If you’ve passed through Bristol city centre lately, you may have
spotted a colourful addition to its generally pretty drab architecture
– for the city’s main concert venue, the Colston Hall, now sports
a nearly-completed new foyer area with its exterior walls kitted
out in strikingly eye-catching copper cladding (recycled, of course:
Bristol’s a very PC city).
it is only right that the building at last displays a much more
assertive, “in your face” attitude to the outside world, for
its interior space has long been held to have one of the finest
concert hall acoustics in the country. Not, though, that you
could possibly have guessed that to have been the case if you’d
tuned in to what I presume to have been the BBC’s Third Programme
- shortly to be transformed, not necessarily to universal delight,
into BBC Radio 3 - in the summer of 1964.
Corporation’s long-recognised expertise in recording has been
demonstrated consistently in many previous BBC Legends releases.
I cannot help but feel, though, that at this concert – given
as part of the 1964 Bath Festival - the engineering team was
having something of an off day. Had they perhaps missed the
scheduled service from London Paddington and not had time to
run a test during the afternoon rehearsal? Was there some sort
of technical glitch? Whatever the cause, the quality of the
sound is initially disappointing – dull, sub-fusc, almost as
though there’s something of a physical barrier between us and
the orchestra, so that Brahms’s grab-you-by-the-scruff-of-your-neck
opening doesn’t make its usual characteristically dramatic impact.
Admittedly, by the end of the opening movement the sound definitely
becomes more immediate and “real”; maybe a mis-set dial or fader
was, in the meantime, given a gentle tweak? It remains so throughout
the rest of the Brahms and the first two movements of the Beethoven.
But then, at least on my copy of the disc, at about 2:06 into
the finale of the Triple Concerto, the sound suddenly drops
out, rather as though someone had put a sponge around the microphone.
This is unacceptable and, if the fault could not have been corrected,
some mention ought at least to have been made, on the rear cover
perhaps, to warn prospective purchasers.
even putting the issue of the sound to one side, this was an
essentially unmemorable concert with none of the artists in
tip-top form. At this stage of Yehudi Menuhin’s career, as
he himself was to ruefully admit, the characteristic technique
of his early years was no longer at his disposal – “Intuition
was no longer to be relied on; the intellect would have to replace
it.” For that and other reasons, by the mid-1960s his focus
had shifted somewhat away from his solo career. His duties as
artistic director of the Bath Festival (1959-1968) were taking
up much of his time, as was his newly-established music school
at Stoke D’Abernon in Surrey and in the public mind he was,
in any case, no longer simply a violinist but a multi-faceted
persona or, as a marketing man today might put it, a “brand”.
Musician, philosopher, advocate of causes ranging from meditation
to the United Nations, by this time of his life Menuhin was
considered something of a national treasure and an altogether
“good thing”. It was at about this time, in 1965, that he received
an honorary UK knighthood.
whatever reason, Menuhin, with his rather reticent playing,
makes less of an impression on this disc than Gendron. It may
be a quirk of the microphone placement, but, in the Brahms,
the cello is certainly the predominant voice of the two. Though
they performed together quite frequently at this time, Menuhin
and Gendron don’t seem to gel as intimately as, say, my own
favourite pairing Oistrakh and Rostropovich: a May 1969 recording
with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra is an EMI Great
Recording of the Century on 7243 5 66902 2 6. There is also
an earlier live October 1965 Royal Albert Hall performance with
the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra under Kyrill Kondrashin on
BBC Legends BBCL 4197-2 – the occasion was also filmed and is
available on DVD as EMI Classic Archive DVB 4904499. The Russians
invariably play as one with a magical sense of knowing exactly
what the others will do next - and then challenging themselves
to do more. They also play as if their lives depended on it
- although, having been trained in Stalinist times, perhaps
that had, at one point, been literally true. Menuhin and Gendron,
by contrast, seem merely to be going through the motions.
less often heard Beethoven Triple Concerto sees the two soloists
joined by Menuhin’s sister Hephzibah, a frequent collaborator
at the time. She appears to enthuse and energise her partners
rather more, and this is, consequently, the more enjoyable performance
with the three soloists revelling in their musical exchanges
rather as if they were playing a chamber piece.
Kertész directs the London Symphony Orchestra effectively, as
one might have guessed, but is unable to make these essentially
run-of-the-mill performances catch fire. That, coupled with
the already mentioned reservations about the recording, will
make this disc, for most collectors, something of a non-starter.