Michèle Auclair (1924-2005) had a very strange career on disc.
She was a pupil of Boris Kamensky, Jules Boucherit and Thibaud,
an important prize-winner and an exceptional chamber player.
She taught, too, extensively in America where she also performed
— there is an extant example of her Tchaikovsky
Concerto from Boston, live, with Charles Munch. And yet,
for all that, she was one of those artists whose studio career
was rather limited. There was a lot of competition but it does
at least account for the astronomically high prices her early
LPs attract on the second-hand market.
Her Schubert Sonata discs have attracted some serious cachet
over the years, as have the Bach Sonata recordings with Marie-Claire
Alain. But whilst she left many pieces unrecorded she was twice
asked to record the Tchaikovsky, with which work she was clearly
identified in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Forgotten Records
disinters the one conducted by Kurt Wöss; the other one was
directed by Robert Wagner in Innsbruck. Incidentally Forgotten
Records notes the orchestra as the Vienna Symphony, but every
reference I’ve seen points to the Austrian Symphony Orchestra.
The recording puts the soloist right out in front, which is
good for aficionados of such things but less good for orchestral
balancing. Auclair is a bold, slashing Tchaikovskian, something
of a speed merchant apt to over-egg her tone, but always interesting.
Phrasally the opening is over-manicured, but whilst there’s
very little light and shade in this performance, and much forceful
lyricism, one can see why she should have aroused such curiosity
in this concerto in particular. Steely and raw she may be, but
this is never neutral playing; it’s terse, sometimes brittle,
and full of razory panache and engagement. Very much not a David
Wilhelm Loibner accompanies her in the ‘Bruch in G minor’. The
same conductor had taken the honours for the ageing Albert Spalding
for Remington at around the same time in the American’s Vienna
recordings. Auclair’s opening statement is let down by an intrusively
fast vibrato but again the patterning of her phrases is well
worth hearing as it’s often so unusual. The slow movement is
rather unsettled, with her unremitting intensity and taut vibrato
getting too much: it’s rather wearying. But the finale makes
amends with some spirited and assured playing. One doesn’t often
hear the Kol Nidrei recorded by a violinist, as it
is here, and very nicely indeed.
This is a faithful and well engineered transfer.
Auclair is something of a forgotten figure, though she died
as recently as 2004. Her playing is energetic, abrasive and
charged with intensity. Even when one doesn’t much like the
playing, she always leaves you with lots of things to think
about. Too often today, violinists leave you with nothing to