Although born too late to encounter the legendary Jenő Hubay, Hungarian György Pauk, having trained at the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest, shares the same heritage as such other great violinists as Vecsey, Telmányi, d’Arányi, Végh and Szigeti. He won prizes at the Paganini, Long-Thibaud and ARD Competitions before moving to London in 1961 and launching his solo career in earnest. He has appeared—playing the 1714 ‘Massart’ Stradivarius—with most of the world’s leading orchestras and conductors.
Pauk’s playing has a depth of tone and intelligent artistic bearing that promotes stylistic diversity. Whilst known as a Bartók specialist he can be equally at home in other repertory. A masterly Tippett Triple Concerto with Nobuko Imai and Ralph Kirschbaum received a Gramophone Award in 1983 (see Kirschbaum in this book). His 1986 recording of Handel’s D major Sonata is executed cleanly on metal strings, with an adapted modern style rather than a root-and-branch attempt at period performance; it is a sensitive and well-shaped rendition. Proof, perhaps, that stylistic decisions are as much a matter of context as anything else is the rather conventional and ‘sugar-coated’ sonority of Mozart’s K. 218 Concerto with the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra from 1976, where Pauk, possibly to match the over-rich orchestral sound, turns up his vibrato and projects assertively. Again, though, there is an uncluttered quality of tone that responds well to the elegance of Mozart’s writing.
It is without doubt in Bartók’s music that Pauk truly excels. All his Bartók recordings (from the 1990s) demonstrate formidable technical and interpretative command. These are difficult, impassioned but also highly Romantic works, in which Pauk’s playing avoids stereotypical modernism and angularity, instead conveying an almost vulnerable warmth—seeking out and stressing the more sensitive, even classical lines in the music. The Rhapsody No. 1 avoids initial harshness and the second movement captures the naivety of the folksong quite naturally, whilst the Violin Concerto No. 1 demonstrates Pauk’s craftsmanship and delicate tone, garnished by some perfectly judged use of portamento. Contrasts (performed with two fellow Hungarians, also consummate interpreters) moves effortlessly—sometimes humorously—from one tonal extreme to the next, and stands well alongside the famous Goodman-Szigeti-Bartók recording.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)