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Ossy Renardy: the Complete Remington Recordings
Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
24 Caprices Op. 1 (1802-17 pub 1820, arr violin and piano by Ferdinand David, publ. c.1860) [67:09]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Violin Sonata in A major (1886) [25:03]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Violin Sonata in G (1923-27) [17:05]
Ossy Renardy (violin)
Eugene List (piano: Franck, Ravel)
Eugene Helmer (piano: Paganini)
rec. 1953, Mastertone Recording Studios, NYC
PRISTINE AUDIO PACM103 [67:09 + 42:17]

Ossy Renardy’s October 1939 cycle of Paganini’s Caprices, with Ferdinand David’s anachronistic piano accompaniment, has been re-issued several times. You can find it, along with much else, on Biddulph LAB061/62, if you can find copies, but Symposium 1311 also released the cycle. Much less well remembered is the re-make he made for Remington in 1953 which is the recording disinterred by Pristine in Mark Obert-Thorn’s restorations. Remington has increasingly been mined for its artist roster – indeed Albert Spalding’s last recordings, some with Dohnányi as his accompanist - have also been released by the label.

Austrian violinist Oscar Reiss (1920-53) took the name Ossy Renardy, and it was his melancholy fate to swell the ranks of brilliant young violinists who died prematurely - Rabin, Kersey, Hassid and Neveu, amongst many. Further poignancy attaches to this reissue, given that its LP appearance on Remington in December 1953 coincided with Renardy’s death in a car crash en route to a Mexican tour. Most critical estimates of Renardy’s Paganini focus on the Victor 78s so a compare-and-contrast exercise proves both necessary and enlightening. The Remington performances are almost invariably more linear, more direct, shorn of that hint of phrasal perfumery that attached to the earlier cycle. Renardy’s tone is just that bit more focused too, the energy level that much more dynamic. The musicianship is now more sonorous, serious and conventionally expressive. What has been lost is a sense of piquant conversational intimacy and also, in places, witty repartee and suggestive capricious phrasing. It’s true in the first caprice as in the fourth and at its most brutal, in comparison, in the Posato of No.15. The Remington sounds positively aristocratic when heard against the nudging, insinuating, piquant Victor. It’s fascinating to be able to have the opportunity thus to examine the two performances. Some will prefer the earlier cycle, full of intimacy and caprice, if cut back to fit the music on an acceptable number of sides. Others will prefer the more streamlined authority of the Remington.

The fact that he has a different pianist on the LP - Eugene Helmer rather than Walter Robert on the 78 set - is not particularly relevant but the fact that the LP performance is textually fuller is important. The nips and tucks of the 78 set – small cuts and lack of repeats - have been opened out, to the great benefit and balance of the set.

The second disc houses the Franck and Ravel sonata recordings made with young Eugene List at around the same time. They have recently been reissued on Forgotten Records FR484 and I don’t find any reason to revise my view of the performances except to note that the balance in this transfer seems to be better between the two instruments for some reason. List incidentally was married to a fellow fiddler of Renardy’s, Carroll Glenn. Renardy and List perform the Franck sonata in a suave and commanding fashion. Renardy’s super-fast finger vibrato is strongly in evidence and it furnishes intensity to everything he plays. Evident also is his sophisticated approach to portamenti, which are happily part of his expressive arsenal, when appropriate. Many violinists resort to very wide and smeary vibrato in the Allegro second movement; Renardy does too, to an extent, but the playing transcends objections, being masculine and dramatic. These qualities apply to the Recitativo-Fantasia too. The intimacy of expression is laudable and so too is the finale, where there’s real clarity and dynamism.

In the Ravel, it’s inevitable that one should reach, for points of comparison, for the LP made about a year later by Zino Francescatti and Artur Balsam. Renardy and List are very much more constricted colouristically; more troublingly they are nowhere near as rhythmically supple or energised as the older pairing. Ensemble, however, is estimable and there are many good things about the performance, it’s just that in vital places - such as the Blues movement - Renardy and List seem oddly metronomic, and just a bit plain. In terms of colour and subtly allusive phrasing, I’m afraid that Francescatti leaves Renardy at the starting gate all too often.

This twofer joins the label’s earlier release, which contained Renardy’s complete Columbia recordings (PASC 383), in presenting a rounded view of his tragically truncated career.

Jonathan Woolf



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