The Classicaliszt

Immaculate Recordings: Emil Telmanyi “Bach Sonatas” (Decca/London, 1954)


There is so much contention in classical vinyl collecting over “THE” definitive version of a piece. The interpretation, the recording and the pressing all have an impact and then the historical factors and musical expertise come into play. This, however, is highly subjective and the whole notion of TAS lists and the likes takes the opinions of a few and makes the masses blindly follow them. The only point I am willing to concede is that certain artists did indeed work tirelessly so that the recording sounds perfect to them and that resonates more with me.

To me outstanding recordings are ones that are flawlessly executed, profoundly moving and take a piece and make it appeal to me as if it was the first time I heard it; and when there is a little bit of a personal story behind it, it makes it extra special. Such is the case with this masterpiece I was very lucky to find in the field recently: Emil Telmanyi’s Bach Sonatas/Partitas for unaccompanied violin using the controversial Vega bow.

Solo Sonatas/Partitas recordings are already heralded in the classical vinyl world on both cello and violin and Telmanyi’s work is in the upper echelon with the extremely rare Decca 1st pressings going for 4 figures. However, it is truly the story of what the artist tried to accomplish and the sound that emanates from the early recording that makes this record a precious gem. I had heard/owned many great recordings of the partitas both old and new (Szeryng,Grumiaux,Shumsky), but when I put this on my mind was blown. Yes the recording was crisp and the player excellent, but that strange bow on the cover, that, made all the difference!

Telmanyi was an Hungarian violin child prodigy. He performed through Europe, but instead of going the virtuoso route, like many before him, he chose to study composition and conducting. He settled in Copenhagen, where he would become conductor of the national orchestra and professor at the conservatory. His greatest accomplishment was leading the beginning of the Baroque repertoire renaissance, to expose music as it was played in those ancient times and for this he dedicated himself to practicing on an antique style bow he helped invent, called the Vega Bach bow. The bow was curbed and its strings were loose so it facilitated the playing of 3 or 4 simultaneous strings. I was left stunned by the effect the bow had on the violin’s sound and the execution of the Bach pieces. audio

The humility that Telmanyi showcased to stop a budding virtuoso career and the dedication he put into his academic goals and technical practice would have made the ever strict instructor Bach proud. Telmanyi waited more than 50 years from the start of his career to go and record this masterpiece. Bach had always intended to have the partitas as a private piece to practice at home, not to perform in a concert hall and I truly believe Telmanyi’s version was what he intended it to sound like. Testament records have reissued this stunning and unique piece, but I am very grateful to have had the chance to go through a transcendental experience with the original now added to my collection. The captivating cover, the story of the bow, the old booklike binded sleeves and oversized box set combined to the lacquered early vinyl pressing makes this a truly immaculate recording.

DJ Asma

DJ Asma

A Montreal native with West-African roots, Antoine started developing a love for records when his father passed his collection of French, African, Caribbean and Brazilian classics onto him. Ever since, the collector turned selector has spent countless hours in musky basements both here and abroad (Dakar, Lima, Paris, Quito, Rio) in the never-ending search for the perfect beat!