Tibor Varga ∙ Volume 1

8.99 €

Tibor Varga is one of the most underrated virtuosos of the 20th century. The important news is that the Bartók solo sonata is new to his discography. This is a very unusual and historically valuable set of early German radio performances between 1949 and 1951 by Varga. He was known for producing a happy blending of charm, elegance, virility, strength, fineness and his playing offers readings of intensive tone, subtle phrasing and noticeable vibrato. None of these radio performances have been published before.

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TIBOR VARGA plays Beethoven and Bartók

1-3. BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op.61 [44:31]
Recorded · 19 October 1949 · Frankfurt · Altes Funkhaus Eschersheimer Landstraße · Hessischer Rundfunk · Radio Studio Recording
Tibor Varga · violin
Sinfonie-Orchester des Hessischen Rundfunks
Winfrid Zillig · conductor

4. BEETHOVEN: Violin Romance No.2 in F Major, Op.50 [06:55]
Recorded · 30 January 1950 · Frankfurt · Altes Funkhaus Eschersheimer Landstraße · Hessischer Rundfunk · Radio Studio Recording
Tibor Varga · violin
Sinfonie-Orchester des Hessischen Rundfunks
Winfrid Zillig · conductor

5-8. BARTÓK: Sonata for Solo Violin, Sz.117 [21:52]
Recorded · 13 June 1951 · Frankfurt · Altes Funkhaus Eschersheimer Landstraße · Hessischer Rundfunk · Radio Studio Recording
Tibor Varga · solo violin

Additional Information

Article number: MC 2004
Release date: 02 May 2014
UPC barcode: 0791154050262
Total time: 73:18

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Laszlo Gombos collection
With special thanks to Laszlo Gombos
From the Original Masters · © 2014 Meloclassic

Tibor Varga was born on July 4, 1921 in Györ, Hungary. He would also point out that three of the greatest names in violin playing came from the western region of Hungary, Joseph Joachim, Carl Flesch and Leopold Auer. Both Varga’s parents were musicians. His father – who gave him his first lessons – was a talented violinist who had suffered injuries during the First World War that prevented him from following a professional career. So he turned to violin-making and Varga remembered that as a young child he was surrounded by violins instead of toys. His mother was a pianist who was sought after as an accompanist in local concerts.

At 6, he had his first public performance. At 10, he appeared for the first time as an orchestral soloist, playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. He had already attracted the attention of Jenö Hubay, who arranged for his enrolment at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, where Varga was prepared for Hubay’s class by his assistant Franz Gabriel and also encountered Bartók, who was to deepen Varga’s interest in contemporary music.


When Hubay died in 1937, Varga was chosen to perform Hubay’s Third Violin Concerto, under the direction of Ernst von Dohnányi, at the memorial concert. After Hubay’s death he continued his studies under Gabriel and began his recording and international concert career as a teenager when he was just 14. He had been engaged for tours in Poland and France and in 1937, at the age of 16, made his first appearance in England.

During this time he was also making recordings and those for Radiola and Hungarian HMV that have survived show an impeccable technique and personality. He also had some lessons from Carl Flesch. On one occasion he did not understand what Flesch was trying to say and asked him to demonstrate. When Flesch obliged, the young boy exclaimed: “But Uncle Flesch, you play differently from how you teach!” Flesch then put his arm around the boy and said to Varga’s mother: “Your son does not need a teacher. He will find out everything by himself.”

World War II put Varga’s career in abeyance and the young man used the time to study philosophy at Budapest University for four years and to take conducting lessons with Franco Ferrara. Immediately afterwards he returned to his home town in Hungary to teach at the new Gyór Academy of Music. Faced with the harsh economic reality of post-war Europe, he was obliged to earn his living as best he could. At least one British family, he was to tell later, was surprised to see on the podium, as a brilliant soloist, a young man who had repaired their sink only a few days earlier and whom they had taken to be a plumber. He settled in London in 1947 from where his career as a virtuoso violinist prospered, a highly successful Wigmore Hall début and several recordings with EMI/Columbia brought him recognition in the UK.

Whilst living in England he married a fellow Hungarian, Judith Szava. Despite gaining British citizenship, Varga was obliged to move to Sion, Switzerland in 1956 for the sake of the health of his son Gilbert, who would later work together with his father in his capacity as conductor.

In 1949 he joined the Hochschule für Musik in Detmold, taking a central role in creating the string department with cellist André Navarra and violists Bruno Giuranna and Nobuko Imai. Varga would teach at Detmold until 1986, helping to make the small town an internationally renowned centre for string playing and for music in general.

After Varga gave the European premiere of Schönberg’s Violin Concerto in 1949, Schönberg who heard the performance over Radio, wrote him: “I wish to be younger to be able to write more music for you. Your performance resonates as if you had known the work for 25 years. Your whole interpretation is mature, expressive, marvellous. I can assure you that I have never heard a performance which so precisely reflected my intentions in every detail.” Varga’s performing career, meanwhile, was continuing to great acclaim, and he appeared with conductors such as Ansermet, Bernstein, Böhm, Boulez, Ferrara, Fricsay, Furtwängler, Markevitch, and Solti. Famous for his interpretation of Beethoven, Brahms, Nielsen and Tchaikovsky, he also devoted special attention to contemporary works. Among the composers who dedicated works to him was Boris Blacher. In November 1950 Varga premiered his Violin Concerto in Munich under Erich Schmid.

The violinist established himself in Sion, in the Swiss Alps, where he successively founded a summer academy (1963), an annual music festival (1964), and an international violin competition (1967), all bearing his name. Nevertheless, although he felt that playing the violin should be motivated by musical expression, he was a strong advocate of “technique before music” and considered that technical problems should be resolved before the age of 12. “One’s violin training must be complete before life starts.” He explained further: “Naturally one improves all through life, but it is essential that the basics are resolved early. All the great violinists were technically ready by the time they were in their mid-teens. One cannot be a soloist if one has to solve technical problems at the same time as building a repertoire”.

Tibor Varga died at his home in Grimisuat, near Sion, Switzerland, on 4 September 2003. The cause was a heart attack.

© Michael Waiblinger 2014

MusicWeb International Classical Review September 2014

Published September 2014

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.61 (1806) [44:31]
Violin Romance No.2 in F major, Op.50 (1798) [6:55]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Sonata for solo violin, Sz.117 (1944) [21:52]
Tibor Varga (violin)
Sinfonie-Orchester des Hessischen Rundfunks/Winfried Zillig
rec. October 1949 (Concerto), January 1950 (Romance) and June 1951 (Bartók), Altes Funkhaus Eschersheimer Landstrasse, Hessicher Rundfunk, radio recording
MELOCLASSIC MC2004 [73:18]

I never got to see Tibor Varga (1921-2003). He was due to conduct in London but died shortly before the engagement, so the recordings he made as violinist and also as conductor are the focal points of my interest – and as collectors of his discs will know a healthy series was put out by Claves.

There are three studio performances in this Meloclassic release, all from Frankfurt and preserved by Hessischer Rundfunk. The important news is that the Bartók solo sonata is new to his discography, which is all the more valuable given the esteem enjoyed by his LP recording of the Second Violin Concerto with Fricsay in Berlin for DG, one of the classic accounts. The other major work is the Beethoven Concerto, though here other survivals do exist – the Summit LP with Horvat conducting the Zagreb Philharmonic is one, though there’s also an Oryx in which Varga is accompanied by the Berlin Pro Musica.

This October 1949 Frankfurt Beethoven performance is not without its ancillary demerits. The winds take a while to settle down and there is a big cushioned but booming bass line. Varga’s opening broken octave run is slightly nervous and his characteristic vibrato, which is very fluty, is prominent, especially on held notes where it oscillates quite dramatically: it will give problems for those uninitiated in his playing.

Varga’s approach is succulent and sweet, his Hubay-derived slow vibrato lending an even more pleading quality to the playing; Endre Wolf, his fellow Hungarian, Hubay student never had the same problem. He makes quick, sleek portamenti and his bowing is quite brittle in the cadenza. The slow movement is prayerful, but the nannying vibrato remains problematic. True, this is very communicative and expressive playing and phrased with songful warmth with happily fast, almost electric velocity trills. There is plenty of tonal colour to be heard, as well, but it is a touch over-heated in places and the extensive cadential passage is out of scale. I must note here that because edit points are introduced, the move from this passage to the finale has been compromised; the movement ends, the studio acoustic is replaced by a dead edit and then the studio acoustic resumes and things start up again for the finale but things are killed stone dead for a brief while. The finale itself is of a piece, though here the personalisation is not without engagement. I’ve not mentioned the conductor, Winfried (or as the documentation has it, Winfrid) Zillig (1901-63). I always thought his first name was Winfried but I stand to be corrected. He is competent, but either because of a faulty perception of balance – or because of the studio engineers – the bass line is over-prominent, and their pizzicati boom volcanically. Zillig, by the way – the digipak notes are exclusively about the soloist – was Erich Kleiber’s assistant at the Berlin Staatsoper (1927-28) and then at a series of orchestras in the country, including Essen. He was director of Frankfurt Radio (1947-51). He was also a composer but recorded little; some Mahler and Schoenberg, principally, for DG.

There’s a bare two-second pause after the Concerto before we are plunged into the Romance in F major — January 1950, with Zillig again — where Varga’s tense sound and sweetly lyric conception create an atmosphere tending to the excessive. The following year, in June 1951, Varga returned to the Frankfurt studio to unleash his performance of Bartók’s solo violin sonata, Sz.117. Here the playing is quite mesmeric, if one accepts its brittle and rather abrasive quality too. His conception is formidable and very fast. This performance pre-dates Ivry Gitlis’s famous commercial reading, and isn’t quite as fast, but at 22 minutes Varga’s is certainly amongst the fastest on record. There are moments of awkwardness, both phrasal and technical, and the tremulous bowing that is so distinctive a feature of his art is very apparent in the Melodia. For precision, clarity and absolute purity of intonation, Varga would not win many awards here; but for blistering involvement and rugged, pregnant intensity of expression he stands high.

Given all the above this is very much an artist-led release but for those attuned to Varga’s aesthetic there is a great deal to stimulate and intrigue, indeed excite.

© Jonathan Woolf

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