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In memoriam; Yehudi Menuhin
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin Concerto in D Op.61
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)

Symphonie Espagnole Op.21 – omits Intermezzo
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Double Concerto in D BWV 1043
Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)

Violin Concerto No.2
Interview with Menuhin talking about Bartók, 1978
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/Artur Rodzinski, 9 December 1945 (Beethoven)
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Monteux, 30 December 1951 (Lalo)
David Oistrakh (violin) and Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra/Georges Georgescu, 18 September 1958 (Bach)
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet, 16 August 1947 (Bartók)
MUSIC AND ARTS CD 1053 [2 CDs 130.50]


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This Memorial tribute to Yehudi Menuhin was issued relatively soon after his death and its documentation consists entirely of a lengthy and sympathetic obituary written by Allan Kozin that appeared in The New York Times. The repertoire is strongly associated with Menuhin and these additions to his discography are in the main attractive, noble, elevated and impressive. There is one exception, which is the Lalo, shorn of the Intermezzo and indicative of some besetting faults in his technique but elsewhere the 1945-58 recordings reflect well on him, though it can’t be denied that ingrained frailties do recur.

The Beethoven concerto dates from December 1945 and once past some poor broken octaves and what sounds like a queasy side-join at 4.26 things settle down quite nicely. The recording quality is otherwise quite acceptable for its date and circumstances. The performance contains elements of Menuhin’s loftiness and nobility of spirit, his tone still eloquent and occasionally bewitching. Rodzinski contributes strongly though his occasional brusqueness, whilst perhaps befitting Beethovenian psychology, can tend toward the military. Accents can be trenchant and brass can be unyielding. The Larghetto is really quite slow with Menuhin vesting his paragraphs with increased tone colours and vibrato. His intense expressivity, an inwardness amounting almost to spiritual communion, is rapt in its stillness, though the elegiac tone can be unvaried. In the finale Rodzinski is again a little peremptory and Menuhin projects well, and even if some sections hang fire fractionally this is still an impressive reading.

The Bach Double, one of his favourites, sees him paired not for the first or last time with David Oistrakh. They are joined by the Enescu Philharmonic conducted by George Georgescu, amongst whose many accomplishments was a thoroughly sympathetic command of Strauss’s idiom. This is a grandly romantic performance warmly greeted by the Bucharest audience whose enthusiasm I share. The recording is rather stark but can’t efface the gorgeous interplay between the two, Menuhin playing secundo by the way.

The Bartók Second Concerto derives from a Lucerne Festival performance in August 1947 in which he was accompanied by L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande conducted by Ernest Ansermet. This was a work he recorded three times commercially, twice with Dorati and in 1953 with Furtwängler. I believe that this Ansermet performance, by six years the earliest known example of Menuhin’s playing of the work, was once available on a Bruno Walter Society LP. The discs begin rather roughly and the sound is somewhat constricted but one can still listen through these relative imperfections to hear Menuhin in a work so closely associated with him. The opening movement is abundantly lyrical and virtuosic, Menuhin shaping the line with intimacy and candour and some real and vibrant playing graces the cadenza. True quite a lot of orchestral detail is obscured, which makes a complete enjoyment of this survival necessarily limited but in a release devoted to the violinist one can but admire his intensely effulgent tone and rhapsodic beauty in the Andante tranquillo as much as his drive, élan and reflective generosity in the finale. There is a 1978 San Francisco interview with Frederick Maroth in which Menuhin reflects on his relationship with the composer and characterises things in his pithy, unusual and thoughtful way.

I won’t say much about the Lalo. It’s in horribly glassy and blowsy sound and Menuhin sounds uncomfortably close to the mike. He’s anyway in poor form intonationally and technically, sounding unhappy, coarse-toned and often playing sharp. Stick with the Enescu 1932, or the Fournet or Goossens if you have them. Aside from this aberration what remains – and I wouldn’t for a moment seek to deny the vicissitudes of the middle and later years – is a musician of nobility and breadth, whose humanity is generally well-served by this memorial release. The Beethoven and Lalo have previously appeared before but only in Japan, the Bach in Russia. The Bartók is apparently a first release on CD.

Jonathan Woolf

 



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