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In Memoriam Yehudi Menuhin - Hommage à Yehudi Menuhin
Johannes Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Partita No.2 for solo violin in D, BWV1004
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Violin Concerto No.4 K218 (1775)
Yehudi Menuhin (violin)
RIAS Symphony orchestra/Karl Böhm
Recorded live in Berne, October 1968 (Bach) and in the Jesus-Christus Kirche, Berlin, April 1951 (Mozart)
TAHRA TAH 533 [50.38]


Tributes to Menuhin continue to appear with performances released from the vaults and from live recordings that have made only limited appearances before. Such is the case with the 1951 Mozart which has seen service on Frequenz, I Grandi Concerti and Suite and now crops up again in this Tahra release which brings together two of Menuhinís great and lasting achievements Ė performances of Bach and Mozart. I donít happen to be of those who sniff loudly and say "I donít listen to Menuhin post 1947" (or 1948 or July 1949 or whatever) Ė a group with a wider constituency than you might think. As he demonstrated categorically in his 1952 Japanese tour (see Biddulph for the resultant discs) when the fires burned, Menuhin was every inch the molten artist, silencing doubt.

This is a preamble, I suppose, to registering disappointment. Bohmís RIAS orchestra sounds acidic in the clinical acoustic, as captured by the microphones anyway, of the Jesus-Christus Kirche and Menuhin is not on top form. He starts uncertainly, with some intonational problems in a Concerto that is far more taxing to control than it sounds, and tonally he tends to the metallic. The slow movement is full of resigned yearning but isnít especially affecting Ė though the tempo is a sensible one and not lingering. And so is that taken for the finale Ė jaunty and brisk, with Bohm uncovering some unexpected orchestral string lines. The unusual cadenzas are Menuhinís Ė he always seems to have jettisoned, say, Kreislerís and used his own. Altogether though this is not a stellar example of his art in Mozart Ė and the Sargent, Pritchard and self-conducted commercial discs are greatly to be preferred.

I happen to prefer his later Bach Sonatas and Partitas recordings to the early meteorically youthful set, made in the 1930s. There was a greater and inevitably more mature sense of shape and linearity in those 1957 and 1976 sets, however much the tonal lustre had diminished. This Berne performance of the Partita in D comes roughly mid way through those later sets, in 1968. His perception is undeniable but frailties attend to his playing. Chording, especially in the Allemande, is apt to be untidy, bowing can be hit and miss and the tone is not that of old. He launches almost immediately, with a very audible anticipatory sniff, from the Gigue to the Chaconne, which he colours with pathos and nobility. There are several wolf notes along the way and the tension as he builds to the climaxes does tell on his technique with imperfections in both hands. The carapace however is intact for all that.

This is one for Menuhin specialists. They will better be able to "place" these performances in the continuum of his recorded history; they are by no means negligible performances but Menuhin was no longer the Boy Wonder so graphically displayed on the front of Tahraís booklet.

Jonathan Woolf

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