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Russian-born Nathan ‘Tossy’ Spivakovsky was the youngest of four musician brothers. Taught by Arrigo Serato privately and Willy Hess at the Berlin Hochschule, his performing career began at the age of ten and he was touring Europe by thirteen. After a brief spell as concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (having been talent-spotted by Wilhelm Furtwängler) he continued his solo career, also joining with brother Jacob (Jascha) to create the Spivakovsky Duo and then in 1930 forming the Spivakovsky–Kurtz Trio with Jascha and cellist Edmund Kurtz. When the Nazi Party came to power in Germany in 1933 the trio was on tour in Australia and settled there, all joining the teaching staff of the University of Melbourne Conservatorium.

Following his return to the USA Spivakovsky was a regular soloist for the Cleveland Orchestra. In 1943 he gave the first American performance of Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2 and in 1954 his performance of Menotti’s Violin Concerto was praised in Time magazine: ‘As always, his tone was luxuriant, his pitch impeccable, and he brought the music to full-blooded life.’

Spivakovsky published his own cadenzas to the Beethoven and Mozart concertos and also developed a way of holding the bow above the frog in order to execute solid rather than arpeggiated chords in Bach’s solo violin suites; The Spivakovsky Way of Bowing by Gaylord Yost (1949) describes this rather unorthodox method.

Aside from its historical significance as the first studio recording of the work, Spivakovsky’s 1947 Bartók Violin Sonata No. 2 is a compelling account. Something of the immediacy is lost in this rather dim recording but there is a thoughtfulness here, garnished with a tone notable for its clarity and intensity, amply demonstrated at the beginning of this seminal work. These qualities apply equally well to his 1954 Bartók Violin Concerto No. 2 under Monteux. As with many of Spivakovsky’s generation the portamento is still in evidence whilst the vibrato is fast and light. Comparisons with Heifetz’s sound in contemporary comment are deserved and characterise his Menotti recording (1955). The work illustrates the composer’s eclectic yet fundamentally conservative style and became popular following Zimbalist’s 1952 premiere. The vibrant fi rst movement, with its moments of humour, is well conveyed by Spivakovsky’s bright sound. In this work especially the style of his portamento can be heard with its considerable similarity to that of Heifetz. The slow movement is soulfully rendered with plenty of time and space.

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

Role: Classical Artist 
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