[This review was written for a later reissue of these performances by Szeryng, Haitink and the Concertgebouw. I own the present release, too, and there is virtually no difference between this one and the newly reissued Newton Classics release Brahms; Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos.]
Violinist Henryk Szeryng (1918-1988) played the Brahms Concerto innumerable times, the last time only two days before his death in 1988. He made commercial recordings of the work at least at least six times with such conductors as Pierre Monteux, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, Antal Dorati, Rafael Kubelik and Erich Leinsdorf. (There are probably other recordings that I am unaware of.) There is also a DVD of him performing it with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra under Paul Paray, from 1962; it is great to see Szeryng play on the DVD but the orchestral performance and the sound of the recording leave something to be desired. The present performance, recorded in 1973, is the last of all these. The orchestra is the great Concertgebouw under Bernard Haitink. And this performance is patrician in its impact, a perfect approach to this noble concerto. He is given extraordinarily sensitive support by the orchestra in a reading that is gentle and aristocratic.
Strangely, the ever-popular Mendelssohn Concerto didn't figure as prominently in Szeryng's discography. He only recorded it twice, once in 1964 with Antal Dorati and the London Symphony Orchestra (then in especially fine shape) and then with Haitink and the Concertgebouw (1976). (Again, there may be others that I am unaware of. I think there may have been recordings with André Cluytens and Serge Baudo but I've never encountered them.) Of these the Haitink is the latest recording. Again, this was issued on Philips and is now remastered by the newish Newton Classics label. The first movement itself is sweetly lyrical, the nostalgic Andante almost guaranteed to bring a lump to one's throat and a Hungarian-tinged third movement that doesn't become hysterical as in some performances. The Concertgebouw manages to sound almost French in their delicacy. A wonderful recording.