Joseph Szigeti (violin)
Complete AFRS Recordings and Live Performances
rec. 1941-1946
Biddulph 85045-2 [83]

The recordings in this disc date from 1941 to 1946 and are almost all specialised examples of Szigeti’s discography as well as reflecting the complexities of the wartime recording industry at a time when there was a two-year commercial recording ban in operation in the US. Most of the recordings in this CD were made for AFRS (Armed Forces Radio Service) for overseas distribution for which Szigeti made two 33-rpm sides, the first seven items in the track listing, a comforting selection of tried-and-tested favourites. Though there’s no pianist credited, booklet writer Wayne Kiley not unreasonably plumps for Andor Földes as he was recording with the violinist at around the same time though I suppose it’s possible it was Harry Kaufman as he and Szigeti recorded some of the items here commercially at around the same time too.

The studio was rather boxy but the violin spectrum is well caught. The piano, by contrast, is rather muffled. The portfolio of Szigeti sweetmeats is familiar from his earlier or later recordings of the same items but it’s always good to hear him perform the music of his teacher, Hubay, and he plays Zephyr very characterfully. One can hear the pianist pedalling hard in the Stravinsky-Dushkin Danse russe which accounts for the thumping noise, but Szigeti is nicely resinous here.

After the war Szigeti toured Europe again, stopping off in London to make a couple of recordings with Walter Legge’s newly established Philharmonia Orchestra under Constant Lambert. Berlioz’s Rêverie et caprice, H.88 has recently been remastered in volume 3 of Pristine Audio’s Szigeti series (PASC682) and you can find Bartók’s Portrait No.1 in volume 2 of the same series (PASC695), both transferred by Mark Obert-Thorn. These are commercial Columbias and somewhat overlooked in the Szigeti discography.

New to me was Corelli’s La Folia in the familiar Léonard arrangement, in orchestral form here, with the WOR Symphony directed by Alfred Wallenstein in January 1941. This is a private (non-AFRS) recording. Szigeti recorded this with Foldes in 1940 – it’s on a previous Biddulph release – but more relevantly perhaps there’s a surviving example with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Klemperer on Music and Arts. I’m not a fan of this bloated version as it saturates the writing and really only allows the violinist to emerge from its shackles around 8:40 for the cadential passage. Still, even with a boxy recording, it’s better than nothing and, however bowdlerised, Szigeti’s baroque repertoire was always impressive. There’s also a very early example of Leonard Bernstein at work, from July 1945, this time again for AFRS, as he directs Beethoven’s Romance No.1 with the San Francisco Symphony.

The final item is another AFRS disc, Berg’s Concerto with the NBC and Mitropoulos. This has been around since LP days when the Bruno Walter Society released it as did WSA in its ‘Art of Joseph Szigeti’ LP. There have been reissues too on Music and Arts and AS Disc and doubtless others I’ve not come across. It’s a fine performance and Szigeti plays with heightened expressivity and technical command throughout, and the conductor brings his own acute sensitivity to the idiom to bear. This was the work’s first American broadcast – you can hear a couple of unstifled coughs – and the live intensity is fully conveyed. Louis Krasner and Rodzinski’s commercial LP had been recorded in 1940 and was far more direct in the Allegro and concluding Adagio.

This is a largely focused look at Szigeti’s AFRS legacy, which will be unfamiliar to many listeners, and therefore makes for a fine, well transferred collection.

Jonathan Woolf   

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Presto Music


Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Rondo from Piano Sonata in D Major, D.850 (1825) arr Friedberg
François Schubert (1808-1878)
Bagatelles; L’Abeille (The Bee), Op.13 No.9 (1860)
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G minor (1852/1869) arr Joachim
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Slavonic Dance in G Minor, Op. 46, No. 2 (1878) arr Kreisler
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Morceaux: Valse sentimentale, Op. 51 No. 6 (1882) arr Grunes
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Danse russe from Petrushka (1932) arr Dushkin and Stravinsky
Jenő Hubay (1858-1937)
Blumenleben: Der Zephir, Op. 30, No. 5 (1890)
Unknown piano accompaniment
rec. 1943 for AFRS
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)
Rêverie et caprice, H.88 (1840-41)
Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Portrait No. 1, Op. 5 (1907)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Constant Lambert
rec. 1946, London
Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Violin Sonata ‘La Folia’ in D Minor, Op. 5, No. 12 (1700) arr Léonard
WOR Symphony Orchestra/Alfred Wallenstein
rec. 1941, private recording
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Romance No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra in G major, Op. 40 (1801-02)
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
rec. 1945 for AFRS
Alban Berg (1885-1935)
Violin Concerto ‘To the Memory of an Angel’ (1935)
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Dimitri Mitropoulos 
rec. 1945 for AFRS