The duo partnership of Yehudi Menuhin and Benjamin
Britten was regularly renewed over the years, having started at the
end of the Second World War when they made a famous tour of the liberated
concentration camps. They never made commercial recordings together,
which makes this BBC Legends issue all the more interesting.
The performances come from the Aldeburgh Festivals
of 1957 and 1959, and therefore come into the 'historical' category.
They sound quite well, although the levels of background hiss require
a little tolerance. Also these are live performances, and there are
occasional unwanted contributions from the audiences.
The performances have all the benefits and drawbacks
of live occasions. In particular Menuhin is prone to the occasional
roughness of tone, but this is not enough to mar the intensity and sweep
of the interpretations. Two of the pieces featured are undoubted masterpieces,
while the other two are interesting byways. Haydn's Sonata comes into
the latter category, a slight piece in two movements which is not without
its charms. While Tully Potter's insert notes are full of interesting
information relating the artists to the music, it is unfortunate that
they do not inform us of the provenance of this little known Haydn sonata.
The Schubert Sonata is admirably lyrical, and sustains
its extensive time-scale, while the Fantasy is another glorious outpouring
from the composer's final phase (when he was still a young man, of course).
The real challenge in this piece lies in the lengthy theme and variations
movement, which is some twelve minutes long, and Menuhin and Britten
sustain it superbly.
The Debussy Sonata gets off to a messy start - perhaps
the editors ought to revisit it - but thereafter the balance of the
ensemble allows details to emerge at every turn. For this is a really
interesting release featuring two of the 20th century's greatest musicians.