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FERENC VON VECSEY  

(1893 - 1935)

Franz von Vecsey’s career began in spectacular fashion and at a very young age, capturing the attention of no less than Joseph Joachim, who wrote in his album: ‘God guard thee, thou wonderfully gifted child!’ whilst Eugène Ysaÿe wrote: ‘So small and yet so great! I desire for you the triumph of the artist, complete and full.’ From such illustrious beginnings Vecsey’s career petered out in a gradual nose-dive, described by Tully Potter as something of a diminuendo.

Vecsey, whose uncle was August Wilhelmj, the great German violinist, began lessons with his father but was soon to become Hubay’s favourite pupil. Auer, at Joachim’s suggestion, took him up shortly after his Berlin debut (where Joachim conducted him in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto). Vecsey enjoyed a friendly rivalry with Mischa Elman in Auer’s St Petersburg class, a rivalry that persisted into adult life but nonetheless included good-humoured collaborations playing violin duets in their spare time. In many ways Elman overshadowed Vecsey, usurping his position after the former’s Berlin debut in 1904 to such an extent that Vecsey’s agent left him and began work for Elman. His relationship with Hubay endured, however. In 1908, at a London concert to commemorate Hubay’s fiftieth birthday, the two played Bach’s Double Violin Concerto together. Vecsey also played Hubay’s Violin Concerto No. 3, of which he was the dedicatee. A more famous honour perhaps came in the form of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, which was rededicated to Vecsey after Willi Burmester withdrew before the first scheduled performance.

After serving in the Austrian army in World War I, Vecsey never entirely regained either his allure or his popularity. His experiences left him psychologically scarred, although he was physically unaffected, and this may explain his gradual fading from view. In the 1920s, however, he was still sufficiently popular in Berlin for his concerts to be held at the Scala Music Hall on account of the size of his audiences. He died at an unfortunately early age following an operation, although it seems unlikely that his career would have endured beyond World War II as the new modern school of violin playing was emerging into popularity.

Vecsey was a fairly prolific recording artist, recording a considerable amount of material in 1911 and again in 1935, with several discs (including an emotionally ambivalent Preludium and Allegro by Kreisler) in 1925. His 1904 recording of Hubay’s Carmen Fantasia, in spite of its inevitably primitive sound reproduction, is a fascinating document, representing Vecsey’s playing as heard and appreciated by Joachim and others: it reveals an exemplary technical command of great brilliance, albeit with a rather distanced bearing. His 1911 recordings are remarkable for their close similarity to the style of his teacher, Jenő Hubay; in spite of his precocity he was perhaps still at this time overshadowed by his illustrious pedagogue. This is also suggested by a direct comparison of their respective recordings of the Bach–Wilhelmj Air ‘on a G-string’ and Hubay’s own ‘Violin Maker’ Intermezzo. Vecsey’s vibrato is similarly slow and wide and his portamenti, whilst a little more restrained than Hubay’s, are similar in style, being voiced rather thickly and slowly. Most noticeable are the exaggerated fermatas at the end of both sections of the Bach, including the almost grotesquely distended trill at the very end, which also is found in Hubay’s recording (although these attributes—old-fashioned to modern ears—are somewhat toned down in a tidy if acidic reading in his 1935 performance of the work). The most major example of repertoire is a 1935 performance of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata, Op. 12 No. 3, although this is rather dull and unexceptional, whilst Paganini’s Caprice No. 13 seems almost disturbingly regular in rhythm. Throughout Vecsey’s recordings, however, his intonation is found to be exceptionally pure. His recording of Debussy’s ‘En Bateau’ from the Petite Suite is perhaps the most successful of his later recordings and captures the nostalgic mood very effectively. Here his evident emotional detachment works well in an understated reading.

Vecsey never really attained Elman’s celebrity, and it seems that his war experiences damaged his ability to communicate musically: a sad fate for a violinist with so much early promise.

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

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10:22:59 PM, 21 September 2014
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