Johanna Martzy (violin) - Volume 3
Full track-listing at end of review
rec. 1957-69
DOREMI DHR-8034/5 [70:29 + 71:00]
It’s fortunate that Johanna Martzy’s relatively small commercial discography has been augmented since her death by previously unpublished and live broadcast material. Collectors will know that special CD and LP restorations have been produced by Coup d’archet but other less specialised labels have entered the fray as well, of which Doremi is one. This, in fact, is volume 3 in their Martzy series and offers two CDs that document performances given between 1957 and 1969.

The first disc preserves a recital given with pianist Adolph Hallis for the South African Broadcasting Company in 1959. It opens with a Vivaldi sonata – it marks a change from the then near-ubiquitous Handel finger-warmer – played with rhythmic buoyancy and finely focused tone. She clearly didn’t need to play herself into this recital, as she sounds in excellent form from the get-go. Szymanowski’s Notturno and Tarantella with Jean Antonietti is familiar from her DG legacy on disc but this highly effective and evocative South African reading will do very nicely, albeit the piano spectrum is just a bit watery for optimum listening pleasure. There’s no Martinů in her commercial discography so the little Arabesque – not even two minutes in length – comes as a very pleasant surprise. I wonder if she played it because the composer had recently died – there’s no specific date of the recital in the notes so one can’t be sure, but the year is suggestive. I also don’t know if she knew or played the sonatas but it makes one wish she had – especially that masterpiece, the Third. The Ravel Pièce en forme de Habanera was another work she recorded with Antonietti but for some reason she never got round to Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances. These she plays with aristocratic command.

It’s a shame that Brahms’ Op.108 sonata lacks the first movement as the torso is so intelligently shaped, and expression is held in fine balance throughout the remaining three movements. The finale is especially buoyantly robust. The encore was the Falla-Kreisler Dance from La Vida breve where the sultry rhythm and quick slides spice it with suitable tang. This was another piece she recorded with Antonietti. The first disc ends with a performance of Mozart’s G major Concerto with Hans Müller-Kray and the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra in 1961. You’d better enjoy this concerto because there’s another recording of it in the second disc, where Willem van Otterloo directs the Netherlands Radio Orchestra later in the same year. The booklet notes for the Stuttgart broadcast only give the year but one can clearly hear the studio announcer give the date: 12 April. This was a concerto close to her – she recorded it with the Philharmonia and Sawallisch, a recording not approved for issue at the time. It’s not so easy to differentiate between these broadcasts but on balance I prefer the van Otterloo, who is a better accompanist, allowing the winds to come through better than Müller-Kray and taking things a bit more briskly. Even though it takes Martzy a bit of time to settle, this Dutch performance flows just that bit better. Interestingly, despite not billing it at all, the live Bach E major concerto with Cluytens and the New York Philharmonic (10 November 1957) was, as I understand, Martzy’s US debut. Playing Bach concertos at a premiere appearance is a risky business, as more than one fiddler has found to his cost, but fortunately Martzy plays with a beautifully tender and internalised slow movement. Cluytens, though, is strangely heavy with the accompaniment and the orchestra plays dully.

At her premiere she also played Bartók’s Rhapsody – but the performance preserved in Doremi’s twofer is one given with George Szell in Cleveland in 1960. The sound is boxy for 1960, and indeed much less impressive than the Dutch broadcast of 1957, but it’s valuable indeed because she never recorded it. She plays with pathos and style throughout. The disc ends with another escapee from her commercial recordings, Suk’s Four Pieces, Op.17. This comes from 1969 with Grumiaux’s frequent accompanist, István Hajdu. This excellently recorded example of her late art is particularly welcome and shows her, not least in the Burleska, to be in fine technical fettle.

In fact there are few examples on disc of her sounding less than in first-class form. Surviving broadcast material, as noted, continues to appear with some regularity, much of it German-based. All of it is valuable and deserving of both preservation and study.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank (Recordoing of the Month)

Full track-listing

CD 1
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) 
Violin Sonata in D major, RV. 10 [9:21]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Nocturne and Tarantella, Op. 28 [10:12]
Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959)
Arabesque No. 1 [1:51]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pièce en forme de Habanera [2:39]
Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Rumanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56 [5:54]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108: Mvts 2, 3, 4 [12:46]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946) (arr. Kreisler)
Spanish Dance from La Vida breve [3:22]
Adolph Hallis (piano)
live broadcast, SABC studios, Broadcasting House, Johannesburg, 1959
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 216 [24:12]
Netherlands Radio Orchestra /Willem van Otterloo
live performance, Stuttgart Liederhalle, 1961

CD 2
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Violin Concerto No. 2 in E major, BWV 1042 [19:58]
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/André Cluytens
live performance, 10 Nov 1957
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 216 [22:45]
Stuttgart Radio Orchestra/Hans Müller-Kray
live performance, 25 Nov 1961
Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Rhapsody No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra, Sz. 87 [10:44]
Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell
live performance, Cleveland, 20 Nov 1960
Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Four pieces for Violin and Piano, Op. 17 [17:24]
István Hajdu (piano)
live broadcast, Frankfurt, 17 Nov 1969
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