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Benjamin GODARD (1849-1895)
Violin Concerto No.2 Op.131 (1892) [25:00]
Concerto Romantique Op.35 (1887) [23:27]
Scènes Poétiques for orchestra Op.46 (1879) [17:26]
Chloë Hanslip (violin)
Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra, Košice/Kirk Trevor
rec. The House of Arts, Košice, June 2007
NAXOS 8.570554 [66:03] 
Experience Classicsonline

Mention the name Benjamin Godard to an old time fiddle player and you’ll be met by two words – Jocelyn and Canzonetta. The first is the Berceuse from Jocelyn and a much leaned upon encore staple. And the second is the Canzonetta from the Concerto Romantique, which was frequently extracted form its accustomed place and used as a sweetmeat on disc and in café.
Certainly the Concerto Romantique was quite widely performed in the last years of the nineteenth century and the first couple of decades of the twentieth. But it was never recorded in full – only the Canzonetta. The Second Concerto is certainly not unknown but it is so seldom performed that most people must be making a first acquaintance with it in this performance. The Scènes Poétiques are charming little orchestral pictures written when Godard was thirty.
The Concerto Romantique was written in 1887 eight years before Godard’s early death. I’ve only ever heard two other performances. Aaron Rosand taped it with the Orchestra of Radio Luxembourg and Louis de Froment, now on Vox CDX 5102 in a two disc set. But we’ll reluctantly have to discard Hugh Bean’s traversal on a very obscure LP as it’s really only of academic interest given its unavailability. Rosand and newcomer Chloë Hanslip take rather different vies of the concerto. Rosand is the more thrustful and dashing and is three minutes quicker. He lays greater stress on the Allegro than the modifying moderato in the first movement and tends toward a greater range of expressive devices to keep things ticking over – note his expressive finger position changes for instance and doesn’t slow as much as Hanslip at those comma points in the first movement. He’s also far more forwardly balanced, taking centre-stage, whereas Hanslip is more naturally placed just in front of the orchestra. Problematically however she has been accorded a rather boomy and less than ideally focused recording, made in The House of Arts, Košice.
Still, Hanslip brings her own strong stamp to bear – she is good at the oddly troubled passages in the opening, is warm and certainly communicative in the slow movement, clearly enjoys the rather salon confection that is the Canzonetta with its viola counter-theme and fine sense of caprice. So too in the finale where she treats the material on its own terms, neither inflating it nor skating over it.
The Second Concerto followed five years later. Though the earlier work certainly lacks for little in post-Mendelssohnian virtuosity the Second Concerto announces its credential from the start with a pulsing scalar run for the soloist. Godard though always manages to balance strong technical demands – he’d been a violin prodigy – with ingratiating lyricism. And this is certainly served up here – the tunes have a real charm to them, and an enviable facility as well. If only Godard hadn’t unleashed a far-too-early cadenza in the first movement – always a sign of problems. Hanslip relishes the cantilena of the slow movement, which she plays with adroit lyricism and well distributed tonal resources – excellent dynamics toward the end as well as tonal breadth.
The Scènes Poétiques are picture postcard sweet, pastel shaded and a touch generic. This is Light Music of course but it does afford some excellent opportunities for the wind principals of the Slovak State Philharmonic to shine, especially in the second sketch, Dans les champs. The pick of the four is the beautiful third – Sur la montagne - with its effulgent tune, excellent and evocative horn writing and stirring tune.
Despite the rather unhelpful acoustic this is still an enjoyable disc and it restores the two violin works in particular to wider prominence than has perhaps been the case for a century or so. Godard didn’t run to great profundity and some of his orchestral accompanying figures tend to churn along without doing anything much but he was a melodist of real charm and these three works attest to a virtue too often overlooked.
Jonathan Woolf


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