Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Concerto in A minor BWV1041 (1717-23) [15:29]
Violin Concerto in E BWV1042 (1717-23)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D, Op.61 (1806) [45:51]
Roman Totenberg (violin)
Poznan Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Stanislaw Wislocki
rec. 1950s

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, Westminster.
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.
Jonathan Woolf  

Masterwork Index: Bach violin concertos ~~ Beethoven violin concerto

Admirers of Totenberg will rejoice that these rather elusive discs are back in the catalogue.

Forgotten Records