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L’Ecole Franco-Belge De Violon. Volume 1
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)

Symphonie espagnole Op. 21 (1873)
Gabriel PIERNÉ (1863-1937)

Impressions de Music-Hall
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)

Concerto Russe Op. 29 (1879) – Intermezzo
Marcel DELANNOY (1898-1962)

Serenade Concertante
La Pantoufle de vair, ballet – Danse des négrillons
Lola Bobesco (violin) with an unnamed orchestra conducted by Eugène Bigot in the Symphonie espagnole and recorded in 1942
Henri Merckel (violin) with unnamed orchestras conducted by Charles Munch (Delannoy) and Piero Coppola (Lalo Concerto Russe – Intermezzo) and by Mme Pugnet-Caillard (piano) in the Pierné and recorded 1935-46
MALIBRAN CDRG 131 [73.36]


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This was the first volume to be issued in Malibran’s Franco-Belgian Violin School series devoted here to two artists who flourished into the LP era (and in Bobesco’s case beyond into CD; she is still active I believe). This makes a particularly interesting conjunction because Bobesco followed Enescu’s path – Romanian born, French trained – whilst Merckel is more squarely in the French tradition. Bobesco was born in Craiova in 1921, a prizewinner at thirteen and an entrant in the Ysaye competition of 1937. Her sonata partnership with Jacques Genty was long lasting, as was her leadership of the Ensemble d’Archet Eugène Ysaye, a position she held concurrently with her professorship at the Brussels Conservatoire. She was also the first violin of a fine quartet, which recorded some valuable CDs.

Merckel is one of those French violinists – I think of Bouillon as well in this respect - whose sterling musicianship remained broadly for home consumption. Of course he is closely associated with the native repertoire of which he was such a splendid exponent, as this disc so amply shows, and if he wasn’t a serious competitor to his younger French colleague Ginette Neveu it should be remembered that he was a slightly older contemporary of Francescatti – and one who took discographic chances with the repertoire in a way that the more internationally cosmopolitan Francescatti didn’t. He was above all a frequently marvellous and idiomatic interpreter of the repertoire and we have some choice examples to tempt the ear here. So let’s start with him.

His 1946 recording of Pierné’s Impressions de Music-Hall is full of joyful Gallic wit. Better known, of course, as a conductor Pierné mined a particularly naughty vein of popular French music, serving it up in a piquant sauce. Pugnet-Caillard is similarly engaged in her piano part as the composer takes us on a brisk scenic tour; the way Merckel coarsens his pure tone is especially funny – almost as funny as the half drunken parlando act he essays with such – which makes it all the better – aristocratic finesse. The Impressions are in the expected three "movements" – the second of which shows us the more sentimental side of the Halls, with some impressionistic blossom and bloom and wistfulness before the final Act which opens with see-saw vigour to banish torpor and mist. Merckel digs deep into his eyebrow arching lexicon faithfully to essay the whistles and sawing fiddles asked of him. I defy you to resist the lugubrious drunk act which so self pityingly follows, introduced by the ominous bass in the piano part, with the violin swaying about precariously until some pulsating virtuosity leads us triumphantly to a close. Next comes the Intermezzo from Lalo’s Concerto Russe – truly vital and lively playing if with a slightly metallic edge to his tone - and the two pieces by Honegger pupil Marcel Delannoy. The first is the Serenade Concertante, a short work in three movements. The first, an Allegro, is delightfully verdant and appealing with little Delian touches flecking the score. The second, an Andante, floats a delicious series of melodies with wind counterpoint before growing ever more meltingly affecting in the solo line, songful, rapturous, only enhanced by Merckel’s aristocratically restrained but utterly sweet tone. The Capriccio finale is brisk and jovial, with the solo trumpet imparting a cocksure dance band certainty to the brew before some little orchestral reminiscences surge onto a joyful conclusion. The Danse des négrillons from his ballet La Pantoufle de vair has a swaying rhythmic finesse. Call it watered down La Création du Monde if you will but the percussive taps, church bells chimes, violin doubling the flute line, muted trumpet and exotic strings, impatient cymbal clash and the like create an atmosphere that’s warm and appealing.

Bobesco recorded the Symphonie espagnole in 1942 in Paris. She has a rather tense but not unappealing vibrato and a nicely aerated style. Her trill is not electric but of reasonable velocity and she employs it well in the Scherzando. She digs into the chewy lower strings in the Intermezzo third movement (the one routinely dropped by Russian players), sparing of portamento – though when she has recourse to expressive devices such as this she can be charismatic. After Bigot’s rather baleful opening to the Andante Bobesco plays with well articulated and attractive intelligence and though some of her phrasing in the Rondo finale can sound a little smeary and artificial, one must keep in mind that she was only twenty-one and however talented still at the embryonic stage of her early career.

There are attractive period photographs of the two fiddlers; I liked the no nonsense transfers and obviously both the repertoire and the musicians are highly congenial to me. In a sense it’s a shame that Merckel’s own recording of the Symphonie espagnole wasn’t used – with the Pasdeloup Orchestra and Coppola - as I don’t think it’s been reissued since and it would have been a fitting tribute to this idiomatic and now forgotten musician. But Bobesco makes a good companion and the disc pleased me enormously. But then Malibran’s string releases always do.

Jonathan Woolf



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