Ivry Gitlis (violin)
In memoriam "inédits et introuvables"
RHINE CLASSICS RH-019 [9 CDs: 662:00]
This 9 CD set, newly released by Rhine Classics, bears the title “in memoriam”. It celebrates the long and distinguished life of Ivry Gitlis. He died last December at the grand old age of ninety-eight, but it also looks forward to next year, which is the hundredth anniversary of his birth.
He was born in 1922 in Haifa, Israel to Russian parents. He took up the violin at the age of five and made rapid progress, so much so that Bronisław Huberman arranged for him to study at the Conservatoire de Paris. At the age of only thirteen he took first prize. He later went on to study with George Enescu, Jacques Thibaud and Carl Flesch. Over the years he forged a distinguished concert career with his own distinctive and idiosyncratic artistry. A highly individual player, his performances were interpretively bold, getting straight to the heart of the work he was performing. Many view him as a maverick There's a gypsy element, too, which maybe derives from his contact with Enescu. It’s always struck me that, in contrast to other Flesch pupils such as Henryk Szeryng and Ida Haendel, his tone doesn’t project the same opulence, but sounds much leaner, yet his timbre generates a wealth of tonal colour and can never be termed monochrome.
A rarity that I’ve never heard before, Viotti’s Violin Concerto No. 1 is an absolute delight, packed tight with lyricism and freshness. I’m surprised it’s not programmed more often. From the same 1995 concert from Suntory Hall, Tokyo, Gitlis performs the Beethoven Violin Concerto with cadenzas by Fritz Kreisler. Generally a fine performance, but I did find the finale a bit heavily laden. The orchestra is the NHK Symphony directed by Yuzo Toyama. The brief encore improvising on a Japanese theme draws much enthusiastic applause from the audience. There’s a Brahms Concerto from Bucharest set down in 1980, where Gitlis uses the Joachim cadenza. The oboe solo in the middle movement is well profiled, and the rhythmically punchy finale is as good as any I’ve heard.
Paganini’s First Violin Concerto featured prominently throughout his career. There are two performances in the set from 1972 and 1982. Gitlis draws on his prodigious technical arsenal to deliver a scintillating virtuosic account of the Concerto. Intonation is generally good, harmonics sparkle, double-stops are negotiated with consummate ease and polish and staccatos are crisp and incisive. There’s also a recording, originally issued on a Reminton LP in 1950, of the Concerto in the one-movement Wilhelmj arrangement. Again, it showcases the violinist’s superb technical command. The Sauret cadenza is employed in each performance and is dispatched spectacularly.
Turning to Scandinavia, both Sibelius and Nielsen are represented, the former with two performances from 1959 and 1964. For me, Gitlis has a great affinity with the Sibelius Concerto, and there are five listed performances in the discography, including a studio performance from 1955 with Jascha Horenstein on Vox, which is a particular favorite of mine. Of these two live traversals, the 1959 with Louis de Froment has the slight edge in terms of sound quality. Each of the readings evoke Nordic chill and stark landscapes. The slow movement is dark and brooding and the finale showcases some fearsome virtuosity. Whereas the Sibelius is dark, the Nielsen’s is bright, humorous and optimistic. This 1972 live radio recording appears to be the only one in the discography. The performance is bold, forthright and tightly focused, and benefits from the violinist’s rhythmic freedom. The Poco Adagio is introspective and beautifully sustained, contrasting with the gaiety and wit of the final movement.
Gitlis had an abiding affection for the Berg Concerto, as his discography bears out. I’ve always treasured his 1954 recording on Vox under the baton of William Strickland. Fast forward five years and we have this live radio broadcast where the violinist collaborates with the Orchestre national de la RTF and André Jolivet. Its every bit as fine, performed with formidable technical command, vast amounts of colour and brimming over with emotion. Ten years later, again in Paris, he set down his interpretation of the Stravinsky Concerto with the same forces, this time under Zubin Mehta. It’s a performance soused with great rhythmic energy.
The association of Ivry Gitlis and pianist Martha Argerich dates back many years, and I’m pleased the partnership is represented. The violinist made several appearances at the Lugano Festival, and here we have violin and piano sonatas by Beethoven and Mozart, being taped in 2003 and 2006 respectively. Argerich liked to collaborate with free spirits, artists noted for their individuality; another violinist she partnered was Ruggiero Ricci. In both sonatas she is fully tuned in to the vagaries of Gitlis’ approach, yet retains her own individuality and remains fully supportive.
Tchaikovsky’s elegiac Piano Trio in A minor, Op.50 gets a big-boned reading from Gitlis and a starry line-up - Steven Isserlis on cello and Nelson Goerner on piano. It was taped at Wigmore Hall by the BBC in January 2002. There’s ample passion and tension, with some vivid colouring in the second movement variations.
In 2000 Gitlis visited Australia and whilst in Canberra teamed up with the Australian Chamber Orchestra for a performance of Beethoven’s Kreutzer in an arrangement for Violin and String Orchestra by Richard Tognetti, its conductor. I approached this with some misgivings, but the sonata works better than I thought it would. The other work on the programme was Saint-Saëns Introduction et Rondň capriccioso, which the violinist stamps with his own particular brand.
CD 9 houses some early commercial releases. Berg’s Chamber Concerto for Violin, Piano and 13 Winds and Stravinsky Duo Concertant were both recorded for the Vox label in the mid-fifties and are in exceptionally fine sound. Charlotte Lois Zelka is the pianist in both. In the Berg, there ideal clarity and definition between the individual instruments. In the Stravinsky, Gitlis manages to conjure up some magical sonorities.
These radio broadcasts, live airings, original masters, 78s and LP recordings have been splendidly compiled and the 24bit 96 kHz restorations have been lovingly tendered. These new-comers significantly expand the Gitlis discography. The booklet offers some beautifully reproduced photographs of the violinist. There’s one photograph at the end of the booklet showing Ivry Gitlis pictured with the set’s producer Emilio Pessina which, in some way, attests to the devotion Pessina has to the artist. Jean-Michel Molkhou has provided an up to date complete discography of the violinist, running to some thirteen pages; I found it very useful.
All told, this collection is a handsome tribute to a great violinist, whose individuality and sometimes maverick approach singles him out as an artist worthy of your attention.
CD1 | 79:41
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.35
Grand orchestre symphonique de RTL | Louis de Froment | 8.XII.1959
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47
Grand orchestre symphonique de RTL | Louis de Froment | 7.XII.1959
Violin Concerto “To the Memory of an Angel”
Orchestre national de la RTF | André Jolivet | 12.XI.1959
CD2 | 75:35
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47
Orchestre philharmonique de l’ORTF | Gérard Devos | 15.X.1964
Symphonie espagnole in D minor, Op.21
Göteborgs Symfoniker | John Frandsen | 7.XI.1968
Violin Concerto in D major
Orchestre national de l’ORTF | Zubin Mehta | 21.I.1969
CD3 | 60:33
Violin Concerto, Op.33
Orchestre national de l’ORTF | Marius Constant | 25.I.1972
Violin Concerto No.1 in D major, Op.6
Münchner Rundfunkorchester | Kurt Eichhorn | 10.XI.1972
CD4 | 67:10
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.77 (Cadenza: J. Joachim)
Orchestra Națională Radio România | Iosif Conta | 24-I.1980
Violin Concerto No.1 in D major, Op.6
Grand orchestre symphonique de RTL | Leopold Hager | 21.X.1982
CD5 | 71:23
Violin Concerto No.1 in C major, G.32
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.61 (Cadenzas I & III: F. Kreisler)
encore/bis (announced by Gitlis):
Improvisation on the Japanese Song “Hamabe no uta”
(“Song of the Seashore” by Tamezou Narita | version for Violin solo by Gitlis)
NHK Symphony Orchestra | Yuzo Toyama | 18.XII.1995
CD6 | 74:18
Violin Sonata No.9 in A major, Op.47 “ŕ Kreutzer” *
Introduction et Rondň capriccioso, in A minor, Op.28 *
(* Arrangements for Violin and String Orchestra by R. Tognetti)
Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) | Richard Tognetti, leader | 20.X.2000
Violin Sonata No.3 in D minor, Op.108
Polina Leschenko, piano | 12.VI.2005
CD7 | 78:40
Violin Sonata in E-flat major, Op.18
(in rehearsal - working on the first two movements)
Ana-Maria Vera, piano | late-1990s
Piano Trio in A minor, Op.50 “In Memory of a Great Artist”
Ivry Gitlis, violin | Steven Isserlis, cello | Nelson Goerner, piano | 16.I.2002
CD8 | 79:34
Violin Sonata No.9 in A major, Op.47 “ŕ Kreutzer”
Martha Argerich, piano | 7.VI.2003
Violin Rhapsody No.1, Sz.86
Akane Sakai, piano | 26.VI.2004
Violin Sonata (No.18) in G major, KV.301/293a
Martha Argerich, piano | 14.VI.2006
George Gershwin - Cole Porter - Harold Arlen
Improvisations around “Porgy and Bess”
Cyril Barbessol, piano | 1.VII.2010
CD9 | 67:50
early 78 & 33 rpms | first CD release
Largo espressivo (from Violin Sonata Op.8 No.3 in D major)
Desplanes / arr. T.Nachéz
Pupils of Marcel Chailley (violins ensemble) | Céliny Chailley-Richez & Jacques Chailley, conductors | 11.II.1937
78rpm | Lumen 30.063 | ℗1937
Paganini / arr. Wilhelmj
Violin Concerto No.1 (reorchestration of the 1st movement - Cadenza: É. Sauret)
Austrian Symphony Orchestra | Kurt Wöss | 26-28.IX.1950
10” LP 33rpm | Remington RLP-149-20 | ℗1951
Chamber Concerto for Violin, Piano and 13 Winds
Charlotte Lois Zelka, piano | Vienna Wind Ensemble | Harold Byrns | 30.III.1954
12” LP 33rpm | Vox PL-8660 | ℗1954
Charlotte Lois Zelka, piano | Vienna | 1955
12” LP 33rpm | Vox PL-9410 | ℗1956