BBC Legends – Henryk Szeryng

0 of 5 stars

Violin Concerto in G, K216
The Four Seasons [Violin Concertos 1-4 from Il Cimento dell’Armonia e dell’Invenzione, Op.8] – Concerto in E (Spring); Concerto in G minor (Summer); Concerto in F (Autumn); Concerto in F minor (Winter)
Concerto in A minor for Two Violins – Finale*

Jose Luis Garcia (violin)*

English Chamber Orchestra
Henryk Szeryng (violin)

Recorded 26 February 1972 in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: May 2007
BBCL 4210-2
Duration: 71 minutes

A bête-noire of mine has long been recordings of concerts where ruinously thoughtless applause has not been edited out; here, however, the well-behaved audience seems to add to the sense of occasion, never bursting in too quickly and although in February 1972 there were obviously some head-colds around, the resultant coughing, though noticeable is almost entirely confined to pauses between movements. In Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, applause is only to be heard after the final concerto.

Henryk Szeryng and the English Chamber Orchestra seem very much at home with one another. Purists might worry slightly at the soloist’s first entry in the Mozart when he fashions the grace-notes differently when compared with the introductory orchestral bars. Again one would not normally expect to hear a rough entry from the ECO horn section within the first minute – nor indeed a wrong note from the soloist a short while later, but these are mere trifles, they do not really disturb, nor do they recur: this just happens to be a concert. During this easy-paced opening movement Szeryng throws in one or two decorative flourishes but the whole of the Mozart concerto is beautifully knit. A fairly slow and very elegant Adagio is an ideal foil to the subsequent easy-going finale.

This same effortless rapport between soloist and orchestra continues through Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, which is stylish in the best traditions of modern-instrument performance, although here, as often in performances of this era, the engineers are not always fully attentive to the essential timbres of the harpsichord. The quieter sections do however indicate that the unnamed continuo player is a superb musician.

There are no great surprises in terms of tempo, except perhaps in the central Largo of ‘Spring’, which flows rapidly. This sequence of concertos has a fine sense of spontaneity and at times is reminiscent of a near-contemporary recording, that by Hugh Bean with Leopold Stokowski conducting, which we know to have been virtually unedited. Only in the opening movement of ‘Autumn’ does Szeryng permit himself the luxury of the considerable flexibility in tempo, which Stokowski was sometimes prepared to permit Hugh Bean. Szeryng is not shy to use ornamentation and sometimes does so generously, but in doing so he never steps outside the standard mid-20th-century concept of ‘authenticity’ as it was then understood. For real freedom of tempo (fascinating although verging on the eccentric) we must turn to Harnoncourt. One of my favourite Szeryng movements is the peasant dance at the end of ‘Autumn’: the extreme heaviness is delightful.

This recording was made at the height of the ECO’s powers, led by José Luis Garcia who joins Szeryng for a fine encore – I only wish they had played the whole of the Double Concerto. This is magnificent musicianship with Garcia’s playing the equal of that of the distinguished Polish guest.

Although more than adequate, this not the latest in hi-fi sound nor are ‘period’ instruments used, but with performances of this stature, those factors are of no consequence.

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