Szymon Goldberg began playing the violin at the age of seven in Warsaw with Czaplinski. Subsequently he studied with Mieczysław Michałowicz who also taught Josef Hassid and Ida Haendel. Although he made his début at the age of twelve in Warsaw (with Paganini’s Violin Concerto in D major) Flesch, his teacher in Berlin, made him wait a further year before allowing him to make his first appearance in that city with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in Bach’s E major Concerto, Joachim’s Hungarian Concerto and Paganini’s Concerto No. 1. By all accounts Flesch’s caution was wise: Goldberg immediately received numerous playing engagements.
As a Jew Goldberg was forced to leave Germany in 1934, despite Furtwängler’s strenuous attempts to obtain permission for him to stay. During his time in Berlin he became a member of the Hindemith String Trio, replacing Josef Wolfsthal upon the latter’s early demise. He then went to London and, forming a partnership with pianist Lili Kraus, toured Europe, the Far East and the Dutch East Indies. It was whilst on tour in 1942 that he became a prisoner of the Japanese who sealed up his house, leaving his violin—the ‘Legnitz’ Stradivarius—inside. One of Goldberg’s neighbours climbed in through an unsecured window and rescued the instrument; sadly, his collection of bows and sheet music was lost.
In the USA Goldberg was a prolific teacher at Yale University, The Juilliard School, Curtis Institute and Manhattan School of Music, earning a tough reputation. As Shirley Givens recollected in an interview in The Strad magazine in 1996, ‘You had to justify everything you did, to explain every note you played.’ Kyung-Wha Chung and Pamela Frank were among Goldberg’s more notable pupils.
Goldberg played a large amount of Classical and early-Romantic repertoire, although he also made successful recordings of Berg’s Violin Concerto and chamber music by Hindemith and Milhaud. His playing on record is notable for its precise sound: he was, in many ways, a thoroughly twentieth-century violinist, spurning all but the most discreet and infrequent portamenti and advocating a high degree of fidelity to the printed score. Henry Roth describes him as ‘aristocratic’ in his interpretational instincts and there is certainly a cool reserve evident in his recordings.
Fittingly in his case, Goldberg’s most important recordings are of Classical repertoire, specifically Mozart and Beethoven sonatas with Lili Kraus (1934–1938) and the Brahms sonatas recorded with Artur Balsam (1953). He also recorded Mozart’s G Major Concerto (1952) and, two years later, Beethoven’s ‘Ghost’ Trio with Casals and Serkin in a live performance at the Prades Festival. All reveal a bright and quite powerful tone with a focused sound and tight, frequent, vibrato. The first movement of Mozart’s K. 296 is taken at a cheerful pace, although the finale sounds a little frenetic; an epithet equally applicable to his other Mozart recordings. There is something oddly acerbic in Goldberg’s sound-world here, although his Brahms sonata recordings with Balsam are slightly more flexible. Goldberg’s rather unyielding approach to rhythm (which makes the slow movement of the Sonata No. 1 sound a little stilted, for example) gives way to a fine and subtle handling of dynamic shading, which seems to have been his pre-eminent interpretational tool. His recording of the Sonata No. 3 is perhaps the most exciting, with an almost explosive opening to the finale. There is a pleasing informality to the ‘Ghost’ Trio performance. Although Goldberg’s occasionally somewhat puritanical approach can render some performances slightly dreary, he is, at his best, an exciting, neat and clean executant.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)