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Violin Concerto in E minor, op.64: 1st movement (9, 16)
Johann Sebastian BACH

Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041: 1st movement (8, 23)
Violin Concerto in minor, op.26: 2nd movement (12, 25)

Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, op.28 (12, 17)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN

Romance no.2 in F, op.50 (12, 24)

Violin Concerto no.1 in D, op.6: 3rd movement (13, 15)

Swan Lake, op.20: Pas d'action (12, 21)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART

Violin Concerto no.3 in G, K.216: 2nd movement (8, 23)
Johannes BRAHMS

Violin Concerto in D, op.77: 3rd movement (9, 20)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN

Violin Concerto in D, op.61: 3rd movement (12, 16)

Violin Concerto no.2 in B minor, op.7: 3rd movement (13, 15)
Edward ELGAR

Violin Concerto in B minor, op.61: 2nd movement (11, 14)

The Four Seasons: Winter (10, 22)
Johann Sebastian BACH

Concerto for 2 violins in D minor, BWV 1043: 2nd movement (1, 8, 23)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART

Violin Concerto no.5 in A, K.219: 3rd movement (8,23)

Légende, op.17 (12, 24)

Sylvia: Pas de deux (12, 19)
(arr. M. Harris)
Embraceable You; Oh, Lady be Good (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 18)

Yehudi Menuhin (violin), Christian Ferras (violin)(1), Stéphane Grappelli (violin) (2), Alan Clare (pianoforte)(3), Ken Baldock (bass)(4), Lennie Bush (bass)(5), Tony Crombie (drums)(6), Ronnie Verrell (drums)(7), Bath Festival Orchestra(8), Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra(9), Camerata Lysy Gstaad(10), London Philharmonic Orchestra(11), Philharmonia Orchestra(12), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra(13)/Sir Adrian Boult(14), Alberto Erede(15), Wilhelm Furtwängler(16), Sir Eugene Goossens(17), Max Harris(18), Robert Irving(19), Rudolf Kempe(20), Efrem Kurtz(21), Alberto Lysy(22), Yehudi Menuhin(23), Sir John Pritchard(24), Walter Susskind(25)
EMI CMS 5 67326 2 [2 CDs 76' 43"; 73' 50"]

This starts with a bang. Furtwängler recorded precious little Mendelssohn, but enough to show that he saw him as a full-size composer. With Menuhin in fiery form (and a rather fiery recording, unfortunately) the movement has remarkable passion and yet finds the time to express the tender moments without loss of momentum.

Now if there is anyone who, after such an enthralling first movement, is likely to feel, "all right, that's enough of that, now let's have some Bach", and after a sturdy Bach first movement, "O.K, how about something romantic, what about the Bruch, but please to God not the first movement, and take it off before that finale bursts in, because after that I shall want to hear some Saint-Saëns", well, if there really is anyone like that, this is the set for him because he won't find most of it better done.

But, having got that off my chest, does the album justify its titles and subtitles "Menuhin Legend", "Best of Menuhin on 2 CDs", "Yehudi Menuhin: The Legendary EMI Recordings"?

That Menuhin was a legend there can be no doubt. When I first began following musical matters in the mid-sixties his name evoked an awed reverence which certainly no violinist could match. Oistrakh, Heifetz and so on were widely respected but Menuhin's was the name that had reached the man in the street. Yet little provisos had to be whispered. His nerves were increasingly getting the better of him, his bowing arm and his intonation could be fallible. Yet get him on a good day …! I believed I heard him on a good day in the Beethoven in Edinburgh in the early '70s. I felt I had been through a spiritual experience, but found myself at loggerheads with fellow students, especially string-players, for whom his shaky bow was too much of a stumbling-block to enjoyment. And so it went on. The legend of an extreme spirituality lived on, somehow surviving many disappointing appearances while the great man turned increasingly to conducting, which he did well but never quite as well as one hoped.

So does this set give any inkling of the legend? In at least two items, yes. As the Beethoven Romance starts one is captured by a tone which, in its simple nobility, somehow seems to speak of great spiritual depths. One feels that the composers of classical adagios must have known all along that one day a Menuhin would be born to play them. The other exceptional performance is the Brahms Finale. There are times when I seem to have heard this concerto far too often, but not this time. In essence, Menuhin seems just to be playing the music very straight, as written, yet, aided by Kempe's strongly pulsating rhythms, he brings out an unsuspected depth. Which brings me back to my first point. Could anyone really be satisfied with having just this movement?

Perhaps I'd add the very affecting piece from Sylvia to this short-list. A lot of the performances are just very good, even excellent, without offering any apparent reason to choose them above those of many other violinists. The latest, the Vivaldi, reminds us occasionally of his fallibilities; the Gershwin arrangements are nice. The truth is that the "legendary EMI recordings" are not these, but far older ones, and the point is inadvertently made by the booklet itself when it prints the famous photo of the boy Menuhin with Elgar (now there's a legendary recording if ever there was one!) but includes here the remake with Boult where both men seem unsettled, only fitfully touching their best Elgarian vein.

EMI are the guardians of a great historical legacy. This involves a heavy responsibility (such as Decca are showing with their Legends series) if they are not to be accused of sheer commercial exploitation. This and the Callas set I've recently reviewed suggest that the enterprise is in unmusical hands. Heifetz and Grumiaux have had complete editions from their various companies. So let's have a complete Menuhin edition and see just what his legend was. The recordings are mostly good (though the Furtwängler-conducted items surely fell less harshly on the ear in earlier transfers?) and there's a miserable little note (not even a page). But there, since EMI have thought up the unholy formula of dull white print on a black background, if it had been any longer I doubt if I should have been able to read it anyway.

Christopher Howell


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