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JOSEPH SZIGETI Prokofiev No 1; Bartok; Bloch (Beecham, Lambert, Munch) Naxos Historical 8.1109773 [1935/39, 64 mins]

With fascinating comprehensive notes by strings specialist Tully Potter, who analyses Joseph Szigeti's unique manner with vibrato and his characteristic old-fashioned portamento,and with exemplary remastering by renowned 'moderate interventionist' transfer/artist engineer Mark Obert-Thorn, this is an exceptionally desirable release for everyone who is not inured to the values of historical recording.

For me, it is replete with nostalgia, but I don't think that has influenced me unduly. Orchestral concerts by (Sir) Thomas Beecham and (less often) Charles Munch were staples in my musical education, and I met my first wife at a concert when Constant Lambert conducted his symphony Summer's Last Will and Testament at the then fairly new Royal Festival Hall.

The Bartok is the first movement of what eventually became his first violin concerto; we owe to Szigeti's encouragement Bartok's reference studio recordings of his music. I only heard Szigeti (1892-1973) live once (maybe in 1954?), with Schnabel, and after his playing had 'declined'; Schubert's variations were by then a struggle. But his recordings of these Prokofiev and Bloch concertos, the first of each, were favourites in my collection of 78s. I loved them both, despite the 'piercing mid-range' which Obert-Thorn moderates in his transfers, skilfully enhancing the original Bloch recording in a 'cramped, dry studio'. Szigeti premiered the Bloch concerto, which was later taken up by Menuhin (EMI, nla) but it has failed to establish itself in the repertoire, more's the pity - see if you're not captivated by the first three minutes of this major 35 mins work. (There is a modern recording on BIS.)

Hearing again these authoritative performances of Prokofiev and Bloch is like meeting old friends looking better than ever! This bargain collection is an essential, dare I suggest compulsory, purchase, which you will not regret.


© Peter Grahame Woolf