Monday, 26 December 2016

Henryk Szeryng - an appraisal of the great violinist

A contribution to

I was present when Mr Szeryng performed the Tchaikovsky concerto in Cardiff in 1976, and my father, another fan, and a keen amateur violinist, listened to the concert on the radio. I shall never forget that event, and I still have several of Mr Szeryng’s recordings.  Regarding Mr Szeryng’s failure to be recognised even more than he actually was, I cannot see how he could have been, really. He became, despite several obstacles, such as a career interrupted by a major war, one of the recognised great violinists of his time, and I think that is probably the best any violinist can do in this period in history. 

      What I am trying to say, is that I whereas I would rank Mr Szeryng alongside the other great violinists of his time, such as Milstein, Francescatti, Grumiaux, Menuhin, and Oistrakh, I would not place him alongside Heifetz and the other immortals of the golden age, such as (and I am excluding, here, of course, the early “greats” such as Corelli) Paganini; Joachim; Sarasate; and Ysaye. I really do believe this group, and I might include, at a pinch, Wieniawski and Kreisler, were in a league of their own; each not only possessing a totally recognisable violinistic personality, but also changing violin history. To join them, a violinist now has to move violin playing forward in some recognisable way. He would have to be recognised as being markedly superior to the last of them (Heifetz). This will not make him greater than Heifetz (or Sarasate or the others), because they belong to different eras; it will simply allow him to stand alongside them in violin history. And I do not think this is possible, because we have reached, I think, the limit of what two human hands can do with a violin.  

      Quantum jumps in violin playing are no longer possible, I firmly believe, but I would, of course, be happy to be proved wrong.   

(Sorry about the mix in font sizes on these pages, everyone. There appears to be a glitch in the programme.)

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