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Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Six Concerts en Sextuor (1741) [59:10]
Les Indes Galantes, Ballet Héroïques (1735) [48:41]
Irène Joachim (soprano)
Camille Maurane (baritone)
Raymond Malvasio (tenor)
La Chorale Yvonne Gouverné
L’Ensemble Orchestral Hewitt/Maurice Hewitt
Rec. in Paris in 1952 (Six Concerts) and 1942 (Les Indes Galantes)
CASCAVELLE VEL 3092 [59:10 + 48:41]


Cascavelle may cut corners in some of its documentation but there’s little faulting its industry in seeking out rare gems from the French and allied catalogues. This is just such an example.

Maurice Hewitt’s is a name that doubtless won’t ring many bells. But the chamber orchestra he founded and led was a distinguished one. And even more distinguished was his membership of the Capet String Quartet in which he played second violin with the exception of the war years, from 1909 until its demise on Capet’s death in 1928. The recordings made by the Capet, long famed for their austerity in terms of vibrato and equally for their powerful command, are the means by which Hewitt has been best remembered.

These discs, however tangentially, may redress the balance of Hewitt’s career; he didn’t evaporate in 1928 after all. In 1930 he went to America where he taught in Cleveland and returned to France four years later, becoming a professor of violin at the American Academy near Paris. He also organised his own eponymous string quartet, which flourished either side of the War. His own Orchestra was founded in 1941 and the selections from Les Indes Galantes were recorded the following year and were released in 1943. This was the year he was arrested for his resistance work and sent to Buchenwald – he was involved in the Buckmaster network, an SOE setup dedicated to active resistance, propaganda and escape routes. There’s a reproduction of a handwritten programme of a concert given in Buchenwald in 1944 by the Hewitt Quartet on the back of the CD booklet.

Hewitt continued giving concerts and recording. The set of the Six Concerts en Sextuor in this Cascavelle restoration followed in 1952. He then resigned his professorial work in 1955 on reaching the age of seventy and died at a ripe age in 1971.

Rather dryly recorded for Les Discophiles Français in 1952 – it was actually DF1 – the Hewitt Rameau performances are rather reminiscent of Boyd Neel’s pioneering sets of baroque music in their sweep though not necessarily in detail. Hewitt encourages broad and romantic phrasing as one would expect of the time, and though precision is occasionally lost the effect is full of drama and affection. Rallentandi are frequent – there’s a powerful one in the First Concerto’s opening – and slow movements are full of poignant depth. Basses are heavily weighted and make telling contributions. The violins are an occasionally idiosyncratic bunch and one can hear disparate bowing practices and vibrato in the lack of uniformity at times in the Second Concerto and elsewhere.

The romantic phrasing of La Boucon, the second movement of the Second Concerto, is a tribute to Hewitt’s control of texture, nuance and line – I happen to love it; you may not – and it’s in these moments that we hear how refined his ear was. Grandness and impishness, conveyed through telling rubati, inform the Third Concerto but Hewitt takes care not to overdo La Poule from the Sixth. Vigorous and enthusiastic, long on sympathy and romantic trajectory, these performances are an index of Hewitt’s affectionate identification with Rameau’s scores.

A decade earlier and deep in wartime he made an album of music from Les Indes Galantes. The string playing is full of old school rhythms and sonorous weight. Voicings are warm and saturated. The playing takes on a commensurate muscularity in the romantic traceries of the Air pour les Persans. The choir tends to be a touch on the big side but tonally it’s well centred and blended. And the three singers make small but valuable contributions. Irène Joachim is probably the best remembered – a fine and strong Gallic voice - though plangent Camille Maurane has a bigger sing. The trio is a highpoint of the performance with Raymond Malvasio proving an adept partner. Vigorous and lusty, with splendidly rustic winds, and a noble Chaconne finale this makes for invigorating listening.

The transfers are perfectly serviceable. There’s audible shellac noise in the 1942 sides but the ear soon adjusts. Perhaps greater restoration work would have clarified the sound further but I can’t imagine real disappointment. I hope this two-disc set doesn’t get overlooked in the welter of reissues; Hewitt was a talented and dedicated musician and this release does his memory honourable service.

Jonathan Woolf



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