The theme of the twenty-first
volume in Symposium’s thankfully unbroken
series of Great Violinists is Spain.
Sarasate of course, is one of the progenitors;
one of the great figures in recorded
history whose ten sides are so much
a totemic rock of any collection. But
also Juan Manén (1883-1971),
the greatest Catalan fiddler of his
generation, born in Barcelona, who made
his Carnegie Hall debut at fifteen and
was the first to record the Beethoven
Violin Concerto – beating the better
known Isolde Menges by a short head.
The Sarasates are hardly
newcomers and I don’t really have a
huge amount to add, materially and descriptively.
But to those unfamiliar with his lightning
fast Bach, or elsewhere the slow sporadically
applied vibrato (try Miramar-Zortico)
or the fabulous pizzicatos that dazzle
in Caprice Basque, or the pellucid but
lyrically reduced playing of the Chopin,
then the historical importance of these
ten sides cannot be overstressed.
Pearl have issued them
over the years and Testament have also
issued a double CD devoted to great
violinists which is a repackaging and
enlarging of the optimistically titled
double LP set issued in the mid 1980s
– it was Volume 1 ... and Volume 2 never
appeared. Comparison with the splendidly
all inclusive Pearl sets devoted to
the history of the Violin on record
– which didn’t include all the Sarasates
– shows that these Symposiums are quieter,
have utilised copies in better condition
but also have somewhat less presence.
I’ve not been able to sample the Testament
set, which would be the acid test for
those wanting all the Sarasates.
Manén was a
very old-fashioned player. For someone
born between Thibaud (1880) and Sammons
(1886) his style harks back to the aesthetics
of a pre-Kreislerian. It doesn’t help
that he’s saddled with a brassy oom-pah
accompaniment in the Berlin studios.
His vibrato is slow, unwarmed and on/off,
the salon-slides predictable and gauche
(Drdla), and the playing very small
scale (Wieniawski). When it comes to
the finale of the Mendelssohn, in which
he was discographically at least taking
a leaf out of Ysaÿe’s book – his
Columbia was recorded a few years earlier
– we find that he really rushes, applies
some juddering rallentandi, and that
his conception is elastic to a remarkable
degree. Ysaÿe once admitted he’d
sped up at the end of the side to fit
the finale onto one 12" side but
his mastery was one to which the Catalan
simply couldn’t aspire. And yet there
are felicitous and delightful touches
not least in the Daquin and Paradies
and they show why he was an admired
player in the first quarter of the twentieth
century. He did play on but had long
been eclipsed by successive schools
of vibrant tonalists.
been well served by reissues so these
Ankers and Parlophones are valuable
to have under one roof. There’s some
wear and blasting here and there, particularly
in the obbligato performances where
he accompanies soprano Hedwig Francillo-Kaufmann.
Otherwise these are honest transfers.
Notes are more so-so but they do cover
the biographical material well – but
this is the kind of issue that calls
for some comments on style and performance