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GIOCONDA DE VITO

Gioconda de Vito’s playing was influenced by a deep religious faith. Placing artistic integrity at the top of her agenda, she would only play works with which she had an affinity. Her favourite composer was Bach and her only concessions to modernity were a piece by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (compulsory in the Vienna International Competition) and the concerto written for her in a deliberately archaic style by Ildebrando Pizetti, which she premièred in 1944.

Six months after beginning to teach herself the violin, de Vito was heard by her uncle, a professional violinist, attempting Bériot’s Concerto No. 9 and they began formal lessons. Following two years with Remy Principe at the Pesaro Conservatory she obtained her diploma, and at thirteen began her professional career as a soloist. She was appointed Professor of Violin at the new conservatory in Bari on the Adriatic coast aged only seventeen. When she won the first International Violin Competition in Vienna in 1932, playing the Bach Chaconne in D minor, Jan Kubelík came up to the stage and kissed her hand.

World War II interrupted her blossoming career, preventing her first visit to the United States, and despite subsequent invitations she declined to perform there. De Vito did appear in Australia, Argentina, India, Israel and the Soviet Union where, at the invitation of David Oistrakh, she was a juror at the first Tchaikovsky Violin Competition. In 1957 she played his choice of a Brahms sonata for Pope Pius XII, and the following year Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. On receiving a letter from a member of the audience, saying that her playing of the slow movement had made him realise there was a God, she considered this concert the pinnacle of her career and decided to retire from both performing and teaching in 1961 to avoid playing past her peak.

De Vito had a number of individual ideas that were considered startling, such as beginning the solo entry of Brahms’s Violin Concerto with an up-bow to achieve greater sonority. Eric Blom wrote in 1954: ‘Her way of holding the balance between the outward appearance of a serene graciousness and a vibrant inner passion that is always felt in her playing without ever breaking through boundlessly is, if not unique, at any rate very difficult to discover in any other violinist of today’. Of her several recordings of the Brahms, the 1941 version selected here is the earliest.

De Vito’s few records (she did not feel comfortable with recording) are a testament to her highly-considered understanding of music-making. Most performances are steady, including a stately interpretation of Mozart’s Concerto No. 3 (1949) and a, frankly, pedestrian Brahms Double Concerto performance with Almedo Baldovino. Brahms sonata recordings with Edwin Fischer (1954, including Op. 108 selected here) are also rather slow but thus impart an unhurried intensity to the works. All of these recordings show her to be a conscientious and warm-hearted interpreter with a sonorous tone achieved at least in part by a slow and wide vibrato. This works better in some contexts than others: her 1951 recording of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with Malcolm Sargent is a thoughtful reading, although the slow movement is perhaps excessively steady, and her Bach D minor Chaconne from 1947 escapes the often brutal virtuoso treatment that has been visited upon it, with a richly-sustained melody line in the opening material especially. This is not to say that de Vito’s playing lacks vitality; her 1955 recording of Spohr’s Duo in G minor with Menuhin contains some impassioned playing and a compelling intensity.

Whilst the success of de Vito’s interpretations is a matter of taste, her integrity as an artist is never in question.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)


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