Rerurn to Romy the Cat's Site

Musical Discussions
Topic: Tossy Spivakovsky and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto

Page 1 of 1 (5 items)

Posted by Romy the Cat on 12-21-2004

I have a tradition of exchanging music with people in the end of the year. This morning I made some “selected” CD-copies to a local guy and among them I recorded my favorite performance of Tchaikovsky violin concerto by Tossy Spivakovsky. This kind of put Tossy atop of a big pile of CDs and ... I have listened his performance again, 2 times, and then one more time on analog. Would it be too obsessive? Not really. Tossy deserves it.

I have a strange relation with Tchaikovsky’s concertos and particularly with his First Piano and Violin Concertos. Being a phenomenally wonderful music those concertos are pretty much about nothing and they require a LOT from a performer - to inhale into the concertos some “load” or  add-in meaning. Without it the concertos stay just the infinite battle between notes and instruments… Probably this why Tchaikovsky’s First Piano and Violin Concertos performed countable among of times by anyone (!!!) and this why among all this critical mass of Tchaikovsky’s Concertos there are practically no really deserving performances.

If with the First Piano concerto everything is simple – Claudio Abbado with Berlin Philharmonic in 1983 accompanied Martha Argerich in thier studio recording made the uncontestable statement, but how about the Violin Concerto? All casual suspects: David Kogan, Misha Elman, Christian Ferras, David Oistrakh, Francesca, Grumiaux, Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, Isaac Stern … and this list might be continued infinitely… unfortunately do not handle this concerto with a necessary treatment. This concerto is a music of an overly talented Slav melted with gipsy bravura. It should be played with feeling of respect, superiority, and arrogance but at the same time the violinist should distinct itself form the music with a great sense of sarcasm. If soon a performer become a very slightly full of himself and begin to play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto as it something more then a brilliant cynicism and superb triadic irony then the Concerto dies and a listener hears a pompous celebration of the empty string instruments.

Here is where the southern sarcasm and professional virtuosity of Tossy Spivakovsky comes…

Tossy Spivakovsky was born in Odessa, Back See on February 4 1907 (Odessa is a small provincial town - the home of birth and growing up of Oistrakh, Gilels, Elman, Moiseiwitsch, Barere, Richter, Lerner, de Pachmann, Milstein, Sapellnikov, Cherkassky… hate to mention but I was born in there as well :-) Tossy had 4 brothers and all of them became musicians. When Tossy was very young his family moved in Berlin to let the Tossy’s older brother – Jacob (a pianist-prodigy) to study music in conservatory. In Berlin Tossy begin to study violin at age of six and performed his first public debut in 1917.

After the few years of tours around Europe William Furtwangler hired the 19-years-old Tossy as a concertmaster (!!!) of Berlin Philharmonic but Tossy resigned in a year to pursue a career of a solo-violinist and then, he continued his tours around the world. In 30s Tossy jointed his well-recognized brother Jacob in Australia where they made a trio with Edmond Kurtz. Here in Australia, Tossy taught in University, performed solo and trios, got marred, had a child. In the end of 30s Edmond Kurtz emigrated to US and Tossy with his family followed him in 1941

In US, during the War Spivakovsky conducted Cleveland Symphony, frequently acting as a soloist. During that time he acquired his inflames 1721 Strad. After the War Tossy kept touring as a solo violinist, trying composing, developing new playing techniques and performing with most US significant orchestras and with many orchestras around the world. Later on Tossy taught in Juilliard School. Tossy Spivakovsky died in 1998, aged 91 in NY.

I would not say that I deeply admire whatever Tossy did. For instance his Paganini’s Caprices (Schumann's version) I find very off the wall. However, there were some pieces where he did phenomenal things. The Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is certainly one of them and I strongly encourage you to find it.


Sound-wise this recording of 1959 is superb. Tossy Spivakovsky plays with London Symphony Orchestra very smartly lead by Walter Goehr. Audiuo-wise, the balance, tone and microphone-ing and everything else in there is absolutely great. This is one of those rare events when everything came together. The original LP release is available on Everest label SDBR-3049 or LPBR-6049. As usually there were two versions available mono and stereo. Contrary to many other dual-format recording of that time the mono version has very well-done microphone-ing and also is highly recommended, however I personally prefer stereo version.  There is a transfer of this performance to CD: Everest EVC-9035. The transfer is very-very good, and comes in the series “An Original master Production”. Also, this CD comes with Tossy’s fantastic performance of Sibelius Violin Concerto with LSO and Tauno Hannikainen.

Well, if you would like to go all the way into the "audio kinkiness" of the Tossy Spivakovsky’s Tcha-Violin Concerto then try to dig the late 60’s Roma pressing of Tossy with Goehr performance. Italians in that time mastered thier records explicitly by vacuum tube equipment (remember the wonderfull “Evenings with *** Orchestra” albums?) and italian production of this performance is more superior then the Everest’s first pressings. It was by Tank Records STG-7029

Romy the Cat

Posted by Ronnie on 04-06-2007

I was listening to that Everest LP yesterday and found myself half laughing through the 2nd and 3rd movements.
"sarcasm and professional virtuosity" seems like a fitting description, although I haven't heard any other versions of the concerto.
I got the feeling that he wrings and squeezes much more out of the piece than was supposed to be there, and I can imagine him looking unaffected all the time, like in the photo!

I was then thinking of how it would sound if he played the Paganini Caprices and Itzhak Perlman played the Violin Concerto (I have an EMI box with Itzak Perlman playing the Caprices, it's impressive ..and very tiresome to listen to).

Posted by Romy the Cat on 04-06-2007

The Tchaikovsky’s concerto was plays by everyone pretty much. Try Grumiaux, Oistrakh, Francescatti, Milstein, Kogan, Elman, Vengerov… Actually I have one of the performances even with Vladimir Spivakov that actually was surprisingly good.  It is shame that the great Fritz Kreisler did not record the whole concerto (I head only the cadenza) but it would be the man for the job…

If you like what Tossy did with Tchaikovsky’s concerto then you have to head his play of Sibelius' Violin Concerto with London Symphony Orchestra under Tauno Hannikainen . The Tossy’s Sibelius' is also way out there and from my point of view is the best Sibelius ever….

Unfortunately as much I love Tossy in those two works (his recordings for 1920s are phenomenal) I am not so enthusiastic about his Paganini Caprices. Tossy played Schumann version and it is not really “straight” for me. It has some idiosyncrasy that I go not get. Also, if Tossy’s semi-gypsy semi-Yiddish intonations do wonder in Tchaikovsky and in Sibelius then in Paganini they sound stupid. Tossy kind of trying to hide them but it did not sound to me as free-flowing and natural… but it is just me… Perhaps I need re-listen it again sometimes if future…

Romy the caT

Posted by Ronnie on 04-06-2007
Actually, I was reminded of it, and am playing that Sibelius Violin Concerto right now (part of a little lot of Romy-approved records I once stumbled on from an eBay seller).
For reasons of redecoration, it's playing through the crappiest little speakers stacked in a corner, sounding like little more than elevator music. I think it will be worth a spin later with headphones instead.

Yesterday held also Sibelius Swan of Tuonela with Sargent / Vienna Philharmonic.
Peaceful and strange Easter holidays' music resurrect to. :-)

Posted by Romy the Cat on 12-26-2010

My beloved British Pathé archive just released a super rare file that features Tossy Spivakovsky. What a treat!

The Cat

Page 1 of 1 (5 items)