> Yehudi Menuhin, violin: Bach - Beethoven - Schoenberg [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonata No 4 in C Minor BWV 1017
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No 10 in G Major Op 96 (1812)
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Phantasy for Violin and Piano Op 47 (1949)
Yehudi Menuhin, violin
Glenn Gould, piano
Recorded CBC Studio, Toronto October 25 and 26 1965


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The music recorded here derives from an hour-long CBC television programme recorded in October 1965 and broadcast the following year. To acknowledge what was recorded is also to consider what was not. Gould had suggested to Menuhin Mozartís Piano Sonata K570 Ė in the apocryphal version for violin Ė as well as sonatas by Brahms and Beethoven and those by Prokofiev and Strauss if his original plan of the Schoenberg Phantasy should prove inimical to the violinist. In the event he neednít have worried because Menuhin accepted (though with clear misgivings about the work). Sometimes Menuhin hit prime form with unlikely keyboard partners Ė one thinks of his New York association with Wanda Landowska for example Ė and Gould was equally not an obvious associate, even though he had worked equably with Menuhinís colleague Oscar Shumsky.

There was clearly however a considerable rapport and a degree of sympathy between the two musicians Ė to which the letters and comments reprinted in the notes attest (though they donít reprint the rather more bantering comments Gould made about Menuhin then and subsequently). This led to subtly harmonious performances in which both managed to retain independence whilst conforming stylistically to the dictates of each of the three works performed.

I think the critical consensus admires the Beethoven most but I like the Bach. I find the tension generated between Gouldís détaché articulation and Menuhinís cantilena most fruitful. The pianistís staccato independence and the violinistís more obvious level of communicative and romanticised intimacy are especially notable in the third movement Adagio but elsewhere one senses Menuhin responding to Gouldís aesthetic, very slightly shortening phrase endings in the second movement Allegro for example. They thus generate great depth of feeling through such disparities as exist and it remains a most intriguing meeting between two great Bach exponents. Beethovenís last sonata the G Major is another case of juxtaposition of approaches but one that I feel works less well. Notwithstanding Gouldís clarity of articulation in the opening movement itís not didactic but rather exploratory of the structure and harmonic implications of the movement yet it somehow emerges as sounding rather slow and unanimated. Gould again is adept at left-hand pointing in the slow movement where Menuhin occasionally overindulges vibrato usage but the finale is again really rather slow. Gouldís phrasing is neutral, under-inflected in the poco allegretto, lacking in generosity in the adagio espressivo, and Menuhin sounds slightly harassed in the concluding presto section. The Schoenberg is a ten-minute fractious piece that belies its name unless Phantasy is correlated to fantastic or phantasmagoria. For all his misgivings Menuhin learnt it in a day and came fully prepared to the studio where Gould, a practised exponent of the piece, brought exceptional reserves of power and intellectual sinew to it. The violinist responded with some highly virtuosic and committed playing.

The Gould Anniversary Edition Ė he would have been seventy this year Ė is in an open-out cardboard affair and the cover features a fractured still from that televised CBC concert (back to front unfortunately). There was nothing fractured about the meeting of these two musicians however and if I find the performances uneven this was still a meeting of historic status and of lasting value.

Jonathan Woolf

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