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Legendary Treasures - Henryk Szeryng Vol 1 - Bach

Release Date: 03/01/2005 
Label:  Doremi Records   Catalog #: 7774   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Henryk Szeryng
Conductor:  Iosif Conta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Romanian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: n/a 
Length: 1 Hours 11 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Henryk Szeryng, like Arthur Grumiaux and Nathan Milstein, achieved a formidable reputation for his performances of Bach’s solo works for violin. DOREMI’s first volume devoted to him, however, makes it clear that he combined similar strength and purity in Bach’s concertos. He recorded the Second no fewer than four times between 1950 and 1976. In the one with Conta and the Bucharest Radio Symphony Orchestra, from Electrecord ECE-1047 or ECD-1018 (DOREMI doesn’t specify which served as master), heavily pulsating readings of the outer movements enshrine elevated discourse in the central Adagio. Even in the final movement, the episodes’ passagework sounds majestic rather than playful. The recording comes from 1961, it’s true, but can that really Read more be a piano continuo peeking out during the bridge between the first movement’s two long sections? The recorded sound, remarkably clear, preserves both the acid in Szeryng’s tone and the sumptuousness of the orchestral strings. The Partita and Sonata, from Melodiya M 10 49429, appear in much less flattering recorded sound. Even irritating audience noise, produced especially by a couple of loud coughers (there’s generally much more of them in the Partita than in the Sonata), doesn’t distract from the experience so much as does the overall shrillness and, especially in the opening movements, occasional overload, as though the mikes had been placed too close and set at too high a level. Like Milstein, Szeryng recorded the complete set twice in the studio: in 1954 (on Odéon) and again in 1968 (on Deutsche Grammophon). And as in Milstein’s case, a number of live individual performances come from between the two sets.

That Milstein, Grumiaux, and Szeryng have been held up as the models of Bach performance to several generations of students (one once told me that her teacher had been horrified when he discovered she’d been listening to Heifetz’s sonatas and partitas) says something about our times’ aesthetic preferences as well as about the violinists. Bach, apparently, should be majestic, pure, and, like well-washed crystal, show few fingerprints. (More highly personalized, Milstein’s later set accords less well with this preference; it’s no surprise that it’s correspondingly less well regarded by some). However exalted their readings, neither Milstein nor Grumiaux makes a more enduring monument of the Chaconne from the Second Partita than does Szeryng. Undergirded with convincing logic and emphasizing universal rather than individual insights, such a reading serves as an aural analog to Szeryng’s eminently sensible and meticulously scholarly, though not highly personal, printed edition of the solo works. Szeryng slashes his way through the Sonata’s Adagio, and he continues with sword unsheathed through the fugue. But there’s drama, too, as the theme sets foot again and again on the musical stage. Milstein used to play the work’s finale as an encore, so dashing was his reading; but Szeryng’s doesn’t sparkle with comparable virtuosity. The timings of Szeryng’s performances from Deutsche Grammophon’s 1968 set (453-004-2 in reissue on CD) differ from those of Electrecord’s by only a few seconds; and Szeryng’s characteristic tone quality emerges with similar vibrancy in both, although the later studio recording provides a much clearer timbral portrait.

For those who especially admire Szeryng’s Bach performances, and even for those who simply consider Szeryng one of the unapproachable triumvirate, DOREMI’s release of material otherwise not easily obtainable should be mandatory. For others, it’s only strongly recommended.

Robert Maxham, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin no 2 in E major, BWV 1042 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Henryk Szeryng (Violin)
Conductor:  Iosif Conta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Romanian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1717-1723; Cöthen, Germany 
Date of Recording: 1961 
Venue:  Bucharest, Romania 
Length: 18 Minutes 18 Secs. 
Sonata for Violin solo no 3 in C major, BWV 1005 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Henryk Szeryng (Violin)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1720; Cöthen, Germany 
Date of Recording: 11/29/1961 
Venue:  Live  Moscow, Russia, USSR 
Length: 24 Minutes 9 Secs. 
Partita for Violin solo no 2 in D minor, BWV 1004 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Henryk Szeryng (Violin)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1720; Cöthen, Germany 
Date of Recording: 11/19/1961 
Venue:  Live  Moscow, Russia, USSR 
Length: 28 Minutes 37 Secs. 

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