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Henryk Szeryng

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The four works presented by meloclassic showcase the spectacular energy and accuracy Szeryng could apply to his chosen repertory. The playing is effortless, the lines are intact, and every idea is presented in a compelling and developed way. Szeryng’s unique combination of musical, intellectual and technical gifts that make him the supreme interpreter of any chosen composition. He never recorded commercially the 2nd Schumann and Debussy violin sonata. None of these radio performances have been published before.

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HENRYK SZERYNG plays Schumann, Mozart, Debussy and Beethoven

1-4. SCHUMANN: Violin Sonata No.2 in D minor, Op.121 [27:22]
Recorded · 17 May 1955 · Frankfurt · Sendesaal · Hessischer Rundfunk · Radio Studio Recording
Henryk Szeryng · violin
Wolfgang Rudolf · piano

5-7. MOZART: Violin Sonata in B Major, K.454 [20:05]
8-10. DEBUSSY: Violin Sonata in G minor, L.140 [12:28]

Recorded · 15 April 1957 · Frankfurt · Raum 3/B · Hessischer Rundfunk · Radio Studio Recording
Henryk Szeryng · violin
Heinz Schröter · piano

11-13. BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata No.3 in E-flat Major, Op.12, No.3 [18:04]
Recorded · 19 May 1959 · Frankfurt · Raum 1/D · Hessischer Rundfunk · Radio Studio Recording
Henryk Szeryng · violin
Günther Ludwig · piano

Additional Information

Article number: MC 2002
Release date: 02 May 2014
UPC barcode: 0791154050248
Total time: 78:02

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Boris Lipnitzki
With special thanks to Waltraud Szeryng
From the Original Masters · © 2014 Meloclassic

Henryk Szeryng was born in Żelazowa Wola, Poland on 22 September 1918 as the second child of Szymon Serek-Szeryng (1885-1944) and Salome Alina Szeryng-Woznicka, born Szwajs (1887-1969). At the age of three, he started piano and harmony lessons with his mother Alina. At seven he began studying the violin with Maurice Frenkel, one of Leopold Auer’s most valued assistants prior to World War I, who emphasised the importance of intonational purity. It was the famous Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman who, after hearing the 10 year-old Szeryng play the Mendelssohn concerto, convinced his parents that they should approach Flesch. Szeryng studied with the renowned pedagogue in Berlin from 1930 to 1933, and later confessed: “Everything I know, violinistically speaking, I learnt from him. He was a disciplinarian, a technician, but he had one overriding tenet – not to impress his personality on pupils who had a personality of their own.”

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In 1933 Szeryng visited Paris together with his parents who introduced him to the Polish Prime Minister and composer Ignacy Paderewski. Szymon Szeryng installed the family in Paris where they would stay until 1940. Szeryng applied for entry to the class of violinist René Benedetti at the Paris National Conservatory in autumn 1935. However, his class was full, as was that of his violinist-professor colleague Gabriel Bouillon, to whom Szeryng had been highly recommended by Jacques Thibaud. Although Gabriel Bouillon couldn’t accept the young boy right away, he promised to teach him as of autumn 1936. In the meantime, between 1935 and 36, Szeryng studied almost the entire French violin repertoire with Madeleine Berthelier, pianist, assistant to Gabriel Bouillon at the Paris National Conservatory and daughter of the French violinist, conductor and composer Henri Berthelier. She initiated Szeryng into French music and improved his taste in music in general, without him losing any of the musical accomplishments learned from Russian and German violin schools. Besides his musical education, he studied English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish in private “crash courses”, along with philology, history and philosophy. Nadia Boulanger was his guide in counterpoint and composition at her Parisian home, rue Ballu. She introduced him to such personalities as Heitor Villa-Lobos, Alfred Cortot, Manuel Ponce, Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel.

Three days before the outbreak of World War II when Germans invaded Poland, Szymon Szeryng had left Paris and his family for Poland to follow the mobilization order. He would remain in Poland until his death on 1 August 1944 during the insurrection of the Warsaw Ghetto, and would never see his family again. The French Prime Minister Camille Chautemps, whose wife was the pianist Juliette Durand, introduced Szeryng to the Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile, General Wladyslaw Sikorski. He had his headquarters in Paris at Hotel Resina in the rue de Rivoli. Szeryng became a volunteer in the Polish Army abroad and served as appointed liaison officer and interpreter (Szeryng spoke and wrote in eight languages). He served in that capacity until 1945, having given well over 300 concerts for allied troops in Europe, Africa and the Americas.

In 1942 he joined the exiled Polish Premier in Mexico. The Premier was in search of a home in Latin America for about 4.000 Polish refugees displaced by the war. It was Mexico that finally accepted these desperate and homeless people. Szeryng was so moved by this humanitarian gesture that he returned to Mexico in 1943. He was offered the post of director of the string department at the National University of Mexico so that he could reorganize the Mexican violin school. In recognition of his musical and cultural merits, he was granted Mexican citizenship in 1948.

In Mexico City, Szeryng attended the performance of Arthur Rubinstein who gave a series of concerts with works by Frederic Chopin. Overwhelmed by having listened to an extraordinary rendition of part of the repertoire that his mother used to play when he was a boy, Szeryng rushed backstage after the performance to greet his fellow Pole enthusiastically. “Never before I heard Chopin being played that way, he said to Rubinstein in Polish, your interpretation reminded me that of my mother.” Rubinstein looked at him, hesitating – should he be angry or smiling at this young man’s ingenuousness? He opted for a smile and furthermore invited Szeryng to come to his hotel the next day. He wanted to get to know the man and violinist who had so passionately stormed his green room. The encounter the next day started with Bach. Rubinstein wanted Szeryng to play a Solo Sonata first. After having listened, he sat down at the piano, making no other comment than asking which Brahms Sonatas Szeryng plays. “All three”, he replied. “Then let’s play the three”, Rubinstein said and off they went and played them from beginning to end with no interruption. Afterwards, Rubinstein pronounced the words that will change Szeryng’s life and career significantly: “You must be heard more on the big stages around the world!” Upon this, he picked up his phone and called Sol Hurok, his manager in New York. Hurok would soon follow Rubinstein’s recommendation and took Szeryng under his management. The two men enjoyed the deepest friendship which was built upon mutual admiration and respect for each other as human beings and musicians. Rubinstein, who died in 1982, thought of his friend as an artist of the highest order and remarked: “Real music lovers want emotion – great moments – which Szeryng’s playing gives them.” The Rubinstein family invited Szeryng to visit with them at their residence in Los Angeles. Here he not only met other artists, but also practised Beethoven and Brahms sonatas with his host in preparation for future recordings. They recorded Beethoven’s “Spring” and “Kreutzer” sonata in 1959 and all the three Brahms sonatas for violin and piano in 1960.

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On February 17, 1961 Szeryng rehearsed Prokofiev’s 1st Violin Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell. The dress rehearsal ended abruptly as Szell and Szeryng couldn’t agree about the tempo. Szell refused to continue the rehearsal and left the stage and did not return. However, in the concert, Szell followed Szeryng’s tempo suggestions. In 1964 he did his first Australian and Japan tour with orchestra and in recital. The great-granddaughters of Niccolò Paganini approached Szeryng during his stay in Milan and showed him some manuscript pages, which he soon identified as being part of Paganini’s third Violin Concerto which was believed to have been lost. At their home, Szeryng found the complete concerto which Niccolò Paganini had premiered in Vienna on 24 July 1828. Szeryng studied the concerto, composed the cadenzas and recorded it in January 1971 with the London Symphony Orchestra under Alexander Gibson. Throughout the month of August 1972, Szeryng conducted master classes at the Geneva Conservatory, a regular biennial summer event since 1968. One of his students was the young Israeli Shlomo Mintz. Wishing to contribute significantly to the start of Mintz’s career, Szeryng presented him with a violin which he bought from Pierre Vidoudez, Geneva, the Jean-François Aldric, 1831. There was the “Hercules” Stradivarius of 1734 which at one time belonged to Eugene Ysaye until it was stolen from him during a concert in Saint Petersburg. Szeryng had acquired the instrument in 1962 from the New York based violinmaker Jacques Français. Szeryng put this famous instrument into the hands of Teddy Kollek, Mayor of Jerusalem on December 24, 1972 as a special token of friendship towards the Golden City to be used by the concertmaster of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 1984 Szeryng married the German Waltraud Büscher in Monaco. On 1 March 1988 Szeryng gave his last performance in Kassel, Germany. He ended his career as he started it 55 years ago: with the Brahms Violin Concerto. Is it coincidence, destiny or the fulfillment of a wish? Almost 10 years before, on 23 July 1978, Henryk Szeryng gave an interview to the Mexican newspaper “Excelsior”. One of the journalist’s last questions was “What would you do, if you had only one more hour to live?” and Henryk Szeryng answered, “I would play the Brahms concerto.”

In the night following the performance in Kassel, Szeryng falls into a coma due to a cerebral haemorrhage. He passes away less than 30 hours later, in the early morning of 3 March 1988 and was buried at the Monaco Cemetery.

© Michael Waiblinger 2014

Audiophile Audition Classical Review November 2014

Polish violin virtuoso Henryk Szerying displays his exceptional prowess in concerts from Frankfurt, Germany in the mid-fifties.

Published on November 9, 2014

Henryk Szeryng = SCHUMANN: Violin Sonata No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 121; MOZART: Violin Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 454; DEBUSSY: Violin Sonata in G Minor; BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 12, No. 3 – Henryk Szeryng, violin/ Wolfgang Rudolf, piano (Schumann)/ Heinz Schroeter, p. (Mozart, Debussy)/ Guenther Ludwig, p. (Beethoven) – MeloClassic MC 2002, 78:02 mono [www.meloclassic.com]

Polish violin virtuoso Henryk Szeryng (1918-1988), whom conductor Yoel Levi once described as “the most prepared musician with whom I have ever collaborated,” gave the present studio recitals in Frankfurt, Germany on various dates, 1955-1959. Studies with Carl Flesch and Gabriel Bouillon imbued in Szeryng a thorough knowledge of the Polish, German, and French repertoire, to which he would Iberian and Spanish pieces, especially after his emigration to Mexico in 1943. The intervention by Artur Rubinstein in Szeryng’s career – in Mexico City, 1948 – completely internationalized his reputation.

The four works presented by MeloClassic showcase the spectacular energy and accuracy Szeryng could apply to his chosen repertory. The dark 1851 Schumann Sonata in D Minor receives (17 May 1955) fierce intensity for its opening Ziemlich langsam – Lebhaftfirst movement, in triple meter, with Szerying’s playing detached chords over turbulent piano figures. The keyboard only proceeds in a “lively” manner under a slow, deliberate pace in the violin. The Scherzo designates the piano for the lead materials in 6/8, while the reverse occurs in the trio. The bravura comes in the third movement, with Szeryng’s effortless triple stops, pizzicato. The Bewegt finale “moves along” as a theme and variations, to which Szeryng applies any number of colors as the music explores distant modes of the D Minor triad.

The 1781 Violin Sonata in B-flat Major by Mozart (15 April 1957) certainly finds equality between the two principals, here realized by Heinz Schroeter. After a stately Largo,Szeryng launches into a happy, flowing Allegro in serene colloquy with the keyboard. Szeryng gives full voice to his – and his Stradivarius’ – capacity for cantabile in the soaring Andante. The tone darkens in the minor without loss of fluent lyricism. The contest between harmony and invention could hardly find beter expression than in Mozart’s witty curlicues of theme for the Allegretto finale, in which various episodes resound with little nudges of gleeful wit until the last, virtuosic chords.

The Debussy 1916 Sonata in G Minor derives from the same session, 15 April 1957. Szeryng can “pinch” his sound to accommodate Debussy’s sec aesthetic, but the sheer power of the interpretation absorbs the work in one consistent gulp, typical of Szeryng’s penchant for setting a tempo and abiding to it to the last. The alternating affects of humor, nostalgia, poetic fire, and angular melancholy all pass by in reflective serenity of style and tone. Often, the musical texture appears to contest the two instruments; or rather, they urge or resist the other’s advances. After his demonstrating the deft lightness of hand demanded in the second movement, Szeryng illustrates his stretch and intonation by advancing from the open G to his high C-sharp in the Finale. The keyboardtremolos and haunted atmosphere realized by Schroeter contribute to the chilling and mesmerizing effect of the performance.

The Beethoven 1798 E-flat Major Sonata (19 May 1959) proffers the happiest collaboration on the disc. A natural exuberance permeates the entire sonata, dedicated by the way, to Salieri. While several high points capture our fancy, the C Major Adagiocompels repeated hearings. The Rondo: Allegro molto may owe its spirit to Haydn, but the infectious charm of the two instruments; trading leads has us toe-tapping with boundless delight for a performance of informed charm, grace, wit, and panache.

© Gary Lemco

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