I doff my hat to Forgotten Records for coming up with this 1950s LP coupling. Louis Kaufman and Hélène Pignari’s recording of Franck’s Violin Sonata was issued on Musical Masterpiece Society and has been long overlooked. Its reinstatement is excellent news for admirers of the scintillating stylist whose golden tone ravished so many on film soundtracks and on disc. Then there’s the additional inducement of the same composer’s Piano Quintet, played by elite French musicians, in so commanding a performance as this.
Kaufman and Pignari first: I checked Kaufman’s excellent autobiography to find the precise date of the Franck recording, which was August 1954 and not, as I’d supposed, in Paris but in Zurich. Pignari was long associated with the French broadcasting company as an accompanist, which is why I made the supposition. Kaufman admired her, calling her a most sensitive musician, as indeed she is. Incidentally both she and Kaufman and the Pascal Quartet, who are also featured in this CD, joined together to perform Loeffler’s chamber music, which offers another interrelation that adds lustre to the disc.
Kaufman was a splendid musician, a hugely communicative artist who never short-changed an audience. His vibrato is of the impulse kind, very fast and intense, and sometimes it has to be said, as in the opening paragraph of the sonata, too intense and rapid for optimum comfort. But that was part of his personal armoury, as it is in the case of another American artist, David Nadien. The recording is not ideal, sometimes rather brash and brusque, and getting close enough to hear the piano’s pedal action. This is quite a fast and breezy performance all round, sweeping and exciting in equal measure and vested with reserves of adrenalin and power. Kaufman keeps things alive in the passagework — the way he brings colour and allure to the phraseology is often magical — and there are some scintillating accelerandi too. Ensemble is fine generally, though very briefly a touch adrift in the finale. Add this traversal to other French (Franco-Belgian) works in the violinist’s discography — such as Chausson’s Concerto on Bridge 9225, and Milhaud’s Second Violin Concerto, Poulenc’s Sonata and Sauget’s Concerto d’Orphée on Music and Arts CD620.
The companion work is the Quintet for piano and strings in which the Quatuor Pascal teams up with Jeanne-Marie Darré. The Pascal was a good quartet, but its incomplete series of Beethoven quartets wasn’t particularly distinguished and it often got saddled with poor recordings with bad balances; the Fauré C minor quintet being a case in point. Fortunately the balance between piano and strings in this 1952 disc is much better and Darré is never drowned out. There is drama and pathos here and for those at the time who may not completely have bought the sheen of the Hollywood Quartet/Victor Aller Capitol disc this would have been a viable though less technically assured alternative. It’s certainly the superior of the Quintetto Chigiano Decca. The high point, for me, remains the playing of the slow movement which realises the ‘con molto sentimento’ instruction without forgetting the implicit sense of loss and withdrawn foreboding. Darré plays throughout with great imagination and assurance.
There are no notes as such, as was standard from FR, though I believe they have now begun to include some. There is a paragraph on the Pascal and web links to pursue. This is a valuable restoration, returning performances easily, and wrongly, forgotten.