This recording was released in the wake of Roman Totenberg’s
recent death at the glorious age of 101. Glorious, too, that
he remained alert, active and industrious to the very end. He
was still dispensing advice during his last days. I recently
reviewed an important two disc set from Arbiter that collected
concert and radio performances of the Polish violinist. This
one from Forgotten Records digs out Polish studio LP recordings
made in the 1950s. The repertoire may be standard, but most
of Totenberg’s discs await CD transfer, so this marks
what I hope will be a steady reappraisal of his art.
This concerto sequence was made with the collaboration of conductor
Stanislaw Wislocki. I’ve noted the orchestra as the Poznan
Philharmonic though Forgotten Records identifies the orchestra
for the Bach as the Warsaw Philharmonic. The recordings appeared
first on the domestic Polish label Muza, which houses some splendid
things, many yet to appear on silver disc. Subsequent reissues
came via Heliodor, Eterna and, in the case of the Beethoven,
Totenberg’s Bach is clean-limbed, patrician but not cool.
Portamenti are very sparing, and whilst there is a quite weighty
bass line in the slow movement of the A minor, the playing is
never expressively inappropriate. Here Totenberg’s tone
takes on greater colour and warmth but, as in the companion
concerto in E, it remains quite elevated playing. BWV1042 has
a slightly more recessive recorded sound for some reason, and
tuttis need a bit of a boost, but the playing is of a piece.
Nothing is especially personalised, but everything is appropriate
for the time and place.
Seriousness informs the Beethoven. It’s quite closely
recorded but dynamics are good. It’s not an especially
fast reading but it is occasionally quite an elastic one in
terms of phrasing. His slowing in the first movement reminds
one, perhaps, of pre-war performances rather than those predicated
on leaner and more linear readings. The first movement cadenza
is rather too long, for my tastes. Totenberg’s Larghetto
is reverential, and his Rondo finale solidly musical.
His tone is expressive but not glutinous; his trill is fast,
rhythm good, phrasing elastic, once more, in places. I wouldn’t
say it’s the most Olympian or indeed exciting of performances
but it is a congruent and in many ways fine one. Of near-contemporaries
Schneiderhan and Grumiaux offer more consistent rewards, but
admirers of Totenberg will rejoice that these rather elusive
discs are back in the catalogue.
Masterwork Index: Bach
violin concertos ~~ Beethoven