VASA PRIHODA (1900 - 1960)
Váša Příhoda’s name, in recent times, has been tarnished by queries regarding his association with Alma Rosé, whom he married in 1930 and divorced in 1935. Alma, daughter of Jewish violinist Arnold Rosé (with whom she made a recording of the Bach D minor Double Concerto in 1928) failed to escape Nazi Germany and died in Auschwitz. Příhoda was criticised for making no attempt to save her, although he claimed not to know of her capture and tragic fate. Příhoda chose to stay and work in Germany under Nazi rule and was suspected of having divorced his Jewish wife in order to do so. This sad episode, which bears witness so poignantly to the hideous political interference of World War II in musical life, was to blight Příhoda’s post-war career. Accused of collaboration, he was unable to return to his native land for some years, and later took Turkish citizenship.
All of this should not overshadow his musical accomplishments. His financially ineffective European tour in 1919 nonetheless secured him an audience with Toscanini, who heard him play Paganini’s Concerto in D and asserted that the composer could not have done better himself. The violin and piano arrangement selected here was recorded c.1923. By the end of the 1919–1920 season Příhoda had given eighty-four concerts in Italy, where he recorded for Fonotipia, before making some acoustic discs for Deutsche Grammophon. His 1920 Carnegie Hall recital was well received, although the critic of The New York Times was rather sceptical regarding his choice of repertoire: Tartini’s ‘Devil’s Trill’ Sonata, miniatures by Kreisler, Dvořák et al., and assorted fiddlers’ pieces. This critic reported good taste and technical prowess of the left hand, but only a ‘moderate tone-power of the…bow arm’. Indeed, Příhoda was not known as a particularly intellectual musician, and his own compositions are pleasant trifles of little artistic gravitas. He is remembered mainly for his prodigious technique, which included exceptionally clear articulation, and his ease in playing Paganini’s showpieces.
His best recordings were made before the war and include a commanding performance of Tartini’s ‘Devil’s Trill’ (his own arrangement) in 1938 and a thrilling and highly idiomatic reading of Dvořák’s Violin Concerto from 1943, with the Berlin Staatskapelle Orchestra. Příhoda’s playing is freely imbued with the Romantic spirit of the nineteenth century without retaining many of its literal stylistic attributes. His use of portamento is slight, rhythms relatively straight, and he has an ever-present vibrato, even though it could give rise to a slightly nagging and slow quality that characterised much Eastern European playing of the time. This became more pronounced after the war: Příhoda broke his arm badly in 1954 and never quite recovered his command; this means that the recordings he made in 1957 suffer slightly from a slow and uncontrolled vibrato. Nonetheless, they show a refined technique, if not a particularly searching musical personality. His recording from this time of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3, K. 216 is, initially, rhythmically a little quirky and twitchy and has his own (rather questionable!) cadenzas, whilst his performances of his own Serenade and Slawishe Melodie display a pleasing and quite individual tone in otherwise unexceptional encore pieces. Mention must also be made of an extraordinary rendition of Elgar’s Salut d’Amour recorded in 1929, in which Příhoda adds a number of double-stops and flourishes, all in rather dubious taste. A performance from this time of Bach’s D minor Double Concerto (with Franco Novello, violin, and the Turin Radio Symphony Orchestra) is reasonably clear-cut and clean but has few concessions to the period of the work and is spoilt by a slightly grating and acidic tone.
Příhoda is chiefly remembered for being a second-generation Ševčík pupil, with a technique that Heifetz allegedly envied. The unfortunate circumstances of his life, and his relatively early death from heart disease in 1960, perhaps contribute to the fact that his name is not better known.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)