“The first presentation of the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Béla Bartók assumed a genuine and masterful form, through the matchless performance by Mr. Szervánszky. His style, his shading and the musical atmosphere he created were the perfect expression of what Bartók desired.”
Pesti Hírlap (Budapest, Hungary)
“Mr. Szervánszky is a violinist of the highest calibre; he displays a bowing of exceptionally light, rich and sonorous quality.”
Wiener Kurir (Vienna, Austria)
“Péter Szervánszky gave us an interpretation of the masterpiece for violin, by Béla Bartók, such as we have not heard for many years. It was perfect and each note was a delight.”
Musical Opinion (London, England)
“He is a master of his instrument, who displays exceptional technical qualities. His sonority is admirable and the eloquence of his bow something really remarkable.”
Le Journal de Geneve (Geneve, Switzerland)
“Virtuosity is no secret for him: but at the same time he is admirably familiar with each detail of pure music.”
Art Musical (Paris, France)
“What a marvellous violinist! We were spellbound by Szervánszky’s multiform expression. Here was music, pure music, heedless of the audience!”
Istambul (Istambul, Turkey)
“Naturally, as he is Hungarian, we admit that he must have great and native qualities, not only in what concerns the possibilities of the instrument itself, but also in the unravelling of the spiritual complexities of Bartók; but his interpretation begins in the higher planes reserved for extraordinary artists. He was able to conduct his listeners up to the very highest summits of art.”
Messagero (Rome, Italy)
This historical recording is the first performance in Hungary of Béla Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2. Performed by Péter Szervánszky with the Székesfővárosi (Metropolitan) Orchestra conducted by János Ferencsik, this live radio broadcast was recorded on X-ray plates from Budapest’s Vigadó concert hall on the 5th January 1944.
The recording owes its existence to the Babits-Makai collection of recordings which were initiated by the Hungarian poetess, Sophie Török. Wife of the renowned poet, Mihály Babits, she became a devoted fan of Bartók’s music and persuaded her husband to engage the pioneering Hungarian recording engineer, István Makai, to record all the Bartók performances broadcast by Radio Budapest from 1936 onwards.
As the conflict in Europe worsened, Makai was unable to obtain the recording tape that was in use at the time, and so he resorted to obtaining X-ray plates from hospitals on which he could record. (This process was still in use in the USSR in the 1950’s to make bootleg recordings of banned rock and roll.)
Many of these recordings were made public, together with some of Bartók’s own wax cylinder recordings under the Hungaroton Classic label as Béla Bartók – Recordings from Private Collections. This recording of the Violin Concerto, however, remained in the Babits Collection and is issued here for the first time.
Bartók wrote the 2nd Violin Concerto between August 1937 and December 1938, having been requested to do so by his close friend, Zoltán Székely. Székely premiered the concerto at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on March 23, 1939 with the Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Willem Mengelberg. Székely was given the concerto’s exclusive performing rights for two years.
PÉTER SZERVÁNSZKY AND THE BARTÓK VIOLIN CONCERTO
Péter Szervánszky was born in 1913 into an artistic family of seven children. Three became performing musicians, while two of his elder brothers were the artist Jenő Szervánszky and the composer, Endre Szervánszky. In 1931 he applied for the soloist class at the Liszt Academy and was immediately accepted as a pupil of the famous Hungarian violinist, Jenő Hubay. At the age of 22, in 1935 he became the leader of the Budapest Concert Orchestra, and at the same time he was the second violinist in the Waldbauer-Kerpely String Quartet, performing all of Bartók’s string quartets. Later he became the second violinist in the renowned Hungarian String Quartet, together with Sándor Végh, Dénes Koromzay and Vilmos Palotai. Thanks to Margit Mészáros, one of Bartók’s piano pupils, Péter Szervánszky was able to visit the composer at his home in Csalán út, Buda, to play him the Bach concerto for two violins and Bartók’s own Forty-four Duos for Two Violins with Magda Szécsi.
Bartók left Hungary for the USA in 1940, but Szervánszky continued to champion his works. He frequently played the solo violin part in Bartók’s Two Portraits, with János Ferencsik conducting, and performed the Rhapsody for violin and piano with Endre Petri, and in 1943, both of the Sonatas for violin and piano with pianist, Péter Solymos. (After the war they played the two sonatas for the BBC in London. Though the performance was recorded, the recording is, unfortunately, missing.) Later, Szervánszky also performed the Sonata for solo violin which the composer wrote in New York for Yehudi Menuhin.
In addition to problems caused by the deteriorating war situation, the reason that the violin concerto was not performed in Bartók’s home country was that it took nearly two years before anyone could get in touch with Zoltán Székely to enquire about performance possibilities. When they did finally contact Székely, they discovered that his performing rights to the concerto lapsed on 1st September 1941 and so they were free to perform it. However, there was a further difficulty. Bartók had left a full-score in Budapest with the musicologist, Bence Szabolcsi but there were no orchestral parts. Although the work was published in the U.K. by Boosey & Hawkes in 1941, getting the parts in Budapest at that time was not possible. Eventually Margit Mészáros, provided the funds for the copyist. A performance was planned for 1942 but Péter Szervánszky was called up to the army. Despite the increasingly appalling war situation, he was released from military service, and so the first performance in Hungary finally took place on 5th January 1944. Unfortunately this recording is the only remaining evidence of Péter Szervánszky’s playing.
After the war in 1946 he received a government scholarship which enabled him to study in Vienna and to great critical acclaim - Vienna Courier (Vienna) Musical Opinion (London), Le Journal de Geneve (Geneva), Art Musical (Paris), Giornale D’Italia (Milan) – appeared set on the life of a touring virtuoso.
Europe in the early 1950s was, however, still in the grip of austerity and so, like other musicians including the conductor Erich Kleiber, he looked to a new, more artistically fruitful life in South America. He received three-months’ salary to become the leader of a new orchestra in Ecuador. When he arrived, however, no orchestra was to be found. Hearing rumours of a better situation in Peru, Szervánszky went to Lima, where he lived from 1950 until 1977.
Why did such a fine artist never return to Europe as a performer? In a recorded conversation with his brothers, Péter Szervánszky spoke of his desire to practise and to seek out his own musical path. He had no wish to elbow his way back into the life of a touring concert violinist, preferring instead to teach and practise at home in Lima. In 1977, however, he suffered a stroke and he was then brought back to live out the remainder of his life with his brothers and sisters in Budapest. He died in 1985.
One has only to listen to the profound, rhapsodic beauty of the opening of this concerto to realise that, in Péter Szervánszky, one is in the presence of an extraordinary artist. This recording is his memorial.