Skip to main content

New releases help cement the legacy of Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti

Though he never became a household name, many music lovers regard Szigeti, who died in 1973, as the greatest classical violinist in living memory. This new collection captures his early recordings.

09:06

Contributor

Related Topic

Other segments from the episode on July 5, 2022

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 5, 2022: Interview with Kelly Lytle Hernández; Review of The Poet's House; Review of Joseph Szigeti recordings.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. The Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti never became a household name. But many music lovers, like our classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz, regard him as the greatest classical violinist in living memory. He died in 1973 at the age of 80. Many of his earlier recordings were never transferred to CD. But within the last year, the Sony and Pristine audio labels have released three new sets with more on the way. Here's Lloyd's review.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSEPH SZIGETI PERFORMANCE OF SCHUBERT'S "PIANO SONATA NO. 17 IN D MAJOR, OP. 53, D.850, 'GASTEINER SONATE': IV. RONDO. ALLEGRETTO MODERATO")

LLOYD SCHWARTZ, BYLINE: That was an excerpt from a 1933 recording of a Schubert Rondo by the Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti. There's no violinist I love more. Even in that brief fragment, you can hear him make his violin both sing and speak. He captures Schubert's mood swings from the playful to the suddenly, if only momentarily, heartbreaking. No violinist I know has a greater emotional range in Bach or Mozart, but also in music by his contemporaries like his countryman Bela Bartok. They made some stunning recordings together including the first recording of Bartok's "Contrasts" with the legendary jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman. It's included in Sony's 17-disc Szigeti box of all of his American recordings on Columbia.

Maybe the single most enchanting piece in that whole set is Szigeti playing Stravinsky's brief "Pastorale" with the composer conducting and Mitch Miller, of "Sing Along With Mitch" fame, on the oboe.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSEPH SZIGETI, IGOR STRAVINSKY, MITCHELL MILLER, ROBERT MCGINNIS, BERT GASSMAN AND SOL SCHOENBACH'S "PASTORALE, SONG WITHOUT WORDS FOR VIOLIN AND WOODWIND QUARTET")

SCHWARTZ: The French label Pristine Audio has already released the first two of what will eventually be four sets of Szigeti's European recordings. Here are some of Szigeti's most masterful performances. There's his sublime Bach "Double Violin Concerto" with his elder countryman Carl Flesch. It's the music George Balanchine used for his beloved ballet "Concerto Barocco." There's Szigeti's profound performance of what is usually regarded as a minor work, Mozart's "Violin Concerto No. Four" with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Sir Thomas Beecham, and the first of Szigeti's three recordings of the Beethoven "Violin Concerto" from 1932, with Bruno Walter conducting the British Symphony Orchestra. It's the most beautiful performance of it I've ever heard.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRITISH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, BRUNO WALTER AD JOSEPH SZIGETI'S PERFORMANCE OF BEETHOVEN'S "VIOLIN CONCERTO IN D MAJOR, OP. 61")

SCHWARTZ: Two pieces in the big Sony box in their first appearance on CD make me especially happy, Prokofiev's two gorgeous violin sonatas. Here's the beginning of the Sonata in D.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSEPH SZIGETI AND LEONID HAMBRO'S "SONATA NO. 2 IN D MAJOR, OP. 94A")

SCHWARTZ: Even the slightest of Szigeti's performances take my breath away. And the most ambitious of them are overwhelming. I hope these new and superbly produced recordings return one of the 20th century's most important artists to the attention and admiration he deserves.

GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is the poet laureate of Somerville, Mass. His most recent book is called "Who's On First?: New And Selected Poems." He reviewed new sets of recordings by violinist Joseph Szigeti on the Sony and Pristine Classical labels. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about the challenge, exhilaration and heartbreak of operating on the brains of children. Our guest will be the pediatric neurosurgeon Jay Wellons. His new memoir is about struggling to save kids suffering from illness and injury and helping their parents cope with the trauma of seeing their children in mortal danger. I hope you'll join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARL FLESCH, JOSEPH SZIGETI AND WALTER GOEHR'S PERFORMANCE OF BACH'S "CONCERTO FOR TWO VIOLINS IN D MINOR, BMV 1043")

GROSS: Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley, Susan Nyakundi and Joel Wolfram. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARL FLESCH, JOSEPH SZIGETI AND WALTER GOEHR'S PERFORMANCE OF BACH'S "CONCERTO FOR TWO VIOLINS IN D MINOR, BMV 1043") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

43:11

He's edited Caro, le Carré and 'Catch-22,' but doesn't mind if you don't know his name

At 91, Robert Gottlieb is perhaps the most acclaimed book editor of his time. He started out in 1955 and has been working in publishing ever since. The list of authors he's edited include Robert Caro, Joseph Heller, Toni Morrison, John le Carré, Katharine Graham, Bill Clinton, Nora Ephron and Michael Crichton. His daughter Lizzie Gottlieb's new film, Turn Every Page, centers on her father's decades-long editing relationship with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Caro.

08:19

Sleekly sentimental, 'Living' plays like an 'Afterschool Special' for grownups

Living, is a sleekly sentimental new British drama adapted by Kazuo Ishiguro from Akira Kurosawa's classic 1952 film Ikiru, which means "to live" in Japanese. Starring the great Bill Nighy, it tells the story of a bottled-up bureaucrat in 1950s London who's led to examine the way he's spent the last 30 years of his life.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue