chaconne is bold, confident and noble, and the variations that follow are stylistically characterized. When the theme returns at the end, there is a sense of inevitability and fulfillment.

The Schubert items were released on the Testament label in 2011. The recordings were set down in November 1955 at the Electrola studios in Berlin. She is partnered throughout by her faithful accompanist Jean Antonietti. The recordings called time on her association with Columbia. Schubert’s violin works are relatively neglected, which is a pity considering the musical riches found therein. The Violin Sonata, ‘Duo’, Op. posth.162, D574 is a more weighty work than the three sonatinas, cast on a grander scale. The lyrical opening movement is effortlessly performed, with meticulous observation of tempi and dynamics. The Scherzo positively bubbles and the Andantino endears with its graceful simplicity. Antonietti is the perfect, supportive partner throughout. The three Sonatas Op. posth.137 No.1-3, sometimes referred to as Sonatinas, are more intimate in character, have a small-scale charm and overflow with attractive lyricism. The G minor is musically the richest. Martzy and Antonietti have an instinctive feel for the contours of the music and project the lines very well. In the faster movements, especially, one senses their joy and enthusiasm.

The rarely performed Rondo in B minor of 1826 is a wonderful work of which there’s a very fine recording with Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin from 1938 (Biddulph LAB 067), which I would recommend. Martzy delivers a technically assured reading, with the closing pages dispatched with coruscating élan. The Fantasie is no less distinguished. The players achieve a magical pianissimo in the opening. In the central variation section, on the theme Sei mir gegrüsst, the four variations are stylishly characterized.

This beautifully produced set consists of a sturdy box housing the nine CDs. The individual card sleeves are the miniaturized LP covers beloved by reissues. Each of the recordings, all of which are mono, are remastered by Art & Son Studio, Annecy, 192kHZ/24bit (96kHZ/24bit) from original tapes. It was interesting comparing these transfers with the others in my collection. The Schubert works and the Brahms and Mendelssohn Concertos with Kletzki, which were released on the Testament label, are marginally warmer and softer-edged in these latest Warner remasterings. The same goes for The Bach Sonatas and Partitas which I compared with my Korean reissues. In conclusion, this collection supersedes all other incarnations.

Stephen Greenbank

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin (complete), BWV1001-1006
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Romance no.1 in G major for violin and orchestra, op.40
Romance no.2 in F major for violin and orchestra, op.50
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, op.77
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in E minor, op.64
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto no.3 in G major, K216
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Fantasie in C major for violin and piano, D934
Rondo for piano and violin in B minor, D895
Violin Sonata in A major, D574 'Duo Sonata'
Violin Sonata in A minor, D385
Violin Sonata in D major, D384
Violin Sonata in G minor, D408

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