Considered by many to be an outstanding all-round musician, Peter Rybar had a long and full career involving a good deal of recording and the promotion of works by composers such as Suk, Martinů, Bartók, Hindemith and Stravinsky. He also made seminal first recordings of the Goldmark Concerto, Viotti’s Violin Concerto No. 22 in A minor (a work favoured by Joseph Joachim) and Suk’s Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra.
Rybar was born in Vienna, his parents both Czech violinists, and brought to England in 1914. He was taught initially by his mother, a pupil of Ševčík who had summarily rejected his exercise-based method and taken herself to Brussels under César Thomson’s tutelage. Rybar spent some time in Geneva and Leipzig before studying violin with Karel Hofmann and composition with Josef Suk I, both of the Czech Quartet, at the Prague Conservatory and then with Carl Flesch in Paris. In Prague he gave the first performance of Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto in the presence of the composer.
Through a variety of musical contacts Rybar was persuaded in 1938 to visit Winterthur, home to the oldest Swiss orchestra founded in 1875. After an unorthodox audition (at a party, playing on a borrowed violin) Rybar was hired as leader of the orchestra and quartet there and as a teacher at the Musikkollegium (the oldest conservatory in Switzerland with roots in the 17th century). In his capacity as orchestral leader he took part in Louis Kaufman’s ground-breaking project to record Vivaldi’s complete Op. 8, Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’invenzione; the Winterthur orchestra worked with Kaufman in Nos. 5–8 and Rybar took the second solo part in the additional Concerto in D, RV513, recorded in 1950.
Marriage to the pianist Marcelle Daeppen in 1952 resulted in the Rybar Duo which performed widely and made some recordings. Rybar also performed and recorded with Edwin Fischer, Wilhelm Backhaus and Clara Haskil.
Upon retiring from his post in Winterthur Rybar moved to Caslano near Lake Lugano by the Italian border and was invited by Wolfgang Sawallisch to become leader of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva. This pair worked together until 1980.
Rybar’s playing is a curious but very successful throwback to the pre-war era, sounding at times remarkably like Adolf Busch: the comparison is notable in aspects of tone (a relatively slow vibrato and a soft-edged, almost flautando sound in quieter passages) and also of articulation. The Busoni Sonata (1954) selected here was deservedly one of his own favourite recordings: the combination of a rather slow and diffuse vibrato with frequent portamenti in the first movement is particularly effective in conveying the sombre yet warm mood, whilst a rather thick staccato and wide vibrato help to avoid the exciting second movement sounding too lightweight.
Rybar’s repertoire otherwise is similarly well suited to his tonal aims. Suk’s rather gigantic Fantasy, with its post-Dvořákian language, has its drama and intensity maintained in Rybar’s 1950 recording, although this is rather less secure technically than the Busoni and suffers from some tonal dullness.
The Janáček Sonata (date unknown) is notable for the freedom of rhythms in the first movement and a fascinating and rare case of arpeggiated chords in the piano (a nineteenth-century performing practice). The Martinů Arabesques (1977) also have a rather odd sound in the piano which is initially rather muffled and distant. Rybar’s playing here is notable for the use of on-string accents and staccati, the first movement demonstrating accented martelé bow strokes.
Goldmark’s A minor Concerto (recorded in 1950) is given a highly-charged reading with a tight sound rather reminiscent of Isaac Stern’s best playing. There is a good degree of sympathy and understanding here that bears testimony to Rybar’s breadth of experience and evident musical intelligence.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)
Role: Classical Artist