> Darius Milhaud - Piano Concerto [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Piano Concerto
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
Quartet No 7
Six Chants Populaires Hébraïques
La Création du Monde
Suite Française

Marguerite Long, piano
Yvonne Astruc, violin
Galimir Quartet
Martial Singher, baritone
Darius Milhaud, piano
Orchestra Nationale, unnamed orchestra and
Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of New York conducted by Darius Milhaud
Recorded 1931-46
PEARL GEM 0124 [72’04]


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The centenary of Milhaud’s birth was marked by a three-disc set produced by the Phonotèque Nationale that covered historical recordings from 1928-48. Pearl’s more modest and selective disc concentrates on more canonical Milhaud works recorded from 1931-46 – though the sole post war recording is the Suite Française – and the bulk date from the four years after 1931. The compositions range widely – Concertos, quartet, ballet, songs and an orchestral suite and Milhaud’s collaboration is as a pianist or conductor (the only exception is in the case of the Seventh Quartet, noted on the original record labels as being recorded "under the direction of the composer" as had been the case in the Galimir Quartet discs of the Ravel – a good sales gimmick by adding the composers’ imprimatur). Most of the reissues here are classics of the twentieth century discography, many in still unsurpassed performances.

Marguerite Long gave the first performance of the Piano Concerto with Albert Wolff conducting in November 1934 and recorded it with Milhaud shortly afterwards. It’s a delicious twelve-minute confection, scintillatingly played by the dedicatee. The Orchestre Nationale had some highly distinctive woodwind players, amply audible in the barcarolle second movement and some springy and lissom strings. There’s a compact effervescence to this movement with its piquancies and an abundance of orchestral incident. The finale begins as a resolute and resonant fugato but is soon gallically subverted by the witty and insouciant piano. The end is splendidly virile and conclusive. The soloist in the Violin Concerto is Yvonne Astruc, another who gave the first performance, and a sweet toned and vibrant violinist. The typically woody French flute behind her lends this delicious work an Arcadian lyricism, each instrumental strand bursting with verdant life, frisky portamentos and gorgeous melody coursing through its eight minutes of pulsing life. The all sibling Galimir Quartet (of Vienna, as the 78 labels invariably noted, with just a hint of superiority) consisted of Felix, who was later to become an eminence grise in America and who died in 1999, and his sisters Adrielle, Renée and Marguérite. Specialising in contemporary music and no strangers to the recording studios despite their youth and the relative youth of their quartet (which had only been founded in 1929) they tackle the languid, jovial and predominantly undemanding Quartet with their usual tonal integration and imagination. The four short movements are of broadly equal length and scale; the Andante is freely swinging with a resolute cello line beneath the effortlessly avuncular violin writing. There are some clicks in Pearl’s copy during the Lento.

The six Chants Populaires Hébraïques were composed in 1925 – the same year as the Seventh Quartet was written. Milhaud was not an outstanding pianist but he was efficient and accompanies the excellent young baritone Martial Singher. The songs range from the lightness of Le Chant du veilleur to the more stentorian Chant de la Délivérance and Singher’s deepening and darkening baritone, flexible, mobile and equalized is alive to line and mood. La Création du Monde is the most famous of the pieces here and Milhaud was to re-record it in 1958 with the Champs Elysées Orchestra. This probably offered as near a definitive statement of Milhaud’s intent with the ballet as we are likely to get and was a staple of the LP catalogues for many years. In 1931, with an early take on his 1923 ballet, there is, perhaps unsurprisingly, none of the confident familiarity and the idiomatic touch of later performances. In a rather boxy Parisian acoustic the playing is dutiful but tentative and cautious; the sectionality of the work is reinforced by playing that is somewhat caught between enthusiasm and slight bewilderment.

The selections conclude with the only post-war performance – the 1946 New York traversal of the Suite Française. An exile in Mills College, California, the work was commissioned by a publisher and composed in 1944. In five delightful and very short movements it encompasses, geographically speaking, Normandie (full of joie de vivre), Bretagne (craggy and imperturbable), Isle-de-France (frantic, elegantly propulsive), Alsace-Lorraine (serious tread leading to noble peroration) and Provence (vigorous, jubilant, sun-kissed and confidently punchy). A homeland still enmeshed in War recollected with admiration, affection and love. Robert Layton’s notes are a fine balance of biography and comment, personal recollection and reflection. The transfers are generally good. A distinguished and delightful release.

Jonathan Woolf

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