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CD Review

Historic Recordings

Hänssler 94.226
Johanna Martzy, violin
* Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Hans Műeller Kray
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Gűnter Wand
Hänssler Classic CD94.226
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Johanna Martzy suffered from a small performing repertoire and a somewhat unseemly personal illness, both of which tarnished her career during her lifetime and relegated her to relative obscurity after her death. If not in the absolute upper echelon of violinists, the evidence her reveals a major talent, justifiably popular among violin fans and collectors of music around the world. She made studio readings of both these pieces, and I muss confess to not having heard either of them. But this release is valuable whether you have or not, and remains an important document of an outstanding musician.

In the Mendelssohn, SWR chief conductor Kray provides an initially lumpy framework for Martzy, and she reacts by simply playing the heck out of this favorite concerto. The SWR forces sound unconvincing as concerto partners, and Kray is hardly a first-choice collaborator, but in fairness the slow movement is very touching and well shaped. Martzy plays lovingly, with a real tenderness here, while her outer movements are strongly and assertively projected. There is real attention to dynamics and phrasing; today's young hotshots would do well to take note of the care and concern that Martzy brings to the piece. The finale is seriously taken, but really dances without ever rushing. The orchestral contributions here are utterly faceless, but the soloist is balanced forwardly and so it doesn't matter much. Again, the accompaniment turns unpleasantly lumpy, but that does nothing to faze the soloist, here in her prime.

The Brahms features Gűnter Wand, one of the great Brahms conductors of his era. Hearing him in one of the concertos would seem to be a real treat, and so it is. The same SWR forces that merely played under Kray actually contribute here. Sure, the overall sound doesn't really compare with the great orchestras of the world, but see how much more firmly Wand guides his players. The opening has real weight, and richness. By 1964, the orchestra had a more distinctive profile, and Wand was a far greater talent than Kray in any event. As for Martzy, her rendition of the solo line is exceptional, from her dramatic entrance to the final bars. Perhaps her violin doesn't sing as sweetly as one would expect – this is a very serious, almost cool take – but the end result is successful. The orchestral parts are more important here; Martzy is still very forward in the mix, but Wand shapes the backdrop elegantly despite some sour winds. A lovely slow movement uses those timbres to the best effect, and Martzy is again terrific. The finale is light, effortless, and really dances. I really like the overall result, even if I feel that there is the aforementioned coolness that doesn't always work with Brahms. It is the better performance on the disc, though, and while I can't really champion this disc as a must-hear, I can say with confidence that if you love the violin or are a fan of the artists, this package is more than the sum of its parts.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman

Trumpet