Violin Concerto in G, K216 Mendelssohn
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64 Beethoven
Romances for Violin and Orchestra – No.1 in G, Op.40; No.2 in F, Op.50
Johanna Martzy (violin)
Wolfgang Sawallisch [Mozart & Mendelssohn]
Recorded in Kingsway Hall, London – Mozart & Mendelssohn 9 & 10 June 1954, Beethoven 22 & 23 December 1955
CD No: TESTAMENT SBT 1483 Duration: 68 minutes Reviewed: March 2013
Johanna Martzy plays violin concertos by Mozart & Mendelssohn and Beethoven’s Romances [Testament]
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Testament is now up to date with its reissues of Johanna Martzy’s recordings for EMI. Martzy (1924-79) had a relatively short life and an even shorter career, fading away from the prestige bookings she had enjoyed long before cancer took her life. These recordings of Mozart and Mendelssohn are here issued for the first time in Europe and America (only beaten to CD by Japan). Quite why they were never issued on vinyl during Martzy’s lifetime isn’t really known, save it may be due to apparent disagreements between her and Wolfgang Sawallisch during the sessions for both concertos.
Yet the innocent ear detects no friction in either account. K216 is a joy, opening with a buoyant and pert orchestral introduction. True, Martzy (Hungarian, Romanian or Transylvanian by birth – booklet annotator Tully Potter goes for the R option) was not the most beguiling of players, her sound is not the most polished, but her determination and clarity are winning and there is plenty of feeling to soften the edges. Much poise and character informs the Mozart, which she plays with plenty of music-serving virtuosity. The slow movement, properly Adagio, if not Elysian is deeply felt and elegantly turned from soloist and orchestra. The finale’s deliberation is very persuasive; everything fits at this tempo. It’s a shame not to know who wrote the first-movement cadenza; anachronistic as it is, it is played with brilliance.
Whatever may have happened at the sessions, there is no doubting the stylish support that Wolfgang Sawallisch conjures for her. This is a really likeable and rewarding version of K216 that has been denied to us for far too long; at least Sawallisch – who died on 22 February 2013, aged 89 – would have been aware of the belated release. Sawallisch also conducts the Mendelssohn, a composer he was particularly sympathetic to (I shall not forget a totally wonderful ‘Scottish’ Symphony with the Philharmonia Orchestra in the late-1990s) and he brings out the full flavour of the music. For her part, Martzy gives a passionate and intense reading not without tender moments, although it could be thought that trills and other ornaments are too chiselled. Yet her steely response is not unwarranted in music that can take such an unsentimental approach. It’s certainly not overbearing and the slow movement is shapely without becoming soupy, and the finale, if not the most gossamer, is precise and athletic in equal measure.
In his booklet note, Potter, although finding both performances “excellent”, suggests that Martzy was uncomfortable working with a conductor who was of a similar age to her (Sawallisch was just a few months her senior) and that she preferred the older “fatherly” Paul Kletzki, who was also a violinist (Sawallisch was a pianist and a wonderful one). Potter also reports that in the days following the sessions with Martzy, Sawallisch recorded with the Philharmonia Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony and Scherzo capriccioso in sessions that went without a hitch, the LP receiving much acclaim.
Martzy went on to re-record the Mendelssohn with Kletzki (also with the Philharmonia, Testament SBT 1037, with the Brahms), which was issued there and then, and the pair of Beethoven’s Romances. True, in these she does seem more relaxed, and she is also less closely balanced which may help create this impression, issuing forth playing of sweet seduction yet of meticulous ‘stopping’ (double, triple, whatever) and bright clarity. Kletzki’s conducting seems more compassionate than Sawallisch’s – but that is listening with a behind-the-scenes story, conjecture, in mind and does not lessen the efficacious nature of Martzy’s recordings with him; indeed, they are quite magnetic. The transfers to CD are a little ‘loud’, but find the right volume setting for some taming and the (mono) results are just fine.