Joseph Szigeti: The Complete Columbia Album Collection review – a phenomenal violinist

The instinct to support musicians alive today makes the pursuit of past superstars a more specialised activity. Yet historic recordings can have the vitality of old letters or diaries. When a collection arrives with composer-pianists Stravinsky and Bartók playing their own works, together with fabled performers such as the pianist Myra Hess, the cellist Pablo Casals and clarinettist Benny Goodman, it’s hard to resist.

The box in question is Sony Classical’s 17-CD set of recordings by the phenomenal Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti (1892-1973), made between 1940 and 1956 for American Columbia. Remastered from the original analogue discs and tapes, the sound is generally bright and clean.

The 31 works, from sonatas to chamber works to concertos, span Bach and Beethoven to Debussy, Ravel, Busoni and Henry Cowell. Bartók is pianist in his own Rhapsody No 1 for Violin and Piano. All the Brahms, including the Trio No 2 in C major with Hess and Casals, is to treasure. Szigeti plays Dvořák with grace and melancholy, and gives bite and attack to Stravinsky. The style may be redolent of another era, yet still this playing speaks to us.