Endre Wolf in Sweden - Studio and Private Recordings: 1944-1978 - Volume 2
Endre Wolf (violin)
rec. 1949-78
DANACORD DACOCD763-768 [6 CDs: 448:00]

This set of six CDs is a celebration of part of the life of a violinist who never quite made a big name for himself. This was despite his having many of the characteristics of a “great”. It also serves as a slightly belated centenary celebration because the subject died as recently as 2011 aged 97.

Born in Budapest in 1913 into a poor Jewish family of a Hungarian mother and Ukrainian father, Wolf started learning the violin at the age of four. He persuaded his parents to buy him a quarter-sized instrument – and it seems this was despite there being no music in the family home. He was accepted into the Franz Liszt Academy at an early age and was taught by the likes of Leo Weiner and Jenö Hubay. At the time Wolf did not stand out particularly – possibly because of the wealth of other student talent that surrounded him. Nevertheless he was very clear that he needed to be good enough to be a soloist. As he recalled, sixty years later, “Since I was Jewish there were certain possibilities and certain impossibilities. To get accepted into the opera orchestra or get a state-sponsored job was impossible. ... When one studied music one was made conscious of the fact that one must eventually leave the country if one was to survive.” This sentiment has been behind the careers of so many great Jewish instrumentalists during the last century – particularly violinists.

In 1936 a purge of some of the more elderly members of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra led the orchestra’s principal conductor, Tor Mann, to seek new musical blood – especially to lead the orchestra. Whilst guest-conducting around Europe he sought the advice of several leading teachers, such as Carl Flesch — and possibly Hubay — and was recommended some outstanding young violinists but, for one reason or another, all were found wanting. Initially, Wolf was not even considered but he was eventually invited to audition at very short notice and proved successful - never looking back thereafter. Whilst a leading position in Swedish musical life was out of the question his role gave him many opportunities to take solo spots as well as leading the GSO and he built his repertoire accordingly. After hearing Ginette Neveu in 1946 he realised to his horror that the lack of international competition had, he felt, allowed his standards to decline so he sought to take his technique apart and start again from scratch. It is, perhaps, this huge effort that enabled him to maintain a consistently fine playing style well into later life. His characteristically individual tone colour was, in some respects, comparable with the sounds of several of his leading contemporaries – notably Heifetz and Oistrakh. Having rebuilt his technique he became a freelancer in 1946 but also spent the period between 1954 and 1964 as a professor at the Royal Manchester (later Royal Northern) College.

The present boxed set of six CDs contains studio and private recorded performances from 1944 up until 1978. They provide a good representative sample of Wolf’s work from solo Bach and Bartók, through chamber music with duo partners, to a selection of concertos – including some unusual Swedish ones that are not otherwise commercially available. Most of the recordings were made by Swedish Radio and were live with no possibility of retakes. This should be borne in mind in the context of the comments that follow. All the recordings are in mono – although there is sometimes the illusion of spatial information where the recording is unusually good.

CD 1 is devoted to Bach and the first and third partitas for solo violin (recorded in 1973 and 1978 respectively) are interspersed with violin concertos numbers 1 and 2 (recorded in 1961 and 1949 respectively). The 1949 recording was made for the Tono record company and the transfers are taken from 78 masters. In spite of this early vintage the sound is remarkably fine – with an almost stereophonic ambience and splendid bass. Side-changes are not evident – there being no obvious deterioration of quality up to or after the most appropriate points to switch records. Wolf’s playing is consistent over almost thirty years and generally demonstrates a smooth and individual tone and, with one exception, pretty well flawless intonation. No attempt is made at period style; this was before the age when such considerations became manifest. Vibrato is employed as is the very occasional, and tasteful, use of portamento. The 1961 radio recording is preceded by applause and tuning. Again the sound is vivid and tape hiss is almost absent. The performance is almost as good as that of the first concerto – although there is one strange moment of dodgy intonation in the slow movement. I thought I also detected a couple of errors in the ornamentation.

The two partitas are very fine and, again, the recordings are startlingly good – with less reverberation than those of Heifetz. If pushed I prefer the Heifetz recordings if only because of his slightly faster tempi and additional portamenti but this is purely a matter of personal taste. Everybody will have their own favourites here. Suffice to say that Wolf is generally excellent and I greatly enjoyed this disc.

CD 2 has recordings from 1967 to 1972 and pairs Wolf with the pianist Hans Leygraf. It starts with five minutes of gnomic utterances from Webern; performances of which probably don’t come much better than this. This is followed by a clear and well-balanced recording of the second Brahms sonata. The first movement of this is slightly literal and marked by Leygraf picking out the tunes somewhat deliberately. The performance warms up nicely by the second movement, despite some very slightly sour tone from Wolf. In this work I generally prefer the faster vibrato of Josef Suk and the slightly greater subtlety of Julius Katchen but this is very listenable. As noted earlier, it was probably recorded as a single live take. Beethoven’s tenth sonata follows in an off-air recording made by Wolf himself. It was interesting to compare this with the rather dry 1961 recording of David Oistrakh with Lev Oborin. The latter is similar in many respects and it is clear that Wolf had a technique that was just as individually identifiable as that of Oistrakh. This is another fine performance and the only passage that doesn’t quite work for me is the trio from the third movement where the three beats in the bar are somewhat laboured. Also, the movement end is cut off rather suddenly for some reason. Tempi are very similar to Oistrakh/Oborin– particularly at the start of the last movement, although Wolf and Leygraf end up taking slightly longer. On balance I mostly prefer Wolf and Leygraf principally because the later recording is less recessed and more vivid, which really pays dividends in the slow movement. The disc ends with a lively performance of Mozart’s sonata K378 that is particularly noteworthy for Leygraf’s fine touch and the recorded piano sound – so beautifully detailed that one can easily imagine the sound of a fortepiano. That said, this has no overt pretensions to being a period-style performance. Wolf’s tone is reliable and his intonation good although he occasionally tends to the flat side of the note.

CD 3 has two concerto recordings – the Brahms Double from 1959 and the Beethoven from 1973. Wolf apparently performed the Brahms a lot during his time in Manchester with the Hallé and Barbirolli. He appeared at the Proms with the French cellist André Navarra no fewer than four times between 1951 and 1963. The Brahms is given a very acceptable performance – here with some beautiful and luminous playing from Erling Blöndal Bengtsson (1932-2013) and the soloists are well forward and spot-lit. There is little tape hiss and the bass is firm but the strings are frayed and papery with occasional congestion. The Beethoven concerto is also given a fine performance with very standard speeds. This recording provides a rare chance to hear the long Joachim cadenzas in each movement. The recording is described as being “recorded for the domestic tape archive” by the head of the GSO, Sven Kruckenburg. Apparently, “with the help of CEDAR technology, more overtones have been gleaned from the tape noise and the frequencies have been expanded”. The resulting sound is reasonable – if a bit crumbly. The opening has quite a lot of background audience noise, so that it sounds like a 78. This impression persists, despite the relative youth of the recording.

CD 4 brings together three Hungarian chamber works: the Second Violin Sonata (with Hans Leygraf) and Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin of Bartók and Kodály’s Op. 7 duo for violin and cello with Erling Blöndal Bengtsson. These recordings date from 1969, 1973 and 1967, respectively. They are all clear and of high quality; the Duo recording having been made off-air by Wolf himself. All the performances are very fine – particularly the solo Bartók - and, as one might expect, they sound very Hungarian.

For me CD 5 was, potentially, the most interesting of the set, with three little-known violin concertos by Swedish composers: Erland von Koch (his Op. 43 Triptych for violin and orchestra – aka his first concerto), Sven-Erik Bäck (his only concerto) and Hilding Rosenberg (his second concerto). All are in three movement Allegro/Lento (or Adagio)/Allegro form.

The recording of the Koch is the earliest and dates from 1951 – the other two date from 1961, although there is not much difference in sound quality. All have that rather pinched, drab mono sound typical of surviving radio broadcasts of the period and also typical of the kind of recordings that would be “re-processed” to provide imitation stereo before they were finally pensioned off. There is sometimes an unpleasant suggestion of the “pumping” characteristics similar to those of recordings taped using Dolby C noise reduction but played back using Dolby B and this particularly afflicts the Koch work. That said the performances are all strong.

For some reason Koch's works have only appeared rarely in commercial recordings, although one might expect him to be more popular; his lovely fourth string quartet Concerto Lyrico has long been a favourite of mine. Apparently Koch was an admirer of Hindemith and wanted to study with him but this was prevented by Nazi policies that led to Hindemith spending the war years in the USA Presumably Koch achieved his objective soon after the war because the Triptych dates from 1949 and sounds very much like Hindemith. It is all very contrapuntal but the middle movement is characterised by a lovely lyrical theme.

Bäck studied with Rosenberg during the war years. His austere work dates from 1957 and bears some fleeting resemblances to Berg’s concerto but – to my mind - without that level of inspiration. The three movements are, apparently, variations on the same material although this is difficult to spot. I assume the work is based on serial rules but the notes are not very informative. For me the best part was the beginning of the slow movement which starts promisingly before descending into assorted plinks and plunks. No doubt this is a fine performance but I find it difficult to summon any enthusiasm for the work. Given that Bäck and Wolf were colleagues at the Swedish Radio Music School, one must assume that this performance has the composer’s blessing.

The Rosenberg is a much more substantial piece. The first movement has both a memorable melancholy opening theme and a lovely closing passage. What is between suggests rather less popular appeal. The predominant influence seems to be Bartók - the writer of the notes suggests some similarities with Prokofiev but Rosenberg does not have Prokofiev’s melodic gift. Whilst the third movement is fairly varied with some lyricism it is mostly rather violent. All that said this work will probably repay repeated listening. The recording has a very wide dynamic range and reproduces without the congestion encountered elsewhere.

It has to be said that CD 6 is a rag-bag of curiosities – none of which does the enterprise any favours. The disc starts with a 1952 mono recording of the Franck violin sonata where the pianist is Sixten Eckerberg, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra’s then conductor. Eckerberg sounds tentative and under-rehearsed in the Franck, almost as if he had only recently learned the music - perhaps this was actually the case. The first movement starts very slowly and Wolf has to pick up the pace. The second movement is also notably lacking in dynamism and almost grinds to a halt in places. Both the third and fourth movements have a number of slight mis-readings by the pianist and, whilst Wolf’s contribution is wholly acceptable, the performances as a whole are forgettable. Sadly, the recording makes the piano sound dim and there is serious congestion of the piano sound throughout.

Presumably the 1944 wartime performance of Sibelius’s The Oceanides which follows (under Eckerberg’s conducting) was included as an example of Wolf leading the orchestra. Unfortunately, the sound quality is murky, crumbly and generally execrable – with an almost inaudible opening. The performance – what one can hear of it – sounds passable but has no particular historical significance and is hardly worth rescuing. You get the whole broadcast including radio announcer links and applause. The subsequent performance of the Sibelius violin concerto, where Wolf takes the solo spot, has similarly poor sound and the opening is ruined by an engineer having failed to turn up the soloist’s microphone until well into the first page of the score. The notes suggest that the recording may have been the result of some sort of test or technical experiment. The performance sounds pretty average by today’s standards and Wolf himself sounds as if he had only just learned the concerto. There are a couple of mis-readings/memory lapses in the first movement and one obviously misread chord in the third movement. Strangely, the third movement takes a long time to get started and there are a lot of bumping noises beforehand – which could easily enough have been excised. The movement also has some odd tempo changes which sound as though they were the result of side-changes but, presumably, this was a live broadcast so side changes would not be the reason.

There is a presentation booklet of notes the size of a CD jewel case in both English and Swedish. The notes are generally very readable - a translator is not credited - but they are poorly structured and are set out neither chronologically nor particularly logically. CD contents and recording details are provided but only the unusual works on CD 5 are provided with any notes and these are pretty minimal.

This set is to be welcomed for reminding the listener of a very fine musician who, in recent years, has been largely overlooked.

Bob Stevenson

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank
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Note: We are assured by Guy Rickards that Koch's Triptych for violin and orchestra of 1949 is not another name for the first [violin] concerto.  Koch wrote his First Violin Concerto, Op 14, in 1937. The Triptych followed in 1949 and the Second Concerto in 1980 (revised ten years later).

Complete track-listing
CD 1 [78:02]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partita for violin unaccompanied No. 1 B minor, BWV 1002 [22:10]
Endre Wolf (violin)
rec. Swedish Radio, Studio 3 Stockholm, 20 March 1973.
The archive of radio recordings 5252-72/1290, tape.
Concerto No. 1, A minor for violin and orchestra, BWV 1041 [16:29]
Endre Wolf (violin)
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Michael Gielen
rec. public concert, Concert Hall of Gothenburg, 15 March 1961.
The archive of radio recordings 61/C/1055:17-23, tape.
Partita for violin unaccompanied No. 3 E major, BWV 1006 [19:28]
Endre Wolf (violin)
rec. public concert, Studio 2, Stockholm, 15 April 1978.
The archive of radio recordings 5452-77/1008, tape.
Concerto No. 2, E major for violin and orchestra, BWV 1042 [17:54]
The Chamber Orchestra of Copenhagen/Endre Wolf (conductor/violin)
rec. record company Tono, Odd Fellow’s Palace, Copenhagen, 15-16 September 1949. Tono X 23132-34, masters 3524-28, 78s. Transfers Claus Byrith, Risskov.

CD 2 [72:27]
Anton WEBERN (1883-1945)
Four Pieces Op. 7 for violin and piano [5:08]
rec. Swedish Radio, Studio 4, Stockholm, 4 April 1972.
The archive of radio recordings 5452-72/1289, tape.
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata No. 2 A major, Op. 100 for violin and piano [20:38]
rec. Swedish Radio, Studio 3, Stockholm, 19 May 1971.
The archive of radio recordings 5452-70/1307, tape.
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata No. 10 in G major, Op. 96 for violin and piano [18:18]
rec. Swedish Radio, Studio 3, 29 November 1967.
Not preserved in the archive of radio recordings.
Aircheck by Endre Wolf, 21 March 1968, tape.
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata [No. 10/26/34] B flat major K 378 (K 317 d) for violin and piano [18:14]
rec. Swedish Radio, Studio 4, Stockholm, 25 March 1969. The archive of radio recordings, 5452-68/1458, tape.
Endre Wolf (violin)
Hans Leygraf (piano)

CD 3 [78:00]
Johannes BRAHMS
Concerto for Violin, Violoncello and Orchestra, A minor, Op. 102 [32:28]
Endre Wolf (violin)
Erling Blöndal Bengtsson (cello)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Stockholm/Stig Westerberg
rec. Swedish Radio in the Concert Hall of Stockholm, 20 May 1959.
The archive of radio recordings, Ma 59/12652, tape.
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Concerto in D major Op. 61 for Violin and Orchestra [45:28]
Endre Wolf (violin)
The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Sergiu Commissiona
rec. public concert, Concert Hall of Gothenburg, 25 February 1973.
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Sergiu Commissiona
rec. Sven Kruckenberg for the domestic tape archive.

CD 4 [78:54]
Belá BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Sonata for violin and piano No. 2 [21:44]
Endre Wolf (violin)
Hans Leygraf (piano)
rec. Swedish Radio, Studio 3, Stockholm, 8 February 1969.
The archive of radio recordings, 5252-68/1413, tape.
Sonata for violin unaccompanied [29:45]
Endre Wolf (violin)
rec. Swedish Radio Studio 2, Stockholm, 27 June 1973.
The archive of radio recordings, 5452-72/1299, tape.
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Duo for violin and cello, Op. 7 [27:20]
rec. Swedish Radio, Studio 4, Stockholm, 3 October 1966. Not preserved in the archive of radio recordings. Aircheck by Endre Wolf, 28 May 1967, tape.
Endre Wolf (violin)
Erling Blöndal Bengtsson (cello)

CD 5 [69:18]
Erland von KOCH (1910-2009)
Triptych for violin and orchestra, Op. 43 [18:21]
Endre Wolf (violin)
Swedish Radio Orchestra/Sten Frykberg
rec. public concert in the auditorium of the Royal Academy of Music, 23 September 1951.
The archive of radio recordings L-B 15.081, acetate/tape.
Sven-Erik BÄCK (1919-1994)
Concerto for violin and orchestra [19:12]
Endre Wolf (violin)
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Michael Gielen
rec. public concert in the Concert Hall of Gothenburg, 15 March 1961.
The archive of radio recordings 61/C/1055:17-23 (9), tape.
Hilding ROSENBERG (1892-1985)
Concerto No. 2 for violin and orchestra [31:39]
Endre Wolf (violin)
Swedish Radio Orchestra/Stig Westerberg
rec. Swedish Radio in the auditorium of the Royal Academy of Music, 9 April 1961.
The archive of radio recordings 61/M/1280, tape.

CD 6 [71:10]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Sonata A major for violin and piano [28:23]
Endre Wolf (violin)
Sixten Eckerberg (piano)
rec. radio concert in the Stenhammar Hall of Gothenburg, 6 October 1952.
Private copy/the Royal Library R 92-0300 = F 43 tape.
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Aallottaret (The Oceanides), Op. 73 [11:53]
Endre Wolf (concert master)
Concerto for violin and orchestra in D minor, Op. 47 [30:47]
Endre Wolf (violin)
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Sixten Eckerberg
rec. Swedish Radio. The archive of radio recordings L-B+ 4.948.
Restored by Carl-Gunnar Ĺhlén from poor wartime acetates/tape.
Endre Wolf at some time during the 1950s.