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Crotchet

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No. 3 in E flat, Op. 12 No. 3a (1797/98) [18'36]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Violin Sonata in Ab (1886 ) [28'54].
Guillaume LEKEU (1870-0894)
Violin Sonata in Gc (1891) [32'01].
Yehudi Menuhin (violin); Hephzibah Menuhin (piano).
rec. aSydney, Australia, 1940; bParis, 6-7 January 1936; cLondon, 29 March 1938. mono ADD
NAXOS HISTORICAL GREAT VIOLINISTS 8.110989 [79'30]

An exceptionally interesting trio of sonatas, and a combination that works well as a one-disc recital. The Beethoven dates from Menuhin's second Australian visit, and something of the joy of this time for the violinist is transmuted into Beethovenian joy. There is a real warmth from both pianist and violinist from the outset, both opting for a light tone. Yehudi is not always 100% in tune - as so often - and sometimes the ear seems drawn to Hephzibah's always musical playing. The unsubtle punch in the stomach at 6'24 in the second movement is uncharacteristic in a movement where delicacy is the watchword. The finale is the best movement, with both players enjoying the rhythmic pointing. It also catches Menuhin more in the middle of notes.

The Franck, to be honest, lacks the sense of breadth this work so desperately needs. While the second movement is undeniably exciting, the third is ponderous on Hephzibah's side. The finale is forced - taken down in Paris, maybe the Menuhins were missing the Aussie sunshine that may have induced a more laid-back approach to this masterpiece.

For some, the Lekeu will be the drawing point of this disc. Franck was actually Lekeu's teacher, so the Franckian influence on the finale's opening should hardly come as a surprise. The Menuhins seem closer to Lekeu, though, as right from the start, there is a hypnotic element to the playing - of both parties - that was simply not there in the Beethoven or the Franck. The dreamy, easy flow of the first movement and its cri de coeur (around 6'05) is intensely involving. The 'très lent' second  movement is hyper-delicate.

Whatever my reservations about the Beethoven and - especially - the Franck, the Lekeu makes this disc a worthwhile purchase. This particular performance was available on Biddulph, but alas I do not have a reference copy for comparison. Ward Marston's transfers are excellent, as are Tully Potter's booklet notes.

Colin Clarke



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