Was Joseph Szigeti the best violinist of the middle years of the twentieth century? Possibly, but with competition from Heifetz and Kreisler, among many others, such a claim is hardly beyond debate. Was Szigeti a better violinist than any of the violinists of the latter years of the twentieth century? Probably, because even with competition from Perlman and Mutter, among many others, Szigeti's clear-eyed, sweet-toned, strong-armed playing far outclasses the competition.
Compare Szigeti's 1933 recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with Thomas Beecham conducting the London Philharmonic and his 1928 recording of Brahms' Violin Concerto with Hamilton Harty conducting the Hallé Orchestra with the competition. Certainly, Heifetz's performances are cleaner and more stinging while Kreisler's performances are warmer and more singing. But Szigeti's performances are more passionate, more driven, and more compelling than Heifetz's or Kreisler's and far more intense and concentrated than Perlman's or Mutter's. Indeed, Szigeti's playing is so full of character and strength that at his best -- and his performance of the Mendelssohn concerto may be the best ever recorded -- he may have had equals but he had no superiors. Opus Kura's sound is, however, beyond all argument, the best these performances have ever had. While still antique, they sound like the best 78s anyone ever heard.