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Ginette Neveu (1919-1949) Hommage
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin Concerto in D Op 61 (1806) – two versions
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Violin Concerto in D Op 77 (1878)
Violin Sonata in D minor Op 108 (1886-88)
Two Radio Interviews with Ginette Neveu in 1949
Ginette Neveu (violin) with
Jean Neveu (piano) in the Brahms Sonata recorded on 21 September 1949
SWDR Orchestra/Hans Rosbaud in the Beethoven Concerto recorded on 25 September 1949
Radio Filarmonica Orkest/Willem Van Otterloo in the Beethoven Concerto recorded on 1 May 1949
Orchestre National de France/Roger Desormière in the Brahms Concerto recorded on 25 April 1948
TAHRA 355 [3 CDs 156.33]


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There are real riches in this three CD set from Tahra dedicated to Ginette Neveu. The Brahms Concerto with Desormière and the D minor Sonata with her brother Jean make their first appearance – remarkable survivals – as does the Beethoven Concerto performance with Van Otterloo. I’m not aware that the two radio interviews conducted with her in 1949 have ever been published either so, with the exception of the Rosbaud Beethoven, this is, in effect, all new to the catalogue and as such worthy of the highest interest.

Of the two Beethoven performances the finer is that directed by Rosbaud. There is a characterful sensitivity and sweetness to Neveu’s playing in the first movement of this 1949 traversal - the odd intonational lapse aside – even if the recording itself is rather close up, sufficient at any rate to catch the violinist’s constant sniffing. Rosbaud characterizes the brass behind her from 13.00 with insistent unease – indeed he points up myriad little cogent architectural-expressive details, exploring the turbulence of the work in a way few other conductors manage. One of Neveu’s few besetting faults was a tendency to rush bars and she does so here just before the cadenza but her subsequent control is one of real strength and pliancy, terracing her dynamics accordingly and ending the movement with strength. In the slow movement one can best appreciate Neveu’s strikingly Gallic use of vibrancy and colour. Intensely expressive at a relatively slow tempo with perfectly judged diminuendos, her vibrato usage here is charged both with depth but also with speed change. Her slides are affecting, though perhaps a little out of style for this period. The horns have some real problems after the orchestral introduction to the Rondo finale but otherwise all is affectionate, if leisurely, with some irresistible lift and life in the playing. Strong contouring comes from the conductor – but there are some signs that Neveu is tiring toward the end with occasionally loose playing. Still this is a marvelous example of her musicianship caught on the wing.

The Van Otterloo performance with the Radio Filh. Orkest - I’m not quite sure who they are – doesn’t operate at quite such an exalted level but is still full of interest. Van Otterloo is inclined to be more emphatic and abrupt, less obviously subtle than Rosbaud. Tuttis are rather hammered out, the chording is more unyielding, the fortissimi tending to the extreme. Neveu herself is also on slightly less seraphic form in this performance given five months before the Rosbaud. The first movement is noticeably quicker than later in the year, Neveu’s portamenti slightly more pervasive here and she employs a different cadenza (I’m sure I should but I don’t recognize it). As ever she vests the passage immediately following it with intensified vibrato usage and colouristic breadth, truly treasurable playing. Perhaps some her slides in the Larghetto, whilst tastefully lyric-expressive devices seem slightly over done but she brings the same benevolence and sophisticated tonal variance to bear here as she was to do with Rosbaud. I think the complete success of the finale is vitiated somewhat by some leaning on notes and phrase endings by orchestra, conductor and soloist alike. What’s missing is the sense of naturalness Rosbaud engendered here.

Desormière’s conducting of the Brahms Concerto is a striking example of subjective intelligence. He indulges some very extreme tempo rubato in the orchestral introduction – full of flexibility and elasticity of phrasing. Neveu is, as with her commercial disc, intense and propulsive in this work She vests her line with some succulent phrasing, big boned, and portamenti feature strongly amongst her arsenal of inflective devices. Maybe there’s a temporary lack of orchestral clarity from 8.30 onwards and Neveu is still inclined to jump her bars once or twice but this is still a formidable pairing of talents. The recording overloads at fortissimi from time to time but only the super scrupulous will mind. Her colouristic palette reigns in the slow movement though possibly some might find her a little glutinous at certain moments. There is once more overload in the finale – percussion his time – but this is strong, agile and commanding playing even if, so far as I’m concerned, there is also a hint of rhythmic unsteadiness as well. The companion performance on this last disc is of the Op 108 Sonata, recorded just a month before the deaths of both Ginette and Jean. Thankfully there is little of that rather seasick rhythmic licence that some violinists insist on visiting on the opening Allegro. Instead this is a confident and alert performance in which Neveu reserves, as ever, her wider vibrato palette in the slow movement. She also employs some emotive finger position changes, and a depth of vibrancy well-suited to Brahms; instead of doing too much too early here with the expressivo material she freights and colours her line, reserving passion for the most acute structural moment later in the movement. The presto third movement is witty and elegantly elusive – there’s a typo in the booklet here; it lasts 2.58 not 7.58. The finale opens with some rather rhetorical pauses but is resolutely controlled.

The disc also includes two interviews conducted in May and September 1949 – in one of them we can hear Jean as well. The booklet prints a translation, though I’m sure composer Josef Suk would be surprised to find that he was born in Cracow (it was Krecovice). As one who finds the preserved voice touching these interviews – albeit entirely scripted, as was the custom – are precious mementos.

This is a set of major importance. It collates much previously unpublished material and the supporting documentation is good. Neveu’s status is such that all off air material is precious; to have such heavyweight repertoire, which she otherwise did not record, is something of which we are the fortunate beneficiaries.

Jonathan Woolf


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