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Yehudi Menuhin plays Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and Encores
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Violin Concerto in E minor Op.64 [24.27]
Symphony Orchestra of Hollywood/Antal Doráti
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Hungarian Dances WoO1 No.5 in G minor arranged Joachim [2.12]
Adolf Baller (piano)
Hungarian Dances WoO1 No.4 in F sharp minor arranged Joachim [3.52]
Antal Doráti (piano)
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)

Spanish Dances Op.21
No.1 Malagueña [4.41]
No.2 Habanera [3.38]
Antonio BAZZINI (1818-1897)

Calabrese Ė Waltz in E minor op.34 [3.44]
Adolf Baller (piano)
Yehudi Menuhin (violin) with accompaniments as above
Recorded at the Charlie Chaplin Studios, Hollywood, 1947
Picture Format NTSC 4; 3 Sound Format PCM Stereo Languages GB D F Region Code 0 Disc Format DVD9 Running Time 44min (performance) plus 36min (A violinist in Hollywood) plus 11 min (On the Encores) Directed by Paul Gordon
EUROARTS DVD 2054618 [91:00]


Menuhin agreed to a series of filmed performances for the director Paul Gordon, to be made in Charlie Chaplinís studios in Hollywood in 1947 and here are the results. The centrepiece was the Mendelssohn Concerto but there were also genre and encore pieces with accompanists Adolf Baller and even, on one film, a moonlighting Doráti.

Though Menuhin later downplayed any philanthropic impulse in bringing music to the cinema for those for whom the concert hall was distant, forbidding or too expensive, it was clear that Gordon had a willingness to broaden the ambit of the concert violinist. There had always been some interest, from the earliest days, to see opera and concert musicians on film, even when the technology didnít allow for sound. Vitaphone, which synchronised film with a separately recorded disc, later had some real cachet. But by the time Menuhin recorded these filmed pieces musical biopics had been undertaken and things were considerably more sophisticated.

The format was a Hollywood Gothic title, prefacing the work. Naturally the directorís name is prominent. In the touching and enjoyable interview that Menuhin gave to Humphrey Burton in 1997 he has pertinent and revealing things to say about the casualness of the proceedings, about its "letís go" simplicity. One of the more entertaining jobs for obsessives might consist in trying to fit names to the faces in the West Coast orchestra assembled that day. Is it my imagination or isnít that Eleanor Aller of the (future) Hollywood String Quartet leading the (small) cello section?

There seem to have been three cameras for the concerto Ė retakes were prohibitively expensive, not least for the band and union rules Ė and thereís really only one clumsy edit or reel change throughout. Menuhinís face is rather mask-like, concentrated, unostentatious, almost immobile beneath the arm pits with his right bow arm very high (he comments on this feature in the interview). The lack of extraneous gesture is not cold but is concentrated to a powerful degree. No knee bends or perambulation from him Ė current contortionists please note.

To get over the problem of camera angles and sustaining interest some tricksy shots were used Ė high angles, reverse angles, from the cameramanís crouch up - though looking back Menuhin felt these films were "too early for their time" and whilst they tried to do new things didnít give employ artifice to "make it interesting enough." Menuhin was filmed standing so far behind Baller in Brahms that the unfortunate pianist is constantly turning his head round to synchronise chording.

In the F sharp minor Dance Doráti only makes a visual appearance toward the end Ė very frustrating as heís having a whale of a time ignoring the printed score and imagining himself back in Budapest in a cimbalom and fiddle café band. Menuhin appears in shirtsleeves in a couple of these pieces Ė clearly Sarasate was considered suitable. For the Habanera Menuhin stands, back to us, facing a studio window, which opened out to a painted park. He turns around with agonizing slowness. One thing for admirers; the Bazzini Calabrese, an E minor Waltz, is entirely new to his discography. We watch him in the Burton interview listening and watching his playing, his earlier self, from fifty years before, something I find touching. He also pays deserved and eloquent tribute to Baller, a long-time accompanist, whose hands had been broken by Nazi thugs, but whose recovery was total.

Itís not true that these films will unlock the Menuhin secret to those yet to be captivated by it. But they are fine documents, genuinely instructive (note the left hand thumb position in the reverse shots) about the mechanics of playing the violin, revealing Menuhinís warmth and humanity and opening up a little known corner of musical performance on film. I have to say it exceeded my expectations and I enjoyed it greatly.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 

 



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